Welcome to Cortona!
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In the video – Cortona —> Moving to Siena.
I left you at Santuario della Verna and are now on part 2 of our week long journey around Tuscany.
Cortona is located at an altitude of 585 meters and is approximately 185km from Florence, 73km from Siena, and 50km from Perugia (in Umbria).
Cortona is found in the province of Arezzo, the main cultural and tourist center of the Val di Chiana, and let us just say – the view is beautiful! With a long Etruscan history, it is still regarded as a strategic location that allows, with short trips, to reach important artistic and cultural centres. Cortona has always been a fascinating and fertile area, enhanced by the nearby Lake Trasimeno. Expect bold colors, feel the enchantment of the hill on which it stands, with its mythical history, its sacredness, its art and last but not least – Tuscan cuisine and wine!
Why Visit Cortona?
1. The views!
As with many hill top towns the views from Cortona are amazing! Here you will see the beautiful Tuscan country side, dotted with farms, beautiful lakes, nearby towns, impressive churches, and the meticulous vineyards.
2. Il Cibo e il vino!
Some of the amazing local dishes, try ‘Coniglio in porchetta’ (Roast rabbit), ‘Ficattole’ (fried left over bread dough), ‘Gnocchi alla fiorentina’ (an absolute calorie bomb but delicious) and to finish it all off, try the ‘Ricciarelli’ for dessert. Accompany these wonderful dishes with a wonderful glass of local wine. See my Restaurants page for detail
For details on the local wines and wineries available – review La Strada del Vino di Cortona. Unfortunately on this trip, we did not make it to any wineries.
3. The attractions that stood out:
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio – one of the most important churches in all of Tuscany. A must for lovers of architecture and for those visiting Italy for religious purposes.
Eremo Le Celle – You must see Le Celle. I only found out about it because the owner at Bar 500 overheard of my plans and told me about this ‘unmissable site’. They date back to the 1200’s and are the ‘cells’ built by St. Francis and Brother Elia where the Franciscan monks prayed and lived. What is really amazing is the chapel. Suitable for al types of travellers interested in photography, religion, history and art.
Church of San Francesco – by this stage you might be asking why we visit so many churches?! Well the truth is that some of the most amazing works of art are found in churches around Italy, and the church of St. Francis is no different. Built in the middle of the 13th century, the importance of this church is due to the fact that Elia da Cortona built it himself – the second Minister General of the Order of the Frati Minori (Friars Minor).
Palazzo Comunale (City Hall) – here you know you are in the center of town. I loved having an ‘aperitivo’ here, as you see the town come to life with locals and tourists alike. Remember to be a true a local spend some time in the main piazza’s of a city or town. A great location to enjoy a gelato (or wine – you pick) and take it all in. While you are there, do not miss the less crowded, Piazza Signorelli (just behind to your right, when facing the Palazzo) where you will find the famous theatre. On Sunday mornings it has a flea market where you will find antiques.
Obelisk dedicate to Giuseppe Garibaldi – a photographers dream (amateur or professional)! Take in the wide view of the Val di Chiana to Lake Trasimeno and Montepulciano.
Le Contesse Church – today stands the Hotel Oasi Neumann hotel but the facade is incredible. In 1718 Iannelli, a Cortonese architect built the present day Baroque church on the 1237site of the pre-existing church of the Clarisse nuns. Why this is impressive also for the amazing gardens within.
Basilica di Santa Margherita – put your walking shoes on because getting there is not an easy task, certainly worth it though! The sanctuary is located on a hill, just below the Medici Fortress (which I did not visit). The views? You guessed it, they are incredible! The main altar is where the body of St. Margaret (1249- 1297) is preserved.
Where to Stay?
I stayed 2 nights to catch up on some well deserved rest, after a few long days on the road. I used Monastery Stays to book Hotel Oasi Neumann (1km hike to town) for one night and the other at Casa per Ferie Betania (very basic). Two very different offers, yet both offer amazing views and comfortable stays. I would recommend Hotel Oasi Neumann for those that require certain comforts, while on the other hand Casa per Ferie Betania offers simple accommodation and service.
Note that like many other Italian cities a ‘city visitor charge’ will be added to the cost of your stay. These vary from city to city, year to year, so make sure to ask your hotel or booking provider what these are. Since our visit the ‘tassa di soggiorno’, as it is called, was between 1.50EUR-3.00EUR based on the quality of your lodging.
Have you been to Cortona? What were your thoughts and experiences during your visit? Please make sure to tell us your story and what you discovered on your trip – we love to hear the perspective of other travellers visit our beautiful country.
How to get there
Getting from Florence to Cortona by public transport is relatively easy, however, we do suggest that to really feel free and enjoy the Tuscan country side, you hire a car. It is simple, relatively inexpensive (during some parts of the year), and you have all the time to explore this amazing part of the world with ease and without rushing to get to bus stops or train stations.
The closest airports are Perugia (approx. 60km), Florence (approx. 134km), Pisa (approx. 195km) and Roma Fiumicino (approx. 320km).
Take the main “A1″ superstrada (Autostrada del Sole) from either direction (Rome or Florence) and take the exit signposted “Bettolle”. Follow the road signs for “Perugia” which will take you on to the E45 road, and then take the second exit, signposted “Cortona San Lorenzo”. From here, follow the road signs for Cortona.
There are three main public car parking one for a fee with escalators that lead directly into the center. In the summer parking can be difficult, however, with a bit of patience you will find one. Drive in in the old town is not allowed because it is a limited traffic area, called ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato) for residents only. We suggest you to arrive in the early hours to ensure a parking easily.
For more detailed information, click ‘more options’ top right of map.
From Rome (approx. 2.5hrs) or Florence (1.5hrs) the quickest solution is to get a regional train to Camucia-Cortona station. The cost from Rome is approximately 11-12EUR and from Florence is around 10-11EUR.
For train schedules and prices go to Trenitalia.com.
*Please note there is a secondary route but the locals advised me that it is the easiest and most convenient way.
Camucia-Cortona train station is connected to town by a local bus service. The bus-stop is located outside the main of the station to the left. Buses usually run approximately every half an hour (summer months) to an hour during (rest of the year). Tickets on board cost 1.50/1.60€ per person. The bus stops at Piazza Garibaldi.
The website with time tables etc (http://www.lfi.it/) is all in Italian and very complicated to use (this coming from an Italian!). I would suggest the info gathered by Google in the following map as you can set the times you wish to travel etc and it is normally spot on.