Hidden Gems of Cortona

This will sound corny, but when I saw the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, I wanted to celebrate my 40th birthday there. And you would think I went to see the house where they shot the movie…. Well we got lost and did a circle route around the town.

We arrived by train and end up at the Camucia bus station, must say you need to learn some Italian. I think we looked lost and with no signs in English, we asked a local resident… well not asked just mentioned the name Cortona and she pointed to the top and the bus station. So, we waited until a bus arrives and we went slowly up the hill. I did not think the bus will make it up the hill, but eventually, we did arrive at the Piazza Garibaldi in Cortona. Driving through the narrow streets and hearing people speaking in different dialects on the bus, made this more surreal. I was very excited and had my film camera ready to shoot, yes, I was shooting film as this was in 2004.
We arrived in the afternoon just-in-time for a quick stroll around the block to find a good restaurant for dinner. It is best to explore the town by foot as it is not big, with high walls around it. The next morning it was my birthday and I even bought a newspaper with the date on. The view from the hotel was idyllic, overlooking the famous hills of Tuscany and clay rooftops. I felt like I was in a movie and we decided to find the house in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. We got lost and end up walking for miles around the outer perimeter of the town. It is so peaceful, vineyards and farmhouses, people working and pleasant greeting. We encountered beautiful buildings and scenery on our route. It was also very humid, and you work up a good sweat.
We arrived later that morning back where we started and immediately went for an ice-cold beer on the piazza. Sitting and do the touristy thing, yes people watching, is fascinating. Piazza Della Repubblica is the main piazza in Cortona which gets busy on weekends, but it’s a great place to sit and watch people. A sad part is that with the conversion rate from South African currency to the Euro is steep and you travel on a tight budget. It still allows you to have some of the best coffee on the square. Piazza Della Repubblica is the main piazza in Cortona which gets busy on weekends, but it’s a great place to sit and watch people. We travelled on a tight budget as the currency conversion is not in our favour. It still allows you to have some of the best coffee on the square. Piazza Della Repubblica is the main piazza in Cortona which gets busy on weekends, but it’s a great place to sit and watch people. A sad part is that with the conversion rate from South African currency to the Euro is steep and you travel on a tight budget. It still allows you to have some of the best coffee on the square. We sat for a while and started to explore the town and the narrow streets.

Walking around the narrow streets you encounter antique shops, small hidden eatery’s and on Saturday’s there is a market on one of the squares.  I found some gentleman sitting outside a building, looked like they were in a queue, so I asked permission to photograph them.  Very pleasant gentlemen indeed, some smiled and others looked intrigued.

Traversing the narrow street, you find small houses and shops where people go about their days hardly noticing you. We found this beautiful small restaurant on a corner which served the best Italian pesto pasta I had in a long time. We did visit twice with a few glasses of Chianti to add to our overall experience. When I travel, I do not run around from one point to the other, I enjoy walking, sitting, eating, relaxing and talking and exploring shops etc. For me, it is the whole experience of listening to the sounds of people, cars, cafes and restaurants that add to the ambiance of a place. The light falling on a building, sunset or sunrise, the colour of the clouds, rain and the vegetation. The way people interact and the intersection of locals and tourists in town.

We also found a general grocery store – Alimentari – for cheaper food choices on the main square.  It does help to ask around at the hotel or place you stay about local grocery stores, cheaper transport or specials.

The lifestyle of the people living in Cortona is quite relaxed and they go about their daily tasks and are not that phased with tourism yet, remember this was in 2004. I would have loved to spend more time in Tuscany, maybe renting a car and driving around the local vineyards and sampling some fine Italian wine.  But this will have to wait for a next time when I visit Italy.

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