Archive for the Cortona Category

La Grotta, A Restaurant In Cortona

La Grotta is one of my favourite restaurants in Cortona, I last went there for after going on my Monte Ginezzo Walk in the hills behind the town. La Grotta is located just off the Piazza della Repubblica, right in the centre of Cortona. Despite its central location the prices have always remained reasonable and the food extremely good. It was a hot day and we secured a table in the courtyard outside the restaurant.

Mixed antipasti at La Grotta, Cortona

Mixed antipasti at La Grotta, Cortona

We started with a couple of items on the antipasto menu, a plate of mixed appertisers and pecorino della fossa served with honey. This is a sheep’s cheese that has been buried in an underground chamber so that it uses up all the available oxygen as it matures and becomes incredibly strong tasting and smelling – delicious! We shared some primi between us: potato gnocchi served with rocket, tomatoes and cheese; gnocchi made with ricotta and spinach (given top marks by everyone) and pici (thick spaghetti), with a spicy sauce of tomato, chilli and garlic.

For secondi we shared a plate of sausages and some grilled lamb. We drank a bottle of delicious rosato (rosé) Castello di Amo Rosato with the meal. Feeling extremely satisfied after such a great meal and, suitably fortified with shots of espresso coffee, we set off on my Cortona City Walk, a hike in and around the town that I have already blogged about in an earlier post.

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A Walk On Monte Ginezzo Near Cortona

These are images taken on my Monte Ginezzo walk, a hike in the hills near Cortona. This is another route from my walking guide book, Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border, now available from Amazon in its third edition as an ebook. The route starts at Passo della Cerventosa, beyond the hamlet of Portole located high in the hills behind Cortona. As you climb along the ridge towards the highest point of Monte Ginezzo, there are magnificent views to the Appenine mountains in the east and Lake Trasimeno to the south. To the west you look down across the broad expanse of the Val di Chiana, a wide plain below Cortona, and beyond to Montepulciano and the extinct volcano of Monte Amiata. This is a reasonably short walk, taking around two hours, so it is suitable for children and, if you set off early enough, you can get to Cortona afterwards before the shops shut for lunch.

View on the Monte Ginezzo Walk

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Trattoria Dardano, Cortona

Whilst in Cortona celebrating my sister’s birthday we went to Trattoria Dardano for lunch before going on my Cortona Walk. Trattoria Dardano is located about halfway along via Dardano, a road that runs north and gently uphill from Cortona’s main square, piazza della Repubblica. The portions here are generous so we decided to share an antipasto between four for starters, this was a selection of crostini and cured meats.

On my advice, my niece Tabby had gnocchi with tomato sauce, this was the first time she had eaten them but I don’t think it’ll be the last! I shared a generous plate of penne cooked in a super tasty sauce of bacon, tomato and cream with my sister. My brother in law went for a fillet steak with porcini mushrooms served with chips. The others managed to find room for dessert and even a grappa but, as the driver in the group I skipped both of these! The meal cost around €75 for one antipasto, two primi, two secondi (accompanied by side dishes), dessert, wine, water and grappa, nearly twenty euros of this was the fillet steak but it’s possible to choose cheaper items on the menu. I can definitely recommend eating at Trattoria Dardano, our meal was fantastic.

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A Walk Around Cortona

Cortona is a Tuscan hill town high above the broad Val di Chiana, since the 1990′s it has been put firmly on the tourist trail by the popularity of Francis Mayes’ book about living in the town; Under The Tuscan Sun. Despite the popularity of Cortona with visitors, it doesn’t take long to escape the crowds if you head up some of the steep medieval streets. You can find instructions for this walk around Cortona is in my self published book, Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border (available for the Kindle or any electronic device that has a Kindle App).

It was a beautiful day and perfect weather, so once we had stopped for a superb birthday meal at Trattoria Dardarno we decided to walk off the calories on my two hour walk. We started in the Piazza Repubblica, the piazza has Cortona’s medieval town hall which dates back to days when the town held its own as a city state. For a small town like Cortona this independent state of affairs was never going to last and it was eventually swallowed up by the Medici Dukes of Tuscany and ruled from Florence. The route of the walk took us along Cortona’s flattest street, via Nazionale, and out along the tree lined avenue used by many of Cortona’s residents for a stroll. Once at the tennis club at the end of the avenue the route starts a long and reasonably shallow climb towards the hamlet of Torreone, high above Cortona.

Along the way, the views become more magnificent and about two thirds of the way up we passed Bramasole, Francis Mayes’ original house. Once at the hamlet of Torreone, we turned back towards Cortona walking along a cypress lined gravel path. Of course, there were more  wonderful views along the way!

Once back inside the town walls we were in a broad piazza in front of the church of Santa Margherita, the town’s patron saint. Built in the 1800′s, the church has a Romanesque facade that dominates the piazza. Inside you will find the body of Santa Margherita in a class coffin. and a high ceiling supported by striped marble columns, inspired by the different coloured stripes used in many of the great medieval cathedrals of central Italy (Siena and Orvieto spring to mind). The ceiling is decorated with stars on a blue background, you will find find this type of decoration on the ceiling of the upper Basilica in Assisi and many other medieval churches.

A quick stroll up to the Medici fortress took us to the highest point on the walk and more  views to Lake Trasimeno, the Val di Chiana and beyond. The Medici Fortress is sited on the same spot as the Etruscan acropolis, clearly its elevated position is the perfect spot to defend. Soon, we were descending through Cortona’s steep medieval streets, there were photo opportunities at every corner. Via Berretini, named after Pietro Berretini, who was also known as Pietro da Cortona, the architect, heads straight down the hillside towards the centre of Cortona.

at the bottom of via Berrtini is the church of San Francesco, this was the first Franciscan church to be built outside of Assisi. Most Franciscan churches in Italy are quite large and barn shaped to accommodate the huge congregations that the movement attracted. Soon, we were back in the Piazza della Repubblica and ready to head for home.

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Cortona Walk

Here are the directions for the Cortona town walk taken from my e-book, Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border by Martin Daykin. You can also get this walk on your Kindle for free by clicking on “try a sample”. Alternatively, you can buy the whole book and get instructions for 20 great walks  including a Perugia City Walk.

Cortona Town Hall, Tuscany

Cortona Town Hall

Distance 5.82km.

Walking Time 1:20. Allow up to 2 hours (more with museum visits).

Fairly easy, but a steep descent along medieval streets and quite a few steps.

Cortona is an ancient town dating back to Etruscan times. Look in the lower parts of the town walls and you can still see the huge blocks of stone that the Etruscan wall was built from. Apart from the property and tourism boom that the town is currently undergoing, its heyday was in the medieval period from around 1100 to 1400. During this era, Cortona was an independent city-state and its grandest buildings date back to this time. Later, it was a Florentine outpost on the border with the city-state of Perugia and then the Papal States. Due to its peripheral position, a combination of high taxation and under-investment left the centre in a medieval time warp. There are two fine Renaissance churches outside the walls but very little architecture from this period within the town.

A View From Route Of The Cortona Walk

A View From The Route Of The Cortona Walk

To Find The Start

GPS co-ordinates 43º16’29.84″N, 11º59’07.40″E
Park in one of the car parks outside the town walls, these can get very full during the tourist season, so it’s best to arrive early. The walk begins in the Piazza della Repubblica in the centre of Cortona, head to the centre of Cortona and you can’t miss it. The most impressive building in this piazza (and the town) is the medieval town hall, the Palazzo Communale, which dates back to the 1200’s.

Walk Synopsis
A-B Leave the centre of Cortona and go through the park.
B-C Gentle climb to Torreone, a hamlet at the top of Cortona.
C-D Along a track to the church of Santa Margherita.
D-E A detour from Santa Margherita up to the Medici Fortress.
E-D Return to Santa Margherita.
D-A Descent to Piazza Signorelli through steep medieval streets.
A-F Short stroll for a view near the Duomo.
F-A Walk through narrow medieval streets then back to the start.

Map Of The Cortona Walk

The Cortona Walk

Start, A

Distance 0.0km, GPS 43º16’29.84″N, 11º59’07.40″E Altitude 503m

Time 0:00
In the Piazza della Repubblica, stand with your back to the steps which lead up to the Palazzo Communale, and walk along Via Nazionale; this is the street at the right corner (east) of the Piazza. After 3 minutes, you should be at the end of the street, ignore Via Santa Margherita going up to the left. The flagstone paved street finishes and joins a tarmac road on a sharp bend.
0:03
Continue straight on, ignoring the road descending to the right near a war memorial where buses turn around. A minute later, you pass the church of San Domenico on your left. There is a badly damaged fresco by Fra Angelico behind glass above the entrance door. Just after the church, turn left into the public gardens. You pass another war memorial and then a fountain on the right. A minute later, there is a play area on the left.
0:05
Continue straight on, there are great views of the Val di Chiana and Lake Trasimeno from here. I have read that every tree that lines the road represents a person from the area killed in World War I and II, if this is the case, the loss of life was considerable. 13 minutes from the play area, the tree lined gravel road ends. On your left there is a sports centre with tennis courts and a swimming pool. B

1.38km 43º16’09.05″N, 11º59’59.68″E 479m
0:18
Follow the tarmac road around to the left and then continue straight on, climbing steadily. The road is not busy but it is a sensible precaution to walk on the left so that you face any oncoming traffic. 3 minutes after joining the tarmac, the road is lined with cypress trees. You pass several houses on the way up, after 15 minutes you pass Bramasole, the house that featured in Frances Mayes’ book “Under the Tuscan Sun”. It is covered in orange/yellow stucco and has a madonnina (statue of the Virgin Mary) set in the wall.

Frances Mayes' house, Bramasole, Tuscany

Frances Mayes’ house, Bramasole, Tuscany

Note: if you watched the film and this doesn’t look like Bramasole, the answer is that a different house was used for the film.
0:36
After another 8 minutes, you arrive at the junction at the top. There is a bar on your left, it’s a good spot to refresh yourself after the climb (closed Wednesdays). C

3.05km 43°16’53.20″N 11°59’55.48″E 580m
Turn left here and after a minute turn left again onto the cypress-lined track, sign posted with red and white markers by the Club Alpini Italia (CAI). After 3 minutes, the track curves sharply right and a tarmac road heads off to the left.
0:48
Continue along the track and after 8 minutes you join a tarmac road (this is further along the road that you were on when you first joined the track). Turn left onto the road; go through the city walls, and a minute later, you are in front of the church of Santa Margherita. D

4.11km 43º16’40.77″N 11º59’39.31″E 626m
0:57
Take a quick detour (240 metres each way) to the MediciFortress (which was also the site of the Etruscan fortress), the view from up here makes the short uphill walk worthwhile. Facing the church, take the path going up diagonally to your left. Just before you get to the fortress, take a small path on your left, 3 minutes from Santa Margherita you should be standing on a level piece of ground with a fantastic panorama of the Val di Chiana. E

The Medici Fortress Above Cortona

The Medici Fortress Above Cortona

4.35km 43°16’36.70″N 11°59’35.72″E 634m
1:00
Return the way you came (3 minutes) to Santa Margherita. D
4.59km 43º16’40.77″N 11º59’39.31″E 626m

The church of Santa Margarita, Cortona

The church of Santa Margarita, Cortona

1:03
Cross the piazza, keeping the facade of the church on your left. Go through the gap in the balustrade at the far side and turn right down a cobbled path. 3 minutes later, the path emerges onto a street at the top of Cortona. Turn left onto the street and then right (straight on), there is a small church on your right. A minute later, you come to a square with ilex trees (it is actually shaped like a triangle), turn right and head down the steeply descending Via Berretini.

Via Berrettini, Cortona

Street In Cortona

1:07
A minute later, you pass the house of the painter and architect Pietro da Cortona (Pietro Berretini 1596-1669) on your right. Immediately after, you pass a large medieval water cistern on your left. Continue down for another 2 minutes and you pass the church of San Francesco on the left, the first Franciscan church to be built outside Assisi.

1:10
Immediately after, go straight over the crossroads and down the pedestrian Via Santucci. 2 minutes later, you are at the bottom; continue straight on and you are back in the Piazza della Repubblica. A

5.27km  43º16’29.84″N 11º59’07.40″E  503m

You may feel that it’s time for refreshments at the outside tables of the piazza’s pricey bars, if not, continue with the walk.
1:12
Pass to the right of the Palazzo Communale and a minute later you are in Piazza Signorelli. Here, you will find the entrance to the Etruscan Museum (Museo dell’ Accademia Etrusca Cortona or MAEC). The recently revamped museum houses the many Etruscan artifacts found in the area, a collection of paintings and Egyptian mummies amongst other curiosities, it is well worth a look around. You can sometimes arrange visits to the Etruscan tombs in the plain below Cortona, where many of the pieces on display were found. You can buy a joint ticket for MAEC and the Museo Diocesano (see below) which gives you a small discount.

1:13
Exit the Piazza down Via Casale (follow signs to the Cattedrale), cross Piazza G. Franciolini, into Piazza del Duomo. 2 minutes from Piazza Signorelli you should be admiring the view from the wall on the edge of Piazza del Duomo. F
5.47km 43º16’35.10″N 11º59’02.37″E 483m
1:14
Turn around, on your left is the Duomo (Cathedral) and on your right, the Museo Diocesano, which displays art works from Cortona’s churches. (Shut Mondays and open 10.00-19.00 from April to October; 10.00-17.00 in other months). The Duomo is only for serious church enthusiasts, but the small Museo Diocesano contains a wonderful altarpiece depicting the annunciation by Fra’ Angelico. It also has several paintings by Luca Signorelli, the most famous painter from Cortona.

1:14
Walk down Via Zefferini at the far right of Piazza del Duomo, take the first right onto Via Cioli and turn left onto a narrow street with overhanging houses, Via Ianelli. I have read that this is how much of Cortona once would have looked; the overhangs were removed from most houses to allow light into the narrow streets. It is now 3 minutes from the wall at the edge of Piazza del Duomo.

1:17
At the end of Via Ianelli, you can turn left up Via Roma, which will take you back to the Piazza della Repubblica, A in 3 minutes. Alternatively, you can turn right onto Via Roma and then immediately left along the town wall. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets running up from the wall; as long as you keep going up, you will eventually arrive back at the piazza. A

5.82km 43º16’29.84″N 11º59’07.40″E 503m

Walking Time 1:20

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Chimneys In Cortona

Today I had to visit the bank in Cortona, and used the opportunity to photograph some of the town’s many chimneys. The sky was looking threatening and added a dramatic backdrop to the images, luckily for me, I got back to the car before the heavy downpour started.

A Chimney in Cortona, Tuscany

A Chimney in Cortona, Tuscany

Every builder in Tuscany seems to have their own signature chimney, when you visit a Tuscan town it’s worth looking up at the roofs to check out the different styles.

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Via Ianelli, Cortona

On Sunday we went to Cortona to visit an antiques market held on the third Sunday of each month. Of course, all but one of the roads to the town were closed because of a car race and when we finally got there we found the antiques market wasn’t on.

Via Ianelli, Cortona, Tuscany

Via Ianelli, Cortona, Tuscany

Instead, I took the opportunity to photograph via Ianelli, a narrow street off via Roma where many of the houses have overhangs. According to the book Cortona In Context, this is how much of Cortona would have looked, most of the overhangs were removed to allow more light into the streets.

Overhanging upper storeys in Via Ianelli, Cortona

Overhanging upper storeys in Via Ianelli, Cortona

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Saturday Market In Cortona, Tuscany

Yesterday I took my niece Jess to Cortona, a hill town in Cortona. On Saturdays there is a small market in Piazza Signorelli. I was also keen to try out my new wide angle and telephoto lenses, fortunately for me, Cortona is a beautiful town and there was plenty of subject matter to shoot.

Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona, Tuscany

Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona, Tuscany

After taking a few shots in the Piazza della Repubblica we moved on to Piazza Signorelli and the market.

Vegetables at the Cortona Saturday market

Vegetables at the Cortona Saturday market

Afterwards it was time for a coffee and a hot chocolate in La Saletta, a bar on via Nazionale, Cortona’s main shopping street.

Cappuccino at Bar La saletta in Cortona

Cappuccino at Bar La saletta in Cortona

We decided it was time for a visit to the Museo Diocesano to see Fra’ Angelico’s magnificent altarpiece and paintings by Luca Signorelli and futurist artist Gino Severini.

Fra Angelico's Annunciation in Cortona

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation in Cortona

It was now time for the steep walk up Cortona’s streets towards the church of Santa Margherita and the Medici fortress at the top of the town.

The view from above Santa Margherita, Cortona

The view from above Santa Margherita, Cortona

Catching our breath at the top, we wandered into Santa Margherita where the body of Cortona’s patron saint lies in a glass coffin.

The body of Santa Margherita, Cortona

The body of Santa Margherita, Cortona

Then it was one final climb to the Medici Fortress for some incredible views across the Val di Chiana and of Lake Trasimeno. From here we wandered down a different path back to the via Nazionale, our visit to Cortona was at an end.

A Fiat 500 in the streets of Cortona

A Fiat 500 in the streets of Cortona

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Images Of Cortona

Cortona is one of Tuscany’s finest hill towns, below is a gallery of photos taken on a walk around the town.

The town hall in Cortona, Tuscany

The town hall in Cortona, Tuscany

The beautiful town of Cortona is close to many of our rental villas, farmhouses and apartments on the Tuscany Umbria border, Italy.

The town of Cortona in Tuscany

The town of Cortona in Tuscany

You can find instructions for the route of the walk around Cortona on which I took these pictures if you buy my book, Circular Walks On The Tuscany Umbria Border, available as an e-book for the Kindle.

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