Here is an itinerary for one week in Tuscany with Cortona as home base. We think this is a good itinerary for pretty much anyone interested in exploring what Tuscany has to offer – a bit of art in both towns and major cities, great food, thermal baths and nature, and remarkable landscape.
Why Cortona? As a visitor to Tuscany, Cortona makes a great home base because you get to live the small town experience but are close to good roads. From Cortona you can easily reach the major art cities of Siena and Arezzo (40 minutes), the well known cheese and wine towns Pienza and Montepulciano (even closer), and two different thermal baths at Chianchiano or Rapolano.
Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun is set in Cortona and has made the town rather popular in recent years; here is the trailer of the movie.[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdJGMZDY0-8[/youtube]
We suggest that you rent a villa outside Cortona or an apartment in town for one week and just slow down, drink up the atmosphere and a good class of local red wine. Here is a suggested day-by-day itinerary that provides a nice variety of things to see, but that is also relaxing. The Tuscan lifestyle, especially in the summer and in small towns, is all about the afternoon nap while all the stores are closed, followed by leisurely strolling, a drink on a terrace at sundown…
Here is a google map with all the points described in the itinerary below. We’ve picked what we think are some of the best places to visit in this area, but of course you can add to this or customize it. And of course, if you’ve done it, please let us know how it goes, what you’d change, what you liked, etc.
Itinerary on google maps
Visualizza Itinerary: One week in Tuscany (Cortona) in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori
Day 1: arrive in Cortona and hang out
Take the time to get to know the town, find its stores and amenities as described here. This itinerary is awfully calm – we don’t suggest that you do too much each day, but rather frequently return home to Cortona to sit on the wall, do a sketch or just enjoy the view.
Day 2: Siena
Siena has plenty to offer for a day’s visit. Start in Piazza del Duomo with a visit to the Duomo famous for its intarsiated marble floor and for the Piccolomini Library with renaissance frescoes by Pinturicchio. Across from the Duomo is the large museum complex of Santa Maria della Scala, previously a pilgrims’ hospice and now used for special exhibits. Read more about Siena on turismo.intoscana.it and about Siena’s typical sweet “pan pepato“.
Day 3: thermal baths and outlet shopping
The outlet at Valdichiana has a good selection of mens and womens clothing and accessories, as well as kitchen stuff stores. Definately worth spending a few hours (and euros) here. As for thermal baths this area is rich in sulfur waters, so you can choose from Bagno Vignone, Rapollano Terme or Chianchiano Terme. The water is the same and wonderfully warm in all cases; what changes is the level of luxury at each thermal bath establishment (and also the price changes). Bring your flip flops, bathing cap, and a robe!
Day 4: wine and cheese party, crete senesi
Get the best of Tuscany’s food with cheese in Pienza, followed by wine tasting in nearby Montepulciano. Pienza is also historically important – it is a town entirely planned in the Renaissace, with an interesting church and other public buildings. Just outside Montepulciano don’t miss the Church of San Biagio.
Day 5: Arezzo and Monterchi
Arezzo is the closest large town to Cortona. There are paid public lots and it’s easy enough to find a spot to leave your car. Get a map and explore this city, starting perhaps with the church of San Francesco and its frescoes of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca. There is another figure by that artist in the Duomo. If you’re lucky enough to time your visit with the Arezzo Antique Fair that happens the FIRST sunday of the month, be prepared for crowds but also for the possibility of finding a real treasure to take home!
After leaving Arezzo, if you liked Piero della Francesca, you can take a small road to Monterchi to visit the Madonna del Parto, a fresco by Piero that is believed to have magical properties with regards to assisting in pregnancy and birth. Local women still pray to her.
Day 6: more small towns, or a hike
If you step into the bookstore in Cortona you can buy a hiking map of the area, or just follow any red and white striped signs you see leading out of town. A long hilly hike followed by a nap in the park is just what you need to complete your trip. If hiking is not your thing, go check out any of the other small towns on our map – including San Giovanni d’Asso and its truffle museum, Castiglione d’Orcia, Buonconvento, or Castiglione Fiorentino (the next town over).
Day 7: into Umbria: Perugia and Assisi
Although this isn’t in Tuscany, we wouldn’t want you to miss out on your Italy trip by not going over to neighbouring Umbria. Cortona is pretty much on the border, and Perugia is only about half an hour away. From there, Assisi is also just a short hop. We wrote about how similar these places are to Tuscany in a tongue-in-cheek article called Tuscumbria.
This post is by Alexandra (text, arts information) and Barbara (map, trip planning).