Train travel from La Spezia and The Cinque Terre to Arezzo was about 3 ½ hours via Florence and the scenery heading east towards Tuscany was gorgeous. The rolling hills, vineyards, olive trees and farmhouses set in the valleys and medieval hills got us excited about hiking in the Tuscan Hills.
Arezzo is a relatively small Italian city in southeastern Tuscany with only about 100K population. It’s not the kind of city people would normally travel to unless you were aware of the medieval festival and antique fair. We went because it was less touristy and because of its central location to other sites via train or bus.
Our hotel was budget friendly and was in a quiet area of town; close to the railway station, yet within an easy walk to the town centre. We decided to stay 4 days.
The beautiful town of Arezzo dates back to before the 9th C. BC and Etruscan times when it was one of the most important Etruscan settlements of its time. It became the 3rd largest city in Italy under Roman rule and was subsequently even ruled by the Medici family during part of the 14th and 15th Century.
Its charming historic old town is small enough to explore on foot. You can while away the hours people watching in the perfectly preserved medieval town square; the Piazza Grande, or explore the narrow alleyways and tranquil streets visiting any number of interesting and unique bars and restaurants.
We loved the juxtaposition of the medieval buildings with the hip and trendy fashionable stores. Arezzo is actually quite a wealthy city and apparently one of the major centres for jewelry and goldsmith craftsmanship in Italy.
Roberto Benigni’s 1997 movie, “Life is Beautiful” which won 4 Oscars, was filmed in Arezzo and partially in Cortona because of the picturesque settings.
Many of the beautiful Gothic and Romanesque churches, towers and palaces played an important role in the history of Tuscany. You can explore the gothic cathedral dating back to 1286, the gothic church of San Francesco from the 14th C., great museums, or the Roman amphitheater and aqueduct. There are great panoramic views (ideal for picnics) of the city from the tower of “Palazzo dei Priori” or from the “Il Prato” Arezzo’s oldest park leading up to the Medici Fortress.
There are plenty of hikes in this area ranging from Lago Trasimeno; Italy’s third largest lake, Cortona with its charming medieval streets, or the National Park and historical sites of the Casentino Forest with its best preserved forest of its kind in Europe – the beech and fir trees.
If you don’t have a car, hiking was easier to reach if you stuck to areas just outside the city or around the small towns on the rail line. Buses to the countryside and villages from the rail heads were few and far between – there was never any guarantee that if you were able to finish your hike that you’d get a bus back home! Consequently, we realized that many of the hikes in the Tuscan region were better reached by car.
Charming Cortona was only 30 kms from Arezzo and easily accessible by train to the Camucia-Cortona station. We then followed the road (look for the Etruscan tombs on the way up); for a 35 minute climb to the city centre at an elevation of about 600 metres. Accordingly, this medieval hillside town has a number of very steep and narrow cobblestone streets, but also some great panoramic views across the Tuscan hills toward Lago Trasimeno and the Val di Chiana plains below.
Cortona has become quite popular over the years because of the book and film, “Under the Tuscan Sun” which was filmed here. Many people like me, look for the fountain that was in the movie. This was a prop and does not actually exist… that’s the magic of showbiz for you!
Next stop… Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto and surrounding areas HOME