There are so many beautiful places to visit and things to see! Experience Etruscan artifacts, Roman ruins, medieval churches, Renaissance frescoes and city design, narrow streets and lively piazzas, breathtaking views and Tuscan “postcard” scenery, markets, festivals, quality wines and memorable meals – all in one day, or take your time and savor.
Cortona (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame) is about a 25-30 minute drive away, and it really is a lovely town – with museums and historic buildings, beautiful views, charming streets and shops, and good restaurants. Parking is very limited there and it fills up fast (especially on Saturday market day), so try to arrive and park by 10:00 am. Cortona’s annual steak festival in August is not to be missed (photo below)!
The city of Arezzo is about a 30 minute drive away. It and Siena are the two nearest bigger cities. Arezzo is the “city of gold”, so called because of the gold jewelry manufacturing there. Arezzo is also famous for Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross fresco cycle in the basilica of San Francesco, as the birthplace of Giorgio Vasari, and as the setting for the first half of Roberto Begnini’s movie Life is Beautiful. The lovely Café Costanza, which featured in the film, is just across the piazza from the church of San Francesco.
The famous Arezzo monthly antiques fair (the biggest in Italy) is the first Sunday of every month and the Saturday before that Sunday (essentially the first weekend of the month). It offers real antiques, including some beautiful pieces of furniture, as well as vintage jewelry mixed in with lots of junk and knick-knacks. We like to do the antiques fair in the morning and then have a long Sunday lunch in the Piazza Grande before driving home. Saturdays are also Arezzo’s market day. Even without the monthly antique fair, Arezzo has many antique stores, jewelry shops, nice clothing stores, and churches and museums worth exploring.
Arezzo is also on the main train line between Rome and Florence. The province of Arezzo has a tourism website (for the English version, click on the British flag in the upper right hand corner of the homepage) that lists events and festivals throughout the province, as well as museums and other sites and sights: http://www.apt.arezzo.it/
In Arezzo province, in our Chiana valley, Civitella in Val di Chiana, Foiano della Chiana, and Castiglion Fiorentino are also worth a visit, as is the very tiny village of Gargonza. If you happen to be here in February before Lent begins, Foiano della Chiana has one of the oldest Carnevales in Italy.
In neighboring Siena province (just to the west), the city of Siena itself is maybe a 30 minute drive, with another few minutes needed to figure out how to approach the city and find a place to park. Follow the signs for “Siena ovest” and then towards the “centro”; park in one of the large lots outside the walls. The province of Siena’s tourism website (for English, click the British flag in the upper right hand corner of the homepage) is: http://www.terresiena.it/ You can find several brochures for museums and interesting walks in Siena in our house basket. Despite the crowds of tourists and college students at all times of the year, I love Siena, and its colors and light and beautiful buildings. Spend some time admiring the piazza (the campo), visit the Duomo, walk up and down the steep streets, see the museums, relax over lunch in one of Siena’s great restaurants, then find your way back to your car.
Buonconvento, San Quirico d’Orcia, the lovely town of Pienza, Monte Oliveto Maggiore (a Benedictine monastery with famous frescoes, and a wonderful restaurant nearby), Castelnuovo Berardenga (famous for its wines), Montalcino, Montepulciano (both famous for wine, as well), the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni, Cetona, San Casciano dei Bagni, Chiusi (with its Etruscan tombs), and Sarteano are all charming towns with interesting sights and museums. These are easy day trips (some of the smaller towns you can cover two or even three by lunchtime if you start early). Leave an entire day and evening for Montalcino: Brunello shopping and a wonderful, unforgettable dinner. Drive home carefully.
Several mineral springs and spas are in the area – some impressively fancy, some less so. You can get a day pass and treatments at most, even if you are not staying the night.
The region of Umbria is to the east. Assisi and Perugia can each be a day trip, or spend a relaxing day at Lake Trasimeno.
Explore a new town every day – or go on a country walk.
About roads and driving: looking on a good map, you will see that there are multiple roads – some large, some small – to get to most towns. This explains why you may see two signs pointing in opposite directions for the same place name. Other than navigating the outskirts and parking lots of Florence, Perugia, Siena, and Arezzo – and Cortona (if you get there after 10:00 am) – the driving around here is not too scary (and there is always gps). If you make a wrong turn, you can usually reconnect to the right road within a short distance. Relax – you’re on vacation.
For drives into Florence (a little over an hour if there is not much traffic on the autostrada), we suggest taking the Firenze Impruneta exit and following the signs toward the centro all the way to Porta Romana, where there is a parking lot just inside the gates. In the summer that lot fills up fast with tourists, so try to get to town by 9:30 am or so.
The house has an ever-increasing selection of guide books and pamphlets – and our House Book offers suggestions on where to go, what to see, and where to eat.