Cortona is one of the oldest hill towns in Tuscany and is featured in Francis Mayes book Under the Tuscan Sun, later made into a movie. Its medieval streets are pleasant to wander and you'll be rewarded with fabulous views of the countryside along the medieval town walls. Cortona has remnants of its pre-Roman Etruscan past, Renaissance artists Luca Signorelli and Fra Angelico, and Baroque artist Pietro da Cortona.
Cortona is reachable by train from Rome, Florence, or Arezzo. There are two stations, both below the town, at Terontola-Cortona or Camucia-Cortona. From either station, a bus runs up the hill, arriving at Piazza Garibaldi just outside the center. Cortona can also be reached by bus from nearby towns and villages in Tuscany. If you're driving, take the A1 Valdichiana exit, then the Siena-Perugia motorway and exit at Cortona-San Lorenzo. Follow signs for Cortona.
The road to Cortona from the valley starts near the Melone Etruscan tombs. On the way up the hill, you'll pass more Etruscan tombs, olive groves, and the Renaissance Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio. If you're driving, look for parking as soon as possible when you're near the top of the hill. If you're arriving by bus you'll arrive in Piazza Garibaldi, a prime view spot. From the square, walk along Via Nazionale, the only flat street, to the historic center, Piazza Republica and Piazza Signorelli.
Along the way, you'll pass the tourist office at Via Nazionale, 42.
Where to Stay
Villa Marsili is a well-rated 4-star Beaux Arts hotel inside the city walls. There are also more top-rated Cortona hotels, either in the historic center inside the walls or very near the town. Cortona's youth hostel, Ostello San Marco, has good facilities in an old convent on Via Maffei up the hill from Piazza Republica.
- Piazza della Republica: The 13th-century town hall and clock tower are on one of Cortona's main squares, Piazza della Republica. There are cafes nearby for enjoying the piazza life.
- Duomo: Cortona's Renaissance cathedral, built on the site of an Etruscan temple, has an 11th-century facade and has beautiful 16th and 17th-century paintings inside.
- Museo dell' Accademia Etrusca: In the 13th-century Palazzo Pretorio on Piazza Signorelli is the Etruscan Academy Museum. Besides good Etruscan artifacts, the museum holds Roman remains, Renaissance and Baroque paintings, 15th-century ivories, and a small Egyptian exhibit. It's closed on Mondays.
- Museo Diocesano: This small museum, also closed on Mondays, holds outstanding artworks and a decorated Roman sarcophagus.
- San Domenico: Near the public gardens, the church of San Domenico has a completely intact 15th-century altarpiece and works by Fra Angelico and Signorelli.
- San Francesco: The Church of San Francesco, built in 1245, holds a Pietro di Cortona painting and the remains of Signorelli.
- Cortona's Walls: Cortona's Etruscan walls are incorporated into the medieval walls that surround its historic center. Inside the walls, you can wander the narrow medieval streets of Cortona's historic center. Near the walls, you'll often be rewarded with fantastic views of the valley below.
Le Celle di Cortona, a Franciscan convent, holds the spartan cell where St. Francis stayed when he preached there in 1211. It's about a 45-minute walk through the woods outside the walls. The church and gardens can be visited for free.
The 16th century Medici fortress above Cortona has great views over Lake Trasimeno. Follow Via S. Margherita uphill past lovely gardens to the fortress.