The next day we set off to drive to Passignano sul Trasimeno. The section between Siena and Montevarchi was called the strada dei castelli del Chianti (Chianti castle and wine route) where I would have wanted to stop off at so many places that we would never have reached our final destination.
Late morning we stopped off for a visit to Arezzo where the duomo was closed between 12.30 and 15.30. Only in Italy (maybe) would a cathedral be closed for lunch and a pity the guide books don’t mention this. Most tourist offices, we discovered to our chagrin, also close between 12.00-15.30 and invariably we always managed to turn up just as they were closing or had just closed – very frustrating.
Arezzo, home of a bronze statue of the chimera (the logo of Agip petrol stations)
was a very attractive town with some interesting-looking art and antiques shops and buildings with painted facades.
It had a large campo with a loggia (arched walk way) running along the top of the square which was home to a number of restaurants and shops.
Arezzo is home to an annual medieval festival called the Saracen Joust (Giostra del Saracino). In this, “knights” on horseback representing different areas of the town charge at a wooden target attached to a carving of a Saracen king and score points according to accuracy. Virtually all the town’s people dress-up in medieval costume and enthusiastically cheer on the competitors.
We visited Santa Maria della Pieve (the church on the right hand side as we looked down the piazza Vasari), San Domenico and San Francesco (no photos allowed in these churches). San Domenico has a curiously asymmetrical façade and is home to the great Christ painted by Cimabue and an interesting series of 14th and 15th century frescoes of the Arezzo school.
In the afternoon we stopped in Cortona. We managed to find a parking spot near the top of the hill so were saved a long uphill walk into the town itself. We had a late lunch – crostoni (a sort of toasted open sandwich) with tomatoes, rocket and fontina cheese for me and tomatoes and mozzarella for DH.
We visited the museo dell’Academia Etrusca (Etruscan museum), no photos allowed and no postcards for sale. This museum has an extraordinary Etruscan chandelier, the like of which I’ve never seen before.
Then we visited the churches of San Domenico
and San Francesco.
On the outskirts of the town is the Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio (Sta Maria of the lime kiln). I made a special effort to visit this because it was supposed to have a beautiful oculus (stained glass window) in the façade but I couldn’t find it. Its interior was surprisingly stark after the highly decorated churches we’d already seen
Cortona and its environs inspired Frances Mayes to write her book “under the Tuscan sun” about her life restoring the villa she called Bramasole. It was subsequently made into a film. Isabella Dusi wrote a book called “vanilla beans in brodo” about the time she spent living in Cortona itself. I wished I’d had a copy of her book with me when we visited so that I could have followed one of her walks.
We then took a scenic route via the hills behind Lake Trasimeno to get to our hotel in Passignano sul Trasimeno, on the lake, site of a famous battle between Hannibal and Rome.