Cortona is one the most popular hilltop towns in Tuscany, Italy. From its verdant hill, it watches over the Val di Chiana valley like an ancient guardian. It’s a fascinating place, with picturesque narrow lanes, spectacular views and huge protective walls built by the Etruscans. Here’s a list of our personal favourite things to do in Cortona.
Top things to do in Cortona – Soak up the atmosphere in the main square
Relaxing in Piazza della Repubblica is right at the top of the list. The square is the heart of Cortona, just as it was in Medieval times. The beautiful town hall dominates it from the top of a staircase, always busy with people. This is the perfect spot for people watching, daydreaming and appreciating the good life ‘under the Tuscan sun’. With its charming atmosphere, this square is one of those places you’ll fall in love with and never want to leave.
A wander down Via Iannelli
The past in Cortona is always just around the corner. And Via Iannelli is the most picturesque street in town. Here you find some Medieval houses with their wood beams supporting the overhanging upper floor, exposed beams and tiny windows. Photogenic to a fault.
A walk up to Santa Margherita Church
A view as far as the eye can see. This is your reward if you head out on the steep climb up to the Basilica of Santa Margherita. This Neo-Gothic church has some interesting paintings, and a 13th century wooden crucifix. But the highlights here are really the setting, the views, and the peaceful atmosphere of the place. Definitely worth the hike.
Visit the Museo Diocesano
What to do in Cortona if you’re an art lover? The small and delightful Diocesan Museum is hosted in the former Church del Gesù, opposite the Cathedral. It has a collection of artefacts and some outstanding paintings, from the 12th to 17th century. Beautifully laid out, the two floors of the museum offer visitors an intimate encounter with works by Fra’ Angelico, Luca Signorelli and Lorenzetti amongst others.
Highlights: the famous “Annunciation” by Fra’ Beato Angelico, “Communion of the Apostles” by Signorelli, a cross by Pietro Lorenzetti, and the “Virgin with Child and Four Saints” by Sassetta.
Awe at Etruscan artefacts in the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca
This is a nicely organised museum that offers a full immersion in the world of the Etruscans, who inhabited this territory in the 8th century B.C. Cortona was one of the twelve Etruscan city-states, and the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca is one of the most important museums dedicated to this civilisation in the whole of Italy.
The large collection ranges from pottery and figurines, to artefacts, jewellery, coins, funerary urns and paintings. Look out for the Etruscan chandelier (5th century BC) the hanging light that is interestingly decorated. The recent renovation adds a lot to the visitors’ experience, there are multimedia tools and other informative support services. For history buffs, this is definitely one of the top things to do in Cortona.
“Le Celle” Hermitage
3 kilometres from Cortona you find one of the most magical places in Tuscany, the Celle Hermitage. A peaceful monastery where nature and spirituality meet. This is where St. Francis rested and prayed during his evangelical pilgrimage, having chosen this place for its spiritual atmosphere and isolation.
What we see today is the result of 16th century reconstruction work, where some cells and a small chapel can be visited. A special feeling still pervades the place. Maybe it’s the soothing sound of the water, the presence of all those trees or the memory of centuries of prayers.
Take home a piece of Cortona!
We’ve fallen in love with the typical olive green and yellow designs on the pottery here. Don’t leave Cortona without picking up a coffee cup or some plates to remember your trip.
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