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Cortona for Food Festivals, Markets, History and Great Sites to See

I first visited Cortona 16 years ago and consequently fell in love with Italy. I was given Frances Mayes' book "Under the Tuscan Sun" for my 35th birthday by a girlfriend while we were living in the Papua New Guinean jungle.

After reading "Under the Tuscan Sun" I knew I not only wanted to visit Italy, but I had to rent a villa outside of Cortona to replicate the experience. Little did I know then that I would eventually live in Italy as my adopted country. And if you want directions to see the famous "Bramasole" from Frances's book, see details below.

Cortona was everything I had hoped it would be a more! After many years of searching for the perfect property, we ended up buying our farm about an hour outside of Cortona on the other side of Arezzo, south of Florence and Poppi.
Jannelli Street Cortona for Medieval houses Cortona is set into the hillside surrounded by olive trees and churches, and has changed little since the Middle Ages.

Of particular note are the Medieval overhanging houses and narrow alleys can be seen in Via Jannelli just up from the Via Roma gate.

Not many people know of these
Via Jannelli for Medieval Houses in Cortona

houses, and you can visit them free of the hordes of tourists that crowd the rest of Cortona.

It is not a big town, and can be quite comfortably visited in a day. There is much to see, including breathtaking views of the Val di Chiana below as far as Lake Trasimene from the top car parks. The best views can be seen from Piazza Garibaldi after climbing the Fortezza Medicia.

Sights to See in Cortona

Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio, Cortona
Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio, Cortona Italy
The road to the town from the valley floor climbs and winds itself among olive groves and Etruscan tombs and other evidence of the Etruscans. Here you can also find the lovely Renaissance church Maria della Grazie al Calcinaio outside of Cortona, clinging to the hillside. As you enter, look up and see the painting by Andrea del Sarto.

A busy piazza in Cortona Italy. Most people start their trip by entering one of the seven gates of this completely walled town.

By winding your way through the streets you eventually come to the main thoroughfare; Piazza della Republica with its crenelated town hall.

The best gate to approach this from is Porta Guelfa as from here you can walk along  Via Guelfa. 

Walking along Via Geulfa you will pass San Agostino on your left. Further up you will have Palazzo Mancini on your left, and finally the area will open up into Piazza della Republica, the center of the town.

Stand here and appreciate the architecture, or have a cup of coffee from the restaurant that has its tables spilling out into the square.
Cortona is one of those towns that can only be experienced by walking around and getting lost. One of the loveliest walks is into the park where one can enjoy the sculptures, trees and fountains. It is a restful place, away from the hubbub and a lovely place for reflection.

Another place for reflection is the Santurio La Celle a monastery founded by Francis Assisi which is a good 45 minute walk from the town walls down through the woods. Pilgrims will find a spartan cell with its stone bed and wooden pillow used by Saint Francis during his stay here. For those of you who are interested in other places within the area where Saint Francis stayed you should visit Camoldoli and the Sanctuary at Chiusi della Verna.

Another church of interest that lies just out of the city walls is the Chiesa di Santa Nuova. The church was built around he middle of the 16th century, by Gorgio Vasari. The building inside has 4 massive pillars and vaulted ceilings.

Inside one the Chiesa di Santa Nuova one can find artworks by Alessandro Allori, San Carlo Borromeo, and l'Empoli.

Museums of Cortona

After Piazza della Republica walk through to Piazza Signorelli, named after the artist who was born in Cortona. Here the Piazza is dominated by the 13th century Casanova Palace also called the Praetorian Palace. If you are interested in the Etruscans and their civilization the palace has been turned into a museum with extensive Etruscan art and artifacts. Look for the 5th century BC Etruscan oil lamp. It is closed Mondays, and between 13:00 - 16:00.

If you are looking for a display of art another interesting museum,  then the Diocesan Museum. Here you will find work of two Renaissance artists; Fra Angelico's Annunciation and several pieces painted by Signorelli.

Markets of Cortona

Cortona has a very good antique market on the 3rd Sunday of every month. Head for the Piazza Signorelli where it is held.

From the last Saturday in August through to the second Sunday in September one of the largest antique markets takes place in Palazzo Vagnotti and Palazzo Casali with over 50 stalls. It was created primarily to be a showcase for the local furniture restoration business. However, nowadays, the Cortonantiquaria also includes stalls that sell jewelry, bric-a-brac, art, and other antiques.

If you are looking for a vegetable and fruit market this takes place on a Saturday morning. If you miss this one, the next is in the valley in Camucia on a Thursday morning.

Festivals and Food Festivals for Cortona

Cortona Festivals

The Giostra dell'Archidado takes place on the first Sunday of June and it is a Medieval festival that re-enacts the wedding of Francesco Casali, a previous lord of the town to Antonio Salimbeni from Siena that took place in 1397. 

Because of the significance of the marriage, between the lord and this Sienese noblewoman, the wedding procession arrived through the gates to loud cheers, drummers and trumpet players. The towns people brought gifts of all descriptions from doves, to rich jewels, horses and gold. The Cortonans also helped to decorate the Palazzo Casali with linen, beds, cutlery and crockery which they lent to the lord for the occasion.

The celebration festival is an archery competition where the five districts or neighborhoods of the town compete against each other using crossbows to win first prize; the golden crossbow dart. The whole town is immersed in the competitive spirit and entertainment from the Medieval age takes place, including dinners and banquets, and stalls selling Medieval food.

Cortona Food Festivals

The Sagra della Bisteca or T-Bone Steak Festival is the most important food festival here during the summer. It takes places on the 14th and 15th August in the public gardens. Here on a 14 square meter grill large beef steaks from the Chianina cattle are grilled over hot coals. Paired with good Chianti wines this becomes a gastronomic experience not to be missed.
freshly picked wild mushrooms in a bowl The Sagra del Fungo Porcini or Mushroom Festival is held every year on the weekend after the Sagra della Bistecca in August. Here again it takes place in the public gardens where one can taste dishes prepared by using the wild field mushrooms and porcini from the surrounding forests.

The Sagra della Lumaca is for those who love snails. This snail festival takes place at Fossa del Lupo, a small village at the foot of Cortona. It takes place in the month of June and is a large event that also includes cycling events, card tournaments, dances etc.

The Tuscan Sun Festival is an annual music and arts festival that usually takes place during the last week in July and the first week in August. It takes place in the Teatro Signorelli where you can see concerts and explore fine art, wine, history, and culinary delights.

Recommended Restaurants in Cortona

See our page on Tuscany food recommending restaurants in Cortona. These restaurants have been sanctioned by the Vetrina Toscana body as serving traditional food using traditional ingredients of high quality.

Directions to Frances Mayes' House

If you are looking for directions for Frances Mayes' house just outside the walls of Cortona then you may be interested in this page.

Weather Cortona Italy

Here is a weather forecast for your visit to Cortona.

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