Not all things go the way you anticipate. The plan can and usually does go out the window but more often than not something better comes along. The key is to be flexible.
On our Painting in Italy trip, we decided to head out for the day and visit the city of Arezzo.
We were staying in Cortona, so Arezzo was a quick 20-minute train ride and seemed like the perfect choice for a day trip, without too much travel time eating into our day. Located approximately 80 kilometres south-east of Florence, Arezzo has a population of around 100,000, and it was much larger than what we had become accustomed to in Cortona.
The plan was to do some exploring, some sketching, maybe some painting and of course some eating. As a change of pace it was great, but along with the good unfortunately comes the not so desirable.
Being used to the quieter pace of Cortona without a significant number of tourists throughout the week, Arezzo was somewhat of a surprise. And the street hawkers did not help. It looked like rain, so the special of the day was umbrellas, and when the heavens opened up, people certainly did scramble to buy.
Arezzo has a more modern vibe, or at least the lower town does, with its high-end stores, cafes and crowds of young people. It is a commercial centre, but if you venture a bit further, you will find its history and stories.
This post includes one of many One Day Itineraries for places in Italy that I think you will love.
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Things to Do in Arezzo
For whatever reason, you visit Italy, and there are many, sometimes staying in ancient, hilltop towns doesn’t satisfy everything on a traveller’s wish list. I apologise for the stereotyping, but what lady doesn’t want to do a bit of shopping in Italy? Maybe some shoes, a handbag or a beautiful Italian fashion item.
At the top of the hill, you will find Piazza Grande once the central marketplace of the city. A sloping square bordered on the north by the Palazzo delle Logge and its stunning colonnade which is still home to shops and businesses and flanked on the left by the 12th century Pieve di Santa Maria and the Palazzo della Fraternità dei La.
Santa Maria della Pieve
Santa Maria della Pieve is Arezzo’s oldest church. With its prominent Romanesque arched façade, this 12th-century church is worth a visit with one of the highlights the altarpiece by Pietro Lorenzetti’s polyptych Madonna and Saints dated from 1320–24.
As you meander your way up to the old quarter, you will see any antique stores dotted along the way. It is worth taking the time to have a look, and with some unusual items for purchase, these may be where you find that unique gift for the home.
If you can time it right, you can visit the Antique Market, held in the Piazza Grande on the first weekend of each month. It is considered to be one of the best antique markets in the area.
Quirky Antiques – Photo by Helen Masin
So if shopping is your thing, then Arezzo would be the place for you to visit. With many high-end stores including Zara and MaxMara to Italian fashion clothes and accessories all located on Corso Italia, Arezzo’s main thoroughfare any retail cravings you may have should be well and truly satisfied here.
Just spend some time strolling Corso Italia, doing a bit of shopping, stopping for an espresso in one of the many cafes, some more shopping, a bite to eat – sounds like a wonderful way to spend a morning I think.
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National Archaeological Museum and Roman Amphitheater
The museum is housed in the complex of the Monastery of St Bernard.
Two ladies from our group explored this place and loved it. I will put this on the must-see list when I return to Arezzo. We recommend you set aside at least a couple of hours to check it out.
Tickets are €6.00 each. Find out more information here.
What we did in Arezzo
We weren’t visiting Arezzo as your typical tourists. We were on a painting trip after all, so the aim was to gain more content for painting. Sketching and art supplies were at the top of the list.
You thought this section would be about the amazing art you can see in Arezzo, didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint but it’s not, although there is an abundance of Renaissance art to see in many of its famous churches.
For our group, the priority was painting supplies. We were, after all, a group of painters, and after our creative appetites had been inspired by our stunning surroundings, most of us dashed to the nearest art store with lists in hand eager to replenish our depleting supplies. Even me, who vowed I was only going to draw, became the proud owner of a cute travel watercolour set and watercolour paper pad.
And for a small store, it didn’t disappoint. Pads of watercolour papers, pens, brushes and paints were purchased with plans to capture memories and sights and scenes once only dreamt about and now with reality delivering so much more.
And for those of you who love to eat pop into one of the many cafes or like, we did into Antica Bottega Toscana and stock up on all the local goodies.
From the moment you step inside the door the aroma of prosciutto and salami, ripening cheeses and earthy truffles envelopes you. Throw in some chocolate, my new favourite wines Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and of course bottles of Limoncello and you’ve just described heaven to me.
As a foodie, I could have bought the lot. I mean after the art store and now this, my day was already a huge hit.
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Antica Bottega Toscani – Photo by Kathy Karas
So how did our day end up?
I confess that we didn’t see all the recommended sights. It ended up being one of the best afternoons of our trip, or at least it was for me.
Arezzo was not part of our itinerary but a shared excursion for anyone in our group who wanted to spend their free time discovering other areas, so when we arrived everyone headed off to explore with the arrangement to meet in the Piazza Grande to do some sketching later in the afternoon for anyone that was interested. A small group of us gathered and tried to find a suitable place to sketch and take some photos, to later develop into a painting. The weather was not obliging. Sitting on one set of steps undercover the cold wind finally drove us to move, and in the end, we perched on the steps of the Palazzo della Fraternità dei La to sketch.
Some of the group chose to head off to the Archaeological Museum while a few others headed off to explore a little more.
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Making the most of bad weather
The weather took a turn for the worse, and hastily we packed things up, gathered the group that was nearby and made a run for it. We headed for a quaint little café we had spied earlier in the day but hadn’t stopped at, in fact, we had been dubious because it had been quiet inside. But what a great place it turned out to be.
Our afternoon ended with shared platters of freshly sliced prosciutto, chunks of pecorino cheese and fat, plump olives with freshly baked bread served with cold glasses of prosecco while the darkened skies unleashed a torrent of hail that pounded outside our window.
We spent an enjoyable afternoon tucked away from the world, enjoying warm hospitality, delicious food and each other’s company.
Perhaps we didn’t see all the sights of Arezzo, but that’s ok. It is one of my fondest memories of Arezzo if not our entire trip to Italy.
Afternoons like this one are what I believe travel is all about, more than seeing any tourist attraction or sight. Give me great company, personal connections and conversations anytime, but the fact it took place in such a beautiful place makes it even more unique.
On the whole, I would recommend Arezzo as a great day trip, particularly from Florence. I will return and explore more and hopefully find that special little something to bring home from the Antique Market.
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