Imagine you are heading to Italy, and your head is full of all the places you want to see. But where to start? Do you head to the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre or explore Tuscany?
This post includes a one-day downloadable itinerary. Of course, you can be flexible and use our ideas as suggestions, but if you are not a planner, short on time or are just looking for ease and convenience then, by all means, grab it and slot it into your Italian Itinerary.
Everyone wants to explore Tuscany. I mean why wouldn’t you? With rolling hills of grass rippling in the breeze, dotted with ancient villas and overlooked by medieval hilltop towns. Tuscany is gorgeous! The scenery, the food, the wine and the people.
I fell in love with Cortona on a previous 6-day stay. We stayed at the Villa Marsili, a beautiful place if you want to spoil yourself. We ate at cafes and restaurants and had fun doing a little bit of shopping and a whole lot of exploring.
I have put together this One Day in Cortona, although I highly recommend more time if you have it. But Cortona is an easily manageable place, and it is easy to see most of the main sites in one day.
Cortona is a 2.5-hour train ride from Rome and about the same time if you decide to drive. Please note that if you drive, you need to park outside the city walls.
From Florence, the train ride is just under two hours and a 1.5-hour drive.
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Where to Start
I recommend you arrive in Cortona as early as possible to maximise your time.
If you park below the city walls you will find an escalator to take you to the top. And at the top, you will find Piazza Garibaldi.
The views from here are stunning overlooking the valley below and all the way to Lake Trasimeno. Take time to take photos and take it in the outlook.
Warning: DO NOT be tempted to try the restaurant to the right of the piazza for lunch, dinner or any meal. Don’t be seduced by the views. I will just say that the fake grass should have been a warning sign.
Instead, if planning on staying for dinner, I would highly recommend Bottega Baracchi Wine Bar & Bistro. It is located on your left as you start walking up Via Nationale. There is an outdoor deck/bar area that overlooks Piazza Garibaldi. The food and service here were fantastic.
And if you haven’t had breakfast this may be a good place to start the day! Although breakfast does not start until 10.30 am, so lunch maybe?
Starting Your Day in Cortona
If coffee is what you are looking for then I recommend Caffe Bar Signorelli located near Piazza della Repubblica. They were always open when we finished our early morning walk each morning, and the staff were friendly.
There were other cafes, but this one was convenient for me and I liked that I could sit inside or outside.
This cafe is close to the Visitor’s Information Centre where I suggest you pop into and grab a map (if you haven’t already printed the one above) before your coffee. You will find it marked on the map. Then you can get your bearings while you relax and plan your day if you choose to do your own itinerary.
Sit at the outdoor seating at Caffe Bar Signorelli or if very early you can sit comfortably inside.
Church of Santa Margherita
Next stop is the Church of Santa Margherita. You can drive up to the church which sits high above the town of Cortona; however, if you are feeling energetic then I suggest you walk up. Be warned it is steep, but when you look back, the views are spectacular.
The story of Saint Margherita is an interesting one. You can read the full story here. Saint Margherita’s body lies preserved in a casket in the Church which was rebuilt in her honour.
It is worth the walk, and I would recommend you give yourself some time to look around.
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The Fortress of Girifalco
And if you think you would like just a little bit more exercise, hike up the hill further to the 16th century Medici Fortress that sits above the Church of Santa Margherita.
The Fortress hosts an art gallery and bistro.
The Fortress of Girifalco is open from 10 am – 6 pm April – June and 11 am – 1.30 pm and 2.30 pm – 7 pm July to October.
Tickets are – € 3,00 – Adult and € 1,50 – Children’s from 6 up to 12 years old.
You can find more information here – The Fortress of Girifalco
As you come back down into Cortona, take time to wander. You can walk to the city walls easily, and the view is spectacular. I would suggest you find the little street, Via Janelli, where you will find the medieval half-timbered homes still in use.
Piazza della Repubblica
After a strenuous morning, head back to the Piazza della Repubblica for some rest.
The Piazza is where life bubbles away here. With a large variety of shops and cafes surrounding it is an interesting place to sit and people watch.
Take time to enjoy lunch and then browse through the stores around the Piazza and explore the laneways. You will find antiques, handbags or maybe grab a gelato. You can look at cashmere items or browse art galleries.
Etruscan Academy Museum
After lunch and a bit of shopping head up to the Piazza Signorelli and the Etruscan Academy Museum.
Cortona was once an Etruscan centre and the best place to see Etruscan artefacts and remnants of their existence is in the museum. Housed in the Palazzo Casali, the museum consists of four floors and is an impressive building.
As well as Etruscan artefacts, the museum also houses Roman artefacts, Renaissance art and a Greek collection.
The museum is open every day except Mondays from:
April – October from 10.00 am to 7.00 pm and
November – March from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm
Tickets are €8.00.
You can find more information here – Etruscan Academy Museum
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To complete your time in Cortona, I suggest a visit to the beautiful Parterre Gardens located on the edge of the city overlooking the valley and out to Lake Trasimeno.
The Parterre Gardens are a delightful parkway lined with trees and greenery. It is a lovely place to walk and relax. If you walk to the end of the parkway, in the distance you can see, Bramasole, the villa owned by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. The movie of the same name was also filmed in Cortona.
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End your visit with a stop at the Monastery founded in 1211 by St Francis of Assisi and his followers. It sits nestled in the forest near Cortona. You may or may not see any of the monks, but take a look at the small chapel and the cell occupied by St Francis.
Enjoy the peace and tranquillity. Listen to the water in the stream cascade down the mountain. Take a walk along the path through the forest.
The Monastery is a 20-minute walk from the town. If you have limited time and are not driving, I suggest you organise a taxi.
If you decide to hire a taxi, negotiate a pickup time so there will be no need to call when you have finished. Then, if it is convenient, the taxi can take you to the train station.
The Monastery is open from 7.00 am to 7.00 pm.
For information on taxis find out more here.
Or I also recommend Enzo Belleri, firstname.lastname@example.org. We used a couple of different services during our stay in Cortona and found both to reasonably priced and reliable.
And they are both Enzos! It did get a little confusing.
So, enjoy your visit to Cortona, but I hope that you stay longer, it is a beautiful town.
If you are travelling to Tuscany you might also find these useful:
- HOW TO EXPERIENCE FLORENCE, YOUR WAY
- SAN MINIATO, ITALY
- A DAY IN AREZZO
- THREE MUST SEE TOWNS IN TUSCANY