After much research on line, I decided to rent an apartment in Cortona, Tuscany, in both high summer and in the dead of winter, for two weeks each time on an experimental basis.
Arriving by train from Rome, I moved into a very pretty apartment in a little alleyway just off the main square: Piazza della Repubblica. The apartment had two tiny terrazzini (terraces) looking out over the piazza where I had a bird’s eye view of all the comings and goings from my little wrought-iron table and chair.
First of all, I had to figure out all the basics. Where was I supposed to dump my rubbish, buy fresh pasta and bread, and from where on earth did the bus leave to take me to the railway station? All these questions were answered by Andrea, the letting agent, after the first few days of confusion and I settled down to my new “Life in Italy.”
Of course, now that I live in Italy permanently, I realise that renting a holiday apartment and actually living La Dolce Vita as a resident are two entirely different things, but at that point I was convinced that I was going for total immersion in the Italian lifestyle.
It is a walled town with many entrances.
Also, it is chock-full of beautiful churches, unfortunately not all of which are open to the public. Some of them will turn on their internal lighting for the small price of a Euro placed in a slot outside the front door. You can then peer through the glass doors at all the treasures displayed within, until your Euro runs out.
Being a daily walker, my perfect walk took me along Via Nazionale, through the park, along a narrow uphill road, past the mellow old house, Bramasole, so familiar to those of us who have read the Frances Mayes book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” on to Torreone, where I would turn left and continue to the church of Santa Margherita. Pausing at the summit to admire the stunning view, I would then head steeply downhill past the Stations of the Cross and back to my apartment via the pasticceria, (pastry shop), where I purchased my well-deserved fresh cornetto (Italian croissant) filled with apricot jam.
Religious art is an interest of mine and whose paintings could possibly be more interesting to view than those of Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli? I visited the Diocesan Museum several times to wonder at these fabulous works of art.
The countryside round about Cortona is beautiful and mellow, the town itself having stunning views over the Valdichiana towards Lago di Trasimeno. During my four weeks, spread over two visits, I found it easy to visit Assisi, Arezzo, Pienza and Montepulciano as a day-tripper.
The first of my planned two-week visits was in high summer when it was hot and there were many tourists. The second of my “Life in Italy” visits was spent just after Christmas and over the New Year, which was pretty interesting. As I wandered the narrow streets, I felt like had returned home.
My little apartment was cosy, with a completely different feel now that the air conditioning was turned off. Though the weather was pretty cold, my morning walks were invigorating and on only one occasion was it too wet to venture out. Whereas I had been walking before 07.00 during high summer, my winter walks commenced at around 09.00 when it was bright and the day had warmed up slightly.
The New Year was wet, wet, wet. I had planned to watch the festivities in Piazza Repubblica as the Palazzo Comunale (town hall) had been decked out in lights and a band-stand had been erected. Having looked at the rain and felt the cold, I decided to tuck myself up in bed with a book and slept through the New Year, opening my eyes briefly when the sound of fireworks echoed around the town.
Those of you who follow my blog posts know by now that I ended up living in the Veneto. Tuscany was always a possibility, but the right property never seemed to be available at the opportune moment. But those four weeks in Cortona remain forever lodged in a happy place in my memory.