Italy is a country with many different types of places to explore: the waterways of Venice, the ancient art of Florence, the historical ruins of Rome, and the pizza of Naples. One of the best ways to see Italy is to fly into a starting city and take the train to other cities.
My personal journey into Italy went from Naples, Rome, Florence, and finally ended in Venice. Squeezed in the middle was a small slice of Italian paradise, a little hillside town of Tuscany known as Cortona.
For those who have seen the romantic comedy “Under the Tuscan Sun”, this is the town that is previewed in the movie. Now this town is authentic Italy. You arrive by train at the town next to it (if you don’t accidentally miss your stop as the station is one of the smaller ones where you have one minute to hop off or on the train). You then have to take a bus 15 minutes up to the town, winding around on the edge of the hilltops. Living in Asia, I have trained myself not to hold on for dear life when my bus drives dangerous close to the edge. Just be prepared if you are not as comfortable with heights and bouncing buses.
Keep in mind that these towns have not been as influenced by the stream of tourists that other major cities have received; thus, around 2 or 3 o’clock the town will literally shut down for rest time. A nice little sentiment that I think all countries should adopt. When planning your train to bus schedules, keep this lull in activity in mind.
When you get off the bus, you will have a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful Tuscan landscape. I went in the fall season when the vegetation was a mix of green, red, yellow, and orange. It was so surreal. I can only imagine that during the summer, the green blends with the blue sky like a watercolor painting.
This is a good time as any to tell you to pack light. Being on the hillsides, the paths are steep up and down as well as narrow. Cobblestone makes up the paths and the stones have shifted over time. The whole image of the town is picturesque but not for those that are weighed down by luggage or who have trouble with inclines.
One of my favorite parts of my time in Cortona was the dining experience. I had the pleasure of being served by the owner of one of the restaurants. This charming old man was a delight to be with and his warmth radiated around the entire restaurant. The food was authentic and in large portions. Another dining activity common for visitors is to participate in a cooking class with an Italian family. Booking in advanced is a must, especially in high tourists seasons.
Overall, this experience allowed me to get the true taste of Italy, away from the tourist-filled cities and the hustling of Italians trying to get around our cameras. Cortona was a slow-paced token of Italy, sun-dried and delightfully delicious.