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A Perfect Day in Arezzo
Arezzo is such a classy town - it was recently voted one of the best places to live in Italy (by Italians) and I can see why. Despite being full of Renaissance goodies, it still manages to be 'alive', hip and trendy. As host to the famous, monthly Fiera Antiquaria, Arezzo is a fine place to spend some time.
There is a 'wealthy' feel to Arezzo, perhaps because of the glut of jewellers and goldsmiths who boost the town's economy. The brisk lower town is thriving, full of 'A-list' shops and cool, glamorous coffee bars. But the real draw here is the splendid old quarter at the top of the hill.
Stroll up the pedestrianized Corso Italia, with its tempting bars and pasticcerias. Linger in the wonderful delis selling regional produce and let the earthy aroma of ripening cheeses and salamis envelop you. I love to stop and inhale outside Pane e Salute, a hundred-year-old bakery selling loaves studded with rosemary and olives and crusted in sea salt. Little tender rolls filled with molten formaggio and sweet leavened breads, fragrant with vanilla. I don't think I've ever made it past without making a purchase.
This street itself is stunning as if winds up towards the Piazza Grande, a montage of Renaissance and Romanesque architecture in the mellow hues of old stone, brick and crumbling stucco. There are some bijou little shops and boutiques amongst the plethora of antique dealers, but the real treasure of Arezzo is set to the left on via Cavour. The unassuming basilica of San Francisco houses perhaps the most magnificent of all the Renaissance fresco cycles, the glorious and epic 'Legend of the True Cross' by Piero della Francesca.
Other highlights here include: the church of San Domenico, whose cool, dark interior seems illuminated by Cimabue's striking asymmetrical crucifix and the 12th century Pieve di Santa Maria with it's strange arcaded fašade which flanks the beautiful Piazza Grande. On the northern side of this rather oddly shaped square are the gracious arches of Giorgio Vasari's 'Loggia', originally designed to house shops (some of which still retain their original counters).
This piazza (in fact the whole city) really comes to life in an extraordinary way on the first weekend of every month, as it becomes the bustling heart of the Fiera Antiquaria (antiques fair), piled high with an arresting jumble of fantastic furniture and tawdry tat, from centuries-old pulpits seemingly ripped out of unsuspecting Neapolitan churches, to retro 60's metal signage. It's hard not to be easily lost and confused in between the crowded stalls, even harder not to be caught up in the whole haggling process, and almost impossible to walk away empty-handed, even if you arrive determined to buy nothing and to be steely in your resolve. The truth is that you would be hard pressed to find a true bargain here but, the spectacle is why you've come.
Arezzo Antiques Market
On non-market days this is also a lovely stop for a panini, an aperivito, or just to soak up the atmosphere of this marvelous and unique piazza.
Another of my favorite places to visit is the beguiling Casa di Giorgio Vasari. The acerbic painter, architect, art critic and general Renaissance impresario built himself a small palazzo in Arezzo which he himself decorated with frescos. It's now a museum (of sorts), but I think it still retains some lingering resonance of his flamboyant personality.
Arezzo is perhaps even lovelier (if that's possible) after dusk, with dramatic lighting and the lively chatter of the evening passeggiata. There are some excellent bars and restaurants, one of my favorites being the family run trattoria 'Il Saraceno', via Mazzini.
If I am ever reincarnated as an Italian and get to choose my place of birth, this may well be it.
Amanda and Julian Hyzler run painting holidays and art vacations from their home on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. They have been writing a blog since they moved to Italy in 2006, A Tuscan view, from Umbria.
© Amanda Hyzler 2008
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