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Report 673: Tuscan Rambles

By Doug Phillips from Canada, Spring 2004

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Page 8 of 17: Day 7 – Friday May 7: Arezzo

photo by

Fiat Stilo, ideal for 2 people exploring Tuscany

I wanted to visit Arezzo because of John Mortimer. His fictional Summer’s Lease captures the look and feel of Tuscany as well as any first person account I have read. Unlike the setting for the novel, I wasn’t in Tuscany in the hottest period of the year and our visit didn’t coincide with the Palio in Siena, but at least I could visit Arezzo and try to see the fresco cycle of Piero della Francesca in the church of San Francesco.

We left Villa Nottola at 8:00am in our Fiat Stilo - see photo, drove to the A1 & turned north in the direction of Firenze. After about 20 minutes we took the Arezzo exit and approached the busy and modern edge of the city, turning onto the Via Fiorentina. We found a parking spot on the street near a McDonald’s – only the 2nd one we saw in Tuscany. From there it was a short walk to one of the gates into the old city.

We had some postcards to mail so we stopped in a small shop that sold stamps just outside the city walls. Instead of selling us the stamps and sending us on our way, the two women behind the counter took our postcards and very carefully made sure the stamps were fixed on the cards before handing them back to us and telling us the location of the nearest mailbox. A small act of courtesy, which we encountered wherever we went in Tuscany.

On passing into the old part of Arezzo, we walked uphill along narrow and busy streets, making our way to the attractive Piazza Grande, the setting for several scenes in Life is Beautiful. Many antique shops encircle the Piazza.

After visiting several stores and stopping for a cappuccino, we continued walking uphill until we came to Fortezza Medicea, which is very gradually being restored. The Fortezza is a pentagonal castle built by Arezzo’s Medici rulers (the town fell to Florence in the 14th century). The Fortezza provides very good views of much of Arezzo and looks over on a very large above ground cemetery.

We made our way to the church of San Francesco, hoping to get in to see the fresco cycle. While the church is open to all visitors, the frescoes are in a small room behind the altar with controlled and timed entry. One guidebook warned us that you had to book well ahead for tickets. We showed up near the afternoon opening time, fully expecting to have to wait a couple of hours before seeing the frescoes, if we were able to see them at all. The lady at the ticket counter asked if we were with the tour. Of course we said yes, paid for our tickets and joined a tour group engrossed in a guide’s description of the frescoes - entirely in German. My BW and I sheepishly made our way back to the ticket counter, where we were given English audio guides with headphones. The frescoes portray the Legend of the True Cross, a very complicated story based on the 13th century Golden Legend.

We enjoyed a late lunch in the nearby Buca di San Francesco in a large Art Deco style building. After lunch we walked down to the Piazza Monaco, the attractive and busy commercial “centro” of Arezzo. My BW visited a number of stores in the area, while I was content to buy a gelato and sit on a bench under a portico supported by large pillars and take in the busy life of the city.

Our drive out of Arezzo and back to Villa Nottola in the late afternoon at rush hour went smoothly.

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