Cortona is not only film and photography festivals, antique fairs or flower shows. This beautiful gem of the Val di Chiana also celebrates its medieval past and with a very special event.
Every year, on the second Saturday of June, all the inhabitants of Cortona are involved in the historical re-enactment of the celebrations of the wedding between Antonia Salimbeni, a noble woman from Siena, and Francesco Casali, the Lord of the city. The original event took place in 1397.
Today this historical event is called theArchidado Joust. The streets of Cortona are decorated in medieval style and the townspeople don fine costumes representing ladies, knights, pages, civilians, religious authorities and soldiers. The whole city centre is livened up with flag wavers and musicians performing before the wedding procession.
On the Sunday the Joust is held, which consists in a crossbow competition between the 5 quarters of Cortona: the red-blue Santa Maria, the yellow-blue San Vincenzo, the white-yellow Peccioverardi, the green-yellow Sant’Andrea and the red-green Poggio. Held in the central Piazza Signorelli, the target is a dice set within a shield with various symbols, all grading negative scores. Best to hit the centre!
After the winner has been declared and awarded the prize by the newly-wed lady, the inhabitants gather together in their various quarters and celebrate with a medieval dinner and much music.
Set in the heart of the breathtaking Val d’Orcia, the ancient spa village of Bagno Vignoni, and its unique main square occupied by a gigantic thermal pool, is amongst the most photographed sites of Tuscany.
Visited since Roman times, thanks to its proximity to the historical Via Francigena, the pilgrims’ road leading down to Rome, the first houses and inns started to rise around this main attraction, today called Piazza delle Sorgenti, ‘Springs Square’. And yet the village has succeeded in remaining small.
Walking around the square and its steaming basin you’ll be immersed in a unique atmosphere taking you back in time. In fact, this square has been the background of various films, from Zeffirelli’s “Romeo & Juliet” to the recent “Medicis”, while its magnificent surroundings, the Val d’Orcia, have been the backdrop of movies such as “The English Patient” and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
You might not be able to dip into the pool in the square, however you can choose between various private spas within the village or follow the water flowing from the square down to the Parco dei Mulini, a park with 12th-century mills, to the free thermal pools studding the stream and waterfalls.
If you’re looking for an accommodation with a view, we recommend this B&B which sits on the main square with view over the pool and the loggia as shelter from the summer heat. Bagno Vignoni is an excellent location where to stay and visit the surroundings. Castiglione d’Orcia is just 4 km south, medieval San Quirico d’Orcia 5 km north, beautiful Renaissance Pienza at 13 km and the wine capitals of Montalcino and Montepulciano lie at 20 km.
The village of Montaione is a natural terrace over Tuscany, in particular the breathtaking Elsa Valley. The poetry of this spectacular scenery always manages to infuse a deep sense of peace with its undeniable beauty.
Immersed in the heart of Tuscany, Montaione originally was protected by a strong town wall reinforced with eleven towers and was accessible only through two main doors which were destroyed during WWII. Despite these changes, the medieval layout of the oval-shaped castle with three parallel rows of streets, connected by narrow alleys all converging into the central square, can still be admired today. A walk along the village’s streets disclose picturesque nooks and old stone houses, all infused with the atmosphere of bygone days.
In the main square you can admire the Church of San Regolo and its adjoining bell tower. Nearby the Palazzo Pretorio shows off its façade still bearing the old stone and glazed terracotta coat of arms dating back to the period of the podestà, medieval mayors. Today this building houses theArchaeological Museum.
Surrounding the village are hectares of vineyards, olive groves and woodland with natural springs. Here they produce an excellent Chianti wine, a strong-flavoured extra virgin olive oil, fragrant white truffles and pick chestnuts.
Undoubtedly what makes your visit here memorable is the beautiful landscape of the Elsa Valley which you can admire since Montaione sits at a height of 342 metres. Its green rolling hills, its endless rows of vines and cypress trees neatly lined up, its olive groves and woods, confer together the undeniable triumph of nature in this little corner of paradise.
If you’re looking for a location far from the unbearable heat of Florence in the summer months then San Godenzo is exactly what you are looking for. At 404 metres above sea level, this little town nestles on the side of the mountains between the Mugelloand Casentino valleys surrounded by acres of woodland.
Here the Florentines choose to spend their summers and
weekends in the same peace and tranquillity which attracted the hermit Godenzo
in the 7th century. A beautiful Benedictine abbey was built in 1028
over the grave of the holy Godenzo. Inside you can admire the 1090-1100 capitals
within the crypt and many works of arts of great interest such as the
extraordinary mosaic of Giuseppe Cassioli. When the Germans razed the village
in 1944, because it was on the Gothic Line, they spared the abbey in
consideration of the Bavarian origins of Bishop Jacob who had it built.
In the territory of San Godenzo, Castagno d’Andrea sits at the foot of Mount Falterona and is one of the gateways to the magnificent National Park of the Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona, Campigna. This park covers an area of about 368 square kilometres on the two sides of the Apennines between Romagna and Tuscany. Well worth a visit this park has a wide selection of flora and fauna, amongst these the Apennine wolves, various species of deer and the common buzzard, just to mention a few.
Versilia is mainly renowned as a fashionable sea resort with long sandy beaches, glitzy cafés, designer-boutiques and a month-long Carnival, and yet dotting the hills at the foot of the Apuan Alps crowning the area there’s a variety of medieval villages.
Boasting a rare combination of sceneries and landscapes – hills, valley, plain, mountains and coastline – Camaiore has an old town centre considered amongst one of the oldest of the province of Lucca. Set along the Via Francigena, the town has an incredibly beautiful Romanesque abbey, Badia di San Pietro, mentioned in documents dating back to 761. Nearby, in the hamlet of Pieve is another Romanesque gem, the 10th-century Pieve di Santo Stefano which houses an extraordinary baptismal font obtained from a sarcophagus of the 2nd-3rd century.
Amongst the hamlets belonging to the municipality of
Camaiore (a total of 24), Casoli is
renowned for its graffiti. A walk along the steep, narrow streets is a journey
back 50 years when the first drawings started to appear on the houses. Today
the hamlet is an open-air museum with representations of both mythological and
Also a hamlet of Camaiore, Monteggiori is the one that boasts a superb position with breathtaking
views over Camaiore, Pietrasanta, the whole Versilian plain and its coastline.
Further down the coast, the town of Massarosa is famous for its magnificent lake, Massaciuccoli, and surroundings. The territory of the lake is part of the protected natural area known as the Natural Park of Migliarino, San Rossore, Massaciuccoli, which extends along the coastal strip of Lucca and Pisa. Alongside the lake you can admire the remains of a Roman villa and a monumental thermal complex with beautiful mosaic floor, and many elegant villas, built between the 16th and 19th century, witnesses of the pomp and display of the area. Amongst these villas is the former-house, now museum, of the great Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini, who here spent most of his life from 1891 onwards.
Up on the hills Bargecchia,
a picturesque hamlet in the territory of Massarosa, is renowned for its bell-tower
and its four bells because celebrated by Puccini at the end of the first act of
his Tosca. The composer, in fact, admired their sound so much he decided to
insert it during the duet between Tosca and Scarpia.
Another nearby hamlet worthy of mention is that of Corsanico. This small village houses
another jewel of the Versilian hills, the 12th-century Church of San
Michele. The church preserves a monumental organ, built between 1602 and 1606 by the Venetian Vincenzo Colonna, initially
intended for the Church of San Francesco in Lucca.
This mild corner of Tuscany certainly has much to offer the casual tourist.