Monday, October 8, 2007

Day 7: Cortona

The day starts out a little overcast, cool and breezy as we head down the hill and get in the car. Our first stop is for gas and, since various warning lights have been flashing intermittently, to check the oil. We fill up (I notice later that the charge comes to over $100.00 US on the on-line credit card statement) and put in a liter of oil–$17.00. I will ask Europcar to reimburse for that charge.
Our first destination is the hill town of Castiglion Fiorentino, located between Cortona and Arezzo. It is another steep hill town and we drive through the narrow town gates and park in the lot in the main piazza almost at the top of the town. This piazza has very lovely “loggia with a view”–it was designed by Vasari and the arches frame a beautiful view of the countryside.
After admiring the view, we climb up to the top of the town where a medieval tower overlooks the Val di Chiana and there is a nice tree lined park with benches and a playing field.
There are some Etruscan excavations, a small museum and an picture gallery in the hilltop complex but they are only open on weekends. We buy some fruit is the “fruttaverdura” in the piazza and head down the hill. We cross the valley which is heavily cultivated–many of the fields have just been tilled but we don’t know if they will be planting anything at this season.

We pull into the parking lot of Monte San Savino, a pretty little town set on a small hill. The main street is lined with large “palazzi” and in the town hall, we see a big crowd and everyone is speaking English….not a Italian in sight. We figure that they are there for a wedding which had taken place in the garden in back of the town hall.

One of the signs outside of the town said that there was an “ex-sinagoga” in Monte San Savino so we set out in search of it. Since it is lunch time, there are not many San Savinese around and the tourist office is closed. We don’t find the “ex-sinagoga” but walk down some back streets and peek into the church of Sant’Agostino which has some nice 16th century frescoes on the walls.
Our plan for lunch is to eat at a place above Cortona, where we had eaten on our first trip to the area. We take the faster route on the autostrada, climb the hill beyond Cortona, pull into the parking lot and… is closed. Although I had looked up their closing day before we went, they have apparently changed it. Lesson learned–call before making a long trip (just in case).
We drive back into the center of Cortona (from the top this time) and I park at a legal space near the Duomo. Our second choice for lunch is also closed and since it is about 2 pm by now, we sit down at an empty table in the sun outside the Trattoria Antica. Lunch is mixed…the mixed antipasto that we share is fine and my fritto misto (fish, calamari and shrimp) is tasty but Diana’s lasagne is bit heavy–too much bechamel.

After lunch, I move the car and drive up to the top of the town to look at the Sancturio of Santa Margherita, which is set in a wonderful position under the Fortezza. I take the opportunity to drive back down through the narrow and winding streets of the “centro storico”. The drive is a lot of fun and I get to see parts of the town that we hadn’t yet reached on foot.
For dinner that night, we walk around the corner to an attractivelittle trattoria La Grotta, set at the end of dead end street right off the main piazza. But, without a reservation, we are turned away—they are completely booked on a Monday night in October. The next place we try is half way down the hill, La Buccaccia. It is also very crowded but the boss points us to one of the empty tables on the street that are set up in multi-level enclosure.
The menu is slightly creative but we are happy to be seated. The proprietor is very flamboyant–in English and Italian–and the clientele is mostly English-speaking. It turns out that the experience is very mixed. My antipasto–crostini with lardo is excellent–and Diana’s crostini are pretty good. But service is extremely slow and Diana’s bistecca fiorentina is nowhere near as good as the one everyone shared the day before at Locanda Acquaviva and my “pasta dish” called a “nastrine”–slices of pasta made with potatoes with black pepper and pecorino (like a cacio e pepe) is a bit weird. The small portion of fresh porcini are tasty but hardly worth the Euro 8.50 that they cost. The wine–a Rosso di Montalcino–is excellent however. This is not one of our better restaurant meals - we now know that in heavily touristed Cortona, you need to make reservations.

We walk back up the hill with the couple who had been at the next table–they were also taken aback by the price of the meal–and call it a night.

Tomorrow we are planning to explore Lake Trasimeno and the site of Hannibal’s victory over the Romans.


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