This is the fourth post in my series on our recent trip to Umbria, Italy. Click here to see the other posts.
It was a hot July morning under the Umbrian sun. Four of us sat wedged in a tiny BMW smart car rental, which didn't seem too smart to me. Even though it was brand new, the air conditioning did not work while we sat in traffic. Now, if you are in traffic and perhaps already cranky and hot, wouldn't that be a good time to have air conditioning? Not that any of us were cranky...
But our family is used to much worse traffic jams at home, and this one outside Perugia, the main city of Umbria, did not last long anyway. In a few minutes, the air conditioning kicked in and we were on our way to Cortona in Tuscany. When we visited Italy in 2015, Cortona was one of our favorite excursions, and I couldn't wait to see it again.
My husband Mart dropped us off at the main piazza, Piazza Garibaldi, known for its monument to military leader, Garibaldi. While we waited for Mart to park, we enjoyed the view of the valley that stretched before us (pictured above) and the scene we had just passed on our approach up the hill to town (pictured below).
For the history-minded, Cortona has many must-see sites. The Etruscan Cortona Museum houses an extensive collection of Etruscan and Roman artifacts and paintings going back to the 13th century. There's also the Archaeological Park of Cortona, which includes Etruscan remains such as city walls, a mullioned door, and some structures underground. Santa Margherita Sanctuary and the Girifalco Fortress at the top of the hill are considered worth the climb.
Two of our family members enjoy history, but today all of us were focused on just walking and enjoying the town. We also wanted to visit some stores where we had shopped on our first trip to Cortona.
Stores of all kinds line Via Nazionale, the main avenue through town that links Piazza Garibaldi with Piazza della Repubblica. Along the way, diners at tables on the street enjoy delicious local cuisine with famous local wine.
Among other things, Italy is known for its handmade leather, and my favorite purchases from our first trip are two small leather handbags in fun colors. The T-Nobile shop, a brand of leather goods that started in Rome, is filled with leather handbags, backpacks, wallets, and other products in every color, all of them handmade, high quality, and reasonably priced. After much deliberation, Mart and I got a few pieces, including a teal backpack for me and a black briefcase for him. (I have wanted a leather backpack since college and finally got one!) We know these products will last for years to come.
Another stop was DelBrenna, a truly special jewelry studio and showroom with shoes and other accessories. I've never seen anything like it. Located in an olive oil mill that was once part of a palace, the shop features jewelry designed and hand-crafted by three generations of an Italian family. Necklaces, chains, bracelets, and earrings fill the display cases and similar pieces adorn heels, pumps, and boots specially made for DelBrenna.
The rough stone walls, ceiling, and historic mill equipment contrast with delicate jewelry and gorgeous shoes to make it a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Sales associates offer prosecco to shoppers and give tours of the space as well as help customers make their selections. We finally decided on a pair of earrings for me and a Cortona coin charm for our daughter.
We met the owner Sebastian, a friend and business associate of our friend Roger, and Bailey, a jeweler who we discovered grew up not far from our home in Atlanta. To see photos of DelBrenna's studio and showroom, click here.
After shopping, we walked a little further down Via Nazionale to the Piazza della Repubblica. This busy piazza has a large historic town hall, a sidewalk café, a souvenir/sundries shop, a small DelBrenna store, and several benches on which the locals, especially older men, sit and watch the tourists.
Just around the corner is Ristorante La Loggetta, where we ate lunch on our first visit to Cortona. We sat outside again at a table that looked over the Piazza. After we devoured an order of bruschetta with gorgeous red tomatoes, I enjoyed risotto with broccoli.
We finished the day with a small scoop of gelato—chocolate for me, of course. It melted quickly as we walked back to Piazza Garibaldi. Mart went down the hill for our smart car, and we took more photos of the stunning valley below Cortona. It was a day filled with beauty in one of my favorite places on earth.
Want to read more about the beauty we saw in Italy? Click here to see other posts.