Originally an Etruscan city, then a Roman municipium and now a destination for many American Tourists (due to the success of the Frances Mayes book “Under the Tuscan Sun” and subsequent Hollywood movie), Cortona offers some of the most panoramic vistas I have ever seen. In addition, the motorhome parking has outstanding views across the Valdichiana plains to Lake Trasimeno and the Sienese mountains. I don’t even have to get out of bed to watch the first rays of sun light the ochre brick church of Spirito Santo.
I set out to climb to the highest point of Mount Sant Egidio and find that my first ascent to Piazza Garibaldi is assisted by two escalators. Following the crowds along Via Nazionale, a wide street lined with wine bars, art galleries and souvenir shops, I emerge into Piazza della Republic to be confronted with the steps of Palazzo Comunale. Hidden behind it is yet another piazza where I find the Museum of Etruscan Art and the Signorelli Theatre. It would be easy to become side-tracked but my mission is to reach Fort Girifalco at the very top of Cortona before lunch.
As I continue my climb through the medieval backstreets, I stop briefly at the church of San Francesco, which houses some religious relics, including a robe once worn by St Francis of Assisi, recently verified as having originated from the time of the saint’s life. Above the marble altar, on a bronze stand and encased within an ivory and silver frame, is a fragment of the true cross, brought from Constantinople by Friar Elia Coppi, a devoted follower of the saint.
I resume my journey, following the ancient city walls along Via St Margherita and the way of the cross, depicted by a series of colourful mosaics. Eventually, I emerge at the church of St Margherita where the patron saint of Cortona lies in a glass tomb beneath a beautiful ceiling of stars.
Just above the church, at 651m above sea level is the restored Fort Girifalco. I’m rewarded with amazing views across the plains, where my route from Lake Trasimeno stretches out towards Cortona and the road leading to Siena cuts through the fields and the farms to the mountains in the west.