The best known town in Tuscany is surely Florence, followed by Pisa and Siena. But have you been to Arezzo? If not, you should! This is where we pick you up on our Backroads Tuscany and Umbria bike tour and Tuscany Family bike tour, but if you're visiting this beautiful corner of Italy on another Backroads trip or on your own, make sure you stop in Arezzo!
The city center itself is gorgeous. I remember coming here when I was young with my school class to visit its artistic treasures. But I feel that its beauty really comes from being off the usual tourism route.
From bottom to top (it's a hilltop town!), here is the perfect tour of Arezzo. The only thing you need to do is to stroll uphill along little roads from monument to monument. At the beginning you may want to avoid the main road, Corso Italia, and instead turn onto Via della Madonna del Prato, a little alley with small stores and cozy corners. On your way up, the church of San Francesco hosts the famous masterpieces of Piero dello Francesca (1416-1492). His fresco series is considered the largest example of early Renaissance style in the world, a must-see for anyone interested in art history.
The people are still genuine and the town looks so authentic that Roberto Benigni chose Arezzo as the setting for his Oscar-winning movie, Life is Beautiful.
The corner of Corso Italia and Via Garibaldi is where the food market stood until the 1960s. The last time I was in town I was lucky enough to see one of the few old gentlemen still there selling withered vegetables...totally illegally! The people here have a strong spirit.
The elegance of Piazza Grande comes from the arcades made by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the architect from Arezzo who also built the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The oldest and largest antiques exhibition in all of Italy takes place in the Piazza Grande. Here I spoke with Adriano, the guy who runs an antique shop started by his father Ruggero in the 1956. "I love my antiques" he says, "but with the crisis things are getting worse. Taxes are too high. How long can I last?" This is a common story in Italy. Piazza Grande is also where many of the scenes in Life is Beautiful were filmed. If you walk to 19 Via Borgo Unito, you'll find the Jewish shop that was owned by Roberto Benigni's character at the beginning of the movie. Remember it?
Continue exploring until you arrive at one of the highest points in town, where the Cathedral of San Donato sits opposite the Medici Fortress. The powerful Medici family, who hailed from Florence, conquered Arezzo in the early 16th century. In order to protect themselves from the population rebelling against Florentine domination, the Medicis completely destroyed the existing medieval city center--along with 17 churches and beautiful palaces--in order to build this massive stronghold.
You've now reached the top of Arezzo, which is where your tour ends. With the remaining energy in your legs, walk back down into the heart of town and stop to eat in one of the small trattorias tucked away on a little side road. Here you can surely find great Tuscan dishes prepared with love and simplicity, reflecting the soul of the people in Arezzo. Divertiti!