Situated in Tuscany's east and bordered by the Apennines, the Province of Arezzo encompasses the areas of Casentino, Valdarno, Valtiberina and Val di Chiana. Each of these, comprising unique landscapes where natural beauty blends harmoniously with historic heritage and masterpieces of art.
The Casentino Valley is surrounded by high hills with ancient woods. Along the Tosco-Emiliano Apennine is the Casentino Forests, Monte Falterona and Campigna National Park, where among steep cliffs and thick vegetation two important spiritual locations are well worth a visit: the Sanctuary of La Verna and the Monastery of Camaldoli.
The Valdarno Natural Reserve holds many surprises; its characteristic landscape is dominated by the spectacular Balze, yellow rock formations made of stratified clay, gravel and sand that rise up in diverse shapes.
The Val di Chiana landscape is a breathtaking succession of hills and valleys that are home to fine jewels of art, particularly Monte San Savino, Lucignano and Cortona.
Situated near the border of Tuscany, the Valtiberina preserves an untouched environment otherwise sprinkled with castles, parish churches and historic villages such as Anghiari, Caprese Michelangelo and Sansepolcro. A number of spots are, as yet, unexplored, including the forests of the Pratomagno Range and numerous protected areas of local interest.
The great Italian poet Petrarch was born in Arezzo, in addition to outstanding artists the likes of Piero della Francesca, Masaccio, Michelangelo, Luca Signorelli, Pietro da Cortona and Vasari. They all left signs of their creativity and genius in Arezzo and in other nearby towns. A blend of artistic itineraries, ranging from Piero della Francesca to the Della Robbia Family, offer a chance to admire the paintings, sculptures and architecture that make even the smallest hamlets of this region unique. Here, nature and a thousand years of man’s labor come together to create a millenary masterpiece that never ceases to astonish and enchant.
Arezzo is an extraordinary city of art renowned for its goldsmiths and antiques traders.
The old town is home to valuable monuments including the imposing Medici Fortress, the Cathedral, the Diocesan Museum and the Basilica of San Domenico. The Archaeological Museum showcases many a valuable find, recalling the city’s importance during the Etruscan heyday, while the State Museum of Medieval and Modern Art provides an overview of the artistic production in the area from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century.
The heart of the city is Piazza Grande, surrounded by buildings of various periods and styles - among them the Medieval towers and the Renaissance style Loggiato Vasariano.
Casa Vasari is equally worth a visit. It has been converted into a museum where visitors can admire decorations realized by Giorgio Vasari himself, along with a family archive and some paintings. The Church of Saint Francis is the ideal starting point for an itinerary in discovery of 14th Century painter Piero della Francesca, as it preserves the Legend of the True Cross, one of the greatest masterpieces of early Renaissance art. The itinerary continues to Monterchi, with its stunning fresco of the Madonna del Parto, and on to Sansepolcro, where four of the master’s most important works are displayed in the Museo Civico. Another sight to see in Sansepolcro is the central Piazza di Torre Berta and its Cathedral and historic buildings; this is home to the Palio della Balestra, a historic event dating back to the 15th Century.
Do not miss a visit to the small town of Caprese Michelangelo, the birthplace of Michelangelo Buonarroti; a museum, set within the old castle, is dedicated to the artist.
Of great artistic and religious interest is the Sanctuary of La Verna in the Casentino Forests, today a popular place of pilgrimage. Perched on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by age-old fir and beech trees, the complex includes several buildings decorated with magnificent works by Andrea della Robbia. Another of Casentino’s religious destinations is the Camaldoli Monastery, where monks still live today. Two more interesting small medieval towns deserve a visit: Bibbiena, with prized churches and architecture, and Poppi, dominated by its magnificent castle.
Among the many villages of the Val di Chiana, Cortona is particularly fascinating - having preserved its heritage sites, including various Palazzi, the Cathedral, the Diocesan Museum and the Church of Saint Francis. Moreover, at Cortona one can see the Museum of the Etruscan Academy and City (MAEC), as well as some Etruscan necropolises not far from the city center.
San Giovanni Valdarno, the birthplace of Masaccio, is an old town with many fine buildings, including the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Palazzo Pretorio.
Evocative Medieval parish churches are scattered all over the Province, immersed in greenery: Santa Maria Assunta in Stia, San Pietro in Romena and San Pietro in Gròpina, a genuine Romanesque jewel, to name but a few. Castles and religious structures abound, among them the Romanesque Abbey of Farneta near Cortona.
The area also offers a fascinating tour to explore the wonderful works of the Della Robbia artists: from the magnificent altarpiece in the Arezzo Cathedral, to the masterpieces in the La Verna sanctuary and the Camaldoli monastery, in the Santa Maria del Sasso Sanctuary at Bibbiena and in the Castle at Poppi. Examples of their art can also be found in Montevarchi and in the small parish churches along the Valdarno.
Unspoiled nature and cultivated countryside: the Province of Arezzo offers a variety of opportunities to enjoy a holiday in the open air, taking part in various physical activities.
The Foreste Casentinesi Monte Falterona e Campigna National Park is the ideal place for excursions on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, while in winter the same paths can be enjoyed on skis and snowshoes.
In other protected areas along the banks of the Tiber and the Arno, one can also set out on unique excursions in search of the numerous local plant and wildlife species.
Cycling enthusiasts can follow the Canale Maestro della Chiana bike and foot trail from Arezzo to Cortona, through areas perfectly suited for an athletic holiday amidst unspoiled scenery.
Gourmands may choose to follow the food and wine itineraries that wind through the main valleys of Arezzo Province, through vineyards, olive and chestnut groves, stopping off at wineries and local firms for the tasting of wine and typical produce.
In this land rich in traditions, there are numerous folk festivals, including the famous Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo, the Giostra dell’Archidado in Cortona, the Palio dei Rioni in Castiglion Fiorentino, and the Palio della Balestra in Sansepolcro. Particularly interesting is the historical re-enactment of the Battle of Scannagallo in Foiano della Chiana. Among the special events, the International Merletto Biennale in Sansepolcro stands out, as does the Sagra della Porchetta (Suckling Pig Festival) at Monte San Savino.
The provincial gastronomy of Arezzo is the height of the many traditions alive in this territory. A cuisine tied to agriculture, many recipes - specifically those most austere - originated from religious and convent life; at the same time, the Province doe not lack in richer, heavier fare.
One will find that bean soups, acquecotte, meat stews, even crostini topped with woodcock and bread made with hare (pan di lepre) inhabit the same table during a meal.
The unique and unmistakable flavors are born from the use of the prime materials of the land, and thus boast significant territorial connotations.Some products are cultivated only in this area, and are dedicated only to spefific recipes. Black cabbage, present in few parts of the world, belongs to the famous minestra di pane (bread soup) that uses the cabbage as its principal ingredient.
The Chianina breed of cattle, raised according to Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) standards, is the base for historic dishes like peposo alla fornacina, dish attributed to those workers who produced the construction materials for Florence's Brunelleschi Chapel. Dishes based on chicken, rather, (from nearby Valdarno) allow restaurants and families to utilize recipes that require slow cooking.
Then, the free-range "grey" pig in this area is the source for one of the world's best prosciuttos, prosciutto del Casentino. And of all the products deriving from sheep and goat's milk (pasture-raised, naturally), one must needs not the raviggiolo, ricotta, and raw-milk pecorino cheese.
Finally, the finest dishes center around the highly-prized Valtiberina truffle, present year-round (alternating between black and the more costly white); the well-known boletus edulis mushrooms, and the lesser-known prugnolo that arrives in spring to exalt polenta and frittatas.
Another product frequently used to make sweets and snacks is the chestnut, ground into a flour and resulting in a sophisticated gastronomic treat. In the mountains of Pratomagno, the procedure for such is very particular, requiring that chestnuts be heated in the oven twice so that they reach a light hazelnut color. Obtaining a delicious smell and sweet taste, they are perfect for nutritious castagnacci and frittelle.
Not to be left out are the classic Tuscan products that complete the table: oil and wine are the champions of any banquet. Not only does the Region possess first-class wines according to the best national and international guides, standards such as Chianti, Cortona and Valdichiana remain renowned for a reason. Beyond these, a gamut of wines can be drunk any day of the week, and are appreciated for their price-quality relationship. However, no meal is finished without Vinsanto; originally it paired with drier sweets, but an evolution of tastes has led to its being an accompaniment liver crostini and certain cheeses.