Cortona, Tuscany. Home to Frances Mayes’ Bramasole. I arrived the night before, had the best tartufo ever for dinner, and was set to explore this romantic town by day, under the Tuscan sun.
I stayed at Il Sole del Sodo, a Bread and Breakfast a kilometer downhill from Cortona.
Despite an air of casual carelessness, the B&B is clearly run with taste and care. The owners enjoyed connecting personally with guests.
They had left the keys in the mailbox for me the night before, with a welcome note and instructions for parking the car.
It was important that my car didn’t block the street in front of the gate.
Because this is the street.
Il Sole del Sodo was converted from an old farmhouse. Six bedrooms, living and dining, courtyard. There’s a pool somewhere, which I never saw. I’d love to run a business like this. Small, manageable, relaxing. Like leisurely polishing a jewel.
Claudia, who runs the B&B with three sisters, has traveled to the Philippines and Asia.
Prosciutto and cheese for breakfast. Then, arrividerci Sodo. Time to see Cortona in daylight.
Back at the Porto Bifora, and the hike up Via Ghibellina. Past La Bucaccia, last night’s ristorante.
Cortona, a medieval fortified town, is all steep winding streets and small piazzas.
You can walk the whole town in 2 hours. The views outside the walls are sensational.
From the Piazza del Duomo, at the north wall near the Etruscan museum, the world is tinted in warm Tuscan pastels. I could have gazed on that peaceful view all day.
The view southeast is Lake Trasimeno. In 217 B.C. Hannibal ambushed an entire Roman legion on the northern shore, in the distance below.
A morning mist hid Hannibal’s 50,000 Carthaginian soldiers on the hill. He drew Flaminius’ 36,000 Roman soldiers into the ambush with decoys. Hannibal knew the mist came most mornings, from previous reconnaissance. In a three-hour slaughter, only 10,000 Romans escaped the carnage. Hannibal lost only 2,500 men. It’s still studied in military schools as a classic ambush.
Also south of town is the villa used in filming the movie Under the Tuscan Sun.
It was a stand in for the real Bramasole, which is, alas, private property.
The real Bramasole is an active vineyard still, and we spotted its label at an enotecca in Cortona.
Traditional, moist, de-boned pork. Layers of stuffing (garlic, wild rosemary, fennel), meat, fat, skin. All rolled, spitted, wood-roasted.
Polyunsaturated fat and low density lipoproteins. Heavenly!
There was also Pecorino cheese, from Pienza. Perfect for when you’re with a Pecorino person.
Market day is held at the Piazza Signorelli. In 2002 they built a foam and fiberglass fountain here, for the movie.
Cortona has attracted notable artists since the 14th century. There was also an Etruscan museum, and medieval churches scattered outside the walls. I’d have stayed another night, but the rest of Tuscany was waiting. And I had to be at work Monday.
On the Via Nazionale, we passed by art galleries, ceramic shops, fruit stands. I found the elusive tartufi.
Tuscan tomatoes are the sweetest I’ve ever munched on. We snacked on pomodoro and grapes. Lunch.
Driving down the mountain, I just had to take one last picture. Looking back on the town, up on that hill, I wondered if I would ever see this place again.
Back on the Tuscan plain, we were again among sunflower fields, olive groves and vineyards. Quite a sensory mix, always photogenic.
Ahead was the road to Siena, Monteriggioni and San Gemignano.
Posted from Bangkok, Aug 9, 1008.
Next: Siena, Monteriggioni, San Gemignano.
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