I’m finally getting round to writing this over three months after visiting Italy as work and life take over!
We’ve just booked flights to Italy again for Christmas where we will be seeing Turin and Pisa (flying into the former and out from the latter 8 days later) so it felt opportune to write about Arezzo before I come back from this next trip and have more to write about!
We were on our third day in Tusany, after visiting Montepulciano, when we decided to visit Arezzo- a small city in eastern Tuscany- on a day of torrential, horizontally-slanted rain.
It was August and still warm enough for vest and shorts but the rain came down cold and we spent a good portion of the day running out of the rain and into shelter. Conveniently, the city is lined with numerous porticoes where we could wait it out before digging back in to see the sights while we could.
Arezzo is known as the ‘city of gold’ due to being a central place for gold jewellery production, and was the birthplace of many renowned poets, designers and artists. Arezzo is also the name of the province where the city itself is located, and the Renaissance artist Michelangelo hailed from this province.
Arezzo is a main setting in the iconic film ‘La Vita è Bella’ and there were posters and relics around the city as a reminder.
We stayed in an area called Anghiari in the Arezzo province which meant we could experience staying in the countryside but the city of Arezzo was close enough to reach by car.
We stayed in a type of accommodation known in Italy as agriturismo, which is usually a small and homely location in the countryside where they might produce their own wines and olive oils or other products. It is similar to a farmhouse and there may be animals nearby. Our room felt very old with stone walls and dim lighting, but with stunning views across the Tuscan hills. It was so refreshing to wake up and see green stretching out for miles with next to no noise except birdsong.
Here is a picture from the first morning while the sun was still out:
We drove into the centre of Arezzo and took to exploring the Medieval-looking, cobbled streets in the morning while all was still quiet. Street after street, houses adorned in hanging baskets filled with summer flowers and maybe washing hung on the line called my attention and it made me wonder- do any ugly streets exist in Italy?
I love the ornate stone Juliet balconies all around and wish we could transplant one onto our house in Liverpool but that would of course look incongruent and arrogant.
When the skies opened to another downpour, we ducked into a museum to begin a tour of marble artworks by the Italian sculptor Fabio Viale. His exhibition was entitled ‘Aurum’ which is Latin for ‘gold’. His sculptures were incredible, taking on textures that made marble look lightweight or of a totally different texture.
This one transfixed me the most: marble in the likeness of polystyrene. You feel like you could touch it and it would actually feel airy and squashable (of course, you can’t touch the artwork!).
These sculptures were situated in artistic venues around the city of Arezzo which meant we could chase the trail and pass the early afternoon with something enjoyable and cultural to do while it was raining. Some of his sculptures contained gold or were painted with gold, and I took a photo of this quote by the artist where he explains the artistic process behind his choice of materials:
In the late afternoon, the clouds cleared up and the sun made a reappearance so we moved back over to Anghiari to walk around the village which is exceptionally cute with curious things to see on every little corner.
We spotted a rooftop bar and we sat up on the balcony at aperitivo hour for an Aperol Spritz. The views, like nearly all of Tuscany, were so beautiful and relaxing to look out upon over a drink.
Later on, we walked some more around Anghiari to burn time until our reservation at a Medieval-style restaurant called Il Feudo del Vicario. There are some meals in life you will always remember, and while it is true that in Italy pretty much every meal you’ll have is divine, often the setting and atmosphere and those little particular details are what commit it to long-term, cherished memory. This was one of them!
From the cosy glow from outside to the owner’s cat lounging on the wall and balcony, to the candlelit ambience inside, I was already excited when we first entered.
I’m always intrigued by bathrooms in bars, cafés and restaurants as they are so varied and the little details and additions often show a lot of character. Here, the bathroom had what looked like an ancient door, broken lock, sink and paper towels to dry hands but I loved it.
Enough of toilet talk, on to the food and drink.
For a starter, we shared this wooden board of local cheeses with slices of pear, walnuts, and a relish. We both had steak for a main, but the standout component was the dessert.
The dessert was a slate board with cantucci, a traditional Tuscan biscuit made with almonds, and a glass of Vin Santo to dip them in. Vin Santo (“holy wine”) is a dessert wine from Tuscany, made from the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. It is thought that this type of wine acquired its name because of its use in Catholic Mass, where a sweet wine was preferred. Other theories are that it was used centuries ago to cure the sick, and another is that the name is linked to Santorini, from when it was under Venetian rule.
Either way, it is a lovely sensory experience to dip these hard biscuits into the sweet and almost syrupy dessert wine (which was surprisingly strong, as Vin Santo always has at least a 16% strength!). Lots of Italian wines are strong, such as Amarone from Verona, and Primitivo from Puglia. I suppose this is down to the hot climate.
We returned to our agriturismo nearby just in time before one of the most theatrical thunder-and-lightning storms I’ve ever seen/heard cracked through the night sky (and I lived in Córdoba, Andalusia, where the storms there are fierce). It was so impressive, like a free show put on by the forces of nature. I threw open the windows and closed the mosquito net over and laid on the bed to watch it and I fell asleep listening to the sound of the rain pelting the stonework outside.
When we woke the next morning, almost all had evaporated and the skies were blue and clear, as if it had never even happened.
We set off for Ravenna, two-and-a-half hours away, with plenty more places in Tuscany left to see in future trips.
Later this month, we will spend a day in Pisa- another Tuscan city to see and experience!