As beautiful as Tuscany is, sometimes the popularity of the towns most often visited by tourists can detract from the charm. At those times, it is a treat to visit one of the lesser-known communities (lesser-known at least to non-Italians) that rest among the hills of this special region.
Arezzo, about 50 miles southeast of Florence, is just such a place. This beautiful town should be better known than it is because it plays a role in the Academy Award-winning movie “Life is Beautiful.” Much of the movie was filmed in the city’s main piazza, Piazza Grande. Yet during a visit this past spring, the town was quiet with just a few people wandering its piazzas and streets.
Piazza Grande was home to the marketplace during the Middle Ages. These days, it is the hub of the city. Buildings - Medieval, Gothic and Renaissance - line the large piazza, many of them housing small shops offering antiques for sale. The red-brick surface of the square slopes noticeably and intentionally. On the high side of the piazza is a lovely long loggia designed by Giorgio Vasari, the architect, painter and writer known for the loggia of the Uffizi in Florence.
Arezzo is said to be one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany because of its gold-smithery tradition. I didn’t feel a sense of wealth so much as refined simplicity as I walked around the town. A huge park with old trees, statues, benches and children playing calcio (soccer) sits on the hilltop of the town. It is just one of several green spaces in this pretty town. It offers not only a place to enjoy nature but also wonderful views out on the Tuscan landscape. At the end of it is a massive cemetery, tended with care and dedication.
There are the requisite churches, Roman amphitheater and fortress (built by a Medici) and exploring them would make for a nice day. I didn’t spend time doing that because my trip to Arezzo was a drive to and from Lucca in one day and because just wandering the streets and parks of this town was really relaxing.
Charming might be the best word to describe Arezzo. Mostly because it is simply beautiful and partly because it is off the beaten path of the Tuscan towns most typically on a tourist’s agenda.
-post by JG