As we approach Cortona we can see it up on the hill ahead of us. (click to enlarge pictures)

After our first night in the villa Giovanni picked us up at 9 am for our first day’s outing to Cortona and Montepulciano. The van is pretty comfortable; everyone has their own individual seat that reclines. Giovanni has brought bottled water for each of us. He is so friendly and helpful, and his English is really pretty good. I think he’s better at understanding than speaking. He’s learning English on YouTube.

Giovanni waves at a man along the road who turns out to be our guide (also named Giovanni). He hops on the bus with us and introduces himself. His English is excellent, and we learn that his family has lived in Cortona since the 1300s!

We drive up to the church that is outside of the town, on the lower part of the hill. We get out of the bus next to the wild poppies and Giovanni claims credit for them, saying “we grew these for you.”

Santa Maria della Grazia church, just below the town of Cortona.

We get back in our bus and are taken to the top of the hill, where we visit another church called “Santa Margherita.” This is a much bigger church, and quite beautiful inside, with lots of alternating, contrasting stripes on the pillars and arches, and bright colors everywhere.

Giovanni does not like this type of color/decor, because it represents a mix of architectural styles. The stripes represent a Moorish influence which has no business being in an Italian church. It’s “fake,” he says.

Interior of Santa Maria della Grazia church

Walking through the narrow streets of Cortona

Giovanni explains it all for us.

Giovanni takes us through the museum, explaining all of the various art-works to us in terms of history, pointing out how various techniques developed over time. He is very animated and funny, and quite well educated. Also very opinionated.

In the basement of the museum is an old chapel, with a beautifully painted ceiling.

The church was completed in 1525 in the then-current Renaissance style. Giovanni had been married in this church, and his family has many connections with it.

It’s not an ornate church, compared to many we’ve seen. But it’s attractive.

Interior of Santa Maria della Grazia church

I like it. I am not going to let him talk me out of this opinion.

After leaving the church we take a few minutes to enjoy the view of Tuscany from the top of the hill, and then we walk down into the town and visit a museum that includes a lot of church-related artifacts.

View of Tuscany from the top of Cortona

Medieval dwellings had no plumbing, of course. Eventually people wanted to “go” inside the house, instead of outside, so they would build these little additions on to the buildings. The stuff would be thrown out into the street. Later, plumbing was added, but these little additions still serve their original purpose.

This ceiling dates from the 15th century. It is made entirely of wood, carved into various shapes. Each octagonal image represents (in some way) Jesus Christ.

After the museum visit we have lunch at a really good restaurant. I didn’t know what to expect from Tuscany Tours, but they did a great job picking restaurants for us every day. Quality of food, service, and decor was always excellent.

This lunch started with three small soups for each person – just a taste – and ended with some beautiful desserts that just begged for the camera.

After lunch, it’s time to explore the town a little bit. Karen shops at the market, I wander the streets and photograph whatever is interesting.

The town square (piazza) fills up with tables and booths. People sell a lot of antiques/junk, art work, crafts, gelato, etc. The store fronts are fun to see too.

The most attractive store fronts seem to be the wine shops.

We meet Giovanni again and now it’s time to go to our next town for the day: Montepulciano.