Arezzo is a beautiful city in south east Tuscany that dates back to the Etruscan period and which was also an important military station for the Romans. It is divided into two parts – the older historic district at the top of the hill (which is where we suggest you spend most of your time) and the more modern lower part. Arezzo may not always be part of the main tourist trail in Tuscany but we think a visit Arezzo should be included on any Tuscany villa holiday. Incidentally, if you think you recognise the town, you may do from Robert Benigni’s film La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful) as it was the setting for the main character’s home before they were sadly taken to the Nazi concentration camps.
What to do in Arezzo
Arguably the main attraction in Arezzo is the Church of San Francesco. Built in the 14th century, tourists on a Tuscany villa holiday visit to admire the series of early Renaissance frescoes inside by Piero della Francesca. These are found in the Bacci Chapel and depict the Legend of the True Cross. `These start with the depiction of a sprig from the Tree of Knowledge being planted over the grave of Adam and end with the True Cross being returned to Jerusalem after it was stolen by the Persian king Chosroes.
This isn’t the only church in Arezzo though. The 12th century Romanesque Church of Santa Maria della Pieve is also well worth a visit with its square bell tower, intricate facade and profusion of arches and columns. Inside, it’s home to some 14th century frescoes and a crypt in which the reliquary bust of San Donato is kept. Also of note is the Church of San Domenico. This largely dates to the 13th century but boasts a later Gothic campanile and is home to some 15th and 16th century frescoes as well as a Crucifix by Cimabue dating to 1260.
And there is also Arezzo’s Duomo. The Duomo sits at the highest point of the town. It actually took years to construct. Work started in 1278 and was largely finished by the end of the 15th century however the campanile dates from 1859 and the facade from 1914. Look out for the Madeleine fresco by Piera della Francesca, the Medieval stained glass windows, the tomb of Pope Gregory X and the Taralti Chapel. After your visit, spend some time relaxing in the Passeggia del Prato (Arezzo’s public park) which stretches from the east end of the Duomo to the Fortezza Medicea. The park enjoys lovely views over Arezzo and across the vineyards towards Casentino and is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a picnic under the shade of the pine trees.
The final church in Arezzo worth a visit on your Tuscany villa holiday is in the lower part of Arezzo and is the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie. The church is tiny, little more than a single room containing a few seats and an altar, but it’s absolutely delightful. Take note of the marble and terracotta altar created by Andrea della Robbia.
Arezzo has had a few famous residents over the years but Vasari is arguably Arezzo’s most famous resident. He was born here in 1511 and went on to write Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors as well as being a painter and architect within the court of Cosimo I. His most famous works include the frescoed interior of the Duomo in Florence and the Vasari Corridor in Florence.
You can find out more about this Mannerist artist and see some of this work in Arezzo at the Casa di Giorgio Vasari, a house that he rebuilt in 1547 and which he decorated with elaborate decorative schemes drawing inspiration from mythology as well as from personal experience. Portraits within the house include one of his wife in the Chamber of Apollo and of Michelangelo and Andrea del Sarto in the Chamber of Fame. More evidence of Vasari’s work can be seen in the Badia di SS Flora e Lucilla, a massive Baroque tower whose interior was extensively remodelled by Vasari. Vasari also contributed to the main altarpiece here which was designed as a tomb monument for the Vasari family.
Also not to be missed in Arezzo is the beautiful loggia also designed by Vasari, which can be found on the northern side of the main Piazza Grande. The loggia is home to a series of shops, some of which still have their original stone counters along with cafes and bars. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a spot of people watching! The Piazza Grande itself is a beautiful red-bricked sloping square inlaid with geometrical lines of limestone. Also to be admired in the piazza is the Palazzetto della Fraternita dei Laici (Palace of the Lay Fraternity), a 14th-15th century palazzo and the Episcopal Palace whose interior houses frescoes by Salvi Castellucci and Pietro Benvenuti amongst others. In front of the palace is the Monument to the Medici Grand Duke Ferdinand.
Arezzo is also home to a number of museums. These include the Museo Statale d’Arte Medioevale e Moderna found in the 15th century Palazzo Bruni-Ciocchi. This contains artworks and majolica dating from the 13th to 18th centuries however, of particular note is the Medieval and Renaissance art on the first floor. The second of Arezzo’s principal museums is the Museo Archeologico found in the lower part of the town in part of an abandoned Olivetan monastery next to the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. It’s worth a visit to admire the collection of 1st century BC coralline vases along with other prehistoric, Etruscan and Roman artefacts. Finally in Arezzo there is the Casa Petrarca. This is the birthplace of the poet Petrarch but, unless you’re a huge literary fan, it’s probably not worth a visit, home to just a few manuscripts and a letter signed by the poet.
Events in Arezzo
On the first weekend of each month, Arezzo hosts the Fiera Antiquaria, a huge antiques market that sees the central Piazza Grande filled with stallholders as hundreds of exhibitors converge on the square to sell their wares. Incidentally, to find out more about the origins of the fair, you may want to visit the Casa Museo Ivan Bruschi, the home of the wealthy art dealer and collector who set up the fair back in 1968.
The other main events in Arezzo are the Concorso Polifonico Guido d’Arezzo and the Giostra del Saracino. These take place at the end of August and and on the first Sunday in September respectively. The latter is a full day of celebrations involving processions with participants attired in Medieval dress, culminating in a spectacular jousting tournament. The four quarters of the city are decked in their specific colours and each is represented by a pair of knights on horseback competing to win the most points by striking the wooden effigy of a king. The winner is awarded a golden lance.
The Concorso Polifonico Guido d’Arezzo is an international choral competition. However, music events in Arezzo don’t stop there. Once known as Arezzo Wave, but replaced by PLAY Arezzo Art Festival, this is a rock music festival held in late June and early July, whilst Pomeriggi Musicali is a series of small but free concerts held in various churches, museums and libraries in Arezzo across the first six months of the year.
Where to stay in Arezzo
Villa Cristine is a stunning 5 bedroom Tuscany villa just 4 km from the heart of Arezzo. Situated on a hilltop just outside Arezzo in a prestigious residential area known as the ‘Cognaia’, this Arezzo villa enjoys breathtaking 360 degree views. After a day spent in the city, guests have plenty of on site facilities to enjoy at this Tuscany villa including a private swimming pool, jacuzzi, fitness terrace, games room with billiards table, pinball machine and table tennis table as well as access to a private tennis club.
How to get to Arezzo
Once in Arezzo, it is easy to explore on foot. If you’re working out how best to get to Arezzo from your Tuscany villa, try out Omio. This is a really helpful website, which simplifies your journey planning. Whether you’re looking to travel by air, train or bus, you just need to enter your travel dates, departure and arrival destinations, and it will allow you to easily compare the different options and reserve your tickets.
By plane: The nearest airport is Florence which is approximately an hour away by car. Alternatively, the smaller airport in Perugia is only 1 hour 15 minute drive from Arezzo. If you don’t mind a longer transfer, then both Pisa and Bologna are approximately 2 hours away by car.
By train: There are 3 train stations in Arezzo. These are called Arezzo, Arezzo Casello 1 and Arezzo Pescaiola. If travelling to explore the city, you will want to opt for the one simply called Arezzo since this is closest to the historic centre. ake the fast Frecciarossa train from Florence to Arezzo and you can be there in as little as 33 minutes. However, most trains take between 60 and 75 minutes. Once at the train station, it’s about a kilometre walk along Via Guido Monaco to Arezzo’s main piazza. Alternatively, you can catch the LFSC32 bus from the nearby Piazza Guido Monaco. This will take you on a slightly round about route but ends up at the Duomo.
Rather helpfully, the main tourist information office is situated just outside the main train station.
By bus: Buses go from a number of nearby towns and cities to Arezzo.
By car: Much of the historic centre of Arezzo is pedestrianised. However, there are a number of car parks in Arezzo so it’s easy to drive to the city. One of the most convenient parking areas is on Via Pietri which is connected to the historic centre via a series of escalators. However there are plenty of others including one in the Piazza del Popolo, one on Viale Signorelli and one in the Piazza Fanfani. One other word of advice: Don’t get caught out by the ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato) which are clearly marked by red no-entry signs. These are areas for residents only. They are controlled by video cameras and if you enter without a permit, you will receive a hefty fine.