From the moment I stepped inside Antonio’s small second-floor apartment, I knew I was going to like Arezzo.
This jovial Italian B&B owner seemed resolved to ensure that I saw everything important in his home town, even with just eighteen hours at my disposal: so after Antonio had shown me my bedroom (complete with a view of cypress trees) he immediately pulled out a paper map of Arezzo and set to work on a walking route for me.
With a coloured pen, he circled the landmark of ‘tre semaforos’ – three traffic lights which would guide me back towards his home – along with various museos, chiesas and piazzas which were all deemed to be unmissable.
And then he essentially shuttled me out of his front door so I could get on with sightseeing.
So why was I in Arezzo?
Despite being the setting for Roberto Benigni’s classic film, ‘Life is Beautiful’, the little medieval town of Arezzo still isn’t too well known amongst the tourist circuit. Yet because I’d already spent the weekend in Tuscany, when a new Italian friend suggested I spend a day exploring Arezzo it was as easy as catching a train from Siena.
In seemingly no time at all, I was walking through the streets of a quintessential Italian town where everything looked exactly like you’d imagine it.
And when in Tuscany, ‘indulgence’ essentially means ‘eat all the food’.
First up was lunch at a nearby restaurant which Antonio had been insistent I should visit. “You have the pasta… with the hands,” he’d said, miming the action of kneading and rolling in mid-air.
The waiter who guided me to a table spoke even less English than Antonio, so instead I was graced by the pasta-kneading chef himself to explain their day’s specials. I opted for a pile of twisting papardelle, topped with a rich ragu sauce and laden with sprinklings of parmesan. Firm, chewy and al dente – just the way I like it – and even better with a glass of the Chianti which the chef was equally insistent about me ordering.
Back outside in the spring sunshine, I made my way past stone archways and ornate signs towards Arezzo’s main piazza, popping my head inside the ridiculously photogenic shopfronts along the way.
The further I went, the more elements of Italian history sprung out at me – like a store in the crypt of a pockmarked stone church with handmade chocolate, pasta and cases of red wine spilling out of the doors.
Just as I walked past, the bells began to chime from the tower above (no joke!), and it was easy to imagine the thousands of services which had taken place there over the years.
Old buildings segued to old objects: shop windows were stuffed full with antique collectibles, while bigger items were propped up outside and left to blend in with the crumbling walls.
Eventually I wound my way up to the highest point in Arezzo, where the Cathedral of San Donato sits above a stunning viewpoint of the city and countryside beyond.
Once I’d found myself a free wooden bench, it was time to sit back amongst the trees and soak up the sun.
Shadows had begun to stretch behind the trees when I headed off again. At a house beside the Duomo I could hear a piano playing, and a few reedy, wavering voices floated through the open window.
Somehow it was evening, and on route to a pizza place for dinner (because, you know, Italy) I passed a few rose sellers walking slowly down Arezzo’s sloping streets. A pensioner hailed one guy down, balancing a long stemmed rose on the roof of his car before helping an equally elderly woman exit the passenger seat.
A little love affair with Arezzo
There’s an undeniable ‘something’ about Italy.
Maybe it was the fresh spring air; the lack of tourists; the wonderful walkability of the narrow streets; or maybe I just really needed a day of wandering around. Regardless, there aren’t many places where I catch myself saying, ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ out loud.
But it is beautiful. Spending a sunny Thursday afternoon a few days before Easter wandering through nearly empty streets gave me such a buzz of happiness that it’s no wonder Roberto Benigni decided to film ‘Life is Beautiful’ in Arezzo. Who could resist frolicking around on camera in a place like this?
Normally I don’t write articles based solely on a place being ‘nice’ — but it really, truly was. Add the fact that Arezzo isn’t that well known and it becomes all the lovelier.
So if you ever find yourself at Antonio’s flat in Arezzo, please tell him the English girl sent you.
And definitely pay attention to his map.
Have you ever visited Arezzo? What other unknown parts of Italy would you suggest?