Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Tania Von Barkenhagen, Wine Blogger, Holiday Rental Owner, Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Maker, here to tell us all about Cortona – the setting of the book-turned-movie Under the Tuscan Sun.
First, tell us about you.
I grew up in Washington state, but lived in southern California since 1986. In March 2005, I moved to Cortona.
In my free time, I like to go for walks in the countryside with my husband and dogs, enjoy a nice glass of wine, discover new restaurants and upcoming chefs, photograph the stunning Val di Chiana countryside, and catch up on my American TV shows!
For work, my husband and I have an olive oil & balsamic vinegar business. (In fact, we just won our third gold medal for our 2013 Tuscany Olive Oil!) I am a wine blogger and do some social media for the local wine industry. We also have a rental apartment in our farmhouse that I manage.
If someone is visiting Cortona for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Park your car outside the walls and, like a true Italian, take a passeggiata (stroll) through the city, giving yourself time to take everything in. Start off on our one level street in town, Via Nazionale, where you will find many of the shops and eventually see our beautiful town hall in Piazza Repubblica. Then, find one of the many little vicolos (alleys) leading up and lose yourself in the tiny streets. Since Cortona is small, you can’t get too lost, and there are some really beautiful buildings in many of the little streets.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
It is a small town that you can easily walk through in 10 minutes. There are many nice accommodations in the area. Staying in town is fun and you can walk to everything, although you need to park your car outside the city walls and walk in. Staying nearby in the countryside is absolutely beautiful and you can easily drive up to Cortona, park outside, and walk in.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
Le Celle, a tiny little monastery just outside of Cortona where St. Francis stayed in a cell for two months not long before he died, is a special place, set into the hillside and open for visits.
Also, go up to the Santa Margherita church above Cortona where our patron saint is laid in the altar.
The Medici Fortezza, which is above the church on the highest point of the hill Cortona sits on, has amazing views of all the Val di Chiana and Lago Trasimeno. Lago Trasimeno is also worth driving around, visiting some of the little towns on the edge of the lake, as well as taking the ferry from Tuoro to Isola Maggiore for a day trip or lunch.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Depending on the season, wild boar is quite common and worth trying. Also, pici al fumo, which is a very large spaghetti noodle in a creamy, smoky tomato sauce that is rich and savory.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
All our restaurants are pretty amazing, but my top picks are Osteria del Teatro (located at Via Giuseppe Maffei 2), Pozzo Antico (located at Via Ghini 12), and Locanda nel Loggiato (located at Piazza di Pescheria).
For bars, I like Caccio Brillo (located at Piazza Luca Signorelli 6), Tuscher (at Via Nazionale 43), and La Saletta (located at Via Nazionale 26).
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Walking in a store without saying hello. Here all the locals expect to say good morning or afternoon and acknowledge you when you walk in; they find it strange when people just ignore them and look around the store and then leave without saying anything.
Also, look people in the eye and smile and try to speak even just one word of Italian. They really appreciate that!
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Don’t be shy, smile and say hello, and ask questions. When they find out you are truly interested, they will be happy to talk to you!
Why should people make sure to visit Cortona?
It is one of the most beautiful little Medieval hilltop towns with nice shops, great restaurants, and amazing, award-winning local wine (try some of the Cortona Syrah!).
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
From down below in the valley or up above near Santa Margherita Church, looking down. Also, Piazza Garibaldi has great views of the valley.
Anything else you want us to know?
There is a free wine tasting every Thursday night from May to October in Piazza Repubblica in front of the Molesini Wine Shop, who I do social media for. Come by and say hello and think about joining up for the dinner that follows!