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Travelling south from Arezzo you enter the Valdichiana, reclaimed swampland that is now prosperous farming country. From the valley floor, a 5km road winds up through terraces of vines and olives to the ancient hill-town of CORTONA, whose heights survey a vast domain: the Valdichiana stretching westwards, with Lago Trasimeno visible over the low hills to the south. The steep streets of Cortona are more or less untouched by modern building: limitations of space have confined almost all later development to the lower suburb of Camucia, which is where the approach road begins.

Even without its monuments and art treasures, this would be a good place to rest up, with decent hotels and excellent restaurants. In recent years, though, Cortona’s tourist traffic has increased markedly, in the wake of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, books that continue to entice coachloads of her readers to the town. And in late July/early August the town is filled to capacity by audiences for the Festival del Sole/Tuscan Sun Festival, an arts jamboree (mainly classical music) that was founded in 2002, partly at Mayes’ instigation; for its tenth anniversary the festival relocated to Florence, but it should return to its original home in future years.

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