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Cortona, Chiantishire

York Membery found much to savour when he paid a visit to the medieval town of Cortona for the Tuscan Sun Festival.

Sitting on a restaurant terrace, looking out across the sun-baked Chiana Valley below to Lake Trasimeno in the distance, I sipped at a glass of wine. It would be hard to imagine a more fitting place to enjoy a Renaissance-style lunch than Cortona, a charming medieval town high in the Tuscan hills.

Before the arrival of the main course, our host spoke about the Renaissance-style palate. ‘Wealthy Cortonians were very partial to cinnamon,’ explained Diego Zancani, a Professor of Italian at Balliol College, Oxford, who has a special interest in Renaissance-era literature and cuisine. ‘However, they ate very little in the way of fruit and vegetables.’

The lunch was among the highlights of the Tuscan Sun Festival – a two-week long extravaganza of classical music, literature, food and wine. Staged every summer for the last five years, it was the brainchild of the American writer Frances Mayes, who bought a home in the town after falling in love with the area, a move which inspired her best-selling novel Under the Tuscan Sun.

Had Cortona been located in any other country, the town of 22,000 would have surely long been better known in the UK. But perhaps as a result of Italy’s almost embarrassing wealth of cultural and historic attractions, it’s all too often been overlooked by visitors. This is a shame because it’s the perfect destination for the discerning traveller with an interest in history and the arts, not to mention a fondness for Italian food and drink.

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