The morning dawned clear and hot. Since we had a relatively short stage ahead of us, we decided to leave a little later. At 9:00, we hiked down the hill from Castiglion Fiorentino and headed south.
After four kilometers, we started to climb the hill to the Castle of Montecchio Vesponi. The hill sits alone on the valley floor, crowned by this fortress. It is a massive and imposing structure that played a significant role in the late-medieval conflicts between Florence, Arezzo, and Castiglion Fiorentino. As we climbed the hill, I was looking forward to having a look inside its walls. Imagine my dismay when, after dragging ourselves to the top, we discovered that it was closed, and apart from an impressively high stone wall, there was nothing to see there. We circled the castle in disbelief, but there were no access points apart from a small wooden door. A sign on the door stated that there was an “archeological tour” on the second Sunday of every month, but that was it.
With tears in our eyes, we started down the other side of the hill. The route passed through olive groves, and eventually we crossed a ridge and were rewarded with our first view of Cortona. My goodness. What a heartbreaking view, in both the literal and figurative sense. Cortona sits atop a small mountain. I was dismayed by the height of the hill we would need to climb (heartbreak) and could well imagine hikers having a physical heartbreak before reaching the top. It was daunting.
Nevertheless, we cinched our backpack straps tighter and began plodding up the switchbacks through the olive groves. I didn’t time it, but I would bet the last two kilometers took well over an hour to climb. Finally, however, we reached the bottom edge of the town, turned onto the Via Roma, and continued to climb to our apartment.
Cortona is an ancient town that dates back to the Etruscans. It sits at an altitude of 2,000 feet above sea level. I have read that there is only one flat road in the entire town --- every other street either descends or ascends precipitously. It is a natural thigh and leg workout.
As we hiked through the streets, I was struck by the sound of English-speaking voices. There were many American and British tourists here, and after a month-and-a-half of not hearing other English speakers, it was a bit odd. We have been well off the tourist trail and have grown accustomed to only hearing Italian.
We took another rest day in Cortona to ready ourselves for the last great push to Rome. The heat continued to sap our energy, so we haven’t visited as many of the sites as possible, although we did climb high above the town to the fort, and the Church of Santa Margherita.
We also spent a considerable amount of time in the city museum, which documents the evolution of the city from its ancient origins. It was a fine museum with a particularly excellent display of Etruscan artifacts. After a lovely lunch, we retreated to our apartment to wash clothes, rest, and stay out of the 100 F sun.
Tomorrow we will be back on the road to Rome.
Stage Distance: 13.5 KM
Total Distance: 930.2 KM