Driving in Tuscany
I highly recommend hiring a car to see Tuscany. You can cover more ground, you don't have to rely on public transport schedules, which at times could be crippling. The roads in Tuscany are great and well signposted (almost too well-signposted...the overabundance of messages on the roads can actually cause more confusions that clarification). The biggest issue, at least with the hill towns is parking. In high season, it can be a nightmare, so if you go during this time, I would almost advise to see the lesser known towns. Parking is generally free, but some of the more popular towns will have pay parking garages (e.g. San Gimignano). If in doubt, the white parking lines mean it's free and the blue mean you have to pay to park there. It's also worth taking out extra insurance. There are just as many cars with dings as there are hill towns in Tuscany, and with the number of tourists driving, small parking spaces, etc., the chances of someone bumping into you is certainly there.
- Road Trip
One train, one bus.
No, you cannot get directly to Cortona by train but don't let that deter you!
You can take the train, from wherever you are, to either the Terontola or Camucia train stations. Terontola is approximately 11km from Cortona and Camucia about 5km. Though Camucia is closer to Cortona, it is a slightly smaller station so the trains stop there in lesser frequency than at the Terontola station. I'd opt for the Terontola station.
From Terontola (or Camucia), you can take the bus to Cortona for a mere 1,80 Euro per person. You can buy the bus ticket from the cafe in the train station, then proceed to the bus stop just outside of the station entry.
If you're not in the mood for the bus (though it is one of those nicer coaches with the padded seats), you can take a taxi. A taxi from the Terontola train station to Cortona will only cost you about 15 Euro. This is the option that I typically choose when leaving Cortona and feeling lazy about hauling my suitcase. :) (You may even get a nice driver who wants to point out the sites to you while you travel, which we did!)
Driving to and parking in Cortona
Cortona is an easy city to reach by car and I would definitely recommend it to even the most wary of drivers. The entire city is rimmed with parking lots and if you go to the website below and scroll to the bottom of the page you'll find a map marked with a series of 'P' signs. Click on any of them to bring up a photo of that particular parking area.
There's also a ton more transportation and tourism info on a website I built exclusively for getting around Italy at www.travelrabbit.net. Hope it's of use.
- Road Trip
Regionale train from Roma to Camucia-Cortona
For 9 euro each we bought tickets from Rome (Termini Station) to Camucia-Cortona station on a regionale train. Cortona is actually set on top of a mountain and there is no direct train available. You arrive in Camucia station (which is tiny). We arrived on Saturday (market day) early, and the buses were only running every hour. A local walking by told us we could call the local taxi company from the phone inside the station. We couldn't get it to work so we started walking up the main street towards the center of town. We found a lovely little cafe that serves excellent coffee and pastries and we sat for a while and warmed up a bit. The bus stop was directly in front of the cafe, so we were waiting there when an older local man parked his car in front of the bus stop, pointed to Cortona, and opened his car door. My mother and I hopped in and he drove us to the center of Cortona for 10 euro. It was much more expensive than the 1 euro it would have cost for the bus ticket, but a worthwhile adventure nonetheless.
You can reach Cortona easily from Arezzo, on the blue buses that ply the area. They tend to leave every hour or two, and the journey can take up to an hour one-way. I believe the cost of a ticket is 3.50 Euro.
Cortona is the place you just have to walk to see the sights of the town. The tiny alleys, the large streets...all are best seen on foot. Walking down the cobblestone streets and alleys gives an insight to the daily happenings in the town. We discovered several beautifully decorated terraces, views and little shops during our walking ventures.
Driving was essential when exploring the outer area of Cortona and other towns in the region. We were fortunate to have the use of Liz's Aunt and Uncles car and driver. Drivers in Italy are just a speed happy as Americans so we were quite accustomed to the road habits of other drivers.
Alitalia to Florence
Definitely not my airline of choice but who's to look gift tickets in the mouth. Thankfully they were free tickets because it was one of the worst flights I have taken when it comes to timeliness, service and overall customer service.
Flying home from Florence we had a layover in Rome which was to be an hour in duration. After arriving at the scheduled gate there was no flight information posted. Finally someone pointed out the gate change and we moved to that gate. An announcement then said the flight would be delayed an hour for mechanical issues. Well an hour turned into almost 4 hours of waiting. Needless to say I was not happy... Fortunately we made friends with another couple Brian and Roseanna who were on on flight and also from NY. We managed to pass the time geabbing a bite to eat and talking.
The flight home was rather uncomfortable with a full flight. The flight attendents were rude to say the least...practically throwing the food trays at you. After this flight I can honestly see why this airline is so unpopular..
Bus up the hill.
Camucia is at the bottom of the mountain, Cortona is 3km up. There is a bus, buy ticket at shops before boarding. There are hotels in Cortona , you still have to bus or taxi up and down to station. So i found it better to stay in Camucia, easier on leaving. Camucia is the nearest to Cortona of the two named Cortona