Piero Country
Città di Castello - Sansepolcro - Monterchi - Arezzo
- Urbino
June
  2024
More photos here


 

Day 1: Wednesday 12 June
A new phenomenon at Heathrow
, first experienced last trip, is the long queue for the gates where you scan your boarding pass to get you through to the queue for security, which itself is now not so long. Anyway, it was in the long pre-queue that I bumped into old trip chums David and Jenny, and it was at their suggestion, as we had time, that we exchanged the traditional Pret breakfast for a sit down in the Giraffe upstairs, where I had the apple and cinnamon pancakes. At the gate we met our leaders Paula and Geoff and sundry other rogues from previous - 24 participants in all, not a small group for sure. This was to be P&G's last outing as trip guides, as they are retiring from such things, and so was an historical event not to be missed. The flight to Rome Fiumicino went to schedule but we waited at the baggage carousel for flipping ages, the three hour coach trip
to Città di Castello was at least that long and so, upon arrival at the Hotel Tiferno we had but 20 minutes to unpack before our evening meal at 8.30 at L’Accademia Hosteria. But the meal-in-itself platter of mixed starters was fine, even if the veggie risotto was a bit bland, and the group seems pretty harmonious.

Day 2: Thursday 13 June
Breakfast report - blood orange juice not bad, croissants not pre-filled, but pre-sugared, cereal comes with various jars of dried-fruit embellishments,
and there's three pretty standard cakes to slice. For our first day we did the standard small towns on the Piero itinerary. We spent the morning in Sansepolcro. Piero della Francesco was born here and it was his base for much of his life. We walked past his house to get to the Civic Museum, originally a renaissance Misericordia hospital, which contains Piero’s Madonna della Misericordia polyptych, and the justly-famous fresco of The Resurrection
(see right). We spent much time with both. The Duomo was next, to admire an altarpiece by Niccolò di Segna, from Siena, which Paula convincingly argued had influenced Piero's Misericordia altarpiece. I also admired a frescoed Crucifixion altarpiece niche, the work of Bartolomeo del Gatta, who sounds like my kinda guy.

The group lunch at the Osteria Giardino di Piero was al fresco and a good four courses. Lastly to Monterchi Piero’s Madonna del Parto fresco, now hung behind glass in a small white box in an old primary school. Which setting almost manages to suck the spiritual joy out of it, but the darkness that the room is now plunged into helps to lessen this.

Then back to our hotel, with the evening free, for those so inclined to collapse into an anti-social heap, still stuffed from lunch. I went for a stroll later in the evening, got the hang of Città di Castello a bit, found lots of churches, including the Duomo (see right) and one sociable cat. Lots of children's sport going on in the piazzas. One of the city's less admirable traits is the need to have a sound system playing banging, or at least throbby, music outside many restaurants and bars, including, unfortunately, the one in the alley outside my window. Earplugs were needed to sleep. 

Day 3: Friday 14 June
This morning I asked for a new room, being twice-shy after The Bologna Experience. I'll have a new one when we come back this afternoon, but have to leave my stuff suitable for easy transfer by the room staff.

To Arezzo. On arrival, we made for Santa Maria della Pieve to quickly admire the excellent altarpiece by Pietro Lorenzetti, which returned here in November 2020 after six years of restoration. Then to the Basilica of San Francesco, for our first visit to admire Piero’s famous fresco cycle devoted to The Legend of the True Cross. Like last time I was more drawn to the many good works in fresco here by Spinello Aretino.

Afterwards was lunch, and so we made for the Piazza Grande where we ate at the Ristorante Lancia D’Or under Vasari’s Loggia

In the afternoon we visited the Duomo, which has a single, admittedly sweet, fresco panel of Mary Magdalen by Piero. The Duomo itself looks like needing further exploring. Then to the Casa Vasari, the house where Vasari lived. Unusually some of his ceiling paintings weren't bad. A quick look at Vasari's tomb in the Badia, before a second session with the True Cross frescoes, which I bailed on and spent exploring the delights of the church at large. Which, I happily discovered, are many. The temptation is becoming strong to make Arezzo my new page on  The Churches of Florence.  More temptation was provided by admiring the pretty, asymetrical small church of San Domenico (see below right) which, I later found out, contains a Cimabue Crucifix.

My new room faces a road, which features cars, but irregularly and in one direction, but also the apse of the church opposite, San Francesco, so my room is not overlooked by windows, except the stained-glass sort. Or at least the blocked-in windows where stained glass should be.

Day 4: Saturday 15 June
Today we began with a
half day spent in Città di Castello. Firstly San Francesco over the road, which has copies of two famous altarpieces which it once owned, and a big bad Vasari. Well not bad, I suppose, but not very good. Then to the Pinacoteca for more Raphael and Perugino action, amongst some other stuff which was nice, but mostly 'studio of'. Into San Domenico to finish, to see two original altarpiece frames which have long been without their masterpieces. It was that kinda morning. San Dom is also the final resting place of Santa Margherita da Città di Castello.

The group broke for lunch, and I headed for the cemetery. It was not too far out, was mostly modern stacked filing marble cabinets, but with one old central cloister with a decorated chapel, some impressive wall monuments (including a frescoed one for the confraternity of the above-mentioned Santa Margherita) and some very fine topiary. On my way back, by which time it was nearly 3.00, I found a coop supermarket and picked up a focaccia tricolore, some tarollini traditionale, and a bottle of peach iced tea.

Tonight was 'dinner not included' but an evening drink was suggested by Geoff, to be followed by a pay-your-own-way meal. Almost the whole group turned up, chaos ensued, and I wished I'd sloped off for a pizza. I was told that there would be pizza, but it was yet more aubergine and pasta, with mushroom. The desert was a source of hope, being a blancmange thing flavoured with lemon and cinnamon and topped with almonds. It tasted like a urinal cake.

Day 5: Sunday 16 June
Today was our last proper day, spent in Urbino. We started at 9.00, our coach journey into Le Marche taking about an hour and a half, taken up with Paula telling us all about Federico da Montefeltro - always a good story. After a coffee break we got stuck into the Ducal Palace, which was not too busy. The National Gallery of the Marches is in the palace too and contains much of interest, including Piero’s famous puzzling Flagellation, his Senigallia Madonna, and The View an Ideal City that has often been wrongly attributed to him. The latter was also the original top of the page image for this very website. Works by Justus of Ghent and Raphael were also appreciated, as was the famous and fine cortile and Federico's spectacular little studiolo with its spiffy intarsia work.

After an independent lunch, which was blissfully a padina, not more flipping pasta and/or aubergine, and my first gelato (yoghurt with honey and amarena), we had a good long visit to the Oratory with the wonderful frescoes by the Salimbeni brothers, but didn't go to the weird little one up the way with an altar like a grotto.

Our final group dinner was at the Ristorante Bianconiglio. Asparagus pasta parcels, aubergine bits in baked smoked cheese and profiteroles.

Day 6: Monday 17 June
We left at a positively slovenly 10.30, but today was planned to include no art. It took us abut two hours to reach our early lunch in the town of Faenza at the Ristorante Zingaro. A short walk allowed us to take in the town square and quaff some coffee. After some optional ceramic shopping we headed to Bologna Airport where queues there were not, and our flight's departure was delayed by little more than half an hour. It was a BA flight, but operated by Air Serbia, in a plain white aeroplane. All the announcements were the standard BA spiel, but delivered in interesting accents. I was home by midnight.

This was a trip dominated by three-course lunches - three in five days - which tend to punch three-hour holes in the middle of the day, which means less art, which is not my preference. My previous trip, to The South Tyrol,  had been one of the best, so balance has been achieved I suppose.

 





 

 

Holiday reading

 

 
 

John Mortimer Summer's Lease
Back in the heyday of the Brit obsession with Chiantishire and the Piero Trail John Mortimer, famous for Rumpole, brought out this era-defining novel about a woman called Molly who takes her family to Tuscany to live in a house leased from the mysterious S.Kettering. The ensuing action revolves mostly around her obsession with discovering the, she is convinced, dark secrets, and possibly crimes, of S.Kettering. There are water and family problems aplenty too. Her daughters and father are paragons of friskiness, her husband much less so. But there are  not, it has to be said, much more than background mentions of art, until the end, where on Molly's visit to all the cities I visited above the paintings seem to reflect her recent experiences. There was a BBC series too, which has a sterling cast and a good reputation.
 
 




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