1. Renaissance art
Most visitors to Arezzo are drawn here by the famous fresco depicting The Legend of the True Cross by Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca. The fresco cycle, dating from 1466, tells the story of how wood from the Garden of Eden became the cross on which Jesus died. It's considered an early Renaissance masterpiece. Find it in the Cappella Maggiore in the Basilica di San Francesco, one of many stunning churches in Arezzo’s historic centre.
The historic centre of Arezzo sits on top of a hill . Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
2. Medieval jousting
Twice a year in June and September, Arezzo’s main square is transformed into a jousting track. The teams, from the town's four quarters, train all year to compete. Participants dress in medieval costumes, team colours hang from every window, and the façades of the Piazza Grande’s palazzi are festooned with colourful crests.
The event is far from just a re-enactment for tourists. There are street parties for days before the main event, passions run higher than at any football match, and it’s not unusual to see fights breaking out between rivals on the jousting track. Few visitors to the region even know about the event, meaning you can get tickets much more easily than for the Palio di Siena – though you do still need to book ahead, and the best seats go for up to a hundred euros.
The Giostra del Saracino takes place in Arezzo's Piazza Grande. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
3. Famous film locations
You might recognise some of Arezzo’s streets and landmarks from Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning film La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful.) Many of its most famous scenes were filmed in Arezzo, and the city is dotted with signposts directing you to their locations. Check out Caffe dei Costanti, where Guido's son spots a sign saying 'no entry to Jews or dogs', and 19 Via Borgo Unito, the site of the shop Guido owns at the start of the film. The main square, Piazza Grande, is where the famous bicycle scene was filmed.
4. Outdoor cinema
Another treat for film fans is Arezzo’s very own outdoor cinema, which you can find at Eden Garden. This new bar and restaurant has quickly become a favourite with locals, partly thanks to its stylish outdoor terrace, but it also has a separate area dedicated to nightly outdoor screenings under the stars during the summer months. There’s a varied programme of films in Italian, English, French and more.
Eden Garden, Arezzo. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
5. Great shopping
Forget about souvenir shops hawking tat and overpriced olive oil – shopping in Arezzo is a stylish affair. It’s an affluent, cosmopolitan town and the modern part of its centre is stuffed with high-end boutiques selling fashion, footwear and furniture. There are also some great bookshops and art supply stores, and of course plenty of the jewellery and antique shops that Arezzo is famous for. If you time your visit right you can spend a morning browsing the curiosities at its famous outdoor antiques market, held on the first Sunday of every month. Piazza Grande becomes jammed with antique paintings and armoires, and the steep cobbled streets nearby spill over with stalls full of vintage finds.
Arezzo Cathedral. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
6. Aperitivo time
It’s a treasured ritual throughout Italy, but stroll around Arezzo any day before dinner and you’ll notice this town takes its aperitivo very seriously indeed. There's no end of cute outdoor kiosks and sophisticated cocktail bars to choose from here. For a pre-dinner cocktail with a view, try the chiosco at hilltop Prato Park, next to the ruined Medici fortress, or one of the bars on Piazza Grande, such as La Bottega di Gnicche, which is a slightly pricier option but perfect for people-watching.
7. Food festivals
Arezzo has plenty of green spaces which play host to several large food festivals throughout the year. Mercato Internazionale takes over the town’s streets and squares in October, offering food, drinks and crafts from around the world. In April, Prato Park is the home of an annual street food festival with trucks selling treats like local Chianina beef burgers or grilled arrosticini, tiny meat skewers that are a specialty of nearby Abruzzo.
As elsewhere in Tuscany, throughout the summer and autumn months you’ll find no end of raucous, rustic-style sagre, or village festivals revolving around the local specialty food, held in and around Arezzo. Some good ones to visit are the Sagra dell'Ocio (goose festival) taking place this week in the small village of Ruscello, or the Sagra dell’Uva (grape festival) in Subbiano in September.
The goose festival in Ruscello, Arezzo. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
8. A perfect location for day trips
Once you've seen Arezzo's main sights, the town also makes a good base for exploring eastern Tuscany. It's well located both for hikes in the nearby hills, or for train journeys to the rest of Italy, as it's on the main line between Rome and Florence. There are lots of pretty towns and villages a short drive away, including Cortona, the picturesque hilltop town made famous in Under the Tuscan Sun.
Florence is just 45 minutes from Arezzo by train or car. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
9. It’s not packed with tourists
Perhaps the best reason of all to visit Arezzo over other big Tuscan towns is the fact that few tourists venture into this part of eastern Tuscany. That means locals are much more relaxed and open than the harried residents of Siena and central Florence. You can stroll around at ease, you’ll hear mainly Italian spoken everywhere you go, and it’s hard to find a restaurant that isn’t reasonably priced. And there’s hardly a ticket tout or selfie stick in sight.
Arezzo's central streets can be quiet in the middle of summer. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local