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TUSCANY

Why Arezzo should be the next town you visit in Tuscany

Often ignored in favour of more famous Tuscan towns, Arezzo has everything from designer shopping to medieval jousting tournaments. Here are nine reasons you should visit Arezzo on your next trip to Tuscany, according to one writer who lives there.

Why Arezzo should be the next town you visit in Tuscany
Piazza Grande, Arezzo, Italy. File photo.

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 Cinema Arezzo

Eden Garden, Arezzo. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

READ ALSO: Five ways to spend your gap year exploring Italy

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

READ ALSO: 13 places in Italy that look like they belong in a fairy tale

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

READ ALSO: Why toiling in Tuscany could be one of your most relaxing holidays yet

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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