EVERYONE knows Tuscany, darling, and everyone knows the grandiose city of Florence
And yet only 50 miles from this mighty collection of galleries and museums is a fine Italian city that many have never even heard of.
The capital of the province of the same name, Arezzo always seems blissfully untouched, despite it being the home of the biggest artistic draw in the region.
Here Piero della Francesca’s vast Legend of the True Cross frescoes are viewed, 25 people at a time, in the cool semi-darkness of the imperious Basilica di San Francesco
Art lover or not, though, you’ll fall for this historic Etruscan city. From the hilltop park that visitors encounter on arrival, sandwiched between a crumbling Medici fortress and a cool, peaceful Duomo, down through the cobbled streets lined with specialist food shops, enotecas and restaurants to the giant sloping Piazza Grande (a Disneyesque mix of towers, palazzos and churches) you will be seduced
We arrived at the height of a blazing summer and were plunged straight into history.
It was the Saracen Joust Festival when teams from the city’s varied districts take on each other, a bit like an armoured version of West Side Story, in the Piazza Grande.
The battles have been staged here, for centuries, a grand medieval square behind the 13th-century Romanesque Santa Maria della Pieve Church.
The multi-coloured banners fluttering from the lances and plumed helmets of the riders we witnessed would have been the very same sight that greeted visiting dignitaries back in the Middle Ages.
I bet the coconut and Nutella ice cream wasn’t as good then.
After the heat of battle under a southern Mediterranean sun (my husband is ginger and it was 35 degrees), it was deeply satisfying to retreat to Villa I Gigli, a slice of holiday heaven high above the city in the heart of the Podere di Pomaio winery.
Built to face the gentle green escarpments and Italian cypresses that lead downwards to Arezzo, our digs were a distinctly five-star affair – all fat sofas in smart fabrics, heavy, squat wooden tables and high-end kitchen appliances
From the terrace, sipping the winery’s fi nest chianti, we could still hear the distant cheers and applause from the jousting on the breeze as the dazzling sun finally dipped.
We cooled off in the pool then emerged, starving after a day packed with duelling and drama, to be greeted by the winery’s owner, Iacopo Rossi, holding forth a giant homemade lasagne and freshly-baked focaccia. Our very own knight in shining armour.
It’s one thing to “know” someone, it’s another thing entirely to invest time to learn about that someone’s family, their health, their interests. It takes time and effort to form a relationship – to show you really care.