The Val di Chiana – Arezzo is the agricultural heart of Tuscany: its bare lands, seemingly arid – especially when unused – in reality produce crops that are cared for like children, the result of a perhaps less refined, yet nonetheless authentic aspect of Tuscany, all of which are marked by a touch of rustic and raw beauty. Here, everything is big, everything seems to need strong shoulders, without thinking too much about whether the crops are gnarled and twisted: the tomatoes are huge and rugged, garlic doubles in size and the Chianina cattle, already imposing, are immense. Everything in the Val di Chiana seems to be the ancient and charming image of strapping farmers’ hands, so simple, yet bearers of a history of hard work, sacrifice and belonging.
The dry appearance of everything seems to want to be taken to the extreme now that the once unhealthy marsh in the area is no more, the only trace of these wetlands being the massive hydraulic works and the stretch of a trail, known as the Bonifica, many kilometres long along which you can ride your bike.
The sun in the Val di Chiana is a sun that burns the fields but warms hearts, and it’s precisely this good-natured light that Frances Mayes talks about in her book Under the Tuscan Sun, in which the protagonist is no longer the American tourist, but rather the spectacular and stunning countryside outside Cortona.
This is a land that knows how to nourish stomachs and souls, and it’s no wonder that in the past it was called “Etruria’s granary,” which the Etruscans were skilled at exploiting and who left here probably their greatest number of artefacts.
This is a place of continuous study. Still today, ruins of the ancient civilization are still being discovered. They left behind Etruscan villages like Castiglion Fiorentino or the magical Cortona (as its walls and archeological area attest to), and they tilled the lands where today we find Marciano and the romantic Lucignano.
If there’s one thing, though, that more than anything else guarantees the harmony felt in the Val di Chiana – Arezzo area, it’s the various traditions that range from focusing on the past, like the centuries-old carnevale in Foiano and the Palio in Castiglion Fiorentino, to highlighting the contemporary, like in Civitella, relaunched as a centre for contemporary art, and Cortona, home to On the Move, the international photography festival.