Under the Tuscan Sun

Cortona was the setting for the movie Under the Tuscan sun.

The summer before my senior year of college, I studied abroad in a small Tuscan town called Cortona. In the Province of Arezzo, Cortona sits 1,986 feet above sea level looking over a valley and Lake Trasimeno. It is a quiet town, existing in a time warp largely untouched by the masses of tourists visiting Italy each year. The University of Georgia campus has resided in the former Etruscan town for 50 years, making it the oldest study abroad program for the school. My mom attended the same program when she was studying interior design, so I always dreamed of packing my bags and sketchbooks to set off for a summer following in her footsteps.  

I am a stereotype — that person who studied abroad and then never stops talking about how study abroad changed them…OOPS…but it did. Living in a foreign country, immersed in a new culture for an entire summer, brought on a new perspective I would not have found inside my hometown. At an impressionable time in my life, I left everything I knew to be comfortable and moved into a house of mostly strangers, sharing a bathroom with seven other girls. With no internet service and limited WIFI, I was forced to slow down and be inspired — a freedom I did not take lightly. 

So...what did I learn?

The views from our bedroom window never got old.

Watching a rain storm roll through the valley on the way to class.

Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona’s town square.

A sketch my dad did of the building.

Nothing Sinks in Like Learning in the Classroom Monday and Going to See it Tuesday

We would sit in art history and learn about the statue of David, the following class an assignment would be due, and that weekend we would be in Florence to see it. Our teacher would be there pointing out exact places she had discussed in the classroom. I soaked up more information than I ever would have looking at slides in an auditorium.

Gelato from our favorite people at Snoopy’s!

Italians Understand Quality of Life

Right after 1PM, shops would close so that owners could go home to see family and make lunch. Meals last hours without the stress of moving on to the next thing. Everything moves at a different pace, moments are savored. 

Europe is Overflowing with Classic and New Architecture 

In addition to studying the classic architecture that seems to be around every corner, we also had the opportunity to see what was new. We toured Rome’s newest convention center, “The Cloud,” while it was under construction. That year was also the Architecture Biennale in Venice, which was incredible to witness. Architects from all over the world displayed their work.

The Cloud, under construction.

The Cloud, under construction.

Architecture Biennale

Inspiration Takes Shape When You Are Quiet and Observing

Our instructors encouraged us to go into town to sketch or to sit on the hill to paint as the clouds rolled through. Sitting in quiet stillness, surrounded by a colorful town, my mind flooded with more ideas than my hand could keep up with.

The town is lined with old walls perfect for perching and sketching.

Coffee Tastes Better in a Bialetti 

You can find a Bialetti Moka pot in every Italian home — it has been a staple for decades. It is recommended you don’t wash the pot out with soap or rough scrubs as it strips the coffee oil that seal the aluminum and give it that special taste. I fell in love with these so much that I based my interior design final exhibition design on this brand.

My final project hung in the Mostra and was presented in both English and Italians so the locals could walk through.

As I mentioned, my mom did the program many years before me. She loved her summer and fell in love with Italy. So much so, that when she met my dad (they met walking their dogs — yes, it’s very much a fairytale, and yes, they set my expectations too high) they decided to get married in Florence. When they came to visit me in Cortona, they took me to visit the building they were married in, the Palazzo Vecchio. It was their first time back since their wedding. 

My parents on their wedding day.

Visiting the same steps my mom walked down 25 years earlier!

I found myself constantly parroting in my head “Take this in; you’ll talk about this summer for the rest of your life.” Turns out, I was right! It was a summer I will never forget, one that I will constantly pull inspiration from, and one that I will never stop talking about.

The Disney fan in me is freaking out that this looks just like Epcot’s Italian pavilion.

We found the greatest treasures taking a different path each day.

Some other thoughts… free of charge:

  • There Are a Lot of Mary and Child Paintings

  • Bread and Olive Oil Should Be a Part of Every Meal

  • McDonalds Are Better in Europe

  • Hills Are the Trick to Getting in Shape

  • Town Squares = New York Public Parks

  • There is No Getting Lost in Italy, Just Taking Another Path

Learn more about the UGA program here: https://cortona.uga.edu/

Caroline Percy, Designer

Caroline Percy, Designer