Any registered tour guide, by definition, needs to be smart! The exams are excruciatingly tough. Guides are also expected - by law - to take regular courses to update themselves. Many spend days, even weeks, putting together a new itinerary and studying their destination in the minutiae. Alison Koetser interviews Cortona tour guide, Valeria Lorenzini.
A big sunny smile that disarms. Startlingly blue eyes that shine with a fierce intelligence. An energy that is almost daunting in its intensity. All these qualities as well as a dedicated passion for art and art history, single out tour guide, Valeria Lorenzini. These days her reputation precedes her, with many families and groups, signing up for her tours from one year to the next.
Born and raised in Cortona, Valeria attended the Istituto Tecnico per il Turismo, where she qualified – after 5 years of study – as both a tour guide and tour operator. 30 years on – or thereabouts – she has completed a limitless number of further courses (and exams). Her curiosity, mixed with a deep conscientiousness for her work, knows no bounds. She studies copiously, has also mastered the English language – with trips to both the UK and USA – and still finds time for trekking and photography, in her leisure time!
With a penchant for connecting historic dots between towns, cities and even regions, Valeria recounts a group trip she once made, to Herculaneum in Naples. Niccolò Marcello Venuti, archaeologist and historian born in Cortona in 1700, was not only present for the discovery of the antiquities hidden under Hurculaneum in c. 1734, but he also participated in their excavation. He was later to become founder of the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca in Cortona (MAEC).
Enthusiastic about travelling, Valeria has made – as tour operator - a number of similar group trips abroad from Cortona - Venice, Florence, Bari, Matera to name just a few. Interestingly, while she is allowed by law to share information during the coach ride, once at destination, a local guide must be hired. Valeria considers this right and proper. Value for money, in her opinion, is in the detail and only a local will have that.
Valeria’s main focus is on the Arezzo area. This includes many of the famous hilltop towns such as Lucignano, Anghiari, Sansepolcro, Poppi, Prato Vecchio etc… - and in particular Cortona itself, where her roots go so deep, they are part of Cortona’s very fabric.
With so many instances of historic ‘connectivity’ like Venuti (another example being Florence, the Medici and Cortona), giving an insight into a town’s past, also requires – in Valeria’s opinion - providing a global picture of its place in history. As you can imagine, this requires a great deal of studying, but being something of a ‘serial student’ Valeria takes this in her stride.
Right now, for example, she is busy re-covering ground on Luca Signorelli – another famous Cortonese. This year is the 500th anniversary of his death and he will be celebrated accordingly with paintings from across Italy being loaned to Cortona’s MAEC museum…each one of which Valeria needs to re-familiarise herself with and weave into the fabric of her Cortona tour.
Spring, Summer and Fall, Valeria can invariably be seen out and about in Cortona with different groups.
Her ties to the town are quite literally in her DNA and this transmits itself to her clients. Beyond seeing the sights and touring the churches and museums, they love to hear her anecdotal facts. Invariably, she will end a tour at Teatro Signorelli which for non-Europeans in particular, is a treat to behold. Once there, she will proudly indicate the family’s private viewing boxes and the central chandelier her father (aka Lorenzini Mobili) donated to the theatre during its restoration in 1995.
It is exactly these personal tidbits which clients tend to love. Wisely perhaps, Valeria wasn’t prepared to share any others! For that you will have to take one of her tours yourselves.
To find out more about all the different tours Valeria offers: