Are you traveling to Tuscany and wondering what wonderful towns you need to add to your must-see list? Well, I have a great option for you – Pienza! It is a small hilltop town, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, situated in the Val d’Orcia in the southern part of Tuscany in the Siena region. Pienza is famous for its Pecorino di Pienza, a hard sheep’s milk cheese, which is prominently displayed in some fantastic specialty cheese shops in spread throughout this area. But it is more than just that. Come, let me show you…
I immediately fell in love with this small, quiet, romantic town. Wandering the delightful narrow cobbled stone streets, with names of Via dell’Amore (or Love Street) and Via del Bacio (or Kiss Street), how can you not help but fall in love with this town? It also has small but inviting piazzas and breathtaking countryside views all which are part of its charm.
So, how did this town come to be? Enea Silvio Piccolomini decided to elect Pope Pius II in 1458, and it was he who wanted to transform his birthplace, the anonymous village of Corsignano, into the ideal Renaissance town. He hired Bernardo Rossellino, and miraculously it only took 4 short years to rebuild and rename the town to Pienza. It has remained virtually unchanged ever since.
How about a little tour of this town? Let’s start with Piazza Pio II, the main hub of Pienza, as all of the town’s main monuments are located on this square. It is flanked by the cathedral and three palaces: one for the government, one for the bishop and one for Pope Pius II.
The Cathedral was built on the remains of the Romanesque church of St. Mary (still visible in the crypt). The façade is typical of the Renaissance and is divided into three parts by arched columns. On the left wing there is an octagonal, cuspidate bell tower that is reminiscent of the ones Pope Pius II saw in Germany.
Next is Palazzo Piccolomini. This was Rossellino’s masterpiece and has a three-arched loggia on the ground floor facing the cathedral with the council chamber above it.
And then there is Palazzo Borgia (Palazzo Vescovile) which was given by Pius II to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (the future Pope Alexander VI), it is home to the Diocesan museum. The collection includes local textile work as well as religious artifacts.
And the last building is Palazzo Comunale, the town hall. The contrasting red brick bell tower was added afterwards, and was purposely built shorter than the cathedral’s bell tower to symbolize the superior power of the church.
Like any piazza in Italy, it is where you will find locals gather, catching up on the latest news (or maybe it’s the town’s gossip) or children playing football (soccer). What is missing is the opportunity to dine al fresco, for that, you will find dining tables and chairs tucked away on tiny side streets. This is what makes Pienza’s piazza a bit different. And, I rather liked it. It seemed quieter and more intimate. The only real noise you heard was the echoing sounds of the pigeons fluttering about and cooing.
Pienza’s main street, the lovely Corso Rossellino, is lined with little shops. There are an abundant amount of food shops showcasing typical Tuscan products, and yes, cheese. For such a small town, they are bustling with activity with locals stopping in to say hi or picking up their daily products.
One of the best parts of being a hilltop town, are the views. And, Pienza has some of the most best Tuscan countryside views.
Curiously, you wander down an alleyway and start to see glimpses of the pale blue sky and green rolling hills, just like this one…
And, then this is your view…
If you are touring Tuscan towns, Pienza makes a lovely day trip. If rushed, you could combine it with Montepulciano (15kms) and Montalcino (20 kms), allowing you to see three small, yet lovely Tuscan towns in one long day. Maybe one for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner.
Speaking of food, Pienza is a destination for its restaurants too. Here are a couple of my recommendations La Terrazza del Choistro and Osteria Sette di Vino. And, if you are wanting to make this your home base, stay at La Bandita, in either the countryhouse or the townhouse outside of town or the townhouse in the village.
Hopefully, I have inspired you to add this historic hilltop town to your list of places when touring the Tuscan region.