Guide to Vacationing in Pienza, Tuscany
You might recognize Pienza from the many movies filmed in Tuscany, such as Romeo & Juliet, The English Patient and the Gladiator. The reason they were made here is clear when you gaze across this gorgeous region loaded with panoramic scenery, cypress lined country roads, wheat fields dotted with red poppies, romantic hill-towns, medieval watch towers, and frescoed abbeys. Pienza draws you into its charms with perfect small alleys and squares, warm color of its bricks, and with terracotta pots and window boxes full of flowers.
History of Pienza
This hill town south of Siena owes its place in history to the “local boy who did well”, to Pius II who after becoming the pope in 1459, transformed his humble home village of Corsignano into the crown jewel of Renaissance town planning and named it Pienza.
The architect Bernardo Rossellino was commissioned to build a Duomo, papal palace and town hall surrounding a new dynamic square and completed the job in just three years. Rossellino had worked in Florence with Leon Battista Alberti whose Palazzo Rucellai became the model for pope’s new Renaissance palace. His entourage and court followed Pius II to Pienza where they built several smaller palaces for their lengthy summer stays.
Layout of Pienza Town
Pienza is a pedestrian town surrounded by a wall with several ways in. Outside are 2 main parking areas with a short and level walk into town. Stop by the tourism office at the main gate to pick up a free map. Nearby and facing the park is a well stocked bookstore with newspapers and magazines also in English. Walk in along the Corso Rossellino to the collection of imposing Renaissance buildings forming the heart of the town around the Piazza. Explore the side streets and once you step past the Duomo, the scenery opens up and you’ll be amazed at the position of the town above the Orcia valley with sweeping views.
Shopping and Dining in Pienza
Pienza is built on level ground so it’s easy to walk and you should peek into the numerous alleys off the main street where you’ll find small shops and restaurants. This is a great place to do some shopping; locally made leather bags and shoes, linen and dresses, colorful ceramics, wrought iron and antiques, and lots of herbs and cheeses in easy takeaway packets. Taste the local wines and their famous pecorino cheese at a wine bar, or make a booking for lunch at any of the dozen restaurants.
Restaurants in Pienza
Pienza Wine and Cheese tasting
La Bottega del Naturista and La Bottega del Cacio on Corso Rossellino
Your meal can start with an antipasto, and you should try the tasty bruschetta, or go directly for the first course. The local pasta is called pici, it’s hand rolled long pasta, like thick spaghetti, and is served usually with ragu (meat sauce) or aglione (garlic and tomato sauce). Grilled meats are delicious here, bite into juicy steaks, pork ribs and sausages. There are 2 good cafes, one is at the park-side main entrance, and the other has a stunning panorama from the long natural balcony just past the left side of the Duomo. This is a great place to linger with a drink in hand watching the setting sun cast long shadows across the rolling fields of Val d’Orcia.
Main Attractions of Pienza
The Duomo has a pure Renaissance exterior and an interior in the late Gothic style. With splendid classical proportions it is flooded with light from the vast stained glass windows requested by Pius II, he wanted this to be a “house of light” to symbolize the humanist spirit of enlightenment.
The pope’s Palazzo Piccolomini is open to the public and you can join an English speaking tour several times a day during the season. The building is the size of a city block, and you can see most of the main floor including Pius II’s bedroom and library. In the center of the palazzo is an arcaded courtyard and at the rear is a triple-tiered loggia looking out over the garden and the wide farming valley with spectacular views to the distant wooded slopes of Monte Amiata.
The UNESCO Committee gave Pienza its World Heritage listing for the Renaissance Humanist concept of urban design, the planned “ideal town” that has played a significant role in urban development ever since. The first application of this principle in Pienza, with the group of buildings around the central square, resulted in a masterpiece of human creative genius.
Distances to Pienza
Siena = 56 km (35 miles), Florence = 125 km (78 miles), Rome = 177 km (110 miles)
Local towns near Pienza
Montepulciano, Montalcino, Chianciano Terme, San Quirico d’Orcia, Buonconvento, Sinalunga, Asciano, San Casciano dei Bagni, Bagni Vignoni, Radicofani, Cetona, Sartenao, Castelmuzio, Monticchiello, Trequanda, Torrita di Siena, Montisi, Torrenieri, San Giovanni d’Asso, Castiglion d’Orcia