This post is by Chris Bienemann
Pienza is a small town perched on a hilltop overlooking the stunningly beautiful Val d’Orcia in Tuscany. It is ideally situated for a short visit, and a day trip to Pienza will give you enough time to explore the town and take in the surrounding countryside.
Table of Contents
Pienza was a typical Tuscan village until Pope Pius II decided to transform his birthplace into an “ideal town”. This made it the first place where Renaissance town-planning concepts were put into practice, and UNESCO has recognised the town for its importance in the development of the concept of the planned Renaissance city.
The architect Rossellino led the development of the town under the guidance of the humanist Leon Battista Alberti in the 15th century. In just four years they were able to build an ideal town beautifully created with elegant buildings, well-proportioned streets, majestic squares and a balanced and harmonious look.
The entire town is encircled by defensive walls which mark the edge of the World Heritage Site. But the beauty doesn’t stop there! The town is surrounded by the breathtaking Val d’Orcia which is also one of Tuscany’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The town is small and you will have no problem seeing all the sights on a day trip to Pienza. You can access the town through Porta al Murello, a painted archway that acts a bit like a portal back in time! Once you are through the gateway you will find picturesque narrow streets that are lined with cafes, wine bars and shops. It has a really special atmosphere and is just the sort of place that you dream of visiting when you plan a trip to Italy.
The town is small, flat and pedestrianised which makes it perfect for exploring on foot, and just wandering the streets is really the best way to explore Pienza. The main sight is the trapezoidal main square, Piazza Pio II. This stands at the heart of the old town and is flanked by the renaissance-style Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Palazzo Borgia which houses the seat of the Diocesan Museum, the Town Hall and Palazzo Piccolomini (the former residence of the Pope).
Palazzo Piccolomini is one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture built by the architect Rossellino, using the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence as a model. The highlight for me was the incredible hanging garden which provides a breathtaking view over the whole Val d’Orcia.
I also recommend that you walk the bastions that surround the old town, as this will give you more sweeping views of the valley and also a glimpse at the back of some of the prettiest houses in Pienza. They certainly have rooms with a view!
LivItaly have a whole range of small group tours throughout Italy. Readers of this site can get a 5% discount on all of their tours by using discount code BEWITCHEDBYITALY
Pienza’s most famous food is Pecorino cheese. You will find this sold everywhere and is a big feature of local menus where it is used to make delicious pasta dishes or cooked as a main meal (cacio cotto).
If that isn’t enough cheese for you, you could take a guided tour of a cheese factory where you will get the chance to taste various Tuscan cheeses and learn more about how they are produced.
Pienza makes a good day trip from Florence, and you can easily combine it with a visit to Montepulciano and stops in the Val d’Orcia. There is no easy way to visit by public transport so it is best to come by car or take a guided tour.
You can get an organised day trip to Pienza from Florence, Siena or even Rome. If you do come by car you can park just outside the city walls where you will need coins for the pay and display parking. The old town is a traffic-free zone. Whilst Pienza is small and quick to explore, it is so charming that you might consider staying the night and enjoying the atmosphere with fewer tourists around. Il Giardino Segreto is a good choice in town or if you fancy soaking up more of a countryside vibe you could stay nearby at Borgo Sant’Ambrogio.
Chris is a keen traveller who aims to explore as much of the world as he can with his young family. He shares travel tips and inspiration at morelifeinyourdays.com.