There are more than five reasons to visit Pienza Tuscany but these are my favorites. The area is full of surprises: have you ever been moving along absorbed in your own thoughts, and seen something so gorgeous that it stopped you in your tracks, completely overriding what you had been thinking about?
That’s the countryside around Pienza. I probably guided the Tuscany bike trip six times when I worked for Butterfield & Robinson, and yet it got me every time. There was one bend in the road in particular: driving the bike route, I’d inevitably be reviewing my to-do list in my head (got to get the luggage to the next hotel by 3 pm… check on the cyclists…. fill up the water… buy more strawberries and cookies from the Coop…. see if I can find Jack to see about that rubbing brake pad…. ask the restaurant about the dinner main cour —— WOW) when my breath would be taken away by the light and the rolling hills and the hill towns and the poppies or sunflowers, and the wheat, and the cypress trees.
So, if you’re comfortable driving in Italy, I highly recommend renting a car and exploring the area around Pienza and Montepulciano. Pienza is small, so half a day will be fine. Here’s what to see.
There isn’t a right road or a wrong road – any road will do. The views on your way to Pienza are a highlight of the area. There are no trains to Pienza so car or bus are your only options, so just enjoy the views and allow some time to stop and take photos.
Start in the town’s main square, which includes the Palazzo Piccolomini (open Tues – Sat), the main church or Duomo, the bell tower, and the famous marble well upon which many subsequent Tuscan wells were modeled. Standing in this square, it’s important to know a little history. Pienza was built by Pope Pius II (born Piccolomini) as an Italian Renaissance hill town in a record-setting hill town construction time of under 5 years. And it’s named after this Pope: the translation of Pienza is “Piusville”.
It’s not hard to find, just follow your nose. Goat’s – or more accurately ewe’s – cheese, from Pienza is not the same as other types of Pecorino because the specific grasses and herbs the animals eat – allegedly found only in the area – create its unique taste.
And if you’re there on the first Sunday of September, you’ll see what an important part of life Pecorino cheese is: the Cacio al Fuso competition is held, in which competitors roll a whole Pecorino cheese (Cacio) towards a stake (Fuso) in the center of the playing square. The goal is to get the cheese to stop next to the stake, ideally staying balanced on its edge.
For some wonderful countryside views, take the lane to the left of the church or walk around town to find views over the countryside.
Visit the gorgeous Romanesque church (photo above).
Photo of Pienza main squareby Attila; Photo of Madonna della Vitaleta by Carlo Tardani; Photo of Pieve di Corsignano by ecografista
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