Pienza – a hilltop town in southern Tuscany

Pienza – a hilltop town in southern Tuscany

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People always say, “ask the locals” when you go travelling. It’s a bit of a cliché but I always find it pays off.

Earlier this year when I visited Brescia in Lombardy, I asked our wonderful tour guide where her favourite place was in Italy. Without hesitation she replied – “Pienza Tuscany”.

So when the opportunity arose to discover the towns of southern Tuscany, of course I put Pienza at the top of my list of places to visit.

Pienza Tuscany

Romantic streets Pienza Italy

Winding country roads flanked by vineyards, olive groves and wheat fields take you to Pienza. It’s the typical Tuscan landscape with rows of pointed Italian cypress trees lining the way to ancient villages and cantinas.

Bathed in early autumn sunlight, the countryside radiates with an ethereal glow that extends to the village itself.

Read: 50 beautiful small towns in Italy

Highlights of Pienza

Pienza sits on a hilltop overlooking the Val D’Orcia and from this vantage point you can see other famous hilltop towns Montepulciano and Montichiello in the distance. Monte Amiata looms in the distance.

The village has this strategic position completely by design thanks to some important former residents.

A tale of Piccolomini popes

It’s hard to believe that this tiny town of just over 2000 inhabitants played an important role in history but there are clues on every corner.

After entering the village on Corso il Rossellino, you notice an elegant palazzo just before Piazza Pio II, home to the town’s cathedral.

Palazzo Piccolomini was the home of Pope Pius II who had his home town, originally called Corsignano, remodelled and renamed after himself in the 15th century.

The design is the work of Bernardo Rossellino, the architect responsible for the magnificent facade of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

Palazzo Piccolomini Pienza

Now a UNESCO world heritage site, Pienza was built on Renaissance humanist principles which are also reflected in the Pope’s palazzo and several other buildings of significance in this tiny town.

Take a tour of the palace to learn more about the Piccolomini popes (there were two!), view the family’s collection of treasures and take in some of the most incredible views of Tuscany from the third floor loggia.

It’s best to check their website for latest hours and ticket prices.

Incredible views and vignettes

Pienza Italy view from Palazzo Piccolomini

Palazzo Piccolomini is not the only place for fine views in Pienza. The town’s position high on a hill means there are viewing spots around the perimeter perfect for passagiata or an afternoon stroll.

Once you have soaked up the Tuscan landscapes, take a walk and enjoy the atmosphere of this pretty town.

Ivy draped walls and perfectly potted plants frame doorways, cats slink around looking for a place to lounge in the sun and people chat over coffee or over lunch at cafes and restaurants.

Pienza well at harvest festival

We visited during a harvest festival and there were gorgeous decorations hanging from walls, and the town’s well.

Lovelorn streets

It seems many people fall in love with Pienza. And it’s hard not to.

But just in case you were wavering, even the streets have amorous names like Via dell’Amore – street of love – and Via del Bacio – kiss street.

Streets of Pienza Tuscany

The town was even the location for Zeffirelli’s acclaimed 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet.

Pecorino – a Tuscan cheese

Pienza is famous for its local pecorino sheep’s milk cheese and you can taste and buy it at many little stores in the town. The firm cheese is aged from 6 to 18 months used in many local dishes depending on its age and the intensity.

Pecorino Toscana Pienza

The young pecorino toscano has a delicate flavour and is used in salads but when the cheese is aged and the flavour becomes more intense it pairs perfectly with fruit and the amazing local wine.

Wafts of pungent cheesy goodness follow you around every corner in Pienza and it is no wonder Italians come from far and wide to visit the town to try the cheese.

If you visit in early September you might chance upon the annual pecorino festival and its famous cheese rolling competition – Gioco del Cacio al Fuso.

How to get to Pienza

To best discover this region I suggest that you take a tour from Siena or Florence or rent a car as the public transport links in this area only serve a small community.

Tuscan cypress Pienza

The drive from Florence to Pienza is 120 kilometres and takes under 2 hours if you follow the E35 Autostrada towards Rome. Take the Valdichana exit and follow the road through Montepulciano for one of the most scenic drives in Tuscany.

Alternatively, the journey from Siena to Pienza is around an hour on the road following the Raccordo Siena-Battolle.

There are several car parks in Pienza. Most are found just outside the town’s walls and then it is a very short walk to the main street and piazza.

Exploring southern Tuscany

Val d orcia southern Tuscany

If winding roads, lines of cypress trees and those typical Tuscan hues are what you crave then why not spend a day or two in southern Tuscany exploring the villages and cantinas.

These scenes were immortalised in the book and movie Under the Tuscan Sun and I can assure you that they are every bit as picturesque as you imagine.

From Pienza you can easily reach Montepulciano, or do as we did and enjoy lunch looking over the Val D’Orcia at wonderful Osteria La Porta in Montichiello.


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About Untold Morsels travel blog

The creator, writer and photographer behind Untold Morsels, Katy has been travelling and tasting the world since she was a teenager.

Now the proud mum of twins, she hopes they grow up to share her passions of great food, wine and travel. Favourite destination: Italy

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36 Comments

  1. 20th September 2017 / 9:28 AM

    great photos! I’ve been to Pienza too and agree that it’s one of the prettiest places in Tuscany:)

    • Katy
      Author
      22nd September 2017 / 11:01 PM

      hopefully we will all return again to this magical place Tanja

  2. Wandermust mummy
    21st September 2017 / 8:25 AM

    I’ve never been to pienza but you have made me want to #farawayfiles

  3. 21st September 2017 / 10:51 AM

    Your photos are beautiful (as always) – what a wonderful little corner of the world. I always think being somewhere for a local festival makes it extra special #farawayfiles

  4. 21st September 2017 / 11:25 AM

    I’ve never been, indeed i’d never heard of Pienza but now i want to visit. Tuscany is still on our list of places to go! #farawayfiles

  5. 21st September 2017 / 11:45 AM

    IM IN LOVE! It’s so cute!! And asking the locals is always a good idea!! It definitely pays off! Will have to pin later, I think Pinterest is having issues 🙁 #FarawayFiles

  6. 21st September 2017 / 2:44 PM

    Under a Tuscan Sun is one of my favorite movies! My favorite hilltop town in Italy is Orvieto – but I’d be willing to kiss and not tell with Pienza – looks like perfection! And I’m adoring the harvest decor! Beautiful. #FarawayFiles

  7. 21st September 2017 / 3:12 PM

    Every time I see a posting about Italy my heart breaks a little, but then I remind myself that I was luck enough to live there for whatever amount of time that was afforded me. Thanks for the Italian sunshine.

    • Katy
      Author
      25th September 2017 / 7:51 AM

      Lucky you Shelley. I’ll be in a similar situation in a few months so just trying to make the most of it now. We hope to live there one day too! Where did you live?

  8. 21st September 2017 / 3:18 PM

    Those hills in Tuscany, it’s a dream! I wish we spent more than 24 hours in Florence so we could explore Tuscany for a day or two. Lovely photos!

  9. 21st September 2017 / 3:30 PM

    Oh my god, this place is an instagram lover’s dream Katy – how beautiful! #FarawayFiles

  10. 21st September 2017 / 3:37 PM

    Aaaah Pienza! One of my faves! Interestingly enough we visited on the recommendation of a local too. And it met all expectations. Your photos are stunning – the autumn light is so beautiful. #farawayfiles

  11. 21st September 2017 / 4:43 PM

    Lovely photos! I went to Pienza a few years ago but I really want to go back for the cheese festival, i love pecorino! #farawayfiles

    • Katy
      Author
      22nd September 2017 / 11:06 PM

      Do you like the younger or more aged cheese? I like both but always lean towards the bitey-ier versions, We brought some back for this weekend

  12. 21st September 2017 / 4:47 PM

    We had a wonderful family holiday in Tuscany with some friends a few years ago. We were close to the ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ village but also visited Sienna (which I think about about whenever I see the Copenhagen town hall) and sneaked in some wine tasting. Gorgeous part of the world.

    • Katy
      Author
      22nd September 2017 / 11:04 PM

      Sounds like a perfect day Carolyn

    • Katy
      Author
      22nd September 2017 / 11:04 PM

      The whole town was festooned in the decorations! It was just lovely Annette

  13. 21st September 2017 / 10:45 PM

    Such a glorious part of Italy. I would say it is my favourite too. I had one of my most memorable lunches at Montepulciano. I love your beautiful photos. That tuscan light is stunning. #FarawayFiles

  14. 22nd September 2017 / 3:36 AM

    So pretty! I can see why it would be your guide’s favourite place. It’s a picturesque Tuscan town. I love the romantic street names. Maybe if I make my way back to Italy (and have the guts to drive!) I’ll visit it for myself!

  15. 22nd September 2017 / 5:35 AM

    Like you, I take locals advice seriously. I am glad you were pointed towards Pienza because the town is so charming. It is cute but rustic (in a good way) at the same time. The surrounding hills are just WOW. I am all about discovering small towns like this and going to lunch at the locals favorite joint. #FarawayFiles

  16. 22nd September 2017 / 7:40 AM

    I dreams of cheese… But to eat it with those views in that georgeous town, with a bit of historical sightseeing thrown in – perfect!

    • Katy
      Author
      22nd September 2017 / 11:03 PM

      Off to do a bit of cheese dreaming myself now! Yes Pienza has all the ingredients for a perfect day in Tuscany

  17. 22nd September 2017 / 8:25 PM

    Looks like a nice place to spend a day 🙂

    • Katy
      Author
      22nd September 2017 / 11:02 PM

      Yes, Pienza is delightful

  18. 22nd September 2017 / 10:16 PM

    Such gorgeous photos, and I love the street names! I’d definitely have to take stroll down Kiss Street! #farawayfiles

    • Katy
      Author
      22nd September 2017 / 11:02 PM

      Baci! Amore! Always sounds better in Italian too I think 😉

  19. 23rd September 2017 / 12:24 AM

    Oh my, I would love to visit Tuscany! Your photos are so lovely. I especially love the one of the cobblestone steet. What a treat to be there. On my bucket list for sure!

  20. 23rd September 2017 / 7:37 AM

    Ohhhh, but isn’t this part of the world just incredibly spoiled by beauty, gorgeous light, and good food! It’s rather unfair wouldn’t you say? We spent some time in Montepulciano and Cortona (where Under that Tuscan Sun was filmed), last summer. Despite both places being rather touristy, we still loved it! Adding Pienza to my never-ending list of places to visit in Italy! 🙂 #farawayfiles

    • Katy
      Author
      25th September 2017 / 7:43 AM

      I think it is outrageously unfair Shelley! We missed Montepulciano and Cortona so I guess it is a return trip on the cards for me..damn… 🙂

  21. 24th September 2017 / 4:10 PM

    How fun it would be to visit for the pecorino festival! It looks like a charming town and the history is fascinating

    • Katy
      Author
      25th September 2017 / 7:44 AM

      I could absolutely sign up for that festival. Tuscany is wonderful

  22. 24th September 2017 / 6:34 PM

    Oh my. What a delectable place! I’m not surprised they chose it as a location for Romeo and Juliet. Sounds like a great place for platonic get-togethers, too. It must have been lovely seeing it with your friend. #FarawayFiles

    • Katy
      Author
      25th September 2017 / 7:44 AM

      We kept pinching ourselves. It was quite a surreal moment.. in a good way!

  23. 26th September 2017 / 3:48 PM

    I think it’s right that the best way to find out about the hidden gems is by asking the locals. #FarawayFiles

  24. 28th September 2017 / 7:09 PM

    Everything about pienza looks beautiful. Those amazing views, beautiful little streets. What a lovely place to visit!