There are many iconic images of Tuscany that make us sigh deeply and start hunting for airline tickets. Even though many of us don’t know the name of the town in the photograph, one of those images is of the hilltop village of Pienza. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, surrounded by a valley that’s on UNESCO’s list of World Cultural Landscapes, and Pienza has been used as the setting for more than one Hollywood production. In other words, you’re not alone if pictures of Pienza make you swoon.
Pienza sits between the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino, and it’s the birthplace of Pope Pius II. This factoid is important because upon his ascension to the papacy in 1458, Pius ordered that his home village be rebuilt according to the Renaissance ideals of the time. The architect got as far as constructing a gorgeous piazza and the buildings around it – including the beautiful Duomo consecreated in 1462 – but no further. Consequently, Pienza remained a village rather than expanding into a larger city, albeit one with a perfect Italian piazza at its heart.
Besides the piazza and Duomo, other sights in Pienza include the Palazzo Piccolomini (Pope Pius II’s family home, where the Piccolomini family lived up until the 1960s), the Diocesan Museum in the Palazzo Vescovile (the collection in the former palazzo for Pius’ bishops includes 12th-17th century church paintings), the Palazzo Comunale (Pienza’s town hall), and the view from Pienza’s hilltop perch over the Tuscan countryside.
Partly because of its small size, and partly because it’s not connected to Italy’s train network, Pienza is generally a day trip for most visitors. Buses run from nearby Montepulciano several times each day. For a more leisurely visit, you’ll want to rent a car and spend the night. As is the case with any day trip destination, Pienza is at its most lovely in the mornings and evenings before and after the day trippers take over.
You can book a Small-Group Montepulciano and Pienza Day Trip from Siena