The touchstone of Renaissance urbanism, home of Pope Pius II and the land of Pecorino di Pienza.

Palazzo Piccolomini's garden

Tuscan hills, image by Edward Riddell


Palazzo Piccolomini's garden

Tuscan hills, image by Edward Riddell

Situated smack-bang in the middle of Val d’Orcia, Pienza has been considered the touchstone of Renaissance urbanism since the 15th century.

Corsignano, the town’s original name, was first mentioned in writing during the 9th century when the wealthy Piccolomini family bought parts of land around it. It was only six centuries later however, in 1405, that Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini was born, later becoming Pope Pius II. During his papacy he had the whole village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town and renamed it after himself: Pienza, the city of Pius, which would serve as his summer residence away from bustling Rome.

The reason for Pienza’s success and world recognition, which ultimately led to it becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, is that Pienza represents the first application of humanist urban planning.

Pecorino di Pienza

Pecore, sheep

Pecorino di Pienza

Pecorino di Pienza

Pecore, sheep

Pecorino di Pienza is the town’s most famous gastronomic product, entirely made from sheep’s milk, which can be found fresh or in various degrees of aging. Its production history dates back to the 50’s and 60’s, when most of the Tuscan countryside was being abandoned by locals who moved into cities to seek their fortune and more opportunities. The Italian government began offering Sardinian shepherds and farmers huge pieces of land around Val d’Orcia for very convenient prices, as an incentive to repopulate the area. The pastori and contadini moved to the mainland with all their sheep in tow, and their cheese making know-how. In a matter of months, Pecorino di Pienza was born.

It is easy to distinguish between a high-quality Pecorino di Pienza and an industrial one, from an organoleptic point of view, not so much from its label. The vaster the complexity in flavours within the Pecorino, the more foraged herbs and grass the sheep have been fed. The less complex and more bland the cheese, the higher the chances that their diet is entirely based upon cereals. Unfortunately, from a legislative perspective, Pecorino di Pienza is not protected under a PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin), like Parmigiano Reggiano for example, meaning that whoever produces cheese from sheep’s milk in the wide area around Pienza can call it Pecorino di Pienza, even though they might use a different breed of sheep, which produces a lower quality - but higher yield - of milk.

Pecorino di Pienza’s ‘ secret recipe’ lies in the perfect marriage between Sardinian sheep and Tuscan grass.

Palazzo Piccolomini's façade that overlooks Monte Amiata

Palazzo Piccolomini's interior court


Palazzo Piccolomini

Palazzo Piccolomini's façade that overlooks Monte Amiata

Palazzo Piccolomini's interior court

Palazzo Piccolomini is unanimously considered to be the first example of Renaissance architecture - and set the example for all other Renaissance architecture to come. A beautiful internal court sits at the back of the palace, its perimeter covered in tall walls with three windows which, facing southwards, look straight at Monte Amiata, the extinct volcano that can be spotted on Val d’Orcia’s horizon. A three-storey loggia leads the way to the courtyard, designed to be a traditional Renaissance Italian-style garden, of the exact same size of the palace itself. Below the garden is a vaulted stable which used to house up to one-hundred horses. The marvellous palazzo was officially inhabited by the Piccolomini family until 1962, and has now become a museum.


Palazzo Vescovile, image by Viaggi Art

Palazzo Vescovile

Palazzo Vescovile, image by Viaggi Art

As Pope Pius II was in the process of building Pienza one palace at the time, he encouraged all his cardinals to do the same, in order to complete the city in the richest fashion possible. The Palazzo Vescovile was built as a place that would house the bishops who would travel to Pienza to have an audience with the Pope. Nowadays it is a museum with an impressive art collection which includes works by Pietro Lorenzetti.

Palazzo Comunale, image from Podere Santa Pia

Palazzo Comunale

Palazzo Comunale, image from Podere Santa Pia

When Pienza was still known as Corsignano, it received the status of comune,( municipality), so it needed a building that would represent the town’s new urban position. A three-arched loggia faces the main piazza on the ground floor, a space which could provide shelter from bad weather and a meeting place for traders to convene. The Palazzo Comunale is equipped with a bell tower, which is interestingly shorter than the cathedral’s bell tower, in order to show that the church held the upper hand and greater power over the state.

Pienza's Duomo, image by Donatella Cinelli Colombini

Duomo di Pienza

Pienza's Duomo, image by Donatella Cinelli Colombini

Pienza’s Duomo is the finest example of the Pope’s architectural wishes and philosophy. In creating the basilica’s plant, Pope Pius II was greatly influenced by his time spent in Germany. He wanted his church to have three naves of the exact same height. A second unusual characteristic are the gigantic windows that almost go from floor to ceiling, allowing for great amounts of light to enter and fill the church with a bath of natural light. Hidden within the cathedral’s piazza is a clock: the circle at the centre of the square acts as a sundial, a discovery only made recently. After studying and observing the shadows cast upon the piazza by the Duomo for a few years, a German professor came to the conclusion that the church's position in relation to the square was no coincidence at all. On two occasions throughout the year, ten days after the summer solstice and ten days before the winter solstice, minutes after the sun reaches the highest point in the sky - around 1pm - the cathedral’s shadow perfectly aligns with the squares on the ground, touching every line in a perfectly symmetrical way. The shadow is never so precise throughout the rest of the year, so it cannot be just a coincidence. The professor was then able to prove that in the 1400s the central square acted as a clock and calendar, and it is believed that Pope Pius II built it as a way of reminding his citizens of the passing of time, and of its value. The Duomo was consecrated on the day of the winter solstice, meaning the shadow was perfectly aligned with the square on that day too.


Pieve di Corsignano

Detail, Pieve di Corsignano. Image from Archeospot

Pieve dei Santi Vito e Modesto in Corsignano

Pieve di Corsignano

Detail, Pieve di Corsignano. Image from Archeospot

Also known as the Pieve di Corsignano, it is a Romantic age place of worship that dates back to the 12th century. Its bell tower dates back to the 11th century and has an architectural style that can be found in Ravenna and wider Emilia Romagna, although some of its parts date back even further, to the 6th century, when the original church was built. Underneath the Pieve, in its crypt, is a plainly decorated baptismal fountain in which two Popes were baptised: Pius II and his nephew, Pius III. An element that makes the ancient church even more precious and a valuable historical artefact is the figure depicted on the last column to the left: the snake named Regolo. An ancient Roman divinity which was still worshipped throughout the 6th century in central Italy, when the Pieve was built. Although snakes are considered evil figures in Christianity, Romolo was not considered as such by some whereas by others he was considered the king of snakes - and of evil. Its portrayal in Corsignano’s Pieve is one of the last surviving depictions in the whole of Italy.

The Pieve is closed on weekends.

Via del Bacio, Pienza

Via dell’Amore & ancient wall promenade

Via del Bacio, Pienza

Walk above Pienza’s medieval walls for the best sweeping views of Val d’Orcia and Monte Amiata, then make your way through the narrow streets which are all named in a very creative - and romantic - way.

Pozzo dei Cani, image from The Mint Table

Pozzo dei Cani

Pozzo dei Cani, image from The Mint Table

In Piazza Pio II you can admire the travertine well, adorned by half moons, the Piccolomini symbol. The concept of having a central well was then replicated in many other Tuscan towns.

Image from Podere il Casale's website

Podere il Casale

Image from Podere il Casale's website

An authentic Tuscan cheese-making experience where to learn the skillful art of making cheese, from fresh ricotta to aged Pecorino di Pienza. If you’re more interested in pasta making, be sure to try their fresh pasta experience, during which you’ll be taught three different shapes by the chef. If you love spending time outdoors and happen to visit in the autumn months go for the Truffle Hunting experience, followed by a truffle-filled lunch obviously!


Fiera del Cacio vintage, image from Pienza Pro Loco website


Fiera del Cacio vintage, image from Pienza Pro Loco website

May - Pienza e i fiori
August to September - Fiera del Cacio

Bike & Walk

Pienza to Cappella Madonna di Vitaleta

1 hour walk

From Pienza’s centre make your way towards the Pieve di Corsignano, keep the ancient place of worship on your left and follow the path which leads you down the hill. Head up the opposite hill, to your right, until you reach a paved road. Take left and walk along the main road until you reach a large parking lot, walk through it and back into the fields until you reach the Cappella Madonna di Vitaleta.

Image by Virginie Garnier


Ristorante Townhouse

upscale Italian

Researched products in a modern and intimate setting in Pienza’s World Heritage centre.


Image by @l_ocations


cocktails & view

An award-winning mixology bar below Palazzo Piccolomini with a 180° view of Val d’Orcia.


Osteria delle Erbe

foraged herbs & slow food

Foraged herbs and locally sourced products in this farm to table restaurant with a Slow Food philosophy, between Pienza and Montepulciano.


Image by Restaurantguru

Bar Casello

aperitivo with the locals

Prop your glass of Brunello on the ancient walls and admire the sunset amidst Pienza’s locals.

Image from Piccolomini Bistrot website

Piccolomini Bistrot

meats & cheeses

Cold cuts and cheese boards perfect for a quick down to earth lunch in Pienza’s centre.


Image from Gira in Giro

Sette di Vino


A traditional rustic osteria with a lively and unique host who proposes a daily menu of local products and recipes.


Image by Virginie Garnier


La Bandita Townhouse

cosy & central

The second boutique design hotels created by John Voigtmann, nestled in the centre of Pienza, in a restructured convent.


A back street in Pienza

Image by @testaccina1


A back street in Pienza

Image by @testaccina1

Enoteca di Ghino

wine shop

A well supplied wine shop with local and national wines.


Buon Gusto Gelateria

ice cream

A chef turned ice cream maker offering fresh, high quality gelato with flavours changing seasonally.


La Bottega di Geppetto


A quaint shop filled to the brim with everything from pasta making tools to Tuscan ceramics and every nut and bolt you might ever dream of.


Caseificio Cugusi

cheese shop

Excellent cheese you can buy directly from their farm shop a few minutes drive from Pienza.


Ferro Battuto Biagiotti

art & design

Four generations of craftsmen making beautiful wrought iron objects and artworks.


Ri crea re

Tuscan crafts

A striking shop selling artisanal crafts in ceramics, glass and leather.