Pienza Italy – the ‘utopian’ village that you shouldn’t miss!
Pienza is a jewel of Tuscany – a medieval hilltop town that has a unique history, streets that smell like fresh cheese, and stellar views from its walls. The tiny Tuscan village was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006 and even though it sees its share of tourists, it never feels overrun.
When I worked as a cycling guide in Tuscany, I always loved spending time with our guests in Pienza. Later, I visited with my now-husband on one of our first dates. Now, we bring our three little ones with us.
Our family loves visiting Pienza and I think you’ll adore it too!
Why Visit Pienza
In Pienza, you’re forced to sloooooow down. If you don’t, you’ll walk the entire length of the town in less than a minute!
Stop to sample cheeses in the many shops that line the ‘main drag,’ Corso Il Rossellino. Take the time to wander the side lanes and hear the laughter of locals in their apartments or stumble upon a restaurant that serves your soon-to-be-favorite pasta.
It’s not your average Tuscan village. Here you’ll get a close look at a Pope’s idea of utopia. Pope Pius II (aka Enea Silvio Piccolomini) was born in Pienza – which was then called Corsignano. During his brief reign as Pope, he chose his humble hometown to build his ideal city.
Like most Tuscan hilltop towns, the scenery is spectacular, and you’ll find plenty of walkways and terraces to enjoy the views of another UNESCO World Heritage site – the Val d’Orcia.
You can easily fill an afternoon or more relaxing and living the slow Tuscan life in Pienza.
You may also like our post on Things to Do in Tuscany!
Who Should Visit Pienza
Even though Pienza is tiny, it’s able to satisfy different interests, which is great if you’re coming with a family or group.
- History Enthusiasts – Explore the main piazza, Piazza Pio II, and marvel at the grand cathedral and palazzi built by the Pope and his buddies.
- Foodies – Cheese, anyone? This is the home of the delicious pecorino.
- Families – Kids will love running around the car-free lanes and walking along the town walls.
- Outdoors Lovers – The area is a paradise for hikers and cyclists.
- Movie Buffs – Relive scenes from The Gladiator and Romeo & Juliet.
- Photographers – Some of the area’s most-photographed locations are close by.
How to Pronounce Pienza
Pienza is pronounced pee-EN-zah.
Listen to it here:
Where is Pienza?
Pienza is in the province of Siena, in the region of Tuscany. It’s located in the southern part of Tuscany in the idyllic UNESCO World Heritage site of Val d’Orcia.
Distances from nearby towns and well-known cities:
|City/Town||Distance||Time (by car)||Highlights|
|Montepulciano||15 km||20 min||Admire the views with a glass of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in hand|
|Montalcino||23 km||25 min||Taste Brunello di Montalcino in an enoteca or local winery (even with kids!)|
|Bagno Vignoni||15 km||20 min||Soak in the hot springs|
|Siena||55 km||1 hour||People watch in the Piazza del Campo, learn about the Palio|
|Monteriggioni||71 km||1 hour 15 min||Visit the Armor Museum, walk on top of the medieval walls|
|Florence||115 km||1 hour 30 min||see Michelangelo’s David, try bistecca alla Fiorentina|
|Rome||190 km||2 hours 20 min||Explore the Roman Forum, visit the Colosseum, wander the Vatican Museums, dig into a plate of carbonara|
See our post on the Best Things To Do In Florence + What To Skip!
How Long To Spend in Pienza
I’d recommend at least a leisurely afternoon, with an evening passeggiata along the town walkways if you have time. The sunset views are spectacular.
If you really want to soak up Pienza, stay a night or two in town or in one of the agriturismi in the Val d’Orcia (Orcia Valley) below.
It makes a nice stop on a Southern Tuscany tour and you can combine it with another small town in the same day if you’re pressed for time. For example, head to Montepulciano in the morning and for lunch, then visit Pienza in the afternoon and stay for dinner.
You can easily visit Pienza on a day trip from Florence if you have a car.
First trip to Italy? 10th? Either way, check out our 200+ Essential Italy Travel Tips!
When To Visit Pienza
Pienza can be visited during all seasons, but it’s empty in the winter, especially in January and February – almost all shops and restaurants are shuttered and it even seems like the locals have escaped or are hibernating until spring. Most museums are also closed during this time.
The weather in Pienza varies from hot to very cold, as you can see from the chart below.
|January||53°F (12°C)||37°F (3°C)|
|February||55°F (13°C)||37°F (3°C)|
|March||60°F (15°C)||41°F (5°C)|
|April||65°F (18°C)||47°F (8°C)|
|May||73°F (23°C)||53°F (12°C)|
|June||80°F (27°C)||60°F (15°C)|
|July||86°F (30°C)||65°F (18°C)|
|August||86°F (30°C)||65°F (18°C)|
|September||79°F (26°C)||59°F (15°C)|
|October||70°F (21°C)||54°F (12°C)|
|November||61°F (16°C)||46°F (8°C)|
|December||53°F (12°C)||39°F (4°C)|
Most visitors come to Pienza between May and September, but even when town is ‘busy,’ it doesn’t feel overrun.
For a cultural fix, visit in September for the Fiera al Cacio and watch the cheese rolling contest. Or visit during December to see Pienza with Christmas spirit.
Top 10 Things to Do In Pienza
It would be silly to come to Pienza and not sample the local pecorino cheese! Unless, of course, you’re lactose-intolerant (in that case, skip it).
There are numerous shops lining the ‘main’ drag that will let you try the cheeses. Or, stop into a café or restaurant for a platter of cheeses, cured meats, jam and honey.
Make sure you sample a few different varieties – I love the semi-aged pecorino with tartufo (truffle) or peperoncino (chilli pepper).
Fare La Passeggiata
Italians have a wonderful pastime of the ‘passeggiata,’ or stroll. In the evening, they dress nicely and take a walk. It could be at sunset, or after dinner when the stars are bright in the non-light-polluted sky.
Pienza has a perfect flat, gravel walkway just outside of the town walls where locals and visitors alike ‘fare la passeggiata.’
Walk hand-in-hand with your love, or do what I do – push your stroller along and yell back to your other kids to keep up.
An alternative is to walk along the outside walls of the city, which provide equally gorgeous views of the Val d’Orcia below and Monte Amiata in the distance.
Good To Know: Pick up some cheese, olives, bread and wine in a shop in town or at the Coop grocery store just outside the walls. Have your own aperitivo while you watch the sunset along the walls. There are plenty of benches or you can stand and use the walls as your ‘bar.’ Salute!
Walk Into the Val d’Orcia
Take a 5-km (1-1.5 hours) loop walk into the Val d’Orcia along the strade bianche (gravel/dirt roads) and walking paths. Look for sheep and the classic cypress-lined roads.
You can increase the distance by walking on other strade bianche in the valley. The nice thing about the open landscape is you can see where you’re going and where you need to return to, so there’s no need to worry about getting lost.
Wear comfortable shoes and if it’s been raining, expect sticky mud (the kind that stays on the bottoms of your shoes and adds 6 inches to your height).
Explore the Tuscan Countryside on a Walk to or from Montepulciano
If you’re looking for a ‘meatier’ hike, put on your walking shoes and make your way to the nearby hilltop town of Montepulciano. You can then take a 15-20 minute bus ride back to Pienza.
Or, first take the bus to Montepulciano and then walk back to Pienza.
Before setting out, check in with tourist info to make sure the trails are clear and there are no new fences or route deviations. Also, double-check the bus timetables – frequency varies greatly, depending on the time of day and the season of the year. You’ll need to check bus 112 (Servizi Extraurbani -> Servizi Extraurbani SI -> 112 Siena/Buonconvento/Montepulciano).
See the Perfect Main Square, Piazza Pio II
When Pope Pius II set to creating his ideal city he chose his humble hometown of Corsignano (later named Pienza, after dear Pius himself). His architect Bernardo Rossellino worked with the humanist designer Leon Battista Alberti and transformed the city (in less than 4 years!) into what we see today.
The star of the show is this piazza, with the cathedral in front, the Palazzo Piccolomini (his summer residence) to the right, the bishop’s palace to the left, and the Palazzo Comunale behind.
You’ll notice the trapezoid shape of the piazza – this helps make the cathedral look larger than the Pope’s palace (which is actually the larger of the two). Also look at how Alberti played with perspective by visually dividing the floors of the Palazzo Piccolomini and the bishop’s palace into unequal parts.
Rossellino didn’t take into account the tremendous weight of the church on the hillside, and it’s actually giving way. If you walk inside, you can see the evidence – there are cracks in the walls, glass plates that help to keep the church stable, and the church even slopes downward as you head toward the altar!
Tour Palazzo Piccolomini
If you have time, take one of the guided tours of the Palazzo Piccolomini, the Pope’s summer residence. It’s worth a look for those who are curious about how Popes lived.
Take a peek inside his bedroom and admire the palace’s original furniture. At the end of the tour, enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley below from the palace’s rooftop garden – one of the first of its kind at the time (Pius II was a trendsetter).
If you’re a fan of the Medici: Masters of Florence series, you may recognize some of the sets.
Find the Via dell’Amore
If you walk along the town walls, you’ll come across the via dell’Amore (Love Lane), via del Bacio (Kiss Lane), and via della Fortuna (Fortune Lane). All perfect places to profess your love on Valentine’s Day (or any day!).
Friday Market Day
If you want to check out a real weekly Italian market (not set up for tourists), make your way to via Mencatelli (just outside the city walls) on Friday morning from 8:00 to 13:00.
You’ll find fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, housewares, clothing, and other items of interest to the local shoppers.
Photograph the Stunning Scenery
You could easily while away the day photographing the small streets and details of Pienza, along with the utopian main square. If you’re willing to leave the village walls, you have a few famously-photographed options (view locations on this Google Map):
- The entire Val d’Orcia below Pienza. You can walk or drive down into the valley
- Vitaleta chapel nearby
- Montichiello cypress-lined road
- famous ring of cypress trees nearby
- Crete Senesi panorama
Visit a Cheese Farm
Drive a few kilometers out of town to Podere San Polo to see the day-to-day production of pecorino cheese and leave with a few rounds of pecorino! Ernello is a gem and he and his family make delicious cheese in a spectacular setting. Call ahead to arrange a visit and be sure to try their olive oil if you’re in the area (especially after the fall harvest).
If you don’t want to drive to the farm, you can still taste their cheeses at their shop in Pienza (via E. Mangiavacchi, 42).
What To Eat In Pienza
You can see the sheep roaming the fields surrounding town and you pass many of the farms on your drive up to town. Pienza is famous throughout Italy for it’s pecorino (sheep’s) cheese.
Try it in all its forms – fresco (fresh), stagionato (aged), semi–stagionato (semi-aged), and aged in cenere (ash), fieno (hay), or vino (wine).
It’s also worth sampling with honey, marmalades and jams. In the spring, restaurants will offer the classic pecorino con baccelli (with fava beans), and in the fall and winter, be sure to try it warm on bread as a crostone.
Pici, a type of hand-made, thick spaghetti is a specialty of the area. A classic way to eat it is with a garlicky tomato sauce, but you’ll find other variations, like pici al ragù di cinghiale (pici pasta with wild boar sauce).
Where To Eat in Pienza
Like many towns on the Tuscany tourist trail, restaurants come and go. These are some of my favorites that have been around for a while and are sure to remain for a long time.
No matter where you end up, make sure your meal includes some of Pienza’s pecorino cheese and the area’s wines (including Orcia DOC, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano).
Sette di Vino (Piazza di Spagna, 1. +39.0578.749092) – Snag an outdoor table in the small piazza and be delighted by the freshest local ingredients and enthusiasm from the owner and staff.
La Buca di Enea – Classic, simple dishes from the area. Pici, bruschetta, crostone with pecorino cheese. They don’t experiment or try to make Tuscan cooking fancy. The setting is nice, tucked away into a side lane. Sit out front if the weather’s nice.
Il Rossellino – Located in a quiet square, this tiny restaurant serves delicious, beautiful plates of food. I’ve been coming here since a friend and fellow guide recommended it in the early 2000s.
Outside of town:
Dopolavoro La Foce – Kind of a cross between Tuscany and California, with Tuscan flavors and dishes in a space that feels like it could be in the Bay Area. Quality ingredients, classic plates. Beautiful food products to bring home too.
Questions about how to tip in Italy?
Check out our article Tipping In Italy – A 2022 Guide to When and How Much (+Printable Quick Guide)
Where To Sleep in Pienza
La Bandita Townhouse – A small boutique hotel nestled in a narrow lane of Pienza. I love its simple, modern design contrasted with the old stone walls. By the same owner of La Bandita Countryhouse, in the Val d’Orcia.
Outside of town:
Agriturismo Il Rigo – On a dirt road between Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia. I love this agriturismo as a base for walking because you’ve got access to all the strade bianche (dirt/gravel) roads in the valley. It’s quiet, peaceful, and the food and owners make it memorable.
Agriturismo La Fonte – La Fonte’s apartments make a perfect home base for couples or families. The (non-fenced) pool, stunning views, and on-site brewery will make it hard to leave to explore the area! There’s a little play area for kids and the food at the restaurant is worth a visit, even if you don’t stay here.
La Bandita Countryhouse – Beautifully designed and renovated villa smack in the middle of the Val d’Orcia hills. Clean, modern, light, and with well-planned outdoor spaces. The kind of place you’d want to stay in even if you lived here (trust me!).
How To Get To Pienza
By Car – If you’re in a hurry to arrive, take the A1 Autostrada and EXIT Valdichiana. It takes about 1 hr 40 min depending on traffic. If you’d prefer better scenery, take the FI-SI (Raccordo Autostradale Firenze-Siena) and EXIT Siena Sud. It will take around 20 minutes longer.
By Bus – Depending on the season, it will take 3-4 hours to travel by bus from Florence to Siena. You’ll need to change buses at least once.
By Train – There are no train routes to Pienza, because it doesn’t have a train station. But, you can train to nearby towns (like Buonconvento) and then take a bus to Pienza. Like traveling by bus, it’s a long journey and involves multiple changes.
By Car – Take the A1 Autostrada and EXIT Chiusi-Chianciano Terme. It will take 2-3.5 hours, depending on traffic, especially leaving Rome.
By Bus – It’s a long journey of at least 5 hours. You can take the FlixBus to Siena and then local buses to Pienza.
By Train – The schedules vary by season, but you’re looking at a 3.5-5 hour train trip, with at least a couple of changes.
Parking in Pienza
Good To Know: The traffic police in Pienza take their jobs seriously. Don’t park ‘Italian style’ or try any sneaky moves – they’ll catch you!
There are paid (blue) parking spaces scattered around town and a couple of parking lots.
We usually park in the lot just north of town (across the street from the little Coop grocery store). You can place the parking disco (which you rotate to show your arrival time) on your dash. Don’t have one – just write the time and date.
Best Souvenirs From Pienza
You’ve probably figured out that the best souvenir to bring back from Pienza is pecorino cheese.
If you’re heading back to the US, you are allowed to bring your pecorino back with you. I always recommend you make sure it’s vacuum-sealed and labeled.
No matter where you’re heading back to, it’s always a good idea to review what’s allowed back into your country.
Although Pienza isn’t known for its wine production, the surrounding areas do have their share of excellent vineyards. The Val d’Orcia (Orcia Valley) in front of Pienza produces the Val d’Orcia DOC. Nearby Montepulciano produces Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. And close by, Montalcino is home to the powerhouse Brunello di Montalcino. You can purchase any of these from the food specialty shops or enoteche (wine bars) on the main street.
Be sure to pack your wine properly and know the amount you are allowed to bring back duty-free.
Val d’Orcia Tasty Treats
Besides pecorino and wine, you’ll find tartufi (truffles), saffron, prosciutto from the cinta senese pig, and olive oil.
Good To Know: If you’re heading back to the United States, don’t bring any meat products with you, including prosciutto and cured meats. You’re not allowed to bring it in and it will be confiscated on arrival (and if you don’t declare it, in return they’ll give you a big fine).
You’ll also find a few shops in Pienza that sell the typical Tuscan souvenirs like ceramic plates, postcards, and knickknacks. There’s a shop with a selection of knives (which come in handy if you want to have a picnic with your pecorino cheese) and a little toy shop next door (for little ones who must have a new Pinocchio trinket).
Events in Pienza
Fiera al Cacio (Cheese Fair)
If you’re in the area on the first Sunday of September, head into Pienza for this celebration of cheese.
This festival of pecorino (cheese in these parts is also called cacio) began in 1960 and was made official in 1974 as a way for the small village to attract tourists.
Teams must roll wheels of pecorino cheese (or cacio) toward a stake in the center of the square.
The neighborhoods of Pienza compete against each other. There are 6 teams, 4 of which are inside the town walls, one is outside, and the other is in the periphery.
Before the big event, the wheels of cheese are tested to make sure they roll well and are well-balanced. Once chosen, a cheese wheel cannot be substituted!
It may sound simple, but rolling the cheese takes finesse!:
Pienza ei Fiori (Pienza and the Flowers)
Each May, Pienza gets decked out in flowers and greenery. Piazzas are decorated with flowers and plants and gardens are opened up to visitors. The festival includes a flower market and live music.
Visiting Pienza With Kids
While Pienza doesn’t offer any kid-focused activities, it’s actually a really nice place to bring little ones.
There is a fantastic little play area (for Italian standards) tucked behind the garden at the main town entrance.
Kids will enjoy being able to run around in the car-free streets and piazzas.
The food is simple and pici pasta and cheese reign here – both are kid pleasers. There are a few gelaterie… go on a ‘gelateria crawl’ and choose your favorite gelato!
Older kids and teens can walk down into the valley to see where the ‘Maximus returns home’ scene of The Gladiator was filmed.
Directions To The Gladiator cypress road: Walk out of the main town entrance, keeping the bank on your left. Walk downhill past the Ristorante La Terrazza and follow the yellow sign for Pieve di Corsignano. When you get to the T-intersection turn RIGHT and up ahead on the left you’ll see the Pieve di Corsignano. Take the dirt road downhill next to the church (Strada di Terrapille) for about 10 minutes and you’ll see the familiar setting ahead. Note: You can also drive and park at the Pieve di Corsignano.
If your kids get bored, give them a copy of this Printable Map of Italy For Kids!
Breastfeeding in Pienza
There are plenty of benches and quiet areas for breastfeeding in Pienza. Italians are very respectful of breastfeeding mothers. Indoor private areas are harder to find.
Strollers in Pienza
Pienza is stroller-friendly. The only area you’ll have trouble in is if you want to do the entire walk along the city walls. One section next to the church has stairs heading down and later, stairs heading up. It’s doable with a stroller.
The walks in the Val d’Orcia should be done with a baby carrier or baby backpack. The roads are not stroller-friendly and can get very muddy.
Bathrooms in Pienza
There are public toilets just outside the main entrance, down the small street to the left of the bank.
You can also ask to use the toilet at your restaurant or a bar or cafe.