Medieval castles, hills, ancient towns, isolated farmhouses, paths of cypresses, fabulous vineyards and olive groves, gold-coloured wheat fields: are just some of the elements that form the fantastic and harmonious landscapes of the southern region of Tuscany, between the provinces of Siena and Grosseto.
These beautiful landscapes are dotted with many small towns, including Pienza, a true Renaissance jewel. Pienza is located south of Siena, in the famous Orcia Valley, among soft hills and fabulous views and enjoys a truly strategic position perched on top of a hill, overlooking the entire Orcia Valley.
Pienza is widely known as the “ideal” town of the Renaissance, created by the great humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II, who transformed his humble native town, Corsignano, into what he believed should be a utopian town, which should have to embody the principles and philosophy of the classical age and the Italian Renaissance.
The project was carried out by architect Bernardo, known as Rossellino, under the guidance of the great humanist Leon Battista Alberti. In just 3 years a complex of beautiful and harmonious buildings was built: the Cathedral, the papal residence (or Piccolomini Palace), the town hall and the enchanting central square.
Pio II Square has a form of great harmony. On one side of the square, you can admire a beautiful well, known as the “dog well”.
The Cathedral of the Assumption, on the other hand, houses important paintings by the most renowned artists of the time.
The imposing Piccolomini Palace, to the right of the Cathedral, has a Loggia with a wonderful suspended garden from which you can admire a truly unique view over the entire Orcia Valley.
Not far from Pienza we find Bagno Vignoni, one of the most famous places in Tuscany despite its small size. The reason lies in its charm of yesteryear and the presence of the spa. In fact, here you will find a swimming pool, located in the central square, full of hot thermal water: 49 meters long and 29 wide, this Renaissance-era square was built exactly above the original source of thermal water, the same used by Romans too. The baths of Bagno Vignoni have always allowed the town to have water even during the hottest summer months, which is why several mills have been built along the Orcia river over the centuries; these ancient mills now form what is also known as the Park of mills.
Which is the best season to visit Pienza and Bagno Vignoni? Let’s say there isn’t one in particular. Orcia Valley in fact offers glimpses and landscapes that change continuously with the succession of the seasons. In summer it can be very hot but the colour of the ripe wheat and cypresses draws wonderful landscapes.
Autumn is also a good time, as is spring. In these periods the climate is mild and the Valley offers to the spectator its extraordinary beauty, colouring the landscape with vermilion hues in autumn and giving scents in spring.
So, what to eat during your stay in this area of Tuscany? First, we have the local traditional pasta: the “pici”, an irregularly shaped spaghetti, strictly handmade with a simple mixture of water and flour. The “picio” can be seasoned with meat sauce, with a tomato sauce and a lot of garlic (“aglione”), or with bread crumbs sautéed in a pan with olive oil and made crunchy.
Another product of typical cuisine is Tuscan bread, characterized by the lack of salt, used in many typical local recipes, from “bruschetta” with olive oil, to “ribollita” (a typical soup of the Tuscan tradition, prepared with autumn vegetables) or bread soup.
The local cuisine, even if it does not omit vegetarian dishes, has a great protagonist in meat, such as pork and last but not least, the Chianina meat, typical of the Chiana Valley, excellent for the preparation of grilled steaks. Famous is the “tagliata toscana” (beef steak), but you can also taste the typical cold cuts such as the “Finocchiona” (salami with fennel seeds).
Finally, we mention some typical sweets of Sienese cuisine, even these unique and very particular. The end of the meal par excellence is represented by the “Cantucci” with “Vin Santo”, two products that marry wonderfully together: the dry biscuit with almonds (“cantuccio”) and the fortified wine (“Vin Santo”) in which it is almost mandatory ” to soak ”the biscuit.