Amid Tuscany’s picture-perfect rolling hills and under its forget-me-not blue skies lies Italy’s UNESCO Heritage Pienza, a mini utopia, considered by many to be the “ideal city of the Renaissance”.
Pienza, “the City of Pius”, was built by Pope Pius II in 1459 in an attempt to turn his birthplace into Italy’s first model city. Founded on Renaissance concepts and ancient philosophical and geometric ideals, the little city of Pienza is a strikingly beautiful and ordered fifteenth century culture hub, built with the help of architect Bernardo "il Rossellino” and under the guidance of the great humanist thinker, Leon Battista Alberti.
A place of Renaissance idealism on a tiny scale, however, Pope Pius II only lived to see two years of building, and so only a fraction of the intended city was ever built: the papal palace, a cathedral, a fragment of the town hall and a well. All in all, it takes about three minutes to walk from one side of the city of Pienza to the other, which in city-planning terms, is a wonderfully short commute.
Surround yourself with the unforgettable floral fragrances that waft over the Tuscan hills and set your eyes on a site of truly considered architecture, Pienza’s Piazza Pio II – the birthplace, and extent, of this great Italian culture hub. Each building is built in perfect geometric harmony and the square itself is grounded on utopian philosophical principles that date back to Plato.
The imposing Palazzo Piccolomini sits to the right of the cathedral, the Duomo, which itself boasts a beautiful hanging garden terrace from where you can gaze over panoramic views of Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia, from the walls of your very own Renaissance empire.
If film culture is more the kind of thing that will get you to pack your bags, then just know that the movie Romeo and Juliet was filmed within Pienza’s walls, and if you are more of a travelling foodie at heart, then hitch a ride for some of Pienza’s infamous Pecorino and indulge in some seriously good cacio e pepe.
Delve into a hopeful and idealistic moment in Italy’s great past and imagine what Pienza might have been like had the entire city come to fruition. As it stands, however, it is a beautifully romantic and mystifying city, possibly made all the more so, by its very act of incompletion.
When in Pienza there is only ever one design spot that you should set your bags down in, and that is La Bandita Townhouse, an aged former convent in the heart of the Old Town. Trip up the cobbled streets and enter a former nunnery turned urban style hub, brimming with effortless cool and delicious foodie vibes. Delve into Tuscany’s fragrant countryside and stay a 20-minute drive away in La Bandita Countryhouse, a traditional farmhouse turned boutique style den, or even head 20-minutes in another direction to Follonico, another aged Tuscan farmhouse full of heritage charm and brimming with romantic escapism.
For another culture hub driven by a single person’s incredible idealism, peek in our Travel Journal at nearby artist Niki Saint de Phalle’s Tuscan Tarot Garden, a soaring feminist statement that took 20-years in the making.