My trip to research new itineraries for my clients continues into southern Tuscany. Pienza will be my home base for the next three nights as I return to favorite haunts and explore new discoveries the area has to offer.
Between Rome and Pienza, there is a lot to see. My first stop was at the Parco dei Mostri or Monster Park in Bomarzo. This fascinating little side trip, seemingly in the middle of nowhere is only an hour north of Rome, and makes for a great spot to stop and stretch your legs. The “garden” is a shady stroll through a “sacro bosco” or Sacred Woods. Around every turn of the path, appear gigantic statues and sculptures carved from the local stones. These mythological and fanciful creations are amazing in proportion and number. The garden was created in the 1500’s, fell into disrepair and the monsters lay in wait, hiding under overgrown greenery for 300 years. It was rediscovered in the 1930’s and developed into a park in the 1950’s. Today, an entry fee ensures its upkeep. It is an interesting and surreal stop.
Next stop: Bagnoregio, a city like no other. Bagnoregio has been called a dying town, but really it is far from that. It is uniquely situated on a rocky promontory which can only be reached by footbridge. (Be prepared for an uphill trek.) The city is now charging an entry fee, as they should, to help pay for the work (such as retaining walls) to keep this town alive. And alive, it is. Though it is very small, on this beautiful, cool fall day, several eateries were operating and filled with lunch time patrons. We in fact, had a really enjoyable lunch with sausages and veg cooked over the open fireplace, along with a mixed bruschetta platter to start. So delicious. After lunch, a stroll was in order. It doesn't take long to stroll the short side streets and take in the beautiful views to be had from nearly every dead-end street, and in a town like this, yes, they are all dead-end streets.
Pienza is one of my favorite places in all of Tuscany. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the way the city was designed back in the mid 1400’s. The hotel I love to stay at has windows which open to a stunning panoramic view of the Val d’Orcia. When I wake up here each morning, the first thing I do is throw the windows open and lean out the windowsill. The view is the definition of Tuscan countryside.
Small, and completely walkable, Pienza’s tiny side streets are charming and filled with eateries and great shopping. Pienza is Cheese Central; home to Pecorino, one of the most delicious and essential of Italian cheeses. This is also Honeyland, with so many varieties to choose from, it makes my head buzz. (Get it? Buzz….bees….honey?) Pienza is also located between Montalcino and Montepulciano, two of the best known towns for wine. It never ceases to amaze me in Italy; no matter how small a town is, there is never a shortage of great food and wine. What better place to stay while exploring this area of Tuscany?
Join me, won’t you….on a future trip to Italy? Let’s explore lower Tuscany together. The towns prominently listed in guidebooks are wonderful, but so are all the great places off-the-beaten-track. Let me take you there.