Honeymooning in Italy, Part 4: Pienza and Monticchiello

Still making our way through the Val d'Orcia, we left Agriturismo il Macchione (which was a real heartbreaker) and drove 4 minutes to our third Tuscan hill town, Pienza. Pienza is known for a few things--for being the passion project of Pope Pius II and for its pecorino cheese. Try saying "Pope Pius II lived in Pienza and preferred pecorino" five times fast!

Pienza is tiny but has great views of the Val d'Orcia. Unfortunately because it is so tiny, we had trouble finding parking. We circled around the outskirts of the city a few times trying to read Italian road signs and avoiding ZTLs before we finally decided to take a chance and park in a lot that we weren't quite sure we could park in. 

We made the short walk up to the town and were quickly rewarded with views.

Lining the streets are a number of cheese shops that we wandered into, all featuring wheels of pecorino that were giving off a powerful odor. I love smelly cheeses, so I found the smell strangely compelling. Andrew was less of a fan. 

Our original plan was to tour the Palazzo Piccolomini, Pope Pius II's former residence, but once we got there and saw the crowds of tourists, we decided we weren't in the mood to look at more architecture that day. 

Also in that same piazza but getting a lot less love was the Pienza Cathedral. 

Maybe it was the fact that the tour groups start at the palazzo and then hit up the cathedral, but we felt like we mostly had the cathedral to ourselves. 

We wandered around the city for a while after that, finding little alleyways and flower gardens to admire. 

Once you get off the center road, the city is very quiet. We wondered if many of its residents were taking refuge inside because it was a very hot day. We made some friends with some stray cats who, like us, wanted to escape the brutal sun. 

We eventually ended up at the Pieve di Corsignano, an old 7th century Romanesque church. 

It was a pretty bare inside, but did give you a great feeling of stepping back in time. 

We didn't spend very long in Pienza (only a couple of hours), but it was pleasant. There's not a whole lot to do in this little town, especially compared to its neighboring hill towns, but it's cute. 

Soon we were getting back in our Panda and driving down winding roads to get to our lunch reservation at Podere il Casale. 

Podere il Casale is an organic farm and restaurant about 10 minutes from Pienza that offers a number of activities, including cooking classes, cheese-making, truffle hunting, and more. While I wanted to do all of that, we had limited time, so I had reserved us a cheese tasting and lunch for two as well as a tour of the farm and cheese-making facilities. 

The farm is set in a really gorgeous spot on top of a hill overlooking the Val d'Orcia. 

The original schedule was to have a tour of the farm before sitting down for lunch on the terrace, but due to a surprise farm inspection, our tour had to be delayed a bit. As our lunch and cheese tasting were not ready yet, we were invited to have a seat at our table and relax while the kitchen got to work.

I was delighted by the way the terrace overlooked the jaw-dropping view. 

I don't think I've ever been so distracted the view while trying to eat. For starters, this was our table. 

I kept jumping up to take picture after picture. 

Eventually one of the farm peacocks walked over, which was a stunning surprise, especially after it decided to show off its plumage. 

Soon our waitress was offering us glasses of their white wine, which was chilled and perfect on such a hot day. 

Lunch was a set vegetarian meal made with all organic products from the farm, with a cheese tasting course in the middle. We opted to add cured meats to the cheese tasting course for an additional fee. 

Our first course was a beautiful salad with edible flower petals. 

Next was a classic Tuscan dish, pappa al pomodoro, which is a tomato soup made thick with bread. We had never had anything like this before although the flavors of fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil tasted familiar. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would considering I don't typically like mushy foods. It's both comforting and flavorful at the same time. 

Next was spelt pasta in a pesto sauce. This was our first experience with spelt pasta, which is popular in Tuscany. It's very hearty and sturdy, although it isn't my favorite texture-wise. 

Next was our cheese tasting plate with cured meats. To be honest, we probably didn't need the meat, but we are never ones to turn down prosciutto when offered, and this was excellent prosciutto. 

Our cheese tasting featured nine different cheeses--four sheep's milk cheeses, four goat's milk cheeses, and fresh ricotta. 

I made myself a mini cheese plate with all of the cheeses. 

To be honest, I don't remember how all of these tasted, but I remember them being extremely high-quality cheeses. We really enjoyed every bite and gained a new appreciation for pecorino and goat cheese. The cheese on the far right that looks riddled with mold was the most memorable--it was a goat cheese aged for the longest period of time out of all the cheeses on the plate. It was the most pungent cheese I've ever had. My first tiny sliver exploded with cheesy funk and intense umami in my mouth.

Not that we needed it, but they finished our lunch with tiny slices of cake. 

They gave us a couple of hours to slowly savor our lunch before we were told that our tour would be starting soon. We met at the main farmhouse. 

Our tour group of 5 was led by one of the owners of the farm, Sandra, who was an amazing wealth of knowledge about organic farming. It was inspiring seeing the passion she has for what she does. She took us on a lovely tour of the farm, and we got to meet the goats and sheep who so graciously made our cheese. 

We got a rundown on the cheesemaking process and got to see the rooms where the cheese is made and aged.

We really enjoyed our time at Podere il Casale. Lunch with cheese tasting was 80 euros total for the two of us, and the tour was 10 euros total for the two of us, so it definitely wasn't a cheap experience, but considering we spent almost 4 hours at the farm and all of the food was organic, it's not outrageously expensive. We're happy to support the farm and its mission to bring organic, sustainable farming techniques to Tuscany. 

If you're interested in learning more about activities at the farm, you can visit this website or email info@podereilcasale.it. 

After our blissful afternoon at the farm, we got back in our car and drove further into the Val d'Orcia. We had a little time before we wanted to get to our next agriturismo, so we decided to stop by the tiny hill town of Monticchiello, which was only 10 minutes away. I didn't know this town existed until I read about it on Tripadvisor, and we didn't have high expectations, but it was so damn charming and undiscovered. It ended up being my favorite Tuscan town. 

It was set in the most gorgeous part of the Val d'Orcia for starters. Here is the free (!!) parking lot right outside of town.

Can you imagine a more picturesque parking lot? Unlike Pienza, we had no problems finding parking.

We spent a very peaceful hour walking around the town, which looked like a postcard from every street. There were only a few tourists around, and like Pienza, it was mostly quiet. 

I hope you can see why this was my favorite town. On the way out, we were treated to some last gorgeous views. 

Monticchiello was the surprise hit of the trip.

Finally, we drove 15 minutes more to Agriturismo il Gonzeto, which seemed to be hidden deep in the fields of the Val d'Orcia. 

Unfortunately, on arrival we were told that the infinity pool was being cleaned that day and that it would not open up again until the day after. We were so disappointed, as we were quite sweaty and tired and had been counting on a dip in the pool to cool us off. Instead we settled on some cold showers, after which we changed and got ready for dinner in nearby Montepulciano. I didn't take pictures of our room, but it was nice--clean and cutely decorated.  

Sorry to end on that note, but I want to save Montepulciano for next post! 

To read about our time in Siena (Part 3), click here
To read about our time in San Gimignano (Part 2), click here.
To read about our time in Florence (Part 1), click here.

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