Like a seamless crossfade from choral music into a bona fide hit, La Bandita Townhouse has undergone a satisfyingly successful transformation. This renaissance palazzo, whose discreet doorway sits just past the Cathedral of Pienza, was once home to 500 nuns until it was discovered by Sony hotshot John Voigtman, who gave up chasing rockstars to transform this creaking villa on a cobblestone lane into a chic Tuscan restaurant with rooms – maintaining its mediaeval walls and beams. The result? Music to our ears.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £299.90 (€350), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €0.70 per person per night on check-out.
Breakfast is included.
Be sure to take a stroll around the hotel's walled mediaeval garden, if you're not used to Pienza's siesta-style pace of life, plonk yourself down in a canvas chair with a good book and you'll adjust in no time. Stay more than three nights and dinner is free for under-5s.
7 January to 1 April.
At the hotel
Mini spa (with steam bath and hot tub), library, DVD/CD selection, vast vinyl collection and concierge service. In rooms: flatscreen TV, free WiFi, Ortigia toiletries, free bottled water in the minibar. The suites have a flatscreen TV and coffee machine.
Our favourite rooms
The Junior Suite offers you the best of both worlds: slick modern design on the inside; and outside your window the multi-coloured trees and fields of Unesco World Heritage site Val D'Orcia spreading out to the horizon. Request a suite on the upper floors – your eyes will thank you.
Book of Renaissance history and an appetite for pecorino cheese.
English-speaking concierge. On stays of three or more days, laundry is free.
Cribs or folding beds can be added to any room free of charge. Suites and superior rooms have extra beds and toys are available. Under-5s eat for free in the restaurant when parents are dining there, and off-menu dishes no problem.
Reserve settings at the chef’s counter and watch the maestros in the open kitchen whip up your dishes with flourish, from start to finish.
Casuale. (More Miu Miu or SportMax than Cavalli if you do dress up.)
The Townhouse Caffé is one of the most popular restaurants in Pienza – every night. Little wonder, since chef David Mangan (and on some days, Dario) creates delicious Tuscan dishes before your very eyes, using the freshest seasonal local ingredients. Tuscan classics and shareable small plates keep guests eagerly coming back for more.
The fully stocked honesty bar is in the library, with a few chilled bottles ready for you to uncork on the house at aperitivo hour.
Breakfast is served 7am–11.30am. Evenings run until 10.30pm, but speak to the hotel as this can vary by arrangement.
Guests can order whatever they want from the Townhouse Caffé menu during restaurant hours for delivery to their rooms.
The hotel is at the front of the old town – which, confusingly, is at the very end of the main street. To get there, 200 metres after the main road turns left for Montepulciano, look for the first sharp-right turn which is the entrance into the old town.
The most convenient airport is Leonardo da Vinci (Fiumicino) International Aiport (www.rome-airport.info) in Rome, which is 200km south. The next nearest is Florence (www.aeroporto.firenze.it).
It’s not the most reliable way to get there, but if you do come by train the closest station is Chiusi-Chianciano Terme, which is about 40km away.
Although old Pienza is strictly pedestrians only, you can drive up to the hotel’s front door just to drop off your bags. A couple of minutes away you’ll find free parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
Pienza may seem more like a hilltop village, but this compact town was the original blueprint for a perfect Renaissance city care of Pope Pius II’s 15th-century vision. A cobblestoned amble from La Bandita Townhouse are palaces, churches, piazzas and charming (forgivably touristy) shops galore in this Unesco site. Palazzo Piccolomini (+39 0577 530032), the residence of Pope Pius II, is just a five-minute walk from the hotel and is worth visiting for it's colonnaded inner courtyard, ornate Italianate gardens and secret hidden rooms. History isn't all there is to lap up in this blissful bucolic region, they're also a dab hand at viticulture and Enoteca Di Ghino (+39 0578 748262) should be your first stop when searching for the perfect plonk. The shop is run by knowledgeable wine connoisseur, Ghino Poggialini, who's happy to share his abundant wine know-how, whether you're looking for a magnum of vintage Sassicaia or a €20 bottle of local red.
A short cobblestoned walk from the hotel is La Terrazza Del Chiostro (+39 0578 748400) who serve simple Tuscan cuisine on a shaded, lime-tree flanked terrace, which overlooks the valley. Baccus L'Osteri (+39 0578 749080) is also close by, which on first glance seems like typical tourist bait: whimsical rustic signage? Check. Rustic bric-a-brac covering the walls? Check. Chocolate-box countryside mural? Check…But one look at the menu proves they're the real deal, with locally influenced fare such as saffron-flavoured gnocchi and home-made spaghetti with fried breadcrumbs. If you have a yearning for some authentic pecorino, head to La Chiocciola (+39 0578 748683) where you can tuck into baked or grilled pecorino or pecorino stuffed into ravioli and other such gastronomic treats.
Laundry. Lovely, clean, mountains of Alpine-fresh laundry, folded, and ready to wear, nestling in the housekeeper’s bosom. Sorry, but that was the first image that popped into my head when Mrs Smith asked what my highlight had been at this mediaeval mini-city of yore. We were playing ‘top three moments’ as we sped home, a useful game after a party or weekend, to milk the pleasure a teeny bit more. It probably also helps stave off Alzheimer’s.
‘What!’ screamed Mrs Smith. ‘You’re rating the laundry service at the former Renaissance palazzo above the ricotta-stuffed courgette flowers? Are you completely insane?’ It’s true that the fiori di zuccaripieni, a local speciality, were very good, light and crispy and subtle, as I knew they would be. Funnily enough, that’s why I ordered them, but it didn’t seem the moment to point this out to Mrs Smith, who had eaten most of them.
Anyway, there was something reassuring and heart-warming about opening our door less than 24 hours after checking in, to find the signora clutching a pile of my pressed pants. I should explain. We were nowhere near the Alps, and La Bandita is not a launderette. It is, or was, a 15th-century nunnery knocked into a contemporary 12-bedroom hotel in a hilltop town in Tuscany. We arrived on one of those dreamy hot days, when the red Sienese bricks baked like they were back in the oven. The night before, Mrs Smith had thrown a last-minute party in London, and flown out at dawn straight from the dancefloor. I had been charging round northern Italy in a rented Fiat, following the Mille Miglia, a demented three-day road-race for 1950s sports cars. Neither of us looked exactly spry, or had any clean clothes, as we vomited ourselves from the Fiat onto La Bandita’s cool granite doorstep at the end of the main street of this World Heritage old town.
Worst of all, we were early, the most annoying thing any guest can be. ‘Not a problem!’ beamed Virginia, the vision of beauty behind a Mac. ‘Glass of wine?’ Those are the six words I always want to hear when I walk into someone’s house. Followed by: ‘What time would you like lunch?’ When she lightly added that laundry is complimentary, and that breakfast is served practically until lunchtime, a tiny tear may have entered my eye.
Truth be told, I had wondered how we would amuse ourselves in a town that has barely changed since 1460. Pienza was built all in one go by Pope Pius II. It’s not exactly handy for anywhere, being at least a 45-minute wiggly drive from any city. But what you don’t realise until getting here is that it stands bang in the middle of the Val d’Orcia within grasp of Montalcino, San Quirico, Montepulciano, Montichiello, Montefollonico and Siena.
This is fantasy Tuscany. A valley with everything we love about Italy, but in an acid trip. Undulating cornfields, white chalky tracks, ramrod-straight cypress trees – you get the picture. It’s probably your desktop. Pienza crowns its own little hill, and has one main street, at the end of which stands La Bandita. So as Mrs Smith slept off last night’s party, I drifted around town, gazing into the distance. Honestly, this took up a whole afternoon, as I shifted down five gears from manic to monged. This place is built for dreamers: there’s a bench every 10 yards, so you simply stagger from one to the next, contemplating how you would paint each view, if you could be bothered.
Mrs Smith used to live in Florence, and had been insisting we go to a very good party that night. Happily, she couldn’t face the 90-minute drive, and Pienza isn’t short of restaurants. So we spent the weekend eating zucchini flowers and gasping at views. There’s a spa nearby, where Virginia suggested, with her uniquely suggestive giggle, that we try – shriek of laughter! – a mud-bath massage for couples. But frankly, we had already entered a trance-like state of calm and could barely leave our room.
The rooms are like New York lofts, all light and fresh and designer. The beds seem to float mid-air, for extra levity. Sure, this is a Renaissance townhouse, so the ceilings are beamed, but they’re white-painted, so none of that Tuscan darkness. Our room overlooked the street, so I spent a lot of time watching people ambling up and down, or practicing my Italian with the old woman in the house opposite, like two mediaeval gossips. For more sophisticated chat, there’s a sort of library and bar on the first floor, where you can meet fellow guests over prosecco and giant green olives. John Voigtmann, the owner, was a New York record producer before channelling his funk into this place. He ran bands like the Strokes, Foo Fighters, and Christina Aguilera, as the framed discs on the walls prove. The fact he’s ex-music industry is betrayed in the extensive vinyl LP collection, and a clue that his wife Ondine is a travel writer is that there is even an insider in-room mini guidebook for this corner of Tuscany.
Downstairs, the big attraction is the garden and the Townhouse Caffè’s terrace, where we spent the mornings eating breakfast, watching Glaswegian chef David Mangan and his team prepare those courgette flowers in the open kitchen. I would love to say we did something beyond watching other people do things. If buying ice-creams and having long showers in Ortigia products count as activities, then we were very busy. Otherwise, I’m afraid we did diddly-squat, or dolce far niente, as they say in Italian. You can see why the laundry felt like such an achievement.