art with tosca

Originally published on February 28th, 2022

As we get closer and closer to Spring, Winter seems to be dragging on and I am longing for warm weather and garden walks. I am looking forward to seeing nature blossom again and I thought I would share with you a very special place tucked in the hills of Val d’Orcia, Tuscany. The story of this place and its owners is unique and I hope these lines will take you on a journey under the Tuscan sun.



Villa La Foce, its garden and farms are located in the clay hills of Sienna, in Southern Tuscany, a few miles away from Pienza and Montepulciano. The history of this property goes back to the 7th century BC, when it was an Etruscan settlement and necropolis until the 2nd century BC. This land was always occupied as it was located on the strategic and historical Via Francigena, which led to Rome. The Villa was built in the 15th century and served as a hospice for pilgrims and merchants traveling on the via Francigena.



We owe the Villa and gardens we can admire today to Antonio Origo and his Anglo-American wife Iris. Iris spent most of her childhood in the Villa Medici of Fiesole, owned by her mother, Lady Sybil Cutting. The couple bought the property in 1924 with a desire to bring prosperity, cultural and social changes to this formerly poor area of the Val d’Orcia. The couple dedicated their entire life to this colossal project. Several years of work were spent preparing and shaping the land for modern agriculture. Nowadays, the gardens and estate of La Foce are some of the most important and best kept early twentieth-century gardens in the country. Iris was fascinated by the symmetry of the Renaissance gardens. Therefore, the couple commissioned the renowned English architect Cecil Pinsent with the mission of reawakening the natural magic of the property. The garden dreamed by Iris and Cecil came to life in four phases between 1925 and 1939. It is a perfect example of the harmony between landscape and architecture of the 1900s, between the taste and traditions of Italy and England.



Walking through the gardens, you find delight in the fresh smell of lavender, thyme and rosemary. In the right season, you can wander in the limonaia (lemon garden), under a pergola covered by wonderful and fragrant wisteria or through a path shaped by centenary cypresses. When you stand in the gardens, you fully realize the Tuscan magic is operating. The panoramas from the gardens are unforgettable, on one side you will see the Monte Amiata and on the other, the famous postcard view of the winding cypress road.



Iris Origo was also an internationally acclaimed writer. She left behind two excellent autobiographical books describing the wonderful as well as at times very difficult years she spent at La Foce, Images and Shadows and War in Val d’Orcia.

(PS: If you decide to follow the footsteps of Iris Origo and visit the gardens at La Foce, do not miss out and stop for a delicious meal at Dopolavoro La Foce or Osteria La Porta.)

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