When we started planning this trip and decided to return to Italy, we first though to rent a place at La Foce, the Iris Origo estate in the heart of the most beautiful part of Tuscany. The picture above, an iconic Tuscan scene, was taken from the gardens of La Foce; the entire area is achingly beautiful. But while the area is beautiful there is also something to be said for being within walking distance of a grocery store or restaurant and so we chose the hilltown Montepulciano with a view on one side and a town at our front door. But we didn’t forget La Foce. The La Foce gardens are open on Wednesdays, so we drove down for a visit.
Iris Origo was a writer of American and Irish descent who settled in Italy with her mother in the early 20th century and eventually married an Italian, Antonio Origo. They worked together to restore the estate of La Foce which had fallen into disrepair. He got the farm up and running, after years of abuse had nearly ruined the soil. She focused on the house and grounds. During the second world war they housed refugee children on the estate. She wrote about these times in ‘War in the Val d’Orcia’. Among her other works are ‘The Merchant of Prato’, ‘Leopardi’, and ‘The World of San Bernardino.’ The Villa is elegant and simple; here is a detail from the façade:Her great love, though was the garden. She hired the English architect Cecil Pinsent to work with her on the design. It began as a small lemon garden close to the house, limited by the arid climate and lack of water.Today there are dozens of lemon trees, which spend the winter in their own house.Eventually they dug wells and created cistern systems so that there was ample water for an expanded garden. Close to the villa, the garden is developed as a formal Italian garden with trimmed hedges in patterns.These formal gardens run out to the edge of the hill and overlook the Val d’Orcia.In the formal gardens there are statues; this is Don Quixote:Here is a small lilly basin in the upper garden; there is a larger pond in the lower garden.The further from the house one goes, the less formal and wilder are the gardens. There are a tumult of flowers on one level.Above this garden is a long wisteria covered loggia which leads to a path along the edge of the hill and views out into the valley.One of these stunning views is at the head of this piece, but there are many lovely views from this path. Above the wisteria bower, a path leads up into the woods beyond; a rustic statue stands at the top of this path before it gives way to woods.
La Foce is a lovely spot and a great place to spend an afternoon. There are many old stone houses and a couple of old castles on the property that are available for weekly rental. Iris and Antonio Origo’s two surviving daughters, now women in their 60s, live on the estate and administer its agricultural and rental interests.