In the early 1920s, Iris Origo, an American brought up in Florence, and her husband, Antonio, bought a vast swath of Tuscan land. Within a few years, what had been a kind of moonscape metamorphosed into a lush estate in the hills near Chianciano Terme.
The 3,500 acres are dotted with farmhouses, villas and a castle, many designed or restored by the English architect Cecil Pinsent. One of the most famous views in Tuscany, found on postcards and magazine covers, is the zigzagged road lined with cypress trees that was, in fact, invented by Pinsent to provide a beautiful background to the Italian Renaissance and English gardens he designed. The crumbling 15th century guesthouse became a grand villa, which today is the centerpiece of the estate.
Needless to say Iris Origo was a very wealthy woman, with American money on one side and English nobility on the other. At La Foce, she found the perfect place to spend her riches while exercising the good taste and judgement she was known for.
Iris was not a one dimensional woman — she was literary, artistic and generous. During her time at La Foce, she built a school for peasant children, provided medical care, and worked to protect the farmers in the estate and their families during the extremely difficult period during World War II and the years after.
Many people come for the garden tour because they have read Iris Origo’s autobiography, Images and Shadows, or Iris Origo, Marchesa of Val d’Orcia, by well-known biographer Caroline Moorehead. Others come because of the stunning beauty of the grounds, probably the finest gardens in Tuscany. Regardless, this glimpse of a bygone era is memorable and extraordinary.
NOTE: The gardens are open for tours on Wednesday afternoons year round. Reservations are necessary. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a concert series every July.