The Gardens of La Foce, a Tuscan Gem

October 11, 2013 / Places
Chianciano Terme, Tuscany

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 info@lafoce.com. There is a concert series every July.

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Sharri Whiting

by Sharri Whiting

Sharri writes about food, wine and international travel from Umbria, where she and her husband grow olives. In addition to articles, she writes a blog,  UmbriaBella. Her app, Olive Oil IQ is a portable encyclopedia for foodies and culinary travelers (iTunes & Android). Follow her on Twitter: @umbriabella and @oliveoiliq. Facebook: www.facebook.com/UmbriaBella, and www.facebook.com/oliveoiliq

18 Responses to “The Gardens of La Foce, a Tuscan Gem”

  1. I love la Foce and Iris Origo’s book the merchant of Prato makes for a fantastic introduction to life during the early Renaissance. I don’t think though that Tuscany’s cypress lined roads were ‘invented’ by Pinsent. Famous examples of these roads have been around long before the English architect first came to Italy.

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  2. Marilyn Gentile

    I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful place and it took my breath away. This is most certainly a “must see” to put on your bucket list. Marilyn Gentile

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  3. Colleen Simpson

    I love La Foce and am fortunate to live just about 45 minutes from this amazing place. Iris’s life is an inspiration! We spent a lovely week in April, 2005 renting three of the farmhouses and part of the castle for a family wedding. Just so many beautiful memories and the staff of La Foce is dedicated to preserving the beauty that Iris devoted her life to saving. When she and her husband, inherited the place was a shambles. The first day Iris rode out to visit the farms of the “tenants” she found a young woman in labor in the same bed as her aging grandfather, for it was the only bed in the house. She was moved to improve the lives of all who worked on the farm and made a school for the children. Because of her love and dedication, she left an amazing legacy and the garden can be visited each week. Bravo for a wonderful note Sharri!

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  4. Marianne Bevilacqua

    My husband and I vacation in the Val d”orcia every year. We always make it a point to visit La Foce, not only the gardens but the beautiful little cemetery where Iris and
    her family along with many of the farmers of their estate are buried. I have read “War in Val d’orcia” twice and loved it each time. She was truly a remarkable woman.

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  5. Bob Blesse

    Thanks, Sharri. La Foce is truly a magical place with a wonderful history.

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  6. Thank YOU Sharri and Thank YOU Italian Notebook for making articles like this available to us hopeful travelers Stateside. My family stayed in Chianciano for a couple of weeks several years ago and hadn’t heard of this marvelous place, so we missed seeing it. But you have brought it to us. Grazie.

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  7. My husband and I visited La Foce May this year. The cypress lined road actually does not lead to the entrance; we got on it by accident, but a totally welcomed mistake. The whole place is simply wonderful, especially in the rain.

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  8. Domemic Piccolomini

    Sharri, Thank you for this nice note on La Foce a little info on Iris Origo. I had the opportunity to read two of her books The Merchant of Prato on also the wonderful book War in Val D’Orcia. Barbara and I will be in Tuscany again in June 2013. We will be sure to visit La Foce and the restaurant Dopolavoro.
    Grazie Bella!

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  9. Sharri,
    Lovely photos and article! I was lucky enough to visit La Foce in spring several years ago – the wisteria were in bloom and it was glorious. Iris Origo’s books are definitely worth reading as well…
    Grazie!
    Victoria

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  10. Grazie Sharri ~ A beautiful note – and a beautiful place! Our Pienza based Photo and Life Enrichment Workshops always include a day here at La Face… Benedetta is a most gracious host and appropriate ambassador as she grew up on or near the property. I believe that WWII orphans from the north were sheltered here. I must read War in Val d’Orcia again. This place has such an amazing spirit. Thank you for taking me back there.

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  11. Anstell Ricossa

    I have family that lives in Pontedera and Castel del Bosco. Although we have had the opportunity to visit this beautiful Toscana Region, sorry we have not heard of La Foce. It will be on our list to see on our next visit !

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  12. kyra bowman

    It does not get much better than this! I have stayed at La Foce at least a half dozen times and every time it takes my breath away. I remember getting out of the car at Belvedere the very first time and someone whispered…”it is just like standing in a postcard”. I love it all–from the quirky little kitchen in the castle to the big fireplace in Belvedere. It is magical!

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  13. Sandra Whitcomb

    We will be in Pienza in late April ’16. Can you suggest someone who is ‘reasonable’ to drive us to La Foce. It looks too beautiful to pass up! Thank-you.

    Sandra

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