I’ve been a few places. I’ve seen a few gardens. So you can trust me when I tell you that Villa La Foce, the villa and farm created by Iris Origo and her husband, Antonio Origo, is truly magnificent.
The villa is located in the crete sense (clay hills of Sienna) overlooking the beautiful Val d’orcia in souther Tuscany. La Foce is located near the site of an Etruscan settlement and burial-place that were in use from the 7th C. BC to the 2nd C. AD.
La Foce has been continuously inhabited for many centuries, partly because of its location on the Via Francigena (“the road that comes from France,” this ancient highway was a pilgrim route running from France [some say Canterbury, England] to Rome. In medieval times it was an important road and pilgrimage route for those wishing to visit the Holy See and the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul).
The Origos dedicated their lives to bringing prosperity and cultural and social changes to this formerly poverty-stricken area of the Val d’Orcia. Years of work were devoted to preparing the difficult terrain for modern agriculture.
The gardens and estate of La Foce are among the most important and best kept early 20th-century gardens in Italy. Amid 3,500 acres of farmland in the countryside near Pienza, with sweeping views of the Tuscan landscape, La Foce was the dream garden of Iris Origo.
Passionate about the order and symmetry of Florentine gardens, she and Antonio employed the talented English architect and family friend Cecil Pinsent, who had designed the gardens at Villa Medici, to enhance the natural beauty of the site. Pinsent designed the structure of simple, elegant, box-edged beds and green enclosures that give shape to the Origos’ shrubs, perennials and vines, and created a garden of soaring cypress walks, native cyclamen, lawns and wildflower meadows.
Today the estate is run by the Origo daughters, Benedetta and Donata, and is open to the public one day a week.
The property was purchased in 1924 by Antonio Origo and his Anglo-American wife, Iris. Iris was the daughter of Lady Sybil Cutting who owned the Villa Medici at Fiesole, where Iris spent much of her childhood.
The Villa itself was built in the late 15 C as a hospice for pilgrims and merchants traveling on the via Francigena.
The garden is divided into three distinct sections on different levels, and was created between 1927 and 1939 in several stages, all parts composed to follow the lay of the land.