Tuesday, August 7, 2012

La Foce: A Perfect day in a Perfect garden

In the heart of the Val D'Orcia there's a place that has seen 500 years of history, and yet sits quietly buzzing in the sunshine with no visible scars from the past.

La Foce is a Tuscan estate, made up of an old villa, extensive farms and a garden. But at it's heart it is a truly glorious garden with some lovely buildings to set it off.

The original villa was built in the XVth century as a wayside tavern for pilgrims on their way from Siena to Rome and then became a part of the estate of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala of Siena. In 1924, wanting to use their wealth to develop an estate in poor, rural Southern Tuscany, Iris Origo (an Anglo American) and her husband Antonio Origo bought the villa and surrounding 7,000 acres and set out not only to restore it, and build farms on the estate, but also to design their dream garden. Designed by the English landscape architect Cecil Pinsent over 10 years, the garden combines levels, colors, and textures to create a dream space full of bees, butterflies, lavender, lemons and boxwood.

La Foce was not always so peaceful. In the Second World War the Origos took in refugees from the Allied bombings in Genoa and Turin and cared for the children through the ugly and violent Allied advance up through Italy as the Germans retreated. You can read the story of Iris' daily struggle, and simple successes, in her war time diary War in Val D'Orcia.

But today you'd never know La Foce had seen such a dreadful period during and right after the war. Wandering through the courtyards and gardens I never wanted to leave. If you are driving south of Siena on a Wednesday afternoon (the only time it's open) take a moment and stop.

 The original villa, built for pilgrims traveling to the Jubilee in Rome in 1600
 The inner courtyard, full of pomegranate trees and geraniums

 The sundial is accurate, not that you want to know the time

 Cascading levels of lavender, lemons and wisteria. 
I try, but my garden in Cupertino never looks this good!

 Pathways through sculpted boxwood. 
The roots are on a slope - their tops are level

 Looking back to the villa
(where you can stay and imagine a different life...)

 Lavender so perfect, and so busy, it's hard to believe until you see it

 Geraniums everywhere

 Sculpted hedges drawing you in and down to the vista point. 
Recently cut and suffering from the drought.

 No warning of the vista that is about to come...

 Perfection. The iconic Tuscan road, created on the 
La Foce estate for no other purpose but to please the eye.

 My traveling companions...

 who insisted on getting a record of my endless grin

 Hidden "rooms" in the garden, overflowing with lush borders, beds and wisteria

And at the end of the day, thanks to a local chef (and much of it harvested from the garden of our house) dinner of tomatoes, cheese, cold tomato soup, homemade bread, salad and vegetarian pasta.

Finally, at the end of a perfect day, the view as we 
drank local wine and supped in our garden.

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