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Just a few kilometers before reaching Chianciano Terme, the gentle hills of the Val d’Orcia gracefully merge with the white, arid badlands of the Sienese Crete. At the crossroads of the four roads leading to Pienza, Montepulciano, Sarteano, and Chianciano, there’s a mesmerizing spot that symbolizes the intersection of the history of this part of Tuscany and the captivating life of a remarkable woman. Iris Origo, a keen observer of her times, entrusted us all with her magnificent garden—a testament to perfect harmony and pure beauty. This enchanting place is named La Foce.

La Foce is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever photographed. This estate itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 1924, Antonio and Iris Origo transformed the Villa into a thriving farming center, marking a pivotal chapter in its history. Iris Origo, a renowned Anglo-American biographer and historian, vividly recounts the remarkable yet challenging years at La Foce in her autobiographical books, “Images and Shadows” and “War in Val d’Orcia.” I love the secluded corners and hidden flowerbeds in the garden, where Iris Origo planted her favorite cottage flowers. I can imagine her leisurely strolling among peonies and roses, surrounded by wild Italian gladiolus, reminiscent of English gardens.

La Foce was the childhood dream garden of the late writer Marchesa Iris Origo, passionate about the order and symmetry of Florentine gardens.

The garden features a collection of terraces separated into distinct ‘rooms’ by box hedges, fountains, travertine steps, and walls. The initial garden, the lemon tree garden, the rose garden adorned with a wisteria-covered pergola, and the lower garden all showcase the architect’s remarkable skill.

La Foce originally served as a hospice along the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrim road, dating back to the late 1400s. In the present day, the Val d’Orcia stands out as one of Italy’s foremost tourist destinations, boasting some of the country’s most iconic landscapes.

The villa sleeps 24 people in:

  • 9 double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms
  • 3 twin bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms

In addition to a wonderful large music room with sofas and armchairs, there is a delightful library with fireplace and sofas, and a central frescoed and balconied dining room for very special evenings.

The swimming pool and the Limonaia are fully at the disposal of guests

The swimming pool and Limonaia

While contemporary visitors perceive the Val d’Orcia as a land of plenty, it was a starkly different scenario a century ago, marked by widespread poverty, low education rates, and prevalent diseases, particularly those associated with inadequate child nutrition. Indeed, the Val d’Orcia, once densely wooded, had been deforested by the Etruscans and Romans. The already thin soil eroded in many places down to the underlying clay, exacerbated by suboptimal farming practices. A lack of education, conservative attitudes, and a distrust of outsiders further impeded the adoption of more advanced farming techniques.

Adding to these difficulties was the mezzadria system, a form of sharecropping where tenant farmers had to give up half of their crops (il mezzo) to absentee landowners. By the early 20th century, the majority of landowners had become urban absentees, entrusting property management to factors focused on profit maximization.

The hills of Val d’ Orcia as seen from la Foce

Amidst this complex backdrop, Antonio and Iris Origo, who bought la Foce in the beginning of the century, emerged as idealistic benefactors with a commitment to a more caring form of proprietorship.

Antonio delved into the implementation of scientific farming methods, while Iris dedicated herself to providing medical care and education for the children.

In addition, Iris was as an acclaimed author whose captivating books about the rise of fascism, the Second World War, intense bombings, the Nazi occupation of Italy, and the partisan struggle in the hills and mountains of Tuscany included “War in Val d’ Orcia,” and “Merchant of Prato,” both of which stand out as some of her most acclaimed contributions.

Also read:
Siena, Italy of your Dreams: its Contradas, Palio Race, and stunning architecture

As visitors explore La Foce today, they step into a living testament of transformation, a place where the echoes of the past resonate alongside the beauty that blooms from nature’s embrace and human perseverance.

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The AKG studio was created out of my fascination for blending modern techniques with the art d'excellence from a bygone era, creating a photography of timeless aesthetic and heritage. 

My photography is intimate and infused with a sense of purpose, stemming from a deep desire to advocate for diversity, empathy and empowerment.

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