Visit La Foce, overlooking the hills of Tuscany’s beautiful Val d’Orcia, to see its stunning gardens. Built in the late 15th century as a hostel for pilgrims along the Via Francigena, a pilgrimage route to Rome, the dilapidated villa and land was bought by Antonio Origo and Iris, his Anglo-American wife, in 1924 and transformed into a working farm estate.
I had been wanting to visit La Foce for years, ever since reading Iris Origo’s autobiographies about her fascinating life, the estate, and the lives of share-cropping farm workers:
La Foce Garden
English architect Cecil Pinsent was hired to renovate the buildings and design the garden. His beautiful creation is a mix of English and Italian style gardens that blend in with the buildings and natural landscape. Highlights of the gardens are the wisteria pergola in bloom in April to early May, the roses, and the formal Italian garden with box hedges. In addition to the garden itself, you’ll be treated to great views of the classic Tuscan countryside.
La Foce is one of my picks for top gardens to visit in Italy.
How to Visit La Foce
La Foce’s garden is open from late March through 1 November. It can be visited by guided tour only, currently offered on Wednesday afternoons (hourly from 3 PM to 6PM) and at 11:30, 3:00, and 4:30 on weekends and holidays. Buy tickets at the entrance.
- Visit La Foce’s website to check the current tour schedule and find out about the villa’s bed and breakfast and vacation house rentals on the grounds.
The tour lasts about 45 minutes and visits only the garden but if you’re a garden lover or interested in Iris Origo, it’s definitely worthwhile, and the views are fantastic.
We took the 6PM tour so we could eat dinner at Dopolavoro Restaurant, built in 1939 as a meeting place for the workers at La Foce. We enjoyed a tasty dinner of creative Tuscan dishes. Dopolavoro is open for both lunch and dinner.
We stayed at Agriturismo Poggio Etrusco, an organic farm that offers bed and breakfast in 3 beautifully restored apartments and a double room, owned by cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns and artist Johnny Johns. Poggio Etrusco is a great base for visiting Val d’Orcia towns and exploring the countryside. Pamela and Johnny help guests with suggestions for things to do, arrange winery tours and make reservations, and give cooking classes at the farm. I highly recommend a stay at Poggio Etrusco.
Iris and Antonio Origo
Iris and Antonio revived the land, turning it into a working farm while helping to bring about improvements in the lives of share-cropping farm workers who usually lived in poverty at that time. They greatly improved the living conditions of the workers and their families on their estate. Iris had a clinic and school built for the farm workers and strove to improve social conditions. During World War II, they housed children at the estate and hid Allied prisoners of war.
The estate is still owned by the Origo family and the villa has been made into a bed and breakfast.
Cecil Pinsent also designed the pretty cemetery where Iris and Antonio are buried along with other former residents of the estate.