Echoes of History at a Tuscan Estate
Iris Origo was a 22-year-old newlywed Anglo-American heiress — as rich, brilliant and innocent as a Henry James heroine — when she and her husband, an Italian nobleman, decided to buy La Foce. “Treeless and shrubless but for some tufts of broom,” Origo wrote in October 1923 of her first view of the rundown 3,500-acre estate southeast of Siena; it was “a lunar landscape, pale and inhuman.”
As we zipped south down the A1 autostrada in our rental car last spring, my wife, Kate, wanted to know exactly why we were bypassing Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Arezzo and Cortona and making a beeline for what Origo called this “lonely, uncompromising” corner of Tuscany. I waxed on about the rave reviews the estate-turned-rental-property had received from friends; about the garden, reputed to be one of the finest 20th-century gardens in Italy; about how Iris and Antonio Origo had transformed La Foce from a wasteland of degraded hardscrabble farms to an aesthete’s paradise with a rich, evocative history; about its proximity to Montepulciano and Montalcino and their superb wines.