Last Updated on August 29, 2019 by Laura Teso
Imagine the quintessential Tuscan landscape, made of rolling hills, rows of cypresses, cute little villages and small farms. Now think of having the chance to listen to the most prominent musicians of the world, playing in some fascinating venues, scattered in that landscape, like a tiny country church just outside a Medieval village or a courtyard overlooking the Val d’Orcia scenery. But before telling you more about the Incontri in Terra di Siena festival, let’s go back for a second to the time when Iris Cutting and Antonio Origo got married and moved (in 1924) to La Foce, an estate in a severe state of neglect in Val d’Orcia.
The rebirth of Val d’Orcia
The estate included 57 farms entrusted to sharecroppers. But there was no access road, no running water, no electricity, and the surrounding area was barren and inhospitable. Iris was deeply impressed by the
“lunar landscape, pale and inhuman… a land without mercy and without shade”.
Therefore, together with her husband Antonio, she decided not only to restore the villa and create a luxuriant garden, hiring architect Cecil Pinsent, but also to reshape the countryside around La Foce and to improve the life and work conditions of their tenants. Within 15 years they restored the farmers quarters, created an irrigation system to make the land arable, planted trees, realized roads (including the famous serpentine cypresses lane, which is one of the most photographed places of the region) and set up schools and healthcare facilities for the farmers. La Foce became the beating heart of that corner of Tuscany.
The second World War
Things changed during the Second World War. On January 1943, the Origos sheltered several children, evacuated from cities like Genova and Torino. Plus they never stopped feeding and passing information to the partisans camped in the woods around the estate.
When Hitler’s troops arrived in Val d’Orcia in 1944, the couple had to flee, together with the refugees (about 60 people, including many kids), walking across the battlefield, to find shelter in Montepulciano. This and other events are recorded in Iris’ book, War in the Val d’Orcia. Not a long time after, the war was over. But times had changed and farmers didn’t want to live as tenants anymore. Many moved to the city. At the beginning of the 50s, Iris and Antonio moved to Rome.
La Foce garden
Nowadays, the garden is visited and admired by people from all over the world. You know I’m a garden lover and I visit all the gardens I can. I really enjoyed my visit, although very brief for lack of time. So I hope to have the chance to go back in the spring, when I reckon the garden will be in full bloom, especially the rose garden and the wisteria pergola, under which Antonio and Iris Origo used to stroll at sunset, after a hard day of work, to relax, talk and admire the panorama.
Dopolavoro La Foce
A stone’s throw from La Foce, the Dopolavoro, once the meeting point (dopo lavoro means after work) for the farmers working for the Origo family, houses now a restaurant serving local specialties. Vegetables and fruit come from their orchard, the extra virgin olive oil is produced by La Foce. Flour and bread are homemade. The majority of ingredients are local and, if possible, organic.
Before the concert, I only had 25 minutes to eat, so I went to the Dopolavoro and ordered a bico, a simple focaccia (actually variation of the Umbrian torta al testo), filled with cold cuts, veggies, and cheese. The Dopolavoro has lovely interior decor and also a courtyard where to eat al fresco.
La Foce is still the core of the area
Even if many years have passed since Iris and Antonio lived here, La Foce is still beloved by the locals and the core of many cultural initiatives, like art exhibitions, lectures and the Incontri in Terra di Siena festival. Their daughter Benedetta Origo still lives in the family estate at La Foce and each year she helps to coordinate the chamber music festival, created with her son, renowned cellist Antonio Lysy, in 1989.
Incontri in Terra di Siena festival
The chamber music Festival “Incontri in Terra di Siena”, meaning Encounters in the Land of Siena, fills some of the most beautiful venues of the area with inspiring music that perfectly blends with the bewitching surrounding landscape.
Plus, to complete the picture, several collateral events are organized on the days of the concerts: guided tours, book presentations, tastings. In addition, there are also suggestions for the restaurants where to eat on the occasion (among the best of the region).
Triano church concert
I had the chance to participate in two out of seven concerts. The first in the tiny church del Triano, just outside the village of Montefollonico. I attended the concert after a guided tour of Montefollonico: the walls, the Town Hall, the pieve di San Leonardo and the former church of San Bartolomeo (now hosting a ceramics shop – very suggestive atmosphere there) and a pleasant aperitivo in the lush garden of Villa Marselli.
The music, by Stravinsky, Saint-Saens, Nino Rota, Jolivet, and Dutilleux, was played by world-famous artists: pianist Èric Le Sage, violinist Daishin Kashimoto, flutist Emmanuel Pahud and clarinetist (I love clarinet) Paul Meyer. The concert was amazing and the landscape surrounding the church was just as amazing, with an incredible view of Montepulciano.
Piazzale del Granaio di Belvedere concert
The day after, I attended the concert at Piazzale del Granaio di Belvedere, Castelluccio, near La Foce. Pianist Dan Tepfer, Double bassist Michał Barański and drummer Nate Wood played the incredible suite Pulcinella by Stravinsky revisited by Tepfer himself. The venue of the concert was breathtaking, a terrace overlooking the famous cypresses alley in front of La Foce garden. All the spectators equally enjoyed the music and the view. It was one of the most beautiful concerts I have ever attended.
Where to sleep: Podere Trafonti
On the occasion of my visit, I stayed as a guest at Podere Trafonti, owned by Antonella and Bernard, a couple of Swisse expats who fell in love with this area of Tuscany. The place is a bundle of positive energy, which you can clearly perceive during your stay. I enjoyed it so much that I intend to write a separate article about my stay, in order to show you all the aspects of the podere.
For now, I will only tell you that the place is magical. The silence is almost complete, except for the pleasant sound of crickets and birds. The view is a feast for the eyes: rolling hills, trees, flowers and the town of Montepulciano. The pool is refreshing after a day spent visiting the surrounding area.
The room is spacious and comfortable, with a big rain shower. The breakfast is copious and scrumptious, with organic food mostly produced at the podere.
Incontri in Terra di Siena useful information
La Foce is 60 km south of Siena. Perugia airport is 1 hour and 20 minutes away by car, Florence airport is 1 hour and a half away and Pisa airport 2 hours and 20 minutes away.
I recommend to rent a car to explore the area and reach the venues, which are often in places not easily accessible by public transportation, and sometimes even located along gravel roads.
The ticket is very affordable, considering the caliber of the players and the beauty of the locations: €30 per person.
You can find more info at itslafoce.org
For other articles about Siena and Tuscany, go to: Tuscany!