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La Foce and La Porta - Rave!

Stew Vreeland

A day trip to the La Foce gardens south of Pienza with lunch at La Porta in Monticchiello.

La Foce Gardens

Hard not to rave and rave about this lovely side trip. How have we missed this jewel? We've read all the books about it.

We are just such Philistines that despite entreaties from left and right we had not ever been to La Foce. Have you been there? If you have you know the Iris Origo connection. And most importantly, have you stopped to eat on your way to La Foce at La Porta? Add in a summery end of autumn day and good friends and you have the ingredients for quite a day. We loved every sun-drenched minute.

We felt we knew the Villa La Foce a bit because it is annotated and documented in several books. One book related to it would spin us off into another and it's a very rich and interested combination of stories. We'd read Iris Origo books including "The Merchant of Prato", and "War in the Val d'Orcia" and we have the big coffee table photo books of it, so it is strange we hadn't hopped over there. But it was high on this trip's list and we made it happen Day One.

La Foce Gardens

La Foce Gardens

The story of how this massive, landscaped fantasyland villa and more than 10,000 acres of farm came to be is well told in all the books about Iris's life. And what a life she had. She was half English, half American and pretty much all Rich. Her mother owned the most important Medici villa in Florence and Iris rebelled a bit against that and went Back to Nature in this farm life she chose for herself. Sort of. It was a farm but a fairly gilded farm. The gardens and grounds were spared no expense and are palatial at least. Every color plant and tree frames views that were embellished and enhanced and perfected over the years off into the distance as far as you can see. Which they could do because they owned from the villa to infinity. And beyond.

One of the lame reasons we hadn't seen La Foce is that it is only open for two showings a week. 3pm Wednesday, followed by 4 pm Wednesday. 10 euro ticket and worth 10 and the price of a plane ticket from wherever you may be.

La Porta - Restaurant in Monticchiello

But IF you need more motivation, treat yourself to lunch at La Porta before La Foce. No, really. Go ahead. You deserve it. Like the name implies it is right at the village gate. Monticchiello's gate. We were outside bonding with the sweeping views of the Sienese crete from the terrace overlooking the valley. The stone terrace itself seems carved out of the old old city gate. Most excellent position and it was wonderful to have sunglasses and or floppy hats almost required by the brilliance of the sun. But the food outshone even this.

The staff was so cool they let us sample around and really enjoy it all. We ordered all three of the antipasta specials they mentioned and they brought us each a small plate and we dived in. Really and truly have no idea what the names of all the cheeses were but lets just call them Most Excellent Cheeses. One was a super fresh new cheese, almost cottage cheese consistency (burrata, a "young" mozzarella). There was a big plate of that surrounded by diced red tomatos. Too good to be true. Another plate was all fresh greens and bits of a glorious something cheese and the last plate was warmed pecorino morbida and Cinta Sienese prosciutto. The ham from that white belted black pig is legendary in this region and totally will put you off all others. They did the sheep cheese here like brie and spread it on bread and we fought ever so politely over the scraps and crumbs on every plate.

La Porta

And the staff here at La Porta didn't bat an eye when we said we wanted pasta samplers as well. So all of us got plates that included pici and duck, pici and cinghiale (they were so embarrassed - this was to be on papparadelle) and ravioli stuffed with artichokes.

It's all too wonderful - one of my favorite meals in decades of eating in Italy. The day and the company and the location had something to do with it but this was some fine recreational dining. The local white wine was off the chart as well. The meal here was worth the whole trip.


Read more about the La Foce Gardens.

Stew and Midge live in Maine. They work together and then vacation together as often as they possibly can at their home in Panicale. They run a website for Italian real estate, www.seeyouinitaly.com. And they do pro bono work for the non profit Spannocchia Foundation, www.spannocchia.org.

© Stew Vreeland, 2007

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