Tuscany  Treasures Italy 2012
June 4th - 12th - 2012  

Wednesday June 6th

After breakfast we are off on another incredible journey of discovery…through fields rich in wildflowers, poppies and Cypress trees.
Abbey of Sant'Antimo - The origins of the abbey date to a small oratory built here, one the location of a former Roman villa, in 352 at the death of Anthimus. In 715 it was cared by the diocese of Chiusi. Saint Antimo was a martyr.
 
In 770 the Lombards commissioned the construction of a Benedictine monastery, which had also to act as a hotel for the pilgrims directed to Rome. In 781, in his trip back from Rome, Charlemagne, gave his imprint to the construction, though the version according to which he was the founder of the abbey is most likely a legend. In 814 a document by Louis the Pious made it an imperial abbey. Later the abbot received the title of Palatine Count. At his apex, the abbey possessed 96 castles, terrains and other lands, as well as 85 monasteries, churches and hospitals. Their most important possession was the castle of Montalcino , which was the abbot's residence. We arrived early which to our surprise was perfect timing as the priests and brothers called mass using Gregorian chant. There is mass only once per day, although they are called to prayer seven times each day. The mass only lasted about 20 minutes and those who came out afterwards said that it was incredibly special to be there for that. It also didn’t hurt to be among olive trees that were over 1000 years old…incredible.

Then off to San Quirico d’Orcia, another little walled village to see the  Renaissance Garden in Val d’Orcia: the Story of diomede Leoni and his Horti Leonini The Horti Leonini gardens are a splendid example of giardini all'italiana: they were designed in about 1540 by Diomede Leoni and periodically host temporary It took a writer from New York who has chosen to divide her time between the States and San Giovanni d’Asso, the Landscape Architect Patricia McCobb, to tell the story of Diomede Leoni, too long omitted from the historical studies of the Val d’Orcia. In her new book, A Renaissance Garden in Val d’Orcia: the Story of diomede Leoni and his Horti Leonini, she writes about Diomede Leoni and the mystery of the building of his splendid garden in San Quirico, one of the singular pearls of the Val d’Orcia. The building of the Horti Leonini in the late 1500s began with the story of this man from San Quirico. Leoni, while still young, left his birthplace for Rome, where he lived amongst the elite of the artistic world. An official letter written by the secretary of the Grand Duke Francesco I de’Medici in 1580, shows that the Medici had repayed Leoni for the construction of the Horti. The same letter brings to light certain details of the life of Diomede Leoni: he was an illegitimate son of a notary, inherited a piece of land in San Quirico from his father, and he built his ‘horti’ for the comfort and convenience of travelers and, in particular, the nobility that passed through the town on the Via Romea. Further research shows that Diomede Leoni was one of three friends at the bedside of Michelangelo when he died. In fact, Leoni was the only one to write a testimony about the last minutes of life of the artist. The book about Diomede Leoni and his Horti Leonini is available here. http://www.mccobbassociates.com/diomede-leoni-and-his-horti-leonini/en/
San Quirico – called one of ten villages untouched by time. Paper mills are here and so are autochthonous cinta senese pigs.
And our last visit before lunch was to the small and intimate rose garden…Giardino delle Rose

Pienza, a town and commune in the province of Siena, Pienza, the unfinished “utopian” city, was commissioned by Pope Pius II in 1459. In just three years the cathedral, the papal and bishop’s palaces and the central part of the town were completed, but the extensive project ended abruptly when Pius died only two years after the consécration of the cathedral. In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site, and in 2004 the entire valley, the Val d'Orcia, was included on the list of UNESCO's World Cultural Landscapes.

This is also the place to get the best Pecorino Cheese!

Lunch was in the Il Chiostro restaurant. It is located in the ex-convent of the 15th century monastery of Saint Francis. Upon arrival we were all greeted with Prosecco di Valdobbiadene which went down very nicely along with the appetizers. This was served to us on the outdoor dining terrazza del Chiostro area and was truly a special treat as the view was to die for. Many used this time to take more photographs and why not….everyone was so happy and cheerful and just glad to be here in Tuscany. After a most delicious lunch we were ready to continue on with our visit to Pienza with some free time then it was off to

Villa La Foce - The garden at La Foce was designed by Iris Origo and the famous English landscape gardener Cecil Pinsent between 1925 and 1939. It is considered today an ideal combination between the landscape and 20th-century architecture, blending Italian and English traditions and taste. The property of La Foce extends over the hills overlooking the Val d'Orcia, an enchanting and miraculously unspoilt valley in southern Tuscany, listed as UNESCO world heritage in 2004. In 1924 the Irish-American Iris Origo - the famous author - and her Italian husband, Marchese Antonio Origo, acquired the La Foce estate- a combination of olive groves, widespread cultivated fields and woodland. In those days, their management of La Foce brought prosperity and cultural and social changes to the poverty-ridden land it was then. Today their daughters, Benedetta and Donata, run the La Foce estate and their personality pervades in the hospitable atmosphere.

You cannot describe the sheer beauty of this place in words, you must see it for yourself as the estate borrows the landscape around it to complete its glorious design. No camera can capture the essence of being here or in Tuscany for that matter. Nor can it capture the depth of colour or of space, nor the fragrance in the air. You can look out and see that solitary winding road lined with cypress and gasp for it is breathtaking beauty.

Walking through the rose garden is sheer bliss with the fragrance of many roses, lavendar and yes even the peonies. There are two books you must read before you see the garden to get the whole history.

Iris Origo, autobiography ‘Images and Shadows, Part of a Life’ and her diary ‘War in Val d’Orcia, 1943-44’
http://www.lafoce.com/
 

 

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