Up Close With Casa dell’Arte – Tuscany Villa and Cooking School
On March 8th each year, Italians and many others around the world celebrate Festa della Donna, International Women’s Day. Here at TTG, we like to mark the occasion with a blog post about women we admire. The last couple of years, we focused more on women of Italy’s past, including courageous Renaissance artists—you can read about them here and here. This year, we thought it was high time we honor a woman living and working in modern-day Tuscany.
Margherita Leosco is a young woman of many talents (including an amazing singing voice!) I first met her when she babysat my kids many years ago during a stay in Florence. We now work closely together, sending happy guests to her family’s beautiful Tuscan villa, Casa dell’Arte, and to the on-site cooking studio run by her amazing mom and chef, Veronica. Margherita recently sat down to tell us a little bit about her life and the fascinating history of Casa dell’Arte, her family home…
What is your role at Casa dell’Arte, and how long have you been working there?
Well, I was born and raised at Casa dell’Arte and I lived in the villa until the age of 7. Unfortunately, I am an only child, so my family thought the house was too big for us and decided to move to a smaller one that is still located on the estate. After making this decision, we started renting the main property short term. Now I am the hospitality manager and the “marketing girl.” I am the guests’ landmark both behind the computer and in person, throughout their stay. I have been doing this for 7 years now, from when I graduated from high school. I attended university at the same time.
I have always been very curious and I love meeting new people every day. I always wanted to see who stepped into my family home, so when I was a little girl I remember greeting the guests and putting a few words together like a clumsy “Hello, I am Margherita, welcome here!”
Here I am as a girl, with some of our guests.
Tell me a little about the history of the villa.
The property is a 17th century estate (wow, now that I say it I can hardly believe it’s 400 years old!) My grandfather, who was an abstract painter with an incredibly sensitive soul, bought the estate in 1963 when my mother was only 2 years old.
My grandfather’s family were leather merchants with dozens of luxury shops on the streets of downtown Florence. But his true calling was as an artist, so he decided to move out to the countryside and live his life surrounded by the beauty of nature. He would invite other artists, poets and musicians of the time to the house for discussions and exchange of ideas and thoughts. They would spend their days chatting, painting and playing the piano, living la dolce vita to the fullest! They were not interested in the city hustle and bustle, and instead preferred the peace of this place as a background to fully express their art and creativity.
My grandfather was quite a visionary I think, because back at those times, few people left the city comforts and moved into a completely abandoned farmhouse. This kind of property in Italian is called colonica, and the name is derived from colono which means sharecropper. In fact, a family of sharecroppers lived on the estate from 1926 to 1960. They cultivated the land and shared the crops with the owners.
This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting 91-year-old Alessio, the sharecropper who lived here with his family for 34 years. He just knocked at our door on a sunny afternoon, very shyly introduced himself and kindly asked if he could see his family home once again, maybe for the last time. This encounter was so touching and so emotional. Like my grandfather, he was also a painter, and told us the walls had contained frescoes that he himself painted. Unfortunately, they did not withstand the test of time. He had tears in his eyes and boundless gratitude for letting him in and showing him the property. Such a sweet man, and what a blessing for me to have met him!
You and your mom have been working together to run your beautiful villa and cooking school. What’s it like working with your mom?
My mom and I have always worked together and I think we make a great team. I am more the rational part of this duo, and she brings the creative side. I learn from her so much every day. She is a true source of inspiration. She has such a strong good will and is really unstoppable and capable of accomplishing so much in little time. For example, about two weeks ago we decided to renovate JUST one of the rooms in the villa, but that wasn’t the end of it. Then she thought of changing the color of the walls, which led to refurnishing all the bedrooms, etc. In the end, it was an extreme makeover in less than three weeks!
Sometimes I look at my mom and I wonder where she gets all this energy. I think the answer is that she truly loves this place. It reminds her of her father, who she lost when she was only 21 years old. Keeping this place alive and loving it so much, it’s like keeping the memory of her father alive. She is a force of nature, an incredible woman. Sometimes I just need to remind her that she is human and needs her rest. It’s funny because I am very calm and never in a hurry, and what can be done today, can also be done tomorrow. To her, this viewpoint is absolutely impossible! Don’t put off to tomorrow that which can be done today. This is her motto!
Festa della Donna is all about celebrating the important women in your life. Do you and your mom do anything special to celebrate? Or do you have other fun traditions or things you like to do together?
My mom and I spend a lot of time together, although mostly for work. When we are not with the guests, we love cooking (especially experimenting with new recipes), soaking in the sun and chatting—we love to chat with each other and can’t stay silent! We also love going to the spa. I think I should actually plan a short spa trip after all the work she just completed at the house. Maybe it will be her birthday surprise!
What are you most proud of when you think about Casa dell’Arte?
I love my job. It is so rewarding because of the people who come here and show gratitude and appreciation for this place and for everything we do to make sure they have their dream vacation. I love to make people happy, and when they say “Margherita thank you for everything you did for us,” well my eyes spark! I love this place, my family home. When the guests tell me they really felt part of the family and that this was their home away from home, well that’s meraviglioso!
What am I most proud of Casa dell’Arte? The warmth and the energy that this place has is incredible! Everything seems to be hugging you here. You feel surrounded by nature as it is hugging you—the fields actually surround us as in a horse shoe, so it’s really a hug. The big thick stone walls of the house hug you, and the incredible Italian food that my mom makes is a lovely hug too.
Even from afar, I felt the hug. Thank you, Margherita, for this wonderful glimpse into your family and your beautiful home.