La Dolce Vita in the Tuscan Countryside
Posted on 09/26/2019
Everything about Villa il Leccio is a family affair. This stunning medieval building perched on a hill in the Tuscan countryside has been in the Landi family since the 18th century. Passing from father to son – mother to daughter – for nine generations, the villa is now run by the ambitious Giada Landi and her family, passionate hosts of what has become one of Trafalgar’s most popular Be My Guest experiences.
This gorgeous villa was first built in the 1200s as a humble tower house to keep watch over the fertile hillside. Over the centuries, it has expanded to meet the needs of its inhabitants – the breakfast room and kitchen built in the 16th century, the chapel added by Giada’s ancestors in the 19th century. As guests step through the arched stone doorway, they walk back in time and through the history of the Landi’s home. And as they cross the threshold of this Tuscan villa, they become a part of the family.
As Giada puts it, “It’s not just the beauty of a place, it’s really the hospitality that you offer. You have a lot of beautiful properties, but hospitality is something that comes from the heart. You really must love what you do, and we feel lucky because we have a lot of history in this place, and we want to share this history with people.”
Now a working vineyard, Villa il Leccio is also a family-run agritourism business: Giada’s brother runs the vineyards and her cousin is a waiter. Her grandfather once produced wine in the cellar, but it is now produced on the next hill over by her mother’s cousin.
And as for Giada, she is the head of the household, the head of the family business and cook and hostess extraordinaire. It is her delectable Tuscan home cooking that steals the show during every Be My Guest experience. When the home was first opened to guests, Giada’s mother offered these words of encouragement, “If you can cook for a big Italian family, you can cook for 50 people.” And, sure enough, each meal hosted in the Landi family home feels like Sunday dinner. “I want the guests to feel part of my family. Not being in a restaurant, just enjoying the traditional Italian way, like being together for Christmas.”
From Family Home to Family-Run Farm
Sitting on almost 90 acres of spectacular Tuscan countryside, nearly 40 acres of the property is devoted to the vineyards, with the land closest to the house occupied by a grove of more than 600 olive trees.
“So we are farmers,” says Giada, “and the biggest part of our production is wine and olive oil, but we also grow vegetables and fruit.”
The grapes are harvested in the early autumn and sent to Giovanni, Giada’s mother’s cousin, on the next hill to be transformed into the wine served to guests and sold to visitors. Most of the grapes grown on their land are Sangiovese, which are the grapes used in the internationally beloved Chianti wine, a rich, dry red that is unmistakably Tuscan. “This year, we are expecting everything to be a little later because we got a very cold spring with a lot of rain,” says Giada. “The Sangiovese needs a very cold winter and a very hot and dry summer. So now, everything is ready that you can’t see, but if we go into the vineyards you can see the little grapes growing. They’re green but you can still see them.”
Giada’s four-course dinner is the pinnacle of authentic Tuscan fare, the menu largely based around the produce grown in the villa’s garden, varying accordingly depending on the season. The two main courses are Giada’s real showstoppers. “I learned how to cook from my grandmother and from my mother, and so this is our tradition. And I want to make it completely homemade.” Giada makes her own fresh pasta from scratch, cooking it in a delicious sauce made with pork, beef and wild boar. She follows this with chicken cooked in her own chianti wine, which many Trafalgar guests have called the best they’ve ever eaten. Even the herbs Giada cooks with are grown just outside her kitchen door.
All the olive oil Giada uses in her cooking is also produced from her own olive trees; however, choosing when to pick the olives is an art form. Pick them too late and the quality of the oil won’t be as high, too early and there’s not enough to last until next season. “We pick the olives by hand. The season depends on the climate, but we can say from half October to half November,” she explains.
A Tuscan Be My Guest Experience with Giada and the Family
Walking purposefully down the pathway, with a smile on her face, Giada greets our guests at the gates, welcoming them through to her garden and – in keeping with true Tuscan hospitality – offers them an Aperitivo and a little free time to explore the beautiful grounds. After a chance to take in the remarkable views over the picturesque Tuscan countryside, Giada takes guests on a room-by-room tour of her family home, “I let them know the history of each room and the history of my family, which is completely connected to the history of the house.”
Guests rave about their experiences with Giada and her family. At the end of their afternoon with the Landis, the Rai family had this to say, “This evening was perfect. We never expected this: big house, nice ambience, good food, authentic food. I never ate such chicken in my life. Even the potatoes! We are so happy that we came here on this tour so that we could have this experience.”
But it’s not just the guests that have fallen in love with this unique experience in the Tuscan countryside. “Working with Trafalgar is a fantastic opportunity to share our beautiful home, its history and the Landi family traditions with people from around the world,” Giada says. Each visit provides valuable income that allows this family-run business to continue to preserve the cultural legacy of small-scale wine and olive oil production in this extraordinary region of Italy, as part of Trafalgar’s commitment to making a difference through JoinTrafalgar, encouraging tourism dispersal and supporting local people and communities, outside the tourist track.