Interview with Cecilia Bottai

Cecilia Bottai: "For me, being with a tour group is like diving into different minds."

Cecilia Bottai has the best of all worlds. She divides her days between living in Rome, managing her family's award-winning Tenuta Le Velette winery (near Orvieto), and guiding tours in Italy for Rick Steves. Cecilia takes her tour guiding as seriously as her wine making. In both lines of work she has one chance to gain the trust of a new client — and she makes the most of that opportunity.

What do you like most and least about owning a winery?
What I like about working at my winery is continuing a family business that started almost 150 years ago. It makes the job more a family tradition than just a business. But working with family gets complicated, since there is no division between business and personal relations.

Your winery is one of the most beautiful in Italy — right out of a fantasy for most Americans. Why would you want to tear yourself away to be a tour guide for Rick Steves?
Becoming a guide for Rick was not so difficult since I have been hosting your groups coming to our winery for the past 17 years. So I had an idea of the kind of tour members who choose to travel with Rick Steves. I think that being a tour guide is something you must have a talent for — there is no way you can just learn it. Also, when you live in a small community, it is important to get a break from the people you always see. For me, being with a tour group is like diving into different minds. It is a very good opportunity to keep my mind more open and inclined to understand differences — especially with Americans who are the descendants of so many different cultures. I also like to tell people all about my country. Or I should say "countries" because Italy is so diverse and it's nice to explain to them all differences we have.

You have lived in both Rome and Florence. Do you have a preference?
Florence is still a very Renaissance city — everything still goes around the Renaissance and that lifestyle. It is very elegant, but also conservative. In comparison, Rome is like a jungle city! Because of its mix of cultures, arts and businesses it is a much more "going on" city. For my personality, Rome is the city that I enjoy the best. In Rome there is much more life outside, and people are more inclined to have casual friendships. In Florence this attitude is very difficult to find, and to meet new friends is more complicated.

Where do you enjoy guiding most in Rome?
Walking around the city of Rome is always a pleasure. To see the squares with people enjoying life, having a caffè, admiring the beauties of Rome is always nice. The Galleria Borghese is the museum I like the best because it has Renaissance and Baroque. We say that Renaissance is the art of the brain, while Baroque is the art of the heart. I am a mix of the two, so in there I can satisfy both sides of my feelings.