Italy Travel Advise
My wife and I are discussing a trip to Italy for our 20th anniversary in 2009. We both love cooking and we've heard of culinary vacations to Tuscany, for example. Our dream trip would be to go to a week-long school where we can learn how to shop in local markets, cook the food, drink the wine; you know...how to live. Has anyone done something like this, or can anyone point us in the right direction? We're open to any and all suggestions.
I had a good experience in Summer, 1999, with Aolmaia Country School in San Miniato (Tuscany) which I found almost by accident. I chose them over the fancy Hazan in Venice and some of the others because my daughter was studying nearby in Orvieto.
The primary advantage was that we cooked in an old villa and in people's homes so we saw how real people cooked rather than a demonstration with 3 prep helpers and a clean-up staff, using ingredients that might not be obtainable back in the US.
It was very hands-on, I learned an incredible amount in one week and still use my hand-written notes and the recipes I learned.
I checked www.aolmaia.com and they're still there but the courses are more structured and the staff is different. The home page has references - and I think some had email addresses - so you should be able to check more recent experiences.
The same school also has Italian language, art, etc. classes so much of this was integrated into the cooking lessons. Not just food but why Italians eat what they eat and live as they live.
We visited vineyards and ate at wonderful non-tourist restaurants. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am thinking of doing it again. I considered it great value for the money.
My husband and I took a trip last October (2005) via Mama Margaret and had the time of our lives. Great itinerary through Tuscany that "stepped up" in complexity as the trip unfolded. Self-guided, a great blend of free time, exploration, and learning.
Badia a Coltibuono is fabulous. It is owned by a family that are descendents of the Medici's. The son runs the winery and when you look at him you will think you have stepped back in Biblical times of Christ; the resemblance is amazing.
Very kind people, and a very wonderful cooking school and accommodations, too. I took a class there and we enjoyed the fruits of the course for a wonderful lunch. The gardens are magnificent, as are the wines and the olive oil (accessible in the US). The winery sits on a the top of a hill overlooking the valley. Absolutely stunning views.
I also recommend, as I did to another poster, to look up Dario Castagno (www.blackroostertours.com), author of "Too Much Tuscan Sun". He is a guide for custome tours and is serious about his food and wine. He also presses his own olive oil. He always appreciates visitors who take the time to understand and appreciate the culture and history, as well as the cuisine. The book is a light, entertaining read.