Looking to go off the beaten path in Italy
Me and my friend are coming to Italy March 9th-March 16th and we don't want to do the typical touristy things. Does anyone have any suggestions for some great local/charming places of the following?
-- Half Day/Full Day Cooking Classes
Any recommendations would be really appreciated!!
For your reference, Italy for the Gourmet Traveler (4th edition) is out of print though you may find it in a library. The 5th edition comes out in May 2010. I agree with the postings and recommendations the hounds give below, especially the Marche (don't miss Macerata and Urbino), and, in the south, Matera. If you go to Matera, also be sure to go to wonderful Martina Franca and Lecce. And the capital cities in Emilia-Romagna are great, Bologna being the best for its incomparable food markets
While what PBSF is true, I think you are off to a pretty good start. Since you are traveling in March, I think you are best advised to keep out of the Piemonte region (which would otherwise do you pretty well, given your wish list) and head instead to the region of the Emilia-Romagna, where you wouldn't need a car in order to do a food-oriented vacation.
You could base yourself in Parma, Modena or Bologna, all food capitals extraordinaire, all on the train line. The city of Bologna would in some ways be the least "charming" in the "under the Tuscan sun" sense of tourism, but believe me it is completely untourist-y and actually quite lovely with its antique red buildings. And it absolutely a fascination when it comes to food. Best of all about Bologna is that it offers you almost unlimited opportunity to move in all directions in search of good food and fascinating cuisines -- Mantova is nearby, Parma and Modena have their famous cheese, ham and vinegar and a lot more. The Barilla Academy in Parma might do you for cooking classes, and might make a very charming base for 5 days, but you can find classes in Bologna as well, I would be almost certain.
Vinyards are hard to get to without a car. Are you thinking of renting one?
Without a car, basing in Bologna, you could take a very long day trip to Siena for wine tasting in its wine shops and wine institute, and or maybe even up to some of the wine producers above Firenze (Florence) around Fiesole. Only a handful of wineries admit the public, so if you are serious about learning about wine, it is often better to go to a good wine bar or wine store (of which Bologna no doubt has many).
Since this is a food board, I don't want to get too much into the logistics of your trip, like whether you already have plane tickets and such. Frommer's message board is often good for people who want to get off the tourist track and pursue more deeply specific interests without spending a fortune.
Also, you should get your hands on Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, which includes really valuable information about markets, food stores and wine stores for hundreds and hundreds of Italian towns and cities.
Emilia-Romagna is an excellent region to visit for its culinary riches.
I would also suggest investigating Le Marche region, on the Adriatic Sea east of Tuscany. It rarely seems to get much publicity or press in any of the travel magazines or on the TV travel shows in the U.S.
There was a excellent post on Le Marche written here a year or two ago. You may be able to find it if you do a "search this board" search.
Thanks everyone for the great suggestions....here is some more information on what we're doing. We ARE going to be renting a car (so we have the flexibility to go wherever we want) and we are staying in a villa in the town of Civitella d'Agliano , South of Orvieto. We have already signed up for a half day cooking class near Florence and we are thinking of doing a full day private tour of Siena and San Gimignano (any ideas on if that's a good deal?). Unfortunately, Bologna is a bit too far for us to travel since it's about 5 hours away from our villa.
Does anyone have any great eat suggestions on/near the coast? We don't have any plans as of yet to go to the West coast of Italy, but would love to find a place to eat by there...or cities that would be good to visit.
Thanks so much!! All your advice is great.
You have fantastic food and wine opportunities very close at hand in that area south of Orivieto. You have the wine of Orvieto, but also Est! Est! Est! (perhaps my favorite Italian white) in nearby gorgeous Montefiascone, right near Lago Bolsena, with not only the historic wine but some of the most beautiful views in that part of Italy (go on a clear, clear day.)
Rather than the full day private tour that would take you all the way to San Gimingnano -- very far and of little gastronomic interest I think -- Here are some other options beyond Montefiascone:
Use your car to take a drive from your villa through Tuscnay's Brunello wine country, going at least as far as Montaclino. You can also sample the great pecorino cheese of that area. You take the autostrada to Chiusi, get off there, head toward Pienza and Montepuliciano, then on up to Montalcino. (That is the most "tourist-y" recommendation I'm giving you, just so you know.) If you really wanted to be unconventional, head on a bit further north into charming Buonconvento and go into the museum there that documents how food and wine has been grown and consumed in Tuscany, from early times through the land reforms of the 20th c.)
That would make for a looooong day,so if you'd like something shorter, you can have a great time in the coastal hilltown of Tarquinia (I quite liked the Michelin recommended Arcadia there, right next to the Etruscan museum, but it's not traditional. It does have however have superbly fresh sea food that match wonderfully with local wines.) . Tarquinia has a good outdoor market -- more than one actually, in different corners of the town, whose tall towers will also give you a taste of what it was too far to go to San Gimignano to see. Also in Tarquinia is a more traditional restaurant of Cavatappi, recommended to me by a native, but it was closed for a few renovations when I was there. It is always closed Tuesdays but I don't know if it is open for lunch.
If it were me, I would scarcely leave Lazio and southern Umbria. It's a fascinating area. I think near Firenze is way far to go for a cooking class -- but if you're already paid up, no point in undoing it. But if you're still open for one or want a second instead of San Gimignano, these websites might help you locate some:
And scroll to the bottom of this website for which days you can find food markets in the province of Viterbo.
When you are at your villa, I'm sure the locals can give you the very best info about markets and good eating. Lazio has got the best cuisine, I think, of that area, and probably the best overall food, and I would head out to explore more of Lazio than I would Toscana and Umbria.
Edited to add this (just found it doing some web browsing):
You are going to be in a wonderful region for food and wine. Umbria is much more interesting foodwise than Tuscany. San Gimignano and Siena are beautiful towns, but the food is not exceptional. If you can get to Lucca (it's more than a day trip) it is a beautiful small city, very well preserved medieval core, with some great food). But closer at hand you have Gubbio, Assisi, Spoleto, Todi, Montefalco, and numerous smaller hill towns to explore. I think our favorite meal in Umbria was at Taverna del Lupo in Gubbio, Umbria (that's the name of the restaurant) in Todi was also very nice, and there are many others. A search on this board for Umbria should get you some more ideas.
I do think not only Lucca but Gubbio is too far for a day trip from Civitella d"Agliano. But what might work very well is a day trip to Montefalco -- ground zero for the Umbrian red wine Sagrantino, which I think is a greater wine than the Brunello of Tuscany. Lunch at Il Coccorone offers the opportunity to have risotto made with Sagrantino, a unique and fantastic dish, as are other dishes at Il Coccorone that incorporate the wine. (A dessert of biscotti and a "vin santo" of Sagrantino is exquisite.
Sagrantino is a fairly strong wine, better to buy to take back to the villa than drink large quantities at lunch. Before of after lunch, it is possible in the central piazza of tiny Montefalco to taste not only wine but olive oil at small shops (L'Alchemista being the most famous.) The exquisitely small museum in town -- 20 minutes tops -- has extraordinary freschi of St. Francis from nearby Assisi (by Gozzoli).
I agree about Lucca being a beautiful destination. Very walkable city with a wall that circles it which is perfect for strolling. We wanted to eat at Gigi, but didn't have reservations (it was a Saturday night) so instead found a very cute place run by a husband and wife on Via St. Giorgio, 26, which was Osteria San Giorgio. They had great Cinghiale steaks, and pasta dishes for the kids. Lucca is not really known as a foodie's town, but we were very pleased with Osteria Via S. Giorgio. Their telephone is 0583 953233
If you are planning to stay at a single base and that south of Orvieto, it might make the most sense for you to focus on exploring and touring near your base (within say an hour) rather than spending all your time getting to relatively remote destinations like San Gimignano (touristy and not worth the long trip especially given all the interesting hill towns in Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany that are closer to you). Orvieto, Viterbo are themselves interesting towns The Orvieto white wines are famous, Montepulciano is also reasonably near - it should be possible to find wineries to visit in those areas or other areas of so. tuscany. There are some wonderful food shops in Orvieto where you can buy local oil mushrooms , fine chocolates, wine etc, along with its other attractions (search for restaurant posts) Some more research is in order. good luck!
re: jen kalb
I agree with jen kalb that staying mainly within in hour's radius is best, and you can use a map-and-driving website like viaMichelin.com or Mappy.com to calculate drive times between your villa and another destination. Be aware that in Toscana in particular, roads are slooooow going. And the sun sets fairly early in March. Driving in the dark in Italy is not always enjoyable.
Also, by staying within an hour of your villa -- which is a very much untouristed but marvelous area of Italy, you won't find yourself back on the tourist track -- which almost inevitably means compromises in food and wine traditions (as much as people don't like hearing it, it's true).
Basilicata is one of my favorite destinations and still remains quite off the beaten track. Even the region's largest draw, Matera, is never overrun and you will find it quiet and laid back in March. The market in the main square above the old town is gorgeous and you can walk into any bakery, cheese shop, or pasta shop and see artisinal production going on. Here is a snippet from my trip there a couple of years ago: http://www.parlafood.com/pasta-in-mat.... There are also loads of great restaurants. I love Le Lucanerie (http://www.parlafood.com/ristorante-l...). Basilicata is the home of Aglianico del Vulture, the Barolo of the south, though you will need a car to visit vineyards.
I loved Sperlonga/ Gaeta. Sleepy seaside towns, close enough to Naples, Sorrento and the