This culinary and walking tour is divided into 3 segments - take 1, 2, or all 3 segments for a tour of Italy that you’ll never forget.
Segment 1: Cinque Terre, Sept 14 - 19
Group meeting at our hotel in Santa Margherita with a short walk in the late afternoon and a welcome aperitvo on the waterfront. Dinner in a casual local restaurant. (Nearest airport is Genoa)
We admire the distinctive painted houses in Santa Margherita and stroll through the bustling market, brimming with colorful produce. Today’s 13 km (8 mile) walking route offers lovely views over the sea as it winds through the hills to the chic resort town of Portofino. Dinner tonight is at our friend Fausto’s welcoming restaurant, festooned with his collection of cartoon art. Our dinner features Ligurian country cuisine perfumed with herbs from the kitchen garden.
We hop an early train for Monterosso, the first of the “five little towns” of the Cinque Terre. This classic walk follows stone stairways along terraced hillsides to the picturesque town of Vernazza, and then on to Corniglia, perched high on a clifftop overlooking the turquoise sea. You can decide just how far you want to walk today (6-12 km, or 3-7 miles), since a train connects the villages. Take time to linger over a lunch of fragrant pasta al pesto, a Ligurian specialty, and finish off with a scrumptious lemon tart and a glass of sciacchetrà, the local dessert wine. At the end of our walk, we take a train to Pietrasanta, where we settle in to our luxuriously appointed hotel, situated in the center of town in a beautifully frescoed palazzo. Dinner in a stylish little restaurant in the town center.
Transfer to a quiet mountain village where our exciting 10 km (6 mile) walk follows the via Francigena, a pilgrim’s route in medieval times, which once stretched from Rome to Paris! Our route traces centuries of history and is graced with small chapels and an exquisite Romanesque church, as well as glorious views of the marble-crowned Apuane peaks. We stop for a delicious lunch in the quiet hillside town of Capezzano Monte. After lunch, the landscape gives way to gnarled groves of olive trees, their leaves glittering silver in the afternoon light as we follow our path back to Pietrasanta. Free evening for dinner.
We head to the seaside town of Lerici with its 13th century castle overlooking the Bay of Poets, a place beloved by Byron and Shelley. Our 14 km (8.5 mile) walk follows cobblestone pathways through quiet villages tucked into the hills. At midday, a delightful farmhouse lunch awaits us, with fragrant focacce and homemade ravioli. Continue along paths perfumed with fennel and wild cumin all the way down to the tiny port of Tellaro, lined with pastel-colored houses and laundry drying in the sun. Dinner tonight in a fine local restaurant.
This morning we visit a few of the fascinating artists’ studios and foundries where world-class sculptors have their works produced in marble and bronze. Afterwards, we head to the intriguing Museo del Marmo, an outdoor museum set at the foot of a huge quarry above the town of Carrara. We learn how marble has been extracted here since Roman times and even more astonishingly, how it is transported down the steep mountainsides all the way to the sea. Stop at a tiny village literally sandwiched between glistening white marble quarries. We lunch in a tiny restaurant that’s a favourite of Italians in-the-know, who travel miles for the mouth-watering antipasti. Afternoon transfer to the Carrara train station. End your journey here or continue to Reggio Emilia, birthplace of the Italian flag, and our home for the next 3 nights.
Segment 2: Bellissima Bologna, Sept 19 - 22
Arrival, welcome aperitivo, dinner and overnight in Bologna.
Morning train to our culinary walking tour through Bologna’s bustling food market, for snacks and inspiration before our hands-on cooking lesson. Our teacher will focus on the cuisine that has made Bologna one of Italy’s great gastronomic centers, giving the city the nickname of Bologna La Grassa (The Fat). We’ll lunch together on the food we prepare. Late afternoon stroll through the historic center of Bologna, and return train to Reggio Emilia. Dinner on your own.
Early morning visit to a producer of Parmigiano Reggiano. We’ll watch parmesan cheese being made, visit the special storage facilities, and then taste the final product. Our gastronomic tour of the area includes a visit and tasting at an historic acetaia, where five generations have been making balsamic vinegar for over 150 years. Our day of tasting continues with sparkling Lambrusco, a young red wine that is the perfect match for the local salami and prosciutto di Parma. Taste culatello, the king of all prosciutto, made in the foggy climate near the Po river, and aged in cool damp cellars that produce its extraordinary taste. Free time to explore the delights of the medieval city before we gather for dinner in a rustic trattoria- sample the handmade tortellini, supposedly made in the shape of the belly button of Venus.
Segment 3: Pleasures of Puglia, Sept 22 - 27
Take a 12.30 pm flight from Bologna to Bari, or meet at arrivals at Bari airport at 2.00 pm. We will spend the day touring a few of the beautiful “white towns” of Puglia, such as Ostuni, the whistle-making capital of Italy, and lovely whitewashed Locorotondo. Enjoy the essence of a simple lunch of burrata, a gloriously creamy cheese, with hunks of crusty bread. Settle into our country inn for 3 nights, before joining the passeggiata in the lovely Baroque town of Martina Franca, and on to dinner.
Today will be dedicated to bread and pasta making, using the locally milled hard wheat flour. Learn to make orecchiette, the typical “little ear” pasta that features in classic Pugliese cooking. In the late afternoon, we’ll take an excursion to Alberobello a town full of the curious cone shaped dwellings known as trulli, and try not to get sucked into a souvenir shop by the aggressive conehead inhabitants. Wander the side streets that look as though they were built for hobbits, and indulge in a dinner of a stunning array of antipasti.
An early start to drive to Matera a town that has a vast area of cave dwellings known as i sassi - the stones - that were inhabited up until the 1950’s. Take a walking tour with a local guide to explore i sassi, visiting the old dwellings and frescoed Byzantine churches. Return to our country inn for a tasting of Puglia’s robust wines before dinner.
Head to the coast this morning for a guided tour of the old Roman port at Egnazia. Stroll along the evocative Via Traiana, the ancient Roman road that connected Brindisi and Bari to the Appian Way, and so to Rome. Arrive in Lecce, a stunning Baroque city which is experiencing a revival of its beautiful historic center. After a brief walking tour, free time to explore the artist’s shops – paper mâché is a specialty – before joining the lively passeggiata.
Explore the market in Gallipoli, where the baskets of squirming fresh eels are hard to resist, and visit the underground oil mills, where olives where once milled for lamp oil, which was exported all over Europe. Stop in Otranto, and lunch by the impossibly turquoise sea, before visiting the church with its macabre collection of human skulls. Return to Lecce for a farewell feast.
Drop-off at the Lecce train station or the Brindisi airport. Arrivederci!