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Right in the heart of Tuscany's wine country, we will have Tuscan cooking classes such as Pici, Lasagna, Biscotti, Tiramisu. Visits to many of Tuscany's most beautiful sites including Siena, Volterra, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza, Greve in Chianti, Castellinuzza. We'll be visiting castles and wineries including Brunello, Vino Nobile and Chianti Classico, plus a Cashmere producer and an Alabaster workshop. Our day in Siena will be truly exclusive as we become a part of the Onda Contrada and learn about real life in this Tuscan city. We'll visit local Tuscan wine makers and artisans, an olive oil mill, a Deruta ceramics factory.
Airport transfer included: Peretola Airport
Our home for the week is the beautiful "Palazzo Leopoldo". This ancient Palazzo dates back to the 1400's. A private villa for centuries, the Palazzo was recently restored and converted into a beautiful boutique hotel with just 18 rooms. It features large rooms, beautiful views, and a true small-town Tuscany experience.
While small, the palazzo offers most traditional services. Free WIFI throughout, air conditioning, heating, in room safes, hair dryers, laundry service, etc.
The hotel Palazzo Leopoldo receives your guests in elegant bedrooms, Junior Suites and Suites with ancient furniture that witness the splendid past of the manor house, bedrooms with all the comforts, from the satelllite TV to the air conditioning. Palazzo Leopoldo's rooms and suites offer sophisticated elegance in historical ambient, together with original frescoes, cotto floors and fireplaces wide bathrooms with hydro massage shower and a enchanting view on the hills of Chianti.
Holidays in Palazzo Leopoldo are made more beautiful by the fitness and wellness area. There is the possibility to have sauna, solarium, wellness treatments, massages and to use the fitness area with gym equipment and the indoor heated pool. Palazzo Leopoldo is glad to make for its guests personalized wellness packages.
The guests of Palazzo Leopoldo can, without any extra charge, use the outdoor swimming pool of Ultimo Mulino, 4 stars hotel of Ross Hotels Group that is far from Radda in Chianti only 5 minutes by car. By the swimming pool it is possible to rent towels or to have a delicious snack or lunch by the restaurant of the hotel!
If you have been reading through Culture Discovery Vacations website, it should be clear that there is a personal story behind everything we do, and this is no exception. It all started when Spartaco and Rocky were scouting the area. They really wanted to put something together here, mostly because this is Spartaco's favorite area of the country.
They happened to meet Massimo, the owner of this and three other hotels in the area, and somehow there was an instant connection. So much so, that when they told Michael about what they had put together, most of their excitement was about Massimo! They said that he was just like us, and asserted that the moment Michael met him, he would be "all in" as well.
This was roughly two years before we launched this new location, and in that time, Michael Did meet Massimo, and Was "all-in" after meeting him. In fact, in that time, a friendship was born that went beyond business. Massimo has been our guest in Soriano and we frequently visit, if for nothing else, just to hang out.
The point is that it is rare to find people that truly share our philosophy. When we do, we need to work with them for the sake of working with them. That is, people that believe that it is about friendships, and passion, and not about money, need to stick together!
Our Tuscany wine tours and cooking vacations offer a wonderful mixture of some of Central and Southern Tuscany's highlights with some off-the-beaten-path treasures unique to the area. It is a week that embraces Italian cooking, culinary and artistic tradition with some of the most wonderful locations in Tuscany, and a very unique "insider's" experience in Siena.
It is a week of discovery as you integrate into Italian village life, living among the villagers, and getting to know them. Most of all, it is a week of fun, family and laughter as we share what makes Italy so special in a very personal way.
We'll have four half-day cooking classes this week. Three will be full four course meals, and one will be a desserts class, followed by a Tuscan "Grigliata" (Italian BBQ). Our classes are completely hands-on, they are are not demonstrations. We structure them so that you can be as involved as you wish in every stage of every course we prepare. With every class, we roll up our sleeves and get wrist deep in making everything fresh, from scratch.
We'll be making local Tuscan specialties, such as Pici pasta from scratch, Gnudi, Tuscan Lasagna, Fried Sage, Eggplant Millefoglie, Cantucci with Vin Santo, & much more! For those that would rather eat than cook, three of our classes will be in our hotel kitchen. If you would like to pass on the cooking, take a stroll around town, lounge away at the hotel, or enjoy the spa services offered. The fourth class this week will be during our Grigliata afternoon, which is at a beautiful location with lounges, a pool, etc.
Places: Florence-Peretola Airport (FLR), Radda in Chianti
Meals: dinner at La Loggia del Chianti
For your week in Chianti, Culture Discovery Vacations offers a free shuttle pick up from the Florence airport today at 14:30. If you are already in Italy, you can make your way by train to the Florence Rifredi train station, and get a taxi that will bring you to the airport in a few minutes. For those arriving at times that do not coincide with the shuttle schedule, your host can arrange for a private driver to bring you to Radda in Chianti for an extra charge.
Once in Radda your host will help you get checked into your room for the week and give you some time to get settled in, unpack and rest up. As you get settled in, you will find some snacks and drinks waiting for you when you get to your room.
At around 18:00, you will meet your host on the terrace of the Palazzo for a little Proseco and local salames and cheeses as you get to know one another and discuss the week ahead.
Your welcome dinner tonight will be at "Loggia del Chianti." A short walk from the hotel, this restaurant not only has delicious local fare, but also spectacular views of the beautiful rolling hills of the Chianti wine country. For dinner tonight, you’ll start out with some local salamis and bruschetta for appetizers, followed by a first course of Panzerotti and Pici Pasta. Your second course will be Tagliata (sliced Tuscan steak with balsamic vinegar). For dessert, you’ll have a very traditional local favorite, Cantucci which is the Tuscan-style of almond biscotti. Of course you’ll need to dip them in the sweet and sultry Vin Santo wine.
As always, wine is provided with all dinners, and you favor small local wineries wherever you dine. Tonight's wine will be Tuscan Chianti from nearby vineyards..
Places: Radda in Chianti
Classes: cooking class for dinner
Appetizer: Pomodori Toscana al Forno
First course: Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi
Second course: Pork Fillet in Chianti Wine Sauce
Dessert: Limoncello-Rasberry Tiramisu
Meals: breakfast at Palazzo Leopoldo, lunch at Palazzo San Niccolo, dinner from cooking class
Your first full day in Tuscany; you’ll enjoy the morning relaxing at your beautiful hotel and the town of Radda. You’ll have some time on your own to take in the charming surroundings of this Tuscan town with spectacular vistas of the Tuscan hills. Spa services and massages are also available - a great way to start out the vacation week before you hit the ground running!
You begin your oenological journey at Palazzo San Niccolo in Radda with a certified sommelier to kick-off our week featuring Tuscan wines. You'’ll relax in the outdoor courtyard and gardens of the palazzo as you learn and discover what all those crazy wine terms like sulphites, tannins, acidity, balance and body actually mean. You will be treated to a tasting and pairing while learning about the intricacies of these world-renown wines such as Chianti Classico, Brunello and Vino Nobile. After learning about so many complex flavors and senses that encompass wine, you’ll all be able to impress your friends with your wine-snobbery in no time! Afterwards, your group will dine on an exclusively prepared lunch at the palazzo.
After lunch, you will have a little time to rest at the palazzo before you start your first cooking class of the week. This afternoon's class will be a full four course meal that will result in tonight's dinner, and it is all based on local Tuscan specialties. Your instructor for your classes will be Chef Lorenzo of "Gastronomia Biagioni", who has been instructing cooking classes in Central Tuscany for ages.
For your appetizer, you will be making baked tomatoes with local herbs and spices. Your first course will be a Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi - a dish similar to Gnocchi, but made with ricotta! For your second course, you will be preparing a pork fillet in a Chianti wine sauce. Finally, for dessert, we will make Limoncello-Rasberry Tiramisu.
As always, class is 100% hands-on, so today you will get right into it! Once class is over, you will sit down and enjoy the meal you prepared together for dinner before calling it a night.
Places: Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza, Radda in Chianti
Meals: breakfast at Palazzo Leopoldo, lunch at Piombaia Winery, dinner at De Ricci Winery
After your morning breakfast you will head out for a day full of wine, cheese and more in beautiful Southern Tuscany. You will be treated not only to amazing views, but two very special wineries that are very closely tied to Culture Discovery Vacations. As you experience the connections today, you are sure to discover that you are part of something truly unique and special in Tuscany. That is, your relationship is not like other tour companies. Everyone is treated like close and dear friends.
You'll start off heading towards the town of Montalcino. To get there, you will be driving the famous Orcia Valley Wine Trail. This picturesque wine region evokes the classic image of Tuscan rolling hills and cypress trees. This is the area of Tuscany that most of you think of and have seen in many well-known movies such as Under the Tuscan Sun, Life is Beautiful, and many more.
Montalcino is home of what is arguably the best of all Italian wines, Brunello. Instead of going to the big wineries for impersonal tastings like the tourists, you will visit the small, private Piombaia winery in Montalcino. This is the only winery your host has ever encountered that makes a truly artisan wine. That is, all of their grapes are hand-picked and selected, and all of pressing is done with a manual wine press, the way it has been done for millennia.
Roberto and his family only produce about six-thousand bottles of Brunello per year here, making it something truly exclusive. However, their pricing doesn't reflect the exclusivity of this wine, except that you can only get it here.
In their cozy dining room, you’ll be treated to a flight of their different vintages as well as their wonderful Brunello wine. After the tasting, you will be hosted to a Tuscan-style lunch with the owners of the estate. As you have lunch together, they will share their family history with you and answer any question you can imagine. You are sure to fall in love with this gracious family. It is always one of the major highlights on the weeks, and provides for a truly exclusive and unique Brunello experience. Time and weather permitting, after lunch, you’ll have a private tour of their vineyards before you move on.
Next, you'll drive to the beautiful Tuscan town of Pienza, famously known for its incredible Pecorino cheese. You will have some time to walk around this charming village, do some Pecorino cheese tastings and some shopping before you leave for the town of Montepulciano, where you will do our final wine tasting, tour (and dinner) of the day.
Montepulciano is known for its Vino Nobile wine, a primary competitor for the Brunellos. Here you will have a personal tour by the owner, Enrico, of his ancient 14th century cellar that was built underneath the Palace of Cardinal Ricci. This truly unique cellar is widely considered to be the most beautiful wine cellar in the world. Those that have seen the 2009 film 'New Moon' (The sequel to 'Twilight') will recognize this wine cellar and other areas of town from the movie.
During your visit with Enrico you will get a better feeling for how connected Culture Discovery Vacations is to this place, as well as the Brunello winery we visited today. You are sure to hear stories about the wines we are producing together, and how an unlikely friendship of otherwise competitors was born through Culture Discovery.
After the cellar tour, you will participate in a complete tasting of these fantastic wines with dinner in the fabulous tasting and dining room with the owners of the winery. Again, you will have an extremely unique insider experience today, and will learn much more about wine and the business of Italian wines that you ever otherwise could. Dinner will be a specially prepared meal by Enrico’s family at the winery!
Places: Cortona; Radda in Chianti
Classes: cooking class for lunch
Appetizer: Eggplant Millefoglie
First course: Homemade Pici Pasta with Fresh Pesto Sauce
Second course: Wood Fire-Roasted Tuscan Chicken and Potatoes
Dessert: Tuscan Crostata with Fresh Marmalade
Meals: breakfast at Palazzo Leopoldo, lunch from cooking class, dinner on the terrace at Palazzo Leopoldo
After breakfast at the hotel, you’ll make your way to the Tuscan village of Cortona for cooking class. Cortona is best known as the setting for the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun”. You will most certainly recognize the town from the movie, however you will be surrounded by scenery from this movie all week, as you travel through the Tuscan countryside.
Your class is at a private villa on the outskirts of town. Franca and her son, Francesco, will teach you their family-style Tuscan homecooking from recipes that have been passed down through generations. These are the times you savor with Culture Discovery Vacations as you get the opportunity to mingle with the locals and share their love and passion of their Italian heritage.
What you’ll be cooking today has as much to do with tradition as it does with good taste! For your appetizer, you will be making Eggplant Millefoglie, which is a local take on Eggplant Parmesan. For your 1st course, you will be making Pici pasta from scratch with fresh pesto sauce with hand-picked basil. Your main course will be Tuscan roasted chicken. This delicious and traditional recipe will be baked in the villa’s centuries-old wood-fire brick oven. Back in the day, the locals would come to the villa for a special feast to celebrate the grain harvest which was vital for the farmers of Cortona.
The Tuscan Crostata you’ll make for dessert is another delicious local favorite. These local miniature pies or tarts will be filled with homemade seasonal marmalade and baked in the wood-fire oven! Yum!
After lunch, you’ll have a chance to walk-it-off as you’ll stroll the town of Cortona. We can do some shopping, or take a short walk to visit “Bramasole”, Francis Mayes’ villa described in the famous book or “Villa Laura”, the villa that doubled for “Bramasole” in the movie.
After a filling day, you’ll make your way back to Radda in time for some rest before you meet up for dinner on the terrace of the Palazzo Leopoldo for an Italian version of a “tapas-style” dinner prepared exclusively for our group!
This morning you stay very close to home, and really slow down the pace. You will visit the Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm. Nora Kravis is an American woman that has lived here for more than 30 years, and has developed this wonderful farm where she produces some of the best cashmere in the world. You'll get to know her goats and learn all about her wonderful cashmere while here.
After the farm, you will stop in at the Vignavecchia winery, which is just 2 minutes away. Instead of visiting a large commercial operation, this visit gives you an example of a more mid-sized winery in the area. You'll have a full wine tasting here with lunch today.
In the afternoon, you will make your way to the magnificent city of Siena. Much like many of other stops this week, it is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s no wonder, as here, you find an amazing representation of medieval Tuscan architecture and art. With the roots of the city dating back to the Etruscan period, Siena has become a city of distinction and pride. All the residents have personal ties to the 17 Contrade or neighborhoods that make up the teams for the famous Palio horse race that takes place twice a year in the famous main piazza.
You’ll take a guided walk through the city together, visit the amazing Piazza del Campo and beautiful Duomo: The Cathedral of Siena. You will also have some time on your own to stroll through Siena’s historic and beautiful streets and visit local artisan shops and shopping areas.
Dinner tonight is at a wonderful pizzeria just off of Piazza del Campo.
Places: Florence; Radda in Chianti
Meals: breakfast at Palazzo Leopoldo, lunch on Florence food tour, Happy Hour in Florence (Italian appetizers and wine), dinner during Griglata Party at Ultimo Mulino- Gaiole in Chianti - The Original Village of Chianti wine!
No trip to Italy is complete without spending some time in the historic capital of Tuscany! The epicenter of renaissance art and architecture, it’s no wonder that Florence is one of the premier destinations in Italy and the world. From the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio and Pitti Palace, Florence boasts some of the most impressive sites anywhere, leaving visitors and guests bewildered with it’s splendor and beauty.
Your day in Florence will start with an insider’s food and wine tour with one of Florence’s premier guides. You’ll be visiting markets, shops and culinary artisans of some of the best known eateries among the Florentines. You’ll learn about and sample breads, cheeses, salami and prosciutto. You’ll also be treated to a very special pairing with Tuscan wines, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The perfect finish to your casual walking tour is at a wonderful artisan gelateria and chocolate shop that will leave your tummy and taste buds completely satisfied.
After your gastronomic gallivanting, you’ll be treated to a guided tour of the Galleria dell’ Academia. This world famous museum houses one of the most spectacular marble masterpieces in all the art world - Michelangelo’s David. The museum also houses incredible works by other Italian artists such as Botticelli and Giambologna. Another impressive exhibit is that of the Hall of Musical Instruments that has a Stradivari violin along with a 17th Century Pianoforte designed and built by Cristofori exclusively for the Medici’s. But, the real treat is undoubtedly The David.
After this cultural feast, you can enjoy a couple of hours seeing Florence at your leisure. Your host will be happy to give you some suggestions of some wonderful things to see or do during this time. Such as a visit to the Duomo and Giotto’s Bell Tower. The Ponte Vecchio or Pitti Palace. There is spectacular shopping too! Whether you are looking for artisan leather goods, street markets, high fashion, or touristy trinkets, Florence offers all of that and more! Or, simply relax at a local café and enjoy the beauty around you.
You’ll meet up for some aperitivi (wine and small bites) and hangout with the locals at a fantastic enoteca with spectacular views of the Ponte Vecchio! Before your bus takes us back to Radda, you’ll stop for an incredible Florence photo-op at Piazza Michelangelo.
In the evening, you will be having a "Grigliata" - a BBQ Italian Style! This will be a group effort, as all who wish to can pitch in, family style. Some of the guests will help man the grill as you BBQ Tuscan sausage, pancetta and more. You'll have a family-style dinner tonight in the lush gardens or rustic dining room with music under the stars.
Places: Castellinuzza; Radda in Chianti
Classes: cooking class for dinner
Appetizer: Pear and Pecorino Tart or Chef's selection
First course: Tuscan Lasagna
Second course: Stuffed Turkey Breast with Local Herbs
Dessert: Cantucci (Tuscan Almond Biscotti) with Vin Santo Wine
Meals: breakfast at Palazzo Leopoldo, lunch at Castellinuzza e Piuca, dinner from cooking class
After last night’s BBQ, you’ll take the morning easy and have some extra time to spend in Radda, enjoy the spa or some of the other amenities at your hotel.
After some well needed rest and time to pack, you’ll head up to the tiny little hamlet of "Castellinuzza". Your hosts, Simone and his family, raise Chianina cows. These are the large white cows used for the “Bistecca Fiorentina” - arguably considered the best beef steaks in Italy! They also have a wonderful boutique Chianti winery here, giving you your fourth winery of the week.
You will get together with the family today and it’s easy to understand how they have become fast friends! This will be a very private and immersive experience that is far away from any tourists or big guided tours! They will also be firing up their pizza oven for us!
For lunch today, you will have a freshly baked Tuscan specialty pizza bread called "Schiacciata". Of course, you'll also be having some Chianina beef, as well as a lot of additional seasonal local fare they’ll be preparing for you!
After lunch, you will head back to the hotel for a little rest before your final cooking class of the week, which will result in our farewell dinner. For your appetizer, you will be making a pear and pecorino cheese tart. For your first course, you will be making Tuscan Lasagna from scratch. Your main course will be Stuffed Turkey Breast with Local Herbs, and for dessert you will be making traditional Tuscan Cantucci, which are almond biscotti that we will dip in sweet Vin Santo wine - a fitting ending to another special day.
Sadly, your week comes to a close this morning. The shuttle leaves Radda by 07:00. You will arrive at the Florence Airport by around 08:15. This will be sufficient time for outbound flights leaving after 09:45 AM.
This is a base itinerary, which is subject to minor changes before the vacation begins. Changes may be reorganization of days due to closure and festivals, changes due to weather, or seasonal changes. Additionally, these itineraries are prepared well in advance, and at times there are unexpected closures for various reasons that require us to alter the plans. In the end, Culture Discovery Vacations' goal is always to make it better for guests, and when substitutions happen, they are always wonderful.
We have some wonderful excursions this week in Central and Southern Tuscany. Among these are several wineries that produce Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile, and other Tuscan wines. One such winery is a small family-run producer of one of the last remaining truly artisan wines, made entirely by hand. Another is housed in a 14th century palazzo that is recognized as the most beautiful wine cellar in the world.
We will visit the beautiful city of Siena, and get an insider's view into one of Siena's "Contrade", that competes for the coveted Palio di Siena. We'll visit the Onda Contrada museum, and learn the history of the famed Palio event, and much more. We will visit the city of Volterra, a beautiful medieval town, and also an extremely rich history of alabaster artisans. We'll visit one of the town's alabaster workshops and try our hand at it ourselves!
We will visit an artisan cheese producer in Pienza, a Cashmere Goat farm in Chianti that produces some of the highest quality cashmere you will find. Will visit a Tuscan Olive Oil mill in an ancient castle. We'll visit with a small family run Chianina Ranch (Chianina Beef is the type use for Florine Steaks), and enjoy an afternoon cooking out with the family. We'll even spend one evening at a traditional Italian "Grigliata" - an Italian BBQ, during which we will swim, cook, grill, sing & dance!
For those that are not big wine enthusiasts, not to worry! While we are visiting six wineries this week, each one of them is selected because it has much more to offer than just the wine. One is is a medieval castle that we will be touring, another is in the heart of Montepulciano. Another will be combined with our cashmere visit, another is also the olive oil mill we are visiting in yet another beautiful castle, and the remaining two are lunch destinations.
The Palazzo Leopoldo is right in the heart of Radda in Chianti, on the main pedestrian road, just a few steps away from the Piazza. The location just couldn't be better, as you step out the front door and find yourself on the main "corso" of this darling little Tuscan village with shops, cafes, etc. Radda is a Tuscan hill town. There are moderate inclines while walking in town. The town is very small, but being on a hill, there will be some up and down, as well as stairs as you explore the town.
The menus listed on the itineraries are subject to change depending on season. Culture Discovery Vacations use only fresh ingredients wherever possible, so if they are unable to prepare a certain dish, it will be substituted. Occasionally they make changes to some items as certain dishes prove to be very popular.
Some places on the itineraries don't work well with cold weather or rain. You may have to have some of your meals indoors that were scheduled to be outside. When you do expect rain, Culture Discovery Vacations try to rearrange the schedule to make the best of it, but substitutions may be made.