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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.
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.
Once in Radda we 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 6 PM, we will meet on the terrace of the Palazzo for a little Prosecco and local salames and cheeses as we get to know one another and discuss the week ahead.
Next, we will take a stroll around Radda, stopping in a few of the local shops to do some shopping for tomorrows cooking class.
Next, we will take a short walk to the "Loggia del Chianti" restaurant for our welcome dinner, overlooking the beautiful rolling hills of Chianti wine country.
As always, wine is provided with all dinners, and we favor small local wineries wherever we dine. Tonight's wine will be Tuscan Chianti from nearby vineyards.
Highlights: Welcome to Tuscany!
Places: Florence Airport; Radda in Chianti
Dinner: at La Loggia del Chianti
Walking on Saturday: On Saturday when you arrive, you will be walking from piazza to the hotel for check in. We will help with your bags if you desire. The total is just about 200 feet (60 meters) on a very slight incline. Dinner tonight will be at a restaurant in town that will be the equivalent of several flights of stairs each way (down on the way to dinner, and up on the way back). Total walking Saturday is about 0.25 miles (0.4 km).
Time in Bus on Saturday: The only time you will be in the bus today is to get to Radda. The drive from the airport is 37 miles (60 km), and should take roughly an hour due to winding roads and traffic.
A sampling of Local Salame & Bruschetta
Panzerotti & Pici Pasta
Tagliata (Tuscan Steak w/ Balsamic Vinegar)
Cantucci (Tuscan Almond Biscotti) that we will dip in sweet Vin Santo wine
Wine tour and wine tasting as we drive to a nearby Meleto Castle.
Next we will take a short drive to the Ultimo Mulino, a small hotel with beautiful lush grounds and swimming pool, where we will have lunch today.
After lunch, we will have a little time to rest at the palazzo before we start our 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.
Our instructor for our classes will be Chef Lorenzo of "Gastronomia Biagioni", who has been instructing cooking classes here in Central Tuscany for ages.
For our appetizer, we will be making Fried Sage Leaves. Our first course will be a Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi - a dish similar to Gnocchi, but made with ricotta! For our second course, we 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 we will get right into it! Once class is over, we will sit down and enjoy the meal we prepared together for dinner before calling it a night.
Highlights: The Meleto Castle, Chianti Classico & Our First Cooking Class
Places: Radda in Chianti; Gaiole in Chianti
Breakfast: At Palazzo Leopoldo
Lunch: At L'Ultimo Mulino in Gaiole
Dinner: The meal we prepare in cooking class
Walking on Sunday: There is very little walking today, and no hills to speak of. Total walking today is about 0.25 miles (0.4 km).
Time in Bus on Sunday: We'll be staying very close to home today. Each leg of the day is within 10 minutes, for a total of about 35 minutes in the bus today.
Rest Time on Sunday: After lunch we will have an hour to an hour and a half o rest at the hotel before our first cooking class begins.
We will begin our first full day together with a drive to the nearby Meleto Castle, at the boundary between the ancient Republics of Siena and Florence. It will feel like a like a fairytale as we drive up the cypress lined driveway to this beautiful 13th century medieval castle surrounded by vineyards. The Castle dates back to 1269, having belonged to the Benedictine monks of the Coltibuono Abbey.
After a tour of the castle and the wine cellars, we will be treated to a private wine tasting of several of the wines that come from this property, including their Chianti Classico DOCG.
Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi
Pork Fillet in Chianti Wine Sauce
After our morning breakfast we will head out for a day full of wine, cheese & more in beautiful Southern Tuscany.
Today you will be treated not only to amazing views, but two very special wineries that are very closely tied to us. 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, our relationship is not like other tour companies. These are our close and dear friends.
Wine tour and wine tasting in Montalcino, Tuscany followed by lunch at Piombaia Winery.
Cheese tasting in Pienza.
Wine tour and wine tasting in Montepulciano, Tuscany followed by dinner at De Ricci Winery.
Highlights: A Day of Wine & Cheese in Southern Tuscany
Places: Montalcino; Montepulciano; Pienza; Radda in Chianti
Breakfast: At Palazzo Leopoldo
Lunch: At Piombaia Winery
Dinner: At De Ricci Winery
Walking on Monday: This is a long day out, with about 1.2 miles (2 km) of walking all day. Most of the walking is during the afternoon in Montepulciano. You will have free time to browse the town on our way to the main piazza. This is about 1/2 mile (0.8 km), which is on an uphill incline. If you prefer not to do this, there is a city bus that will bring you to the piazza. There is also a 0.4 mile (0.6 km) walk after the last winery that is all downhill.
Time in Bus on Monday: This is our longest driving day of the week. The drive to Montalcino is 48 miles (78 km), which will take about 90 minutes in the morning. From there, Pienza is 19 miles (30 km), which will take about 30 min. Next the drive to Montepulciano is 7 miles (12 km), taking about 10 min, and finally the drive home is 49 miles (78 km), which will take about 80 min.
Rest Time on Monday: Today is a full day out. We will not be back in town until after dinner . Most guests take time to close their eyes on the bus ride.
We'll start by driving to our furthest point, the town of Montalcino. To get there, we will be driving the famous Orcia Valley Wine Trail through this picturesque wine region which evokes the classic image of Tuscan rolling hills. This is the area of Tuscany that most of us think of, 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, we will visit the small, private Piombaia winery in Montalcino.
This is the only winery we have ever encountered that makes a truly artisan wine. That is, all of their grapes are hand-picked & selected, and all of pressing is done with a manual wine press, the way it has been done for over a thousand years. They produce only five to eight thousand bottles 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.
We will be hosted to a wonderful lunch with the owners of the estate, as we sample their Brunello wine with our meal. As we 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 our weeks, and provides for a truly exclusive and unique Brunello experience.
After lunch, they will treat us to a private tour of their vineyards before we move on.
Next, we'll take the short drive to beautiful Pienza, known for its incredible Pecorino cheese. You will have a some time to walk around this charming village, do some Pecorino cheese tastings and some shopping before we leave for the town of Montepulciano, where we 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 we will tour the town's ancient 14th century cellar that was built underneath the Palace of Cardinal Ricci and 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.
As you visit the cellar, you will get a better feeling for how connected Culture Discovery Vacations is to this place, as well as the first 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, we will participate in a complete tasting of these fantastic wines with dinner at the cellar, and 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.
This morning we will take it easy and get a late start for our cooking class.
For our appetizer, we will be making Eggplant Millefoglie, which is a local take on Eggplant Parmesan. For our 1st course, we will be making Pici pasta from scratch with "All'Aglione", the traditional Tomato-Garlic sauce. Our main course will be Veal with Pistachio & Pine Nuts, and for dessert we will be making Crema Cotta, a recipe similar to Panna Cotta.
After the cooking class, we will rest up a bit before we make our way to the town of Volterra to the west of us, famous for alabaster.
We'll have a light dinner in Volterra before we head home for the evening.
Highlights: Our Second Cooking Class and an evening in Volterra
Places: Volterra; Radda in Chianti
Breakfast: At Palazzo Leopoldo
Lunch: The meal we prepare in cooking class
Dinner: Trattoria in Volterra
Walking on Tuesday: Tuesday afternoon we will be in Volterra. Figure about 1/2 mile (0.8 km) of walking total today, most of which is flat.
Time in Bus on Tuesday: The drive Volterra is 34 miles (56 km), and will take about an hour each way.
Rest Time on Tuesday: We should have about an hour of rest time between our cooking class and the excursion to Volterra.
Pici Pasta (from scratch) with Tomato and Garlic Sauce
Veal with Pistachio & Pine Nuts
For over a thousand years, Volterra has been famous for its Alabaster craftsmanship, so we will spend some time in one of the local workshops with a local artisan that will show us his craft.
We will also have a chance to work with some alabaster ourselves today. After our visit, we will have some time for strolling or shopping on your own, or join us for a tour of the town.
After breakfast, we will go to Volpaia castle for a wine tour including wine tasting and olive oil tasting.
After our tasting, we will walk to the "La Bottega" restaurant in the village, where we will meet Mamma Gina and Carla, to wonderful residents of this village. We'll have a delightful lunch here on the terrace before heading back for a little rest at the hotel.
In the afternoon, we will make our way to the city of Siena.
Depending on the week you come, we may have dinner with the people of the Onda Contrada. If we are not here on date during which they have a dinner, we will be in a restaurant just off of Piazza del Campo.
Highlights: The Volpaia Castle + An Evening in Siena
Places: Radda in Chianti; Volpaia; Siena
Breakfast: At Palazzo Leopoldo
Lunch: At La Bottega
Dinner: Trattoria in Siena or with Contrada Onda
Walking on Wednesday: Most of our walking today will be in Siena. Figure roughly a mile of walking today, mostly on flat surfaces.
Time in Bus on Wednesday: The drive Siena is 16 miles (26 km), and will take about 40 minutes each way.
Rest Time on Wednesday: We will have about an hour and a half of rest time between lunch and our excursion to Siena.
This morning we will go to the nearby hamlet of Volpaia which surrounds a beautiful 11th century castle that sat on the border between Florence and Siena. This is one of the best preserved hamlets of the period.
As we walk around the village, we will make our way into the castle area, where we will tour their beautiful wine cellars and olive oil mill. The tour will end with a tasting of their Chianti wines and cold-press extra virgin olive oil.
Well take a walk through the city together and visit the amazing Piazza del Campo and the Duomo.
Well also visit with the Onda Contrada, one of the 17 wards of Siena that participate in the Palio. Well see their headquarters and museum while getting a feel for Contrada Life here in Siena.
For those that prefer shopping, take time on your own today to stroll through Sienas fantastic shopping areas.
We have had three intense days in a row, so we are going to start taking it a little easy! Today we stay very close to home, and really slow down the pace.
This morning we will visit the Chianti Cashmere Goat Farm.
After the farm, we will stop in at the Vignavecchia winery. We'll have a full wine tasting here with lunch today.
After lunch, we will head back to the hotel for some downtime before heading back to L'Ultimo Mulino (Where we had lunch on Sunday). This will be a lazy afternoon of kicking back in the sun and swimming in the beautiful pool for those that just want to relax. For those that would rather cook, we will have a "Tuscan Sweets" class here, making various kinds of Tuscan Biscotti and Tartufo.
In the evening, we will be having a "Grigliata" -- A BBQ, Italian Style! This will be a group effort, as all who wish to pitch in, family style. Some of our guests will help man the grill as we BBQ Tuscan sausage, pancetta and more. Some help prepare the salad and veggies, etc. We'll have a family-style dinner tonight in the lush gardens with live music under the stars.
Highlights: The Chianti Cashmere Farm, Vignavecchia Winery & The Grigliata!
Places: Radda in Chianti; Gaiole in Chianti
Breakfast: At Palazzo Leopoldo
Lunch: At Vignavecchia
Dinner: The Grigliata
Walking on Thursday: When we visit the cashmere farm, our mini bus may not be able to get all the way there. If this is the case, we may need to walk about 0.25 miles (0.4 km) each way. Other than that, there is very little walking today.
Time in Bus on Thursday: There is very little time in the bus today, with a total of about 20 minutes.
Rest Time on Thursday: Today is a quite relaxing day. After lunch, we have a couple hours of relaxation time at the hotel before the Grigliata.
Tuscan Biscotti & Tartufo
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. We'll get to know her goats and learn all about her wonderful cashmere while here.
After the farm, we will stop in at the Vignavecchia winery, which is just 2 minutes away. The Meleto winery we visited a few days back was a good example of a larger, more commercial winery of the Chianti region. This gives us an example of a more mid-sized winery in the area.
This morning we will make our way to the town of Greve in Chianti and to a little hamlet in Castellinuzza where we will eat lunch with an Italian family. Here, they raise Chianina cows, the best cows for Florentine steak in Italy.
We will get together with the family today and really get to know them as people. This will be a very private and immersive experience that is far away from the tourist guides! They will also be firing up their pizza oven for us!
For lunch today, we will have something called "Schiacciata", which is a Tuscan specialty pizza. We'll also be having some Chianina beef, famously known as the best steak in Italy and is called Florentine steak. Who knows what else they will decide to make for us!
After lunch, we will head back to the hotel for a little rest before our final cooking class of the week, which will result in our farewell dinner.
For our appetizer, we will be making a Pear and Pecorino cheese tart. For our 1st course, we will be making Tuscan Lasagna from scratch. Our main course will be Stuffed Turkey Breast with Local Herbs, and for dessert we will be making traditional Tuscan Cantucci, which are almond biscotti that we will dip in sweet Vin Santo wine.
Highlights: Greve in Chianti, Schiacciata & Our Final Cooking Class
Places: Greve in Chianti; Castellinuzza; Radda in Chianti
Breakfast: At Palazzo Leopoldo
Lunch: At Castellinuzza e Piuca
Dinner: The meal we prepare in cooking class
Walking on Friday: There is not much walking today, except what you do on your own in Greve, which is completely flat. Estimate roughly 1/2 mile (0.8 km) today.
Time in Bus on Friday: There will be about a total of 1 hour in the bus today, half hour each way.
Rest Time on Friday: After lunch, we will have about an hour and a half of rest time at the hotel before our cooking class.
Greve in Chianti is a great little town with a large piazza, full of excellent shopping. Being the final day of the week, we have set aside a couple hours today give everyone time to get some shopping and browsing in on their own.
As we leave Greve, we will head up to the tiny little hamlet of "Castellinuzza". Just two families live in this little hamlet, and they are the Tuscan answer to the Hatfield's and the McCoys! We'll be spending the afternoon with one of the families. Here, they raise Chianina Cows. These are the cows used for Florentine Steak, considered the best in Italy. They also have a tiny little winery here, giving us our fifth winery of the week.
Pear and Pecorino Tart
Stuffed Turkey Breast with Local Herbs
Cantucci (Tuscan Almond Biscotti) with Vin Santo Wine
Morning departure at 7 AM.
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.
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We are all about food & wine, and if there is one comment we hear more than any other from our guests throughout the week, it is "I can't eat another bite". You will never be hungry, and you will never want for more wine, period.
All of the restaurant meals are in small, local restaurants that are considered the best of the best for their area. These are the places the locals rave about, not the touristy places. Furthermore, we don't do "tourist food". We insist on the highest quality at all times, and always pull out all of the stops.
The wine is always flowing at lunch and dinner. We always focus on local wines from the area we are in, and it is always fantastic! Additionally, the meals at our cooking classes are not little 'learn to make pasta' classes like many others. Instead, the classes are traditional Italian 'Sunday Family Meals' 5 courses, done to the max.
When the week is over, you will have experienced the real Italy that few tourists have ever experienced. You will have made new friends, and you will have learned why Italian culture is so amazing, because you will have lived it!