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8 Days Wine, Cooking, Truffles & Chocolate Holidays in Umbria

  • Palazzo Seneca, Via Cesare Battisti, 12 06046 Norcia, Perugia, Umbria, Tuscany, Italy

Luxury Italian Cooking Vacation

A week of cooking and culture in luxury as our guests stay at the luxury Relais & Chateaux Palazzo Seneca Resort in the breathtaking town of Norcia. We'll have hands-on cooking classes, one of which is an exclusive chocolate making class at the Perugia Chocolate Factory. Beautiful excursions, including Assisi, Spoleto, and Perugia, and much more. We will visit wineries, a traditional cold press olive oil mill, a ricotta cheese producer and a prosciutto producer. We'll even go out on a truffle hunt with a national champion truffle hunting dog!

Highlights

  • 4 cooking classes, baking class, market visit
  • Wine tour, wine tasting, olive oil tour, olive oil tasting, truffle hunting
  • Chocolate museum visit, chocolate making class, cheese making class
  • Excursions to Assisi, Spoleto, Perugia, Italian monastery, Italian hills
  • 5 restaurant visits, BBQ, Tapa street food trip
  • 7 breakfasts, 7 dinners, 6 lunches, wines
  • 7 nights luxury accommodation
  • CDV apron & recipe book
  • 6 days with instruction
  • English
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Palazzo Seneca Relaix Chateaux, Norcia, Umbria, Italy

Our home for the week is the stunning "Palazzo Seneca". This ancient 16th century palazzo was just recently restored by the Bianconi family of Norcia. Their vision was to restore it to its original beauty, sparing no expense to detail, and converting it to a charming boutique hotel. To say they did an amazing job is an understatement. It is absolutely beautiful down to every detail.

But it isn't the beauty of the property that really attracted us. It was the Bianconi family and how they run it that impressed us most of all. Since our vacations are all about a family experience and integrating our guests into the local lifestyle, we cannot simply choose a hotel that is beautiful. After all, hotels are generally impersonal, and they detract from the true local experience. But this one was different. Very different.

The Bianconi Family

We, Vincenzo and Federico Bianconi, welcome you to make your stay with us memorable. Our family has handed down the passion for hospitality and foodservice from father to son. The Palazzo Seneca project represents the evolution of 150 years tradition, of our studies, experiences and researches carried out throughout Italy and worldwide.

A house in an Umbrian Palace, this is not a slogan, it is rather a way of thinking, projecting, hosting, living this elegant residence of the sixteenth century. We have collected tradition, design, simplicity, genuine feeling and creativity in order to let you experience a new Umbrian tradition.

Location

The location could not be better. It is right in the heart of Norcia. Step outside, and you are right in the middle of everything -- Shopping, cafes. bars, gelato shops, etc. Taking an evening stroll in this area is simply the stuff of dreams.

Rooms

Our rooms combine generosity and love for details. Materials, shapes and noble colours give each room and each suite a personal and exclusive charm. Tradition, in perfect harmony with environment and service, will satisfy all your expectations. In all our rooms an exclusive comfort is provided by the famous Italian-made Simmons mattresses, among the best in the world, with one-by-one paper wrapped up springs and an extra small mattress to provide the best comfort.

Amenities

The Palazzo has all amenities one would expect from a luxury property: Free WIFI Internet, Laundry Service, Daily Cleaning, Sattellite Television with English Channels, Spa, and an off-site pool. In addition, there is a 24 hour free snack and drink buffet for our guests.

Our story

We first discovered it by accident. We were in Norcia on a day excursions during one of our Soriano based vacations. We were unhappy with the restaurant we had chosen for the day, so while our group was browsing the village, we set out to find other options for the future. Michael (One of CDV's founders) walked into a restaurant, and was greeted by Enzo Bianconi. He fell in love with the restaurant, and they got to talking.

After a few minutes, Enzo showed Michael Palazzo Seneca, and he was astounded. Along the way, he met the whole family, and they quickly became friends. It was evident that this family was just like us. The authentic experience was very important to them, and everything they did revolved around authenticity and family.

Michael returned for a week, and was hosted by the Bianconi family. With every passing day, they showed Michael around, and it was obvious that while this was a hotel, it was right up our alley like no other place we had seen in Italy. Every member of the staff was part of a big family. We saw them in town, bought drinks for one another, and felt that sense of belonging.

Because of this wonderful feeling, and the stunning beauty of the area, the Bianconi family started talking to Michael about cooking vacations based in Norcia. They did cooking classes with others, but never to the degree that Culture Discovery does (big 4 and 5 course family meals). We all agreed that they would do everything our way with us so here we go!

Cooking vacations in Norcia

Norcia is more upscale. Three of our cooking classes are taught by a Michelin starred chef, and as such the recipes are more upscale than our other trips. Additionally, the accommodations here are more of an upscale boutique hotel experience, and two of our dinners this week are in a "fine dining" restaurant. However, this all balances out with many down to earth experiences, such as the pizza & chocolate classes, the cheese making, the pig farmer, etc.

The Norcia itinerary is more relaxed. Our other weeks are more action packed, while the Norcia weeks offer more downtime. For example, on our Soriano weeks, we often go out on an excursion right after a class. In Norcia, however, there is more time between activities to rest. Additionally, we stay closer to home on the Norcia weeks, so there is less time getting to and from places.

The Norcia weeks are not quite as immersive. Our other locations offer more of a "full immersion" experience. Norcia offers more in terms of services for visitors, plus we are staying in a hotel. For example, the breakfasts in Norcia are a buffet (still Italian in nature, however), you will have a hotel staff in Norcia that is there 24 hours a day to cater to your needs, the hotel offers spa services, laundry, room service, etc.

This vacation will consist of a very small and intimate group of about 16 or fewer people. It is an all-inclusive experience in Umbria near the Tuscany border that is all about having incredibly unique cultural experiences that you will never forget. You will live the Italian life as we cook authentic local recipes together, interact with and befriend the locals, get to know small-village artisans, and so much more.

Italian cooking classes

We will have five classes during the week. Three of them are four course meals, plus a wonderfully fun "pizza class" in a functioning pizzeria and a chocolate making class at the Perugina Chocolate Factory. Our cooking classes are not demonstrations. They are 100% hands-on. We structure them so that you can be as involved as you wish in every stage of every course we prepare.

Three of our classes are held in the ancient "Casa Bianconi" kitchen, in the heart of town. It is ours for the week, and it will quickly become your home away from home. In addition, our Chocolate class is held right at the world-famous Perugina chocolate factory, and our Pizza class is held in a famous Assisi pizzeria!

This week will feature local cuisine of a wonderfully refined nature. We'll make ricotta ravioli & tagliatelle from scratch, porchetta, pecorino tarts, and much more. In addition, we will have a private and exclusive chocolate class taught by the master chocolatier at the Perugina Chocolate factory, and a pizza class right inside a pizzeria in the outskirts of Assisi!

For those that would rather eat than cook, they will find our location to be fantastic, with much to do. The three big classes happen right in town, just a few steps from the accommodations and all of the shopping and cafes. There are wonderful trails just outside the village walls, a full sports center, swimming pool, spa, and much more. They can do whatever they like, then make it back in time to eat the meal the rest of us made.

Day 1: Saturday - Arrival, welcome dinner

Once in Norcia, you will check in to your room for the week: The Relais & Chateaux Palazzo Seneca, a 16th century palazzo in the heart of Norcias medieval quarter that has been converted into an opulent luxury resort. All the rooms are different with wrought-iron post beds or carved wooden headboards, leather desks, designer bathrooms, dcor to the standards of the most prestigious mansions.

Once you are checked in, you will have the afternoon to relax, browse the breathtaking village of Norcia, or just take some time to unwind in the sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, etc. You may also enjoy the privacy of a beautiful library with historic and prestigious books, fireplaces and soft leather sofas where you can relax and drink a chalice of fine wine.

At around 6 p.m. we will meet in the lounge of the elegant Vespasia restaurant, where Hors doeuvres and Proseco will be served as we get together for an hour or so to discuss the week ahead and get to know one another. After our get-together, we will take a short stroll around town together and point out some places of interest.

Our welcome dinner tonight will be in Chef Flavio's Michelin Rated, elegant "Vespasia" restaurant. The menu of the evening will be Umbricelli pasta with Sausage & Fresh Ricotta, Brasato di Sagrantino (Chianina Beef braised in Sagrantino wine), followed by a wonderful Honey & Pollen Parfait for dessert.

After dinner, those that are tired from a long trip can simply walk upstairs to their rooms, or join us for a stroll around this breathtaking village at night and a little grappa to salute our first day together!

Highlights: Welcome to Paradise in Italy!

Places: Rome Airport > Norcia

Foodie experiences: Welcome Reception with Afternoon Cocktails

Dinner: at Vespasia Restaurant

Walking on Saturday: On Saturday when you arrive, you will be walking from the entrance to town to the Palazzo. This is a 2 minute walk. We will help with your bags if you desire. In the evening, we take a stroll around the village, then to dinner. Between the stroll and the restaurant where we have dinner, we will walk roughly 0.4 miles (0.8 km) today. None of the walking is on an incline.

Time in Bus on Saturday: The only time you will be in the bus today is to get to Norcia. The drive is roughly two and a half hours, but can vary with traffic because part of the drive is on a road with no passing lanes.

Rest Time on Saturday: Assuming all flights are on time and we leave on schedule, you will have roughly 3 hours to get settled in once we arrive in Norcia, before we have our first get-together and dinner.

Welcome dinner menu #1

First Course

Umbricelli pasta with Sausage & Fresh Ricotta

Second Course

Brasato di Sagrantino (Chianina Beef braised in Sagrantino wine)

Dessert

Honey & Pollen Parfait

Day 2: Sunday - Cooking class, farm visit, restaurant visit

This morning well have late start to give you some rest after your trip yesterday. Take the time to relax, explore the village, or use the Palazzos sauna and steam baths.

At around 10 a.m. well meet in the lounge of the Palazzo, where a beautiful buffet will await us, complete with pastries prepared that morning by the palazzos bakery, home-made jams, freshly baked, breads, etc.

Well have some time to enjoy breakfast with a fresh cappuccino, caf latte, or tea as we meet Chef Flavio, our cooking instructor for the week. Flavio will tell us a little about himself and his experience, including the Michelin Star he received while at Al Palazzo, and how that brought him to his new pride and Joy, Ristorante Vespasia, right here in Norcia.

After breakfast, Chef Flavio will take us on the short walk the beautiful and historic Casa Bianconi, the site of our cooking classes for the week.

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 lunch.

We'll take a little rest break after lunch before we head into the local hills to visit a very special farm in the rolling hills just outside of town where "Cinturino" pigs are raised.

After our visit, we will head back to Norcia for a little rest before dinner.

Our dinner tonight we will be in the charming and rustic Granaro del Monte restaurant, Umbrias oldest restaurant. Having been in continuous operation since 1850, it recognized as a national historic monument. The menu for the evening is entirely based on ancient Norcian traditional recipes.

Highlights: Our First Cooking Class & an introduction to Norcia's famous free range "Cinturino" pigs

Places: Norcia

Cooking Class: Chianina Beef & Vinaigrette Vegetable Salad; Ricotta Ravioli with butter & Sage Sauce; Local Sausage & Romano Cheese Country Tart; Hot Chocolate Mini Cru

Foodie experiences: Visit with a Prosciutto & Salame Producer

Breakfast: Italian Breakfast at Vespasia

Lunch: The meal we prepare in cooking class

Dinner: Granaro del Monte Restaurant

Walking on Sunday: Walking to Casa Bianconi for the cooking classes is just a few steps from the hotel. The excursion to the pig farm is very simple with a little bit of walking on a train for just a few minutes.

Time on Bus on Sunday: We are only on the bus for a few minutes each way today.

Rest Time on Sunday: You will have about 3 hours between the class and the visit to the pig farm to relax or stroll around town.

Cooking class #1

Appetizer

Chianina Beef & Vinaigrette Vegetable Salad

First course

For our first course, we will make Ricotta Ravioli with butter & Sage Sauce completely from scratch.

Second course

Our main dish will be a Local Sausage & Romano Cheese Country Tart.

Dessert

Finally, for dessert, we will make Hot Chocolate Mini Cru.

Day excursion: Assisi

Still surrounded by its ancient walls, is sits on the slopes of Mount Subasio with beautiful rose stone buildings, winding narrow streets, noble palaces and balconies full of flowers.

You will have a few hours to do some shopping and exploring in town, or join us on a walking tour of the St. Francis Basilica.

Prosciutto & Salame Producer visit

We will visit a producer that raise Cinturino pigs. This is a very special blood line of pigs that are unique to Norcia. Some know of the "Cinta Senese" pigs that are the most elite of Tuscany (They are to pork what "Kobe" is to beef).

The Cinturino pigs are an extremely rare, genetically selected breed of the Cinta Senese pigs, and these are considered the best of the best. We will spend a little time in the fields around these free range pigs, take in the view and have a tasting of the local salames that come from these amazing creatures while we learn all about what makes them so special.

Keep in mind that this is not a tourist destination with a gift shop at the exit. To the contrary, this is a local farm that rarely sees anyone other than the farmers. It is a truly amazing experience you won't soon forget.

Dinner menu #2

Appetizer

Smoked trout salad made with trout from Norcia's local rivers.

First Course

Casteluccio Lentil Soup

Specialty menu made with local lentils grown on the nearby Casteluccio plains, which are known to be the best in the world, with Umbrian Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Second Course

Wood-fire grilled Norcia Sausages, Pancetta, and other local meats with fresh seasonal vegetables.

Dessert

Pick of the day from the restaurants in-house bakery.

Day 3: Monday - Cooking class, excursion, free time, street food

As with every day, our morning begins again with the beautiful breakfast buffet, full of freshly baked pastries and breads from the palazzos in-house bakery.

After breakfast, we will make our way to the outskirts of Assisi, where we will visit the famous "Boccione" pizzeria, which is located in the beautiful rolling hills just outside Assisi.

Once here, we will Meet Luigi and Paolo, the pizza masters who regularly teach pizza mastery to people from all over the country.

After lunch, we will head up to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis.

Well then head home to Norcia for a beautiful sunset/dusk drive though the countryside that evokes images you imagine from so many movies about the Tuscany area. Once home at the Palazzo, we will have a little time to rest before dinner.

Tonight we will be having dinner at the Enoteca, just a few steps from the Palazzo. Weather permitting, we will have dinner outside on the main street of Norcia where the locals take their evening stroll. We'll be having an amazing layout of Italian tapas, based on Norcia specialties.

Highlights: Pizza Class & a Visit to Assisi

Places: Norcia, Assisi

Excursion: St. Francis' Basilica in Assisi; Shopping in Assisi

Cooking Class: Pizza!

Breakfast: Italian Breakfast at Vespasia

Lunch: Pizza made in class

Dinner: Italian Tapas at the Enoteca

Walking on Monday: There is no extensive walking involved at the pizzeria. In Assisi there is about 0.8 miles (1.4 km) of walking, mostly flat and slight incline. If you decide to also go up to the top, add an addition 0.6 miles (1 km), half of which is uphill, but you can opt out of doing this in favor of shopping or relaxing.

Time on Bus on Monday: The drive from Norcia to the Pizzeria is about an hour and fifteen minutes. From the Pizzeria to Assisi is only about 15 minutes, then an hour an fifteen minutes back home in the evening.

Rest Time on Monday: This is a full day of about eleven hours out. You can relax as much as you like at the pizzeria, and you can opt out of the heavy walking in Assisi if you are tired, but if you choose to come with the group today, we will not be back at the hotel until around 7:00 PM, and will have a half hour to an hour to rest up before dinner.

Cooking class #2

Pizza

Today, Mario and Luigi have closed their pizzeria to the public in order to host us for what will be one part pizza class, and one part party. We'll mix our dough together, then each guest will have the chance to pick their own toppings, make their pizza, and cook it in the wood-fired oven. This is one of the highlights of our week together, and our guests always leave having had one of the most amazing experiences of their lives!

Street food: Tapa, Salames and Prosciutto

We will taste samplings of Norcia salames and prosciutto, Local cheeses with honey and marmalade, Panzanella, Farro salad, Focaccia with local prosciutto and cheese, Quiche with local onions and pancetta, Guanciale with Sage, Goat cheese with dried fruit, Smoked trout with ricotta, Assorted bruschetta, Fruit with sweet Sagrantino wine, Torta al Testo, Grilled Veggies, Porchetta, and Gelato.

Of course, dinner will be accompanied by an assortment of local wines.

Day 4: Tuesday - Truffle hunting, market visit, cooking class, excursion, free time

For those interested, we will head out this morning on an early morning Truffle Hunt.

We'll have some time for a more relaxing breakfast after the truffle hunt, and meet Chef Flavio in the Vespasia lounge this morning.

We will then head to the local shops in town to do some shopping for this morning's cooking class. We'll meet with local grocers and butchers as we gather the key ingredients for today's class.

After our shopping, we will go back to Casa Bianconi and start our class for today's lunch.

As always, our lunch today will be what we made in class.

After we finish our lunch, we will have a little relaxation time before we head out for our evening excursion. Tonight we will be in the beautiful city of Spoleto, home of the world-famous jazz festival: Festival of Two Worlds.

In Spoleto, you will have the opportunity to spend some time shopping and browsing this beautiful town, as well as a visit to their magnificent Basilica.

Dinner tonight will be in a wonderful trattoria in Spoleto.

After dinner we will walk down the hill and cross the magnificent ancient aquaduct before heading home to Norcia.

Highlights: Truffle Hunting, Cooking Class & Spoleto

Places: Norcia, Spoleto

Cooking Class: Farro Salad with Prawns & Salted Ricotta Cheese; Tagliatelle Pasta with Truffles & Mushrooms; Fruit Crusted Turkey Spiedini; Farro & Pear Cake With Sagrantino Wine Sauce

Foodie experience: Truffle Hunt

Excursions: Visit Spoleto; Shopping

Breakfast: Italian Breakfast at Vespasia

Lunch: The meal we prepare in class

Dinner: Trattoria in Spoleto

Walking on Tuesday: Tuesday is broken into three parts, and you can pick and choose what you do. The truffle hunt is early Tuesday morning at around 7:45 AM. If you choose to participate, there is about an hour of walking along trails with some inclines. After the truffle hunt we have our cooking class, which is just a 1 minute walk from the hotel. The afternoon and evening in Spoleto will include about three quarters of a mile of walking (1 km) or more on cobblestone streets and some inclines.

Time on Bus on Tuesday: The morning drive for the truffle hunt is only about 5 minutes. The drive to Spoleto in the afternoon is about 45 minutes each way.

Rest Time on Tuesday: Being that today is broken into three parts, you can do lots of picking and choosing today. If you do everything, you can count on about an hour and a half to two hours after lunch before we go to Spoleto. However, if you choose to skip on the truffle hunt, this is a quite relaxing day.

Truffle hunt

Our guide for the hunt will be Nicola and his amazing truffle hunting dogs. This is an actual truffle hunt, so we never know what we will find, or how much we will find, but some of the truffles we find on our hunt will come back to town with us to be used in our cooking class today!

Note: In some periods of May and September, truffle hunting is not allowed in Norcia. When this is the case, our truffle hunt will be more of a demonstration than an actual hunt, and we will let our guests know before we head out.

Cooking class #3

Appetizer

Farro Salad with Prawns & Salted Ricotta Cheese

First course

We will make Tagliatelle Pasta with Truffles & Mushrooms from scratch using truffles.

Second course

Fruit-Crusted Turkey Spiedini

Dessert

Farro & Pear Cake with Sagrantino Wine Sauce

Day 5: Wednesday - Excursion, chocolate museum, chocolate making class, restaurant visit

After breakfast this morning, we will drive to the stunningly beautiful capital city of Perugia, where we will spend a few hours touring the ancient city center with a little time for shopping.

We'll have lunch in a local trattoria in Perugia, then head to the outskirts of the city as we visit the world-famous Perugina Chocolate Factory and begin our chocolate making class.

When finished, we will naturally try one another's creations, then head back home to Norcia with our bellies full of chocolate, our chocolate diplomas, and our bags filled with the chocolate we made to dinner!

If you are the least bit hungry by this point, well be dining back at the Granaro del Monte restaurant in Norcia. Dinner tonight is all about Truffles! As always, for those that do not like truffles, we will have alternatives for each dish.

Highlights: Perugia & Perugina Chocolate Factory Class

Places: Norcia, Perugia

Cooking Class: Chocolate Making Class

Breakfast: Italian Breakfast at Vespasia

Lunch: Trattoria in Perugia

Dinner: Granaro del Monte

Walking on Wednesday: This is our second full day out. We will have a total of about a mile (1.6 km) of walking today, mostly on flat and fairly even surfaces.

Time on Bus Wednesday: The drive to Perugia today is about an hour and forty minutes each way.

Rest Time on Wednesday: Being a full day out, we never cross back to Norcia until dinner time. This will be the most active day of the week, as we spend the morning walking aorund Perugia, have lunch, then head to the chocolate factory where there will be lots of standing during the class. Of course, if you are tired there are places to sit. Once back in Norcia, we will have anywhere between a half hour and an hour of rest before dinner.

Chocolate making class

In Perugia, we will have time to visit the chocolate museum and a little time at their factory store. We will then Apron Up as we walk into the Chocolate Classroom, where we will be treated to a private 3 hour Chocolate Making class taught by Perugina's Master Chocolatier.

During class, each person will have the opportunity to make their own chocolates with their own ganache, such that each person will have made their own unique recipe.

Dinner menu #4: Truffle Feast

Appetizer

Truffle Bruschetta

First Course

Tagliatelle pasta with Summer Truffles & Mushrooms

Second Course

Norcia sausage stuffed with truffles and local cheese

Dessert

Crostata with Ricotta and Castelluccio Lentils

Day 6: Thursday - Wine tour, wine tasting, olive oil tour, olive oil tasting, BBQ

This morning after breakfast we will go to the outskirts of Montefalco, where we will visit the boutique Scacciadiavoli winery, one of the oldest in the region dating back to the 1800s.

A light lunch will be at the winery during our tasting experience, including bruschetta, local cheeses, and Panzanella.

Next, we will head to the town of Campello sul Clitunno, where we will visit the Frantoio Carletti olive oil mill for an olive oil tour and tasting.

We'll then head back home to Norcia for a couple of hours of rest before we head out for tonight's extremely special event: The Grigliata! Or Italian BBQ.

If they hadn't fully realized it yet, by tonight, our guests feel they are truly at home here. If there was ever and doubt, it is gone now, because tonight there is no question at all. We are all a big group of close friends that feel like they have known one another for years. This includes our visiting guests, the Culture Discovery Vacations team, and the locals at Norcia.

Highlights: Wine, Olive Oil, & A BBQ with the locals

Places: Norcia, Montefalco, Campello sul Clitunno

Foodie experiences: Scacciadiavoli Winery Tour & Tasting, Frantoio Carletti Olive Mill Tour & Tasting, BBQ with the locals

Breakfast: Italian Breakfast at Vespasia

Lunch: At Scacciadiavoli Winery

Dinner: BBQ

Walking on Thursday: Today very little walking is required as there is parking everywhere we go.

Time on Bus Thursday: The drive to Montefalco is about one hour. From Montefalco to the Olive mill is about twenty minutes, then about an hour back to Norcia in the evening.

Rest Time on Thursday: We'll head out a little bit later today, so you can sleep in more, then be out or about six hours between the winery and the olive oil mill, including lunch. When we return, we will have about two and a half hours to rest before heading out to our BBQ party. The party can go very late into the night, depending on the nature of the group on a given week, but whenever you are tired, there is always a ride back to the hotel available.

Tuscan wine tours, Tuscany wine tastings

Set in beautiful rolling hills full of vineyards (and sunflowers in the summer) right at the Tuscany border, the scenery at Scacciadiavoli winery is just breathtaking.

Well visit the beautiful ancient cellars and enjoy a tasting of their incredible wines, including their celebrated Sagrantino (DOCG), Montefalco Rosso (DOC), Sagrantino Passito (DOCG), Grechetto Umbria (IGT), and Spumante (BRUT).

Olive oil tour, olive oil tasting

This is one of the few remaining mills in Italy that stays true to the antique Traditional Cold Press method olive oil production.

We'll have a tour of the mill, plus an olive oil tasting, with snacks to try the oil with.

BBQ / Grigliata

It all comes together tonight as we head just outside of town to a local farm, where we will have a "Grigliata", or Italian BBQ.

Tonight we will get together with some of the locals we have gotten to know (from Palazzo Seneca, the pig farmer, local butcher, and their friends and families) and have a traditional Italian "friends and family" BBQ. We'll grill up sausages, pancetta and more together for an evening you will never forget.

This is not a restaurant type experience. It is a true cultural experience as you live the true Italian life in a way very few travelers ever experience. We will all do a little bit of everything. Some of us will man the grill, some will set the tables, etc. We'll have a wonderful evening as we get to know people we have been seeing all week in a completely different way as friends. We'll dance, we'll sing, and we will firm up new bonds in a way that "tourists" can never experience. This is always a night our guests never forget.

Day 7: Friday - Excursions, cooking class, cheese making class, restaurant visit

After breakfast this morning, we will start our final cooking class for the week at Casa Bianconi.

When our class has finished, we will sit down and enjoy the results of our class for lunch.

After lunch, we will head up the Sibillini Mountains Natural Reserve to visit the Castelluccio Plain, which offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

In this beautiful place, we will join cheese making class with the shepherds.

As we return to Norcia, those who would like to join us can take a short stroll to the St. Benedict monastery before dinner, where we will experience the amazing Gregorian Chant.

For our farewell dinner tonight, we will be back in the elegant Vespasia restaurant.

Highlights: Make Ricotta Cheese, Cooking Class & The Gregorian Chant

Places: Norcia, Castelluccio

Cooking Class: Herb Crusted Trout Roll; Norcia Lentil Soup; Umbrian Porchetta; Lentil Crme Brulee, Make Ricotta Cheese

Experiences: Enjoy the Gregorian Chant

Breakfast: Italian Breakfast at Vespasia

Lunch: The meal we prepare in class

Dinner: Ristorante Vespasia

Walking on Friday: Today very little walking is required as there is parking everywhere we go.

Time on BusFriday: We only have about a half hour each way to Castelluccio.

Rest Time on Friday: This is a much slower day with more down time between lunch and the visit to Castelluccio and the cheese makers, as well as before dinner. There is lots of time to pack today as well.

Cooking class #4

Appetizer

Herb Crusted Trout Roll

First course

Norcia Lentil Soup that you will have been begging us for after having tried it the second night.

Second course

Roasted Porchetta

Dessert

Lentil Crme Brulee

Day excursion: Castelluccio

Besides the striking beauty, Castelluccio is recognized at the source of the best lentils in the world. For guests visiting us in June, it is Flower Season, and people come here from all over the world to see the amazing flowers growing here!

Cheese making class

We'll head up into the tiny village and visit a local shepherd, where we will have the opportunity to make Pecorino and Ricotta cheese while experiencing the incredible views.

Evening excursion: St. Benedict Monastery

Experience the amazing Gregorian Chant by the monks in the church built at the birthplace of St. Benedict.

This will be their "Compline" service, during which all the lights of the church are turned off and the monks chant by candlelight. It is a truly moving experience.

Dinner menu #5

First Course

Crisped Gnocchi with Pecorino fondue and Sagrantino wine reduction.

Second Course

Guinea Fowl in wine, basil, tomato & olive sauce with roasted potatoes.

Dessert

Local berry compote, layered with sweet & crispy wafers and freshly whipped cream.

Day 8: Saturday - Departure

Morning departure

When we are not cooking, we are heading out on some truly incredible excursions and experiencing things most other travelers can only dream of. We'll go on a Truffle hunt with a national champion truffle hunting dog, we will visit an absolutely incredible winery, a Traditional Cold Press Olive Mill, local farmers, a Ricotta Cheese Producer, and much more.

We'll even spend an evening experiencing the Gregorian Chant with the monks at the St. Benedict Monastery. You will even experience a true Italian "Grigliata"; and Italian BBQ, during which we get together with some of the locals you have met during the week and have a wonderful party together, true Italian style.

Our day trips will take us to Assisi, Spoleto, Perugia, and the breathtaking "Castelluccio Plain". To sum it up, this week's excursions are all set in some of the most beautiful settings in Italy that will evoke the Italian dream at every moment.

Cities we visit

  • Assisi
  • Castelluccio
  • Montefalco
  • Norcia
  • Perugia
  • Spoleto

Factories, Wineries & Mills visit and experiences

  • Frantoio Carletti Olive Mill Tour & Tasting
  • Gregorian Chant at St. Benedict Monastery
  • Italian BBQ
  • Make Pecorino & Ricotta Cheese with Artisans
  • Scacciadiavoli Winery Tour & Tasting
  • Truffle Hunting with National Champion Truffle Dog
  • Visit with a "Cinta Senese" Prosciutto Producer
  • Rocky

    You will quickly pick up on the fact that we are all connected outside of "business". Rocky is a great person to start with to convey this! Like Michael, Rocky grew up in Los Angeles... in fact, just a few blocks from Michael. They never knew one another, but they had a very close mutual friend most of their lives. That friend visited Michael and Paola in Soriano in early 2011, and brought Rocky with. He joined in on one of our week-long cooking vacations in Soriano, and felt an instant connection.

  • Spartaco

    Yes, Spartaco really is his name, so when you meet him, remember to utter these words: My name is Spartacus! A Soriano native and long time family friend, Spartaco has been our primary guide for our excursions since 2007, and now he hosts many of our vacations outside of Soriano. Ladies, be prepared. You will be charmed and fall in love. His accent will grab you, those little mistakes in English will make you smile... and whatever you do, make sure he does his Tony Soprano impersonation!

  • Sophie

    Sophie is one of those rare Italians that you meet and simply cannot believe speaks English as a second language. Her perfect British accent, however, is a dead giveaway for the fact that she was raised by an English father, albeit in Italy. She lives just over the hill from Soriano in Viterbo, and travels regularly with our groups to all of our locations... and our guests invariably love her

  • Alyssa & Sam

    Alyssa is Michael and Paola's daughter, and Sam is her other half. Like Michael, they are both from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angels (Like, Totally!), but they now split their time between Orlando, Florida and Italy. Alyssa grew up actually speaking Italian before English, but was mostly raised in the States, spending her summers in Italy. Sam, on the other hand, came to Italy for the first time in 2013, but picked up the language in a heartbeat and is sometimes even mistaken for an Italian.

  • Luigi

    During our Norcia weeks, we always have a pizza class at a pizzeria near Assisi, and Luigi has always been our instructor. Guests invariably fell in love with him, and a friendship developed over time. As it turned out, Luigi had been a tour guide for years in the past, and really missed that part of his life. So one day, in a pinch, Luigi hosted one of our vacations, and it was phenomenal​! Next thing we knew, we got to talking and here we were. Luigi has become so much more than the Pizza Chef! He is now a host on many of our trips!

Ask any Italian from Milan to Sicily, or from Rome to Tuscany. The moment you mention the name "Norcia", they will get dreamy eyed. But chances are, you have never heard of it. The Italians dream of Norcia for several reasons. For one, Norcia is one of Italy's most prized culinary hotspots. This tiny little town of just about 3,500 people is has been famous for centuries for food. It is the home of Italy's prized "Prestigious Black Truffles".

It is the source of the best prosciutto in the world, the best salami in the world, and so much more. People come from all over Italy to purchase these things here because it is so prized. In fact, thorughout Italy, butcher shops specializing in high-quality pork products are called "Norcinerie", which comes from the name of the town. It is simply the best of the best. Even a common Italian word for cold cuts (Norcine) comes from this town!

Additionally, Norcia is in the heart of the Sibillini National Park, considered one of the most beautiful natural treasures of Italy. The raw beauty of this area with rolling hills colliding with large mountains, and ancient castle-topped hill towns sprouting up here and there is like something from a story book. It is a photographers dream come true. When our guests are here, they can hardly believe that a place like this is real.

The town of Norcia itself is charming and pristine. This was the birthplace of St. Benedict, and the location of the St. Benedict Monastery. Everything is kept beautifully with loving pride. You will find the streets lined with adorable sidewalk cafes, gelato shops, wonderful shopping, and butcher shops are something of a time gone by.

Norcia is at an altitude of 604 m (1,982 ft). Most of the week we will be at this altitude or lower, with the exception of the visit to Castelluccio at the end of the week, which is at 1,452 m (4,764 ft). Getting around Norcia is very easy. The town is completely flat, and our hotel is in the center of town. We do walk roughly 1/4 mile each day to and from where our bus can pick us up and drop us off, but it is all flat.

Activities
  • Fitness center
  • Health club
  • Horse riding/rental
  • Hot tub/Jacuzzi
  • Indoor swimming pool
  • Massage
  • Outdoor swimming pool
  • Sauna
  • Spa
  • Steam room
  • Tennis court
General
  • Bar
  • Caf
  • Concierge desk
  • Garden
  • Lobby
  • Luggage room
  • Multilingual staff
  • Restaurant
Services
  • Baby sitting
  • Child care
  • Free! Parking
  • Free! WiFi
  • In-room dining
  • Laundry
  • Library
  • Newspapers
  • Room cleaning
  • Shop
  • Tour assistance

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!

In the basement of the palace, a mystic silence wraps up the wellness rooms. Ceilings with barrel and groin vaults and old stone floors ideally frame the Sibilla room, where you can enjoy a massage, or the rest room, where you can sip herb tea made with herbs from the Monti Sibillini National Park.

The stone hydro-massage bath for 6 people in a private room is next to the Turkish bath and sauna. All these areas, along with other small rooms, represent a proposal for wellness suitable to this residence. You will have full access to Sauna, Steam Baths & Pool at Hotel. Treatments are additional fees.

For information about the booking conditions, please send Culture Discovery Vacations an inquiry.

Testimonials

  • Review by a traveler from Toronto, Canada

    "I have had the pleasure to go on two vacations with Culture Discovery. The first one I literally lived with the Italians in a small village and learned so much about the culture. The second one was on the Amalfi Coast which I will always remember as a dream vacation."

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  • Review by Sabrina G.

    "The trip was wonderful! I was contemplating not going, and I'm so glad I did! The guides were so wonderful, the weather was perfect, and the tours were incredible! The food was also amazing. The whole trip exceeded my expectations. I will definitely do another one with Culture Discovery. Thank you for making us feel so at home!"

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  • Review by Chris L.

    "Our Culture Discovery vacation was the best purchase I have ever made. Be it a car, a home, or any other vacation. I liken it to when you spend money on something that is handmade, be it food, clothing or art. This is a company in name only, it is a family of employees who walk their talk when they say you will "live" Italian culture, not just see Italian tourist attractions. By the second day I (and I believe all who were in my group), knew we had made the right decision to "do" Italy in this way. Mornings spent peering from my balcony over medieval village rooftops to view layer after layer of colors and hues of the distant hills blend into the mountains. Stops in the tiny,local produce shop to pick up fresh figs and honey colored grapes to enjoy with my pastry choice of the morning...pistachio, almond, currant topped, or any one of the dozens available. Sipping espresso amidst chatting Italian villagers while greeting "Buongiorno" (Good morning) to my traveling companions as they arrived. Reclining in the tour bus to begin an IMAX-like experience of driving through narrow cobblestone streets that open up into the pastel green dotted landscape from the olive trees. Gaping up at one Medieval Village after another perched high in the distance looking down at us as a fortress, but upon arrival greeting us as guests as though we were sent for to celebrate a special occasion. Our home base was the little town of Soriano, and from there we had excursions to locally owned wineries, a small family owned olive oil business, meals in homes and local restaurants, shopping in villages and more. An utter feeling of timelessness and of losing oneself in another culture."

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  • Review by a traveler from Virginia, USA

    "This was my second trip with Culture Discovery in Soriano and my third trip with Culture Discovery overall; and the introductory tour for my husband and step-daughter. There is an incredible team that supports each location including two guest-hosts, and the kitchen-cooking team. I don't know how any tour could pack in more fun, adventure, and experiential unique aspects than this trip does. Rather than crowd into the large mega-wineries, Culture Discovery Vacations takes you to small family run wineries where you meet the owners and even have lunch or dinner with them on their property. Where else would you have the opportunity to have dinner in the home of a local Italian, someone who opened her home to us and prepared a fabulous meal although she speaks very little English. The most unique aspect of this tour with Culture Discovery Vacations is that you stay in an apartment in this mid-evil village, and your neighbors are all Italians (who for the most part don't speak English!). One of our favorite rituals was the daily walk from our apartment through the village to get to the piazza where we had cappuccino and croissant, whilst sitting amongst the locals and listening in on their passionate conversations to each other all in Italian of course! My husband said that experience alone - living among the locals - was a once in a lifetime experience and made the trip worth every penny. The food - well, there is more food than you can ever imagine at every meal. The meals we prepared were incredible! The cooking classes aren't so much about technique and formal cooking, but just as much about sharing an experience among friends while laughing and having fun. If you are interested in technique and aspects of the recipes that have been handed down for generations, Carla is more than willing to share more. In fact, once you return home and try a recipe - if you have questions, she or Katia will respond on Facebook with answers. I have used these recipes so many times and have shared with family and friends who all rave about the food. The excursions are so interesting and not jammed with tourists. You have attention and focus of a guest host who wants to ensure the overall experience is what you expected. During our week, we had Ilaria and Linda (pronounced Leeeeenda) and they kept us laughing all week long, and very well informed about the places we visited. While during this week there were some 'snafu's' - the whole Soriano team went out of their way to make it an incredible week. You read on the website about the Culture Discovery Vacations family, and once you're there - you experience it and feel it - and know its real. At the dinner on the first night a group of 12-14 strangers starts off friendly but still reserved, and by the last night everyone feels like they've made lifelong friends, and are in tears knowing the week has come to an end. "

    "If you want to experience Italy; get away from the tourists; go deep on the culture; have great food and wine; and have a heck of a lot of fun - this is a tour you'll never forget."

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  • Review by Kelly E.

    "Carla, Linda, and all of the lovely ladies at Culture Discovery made our family feel like we were a part of a large, loving Italian family gathering for a wonderful home cooked meal. We laughed, learned had wine, and listened to music while Carla shared with us her family recipes and taught us how to prepare them. We all agreed it was our favorite part of our visit to Soriano. "

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  • Review by Randy from Illinois, USA

    "I was part of the "Olive Pickers" group from October 31 - November 7, 2015. Our group was truly blessed with very professional people who taught us the true culture of a rural small town in Italy. Every day was filled with new and exciting hands on lessons. The staff accommodated every wish of our group and our friendships with other group members grew stronger. I think this says it best, my wife and I are signed up for another week in September of 2016! Thank you Rocky for a spectactlar week!"

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  • Review by Lori from New York, USA

    "CDV delivers on providing a true Italian experience. The Norcia November experience far exceeded expectations thanks to Spartaco's care and feeding of his new 18 member family. The accommodations and experiential opportunities for olive oil pressing, truffle hunting, and cooking with Emanule and his very capable staff were fabulous. Can't wait for my next CDV experience."

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  • Review by Andrea from South Africa

    "What a great week in Norcia! CDV delivered everything that was promised and more. From the unexpected surprise of a 5-course world class dining experience to a fun filled barbecue at Anna and Chicco's home, with wine tasting, olive picking, cheese making, truffle hunting and three cooking classes in between, each day was filled with wonderful experiences. Big thanks to Spartaco, who handled our group with humour, grace and kindness."

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  • Review by a traveler from Napier, New Zealand

    "My wife and I booked this one week visit to Soriano Nel Cimino and learnt a lot about the Italian way. We were with a group of 13 people, 10 Americans, 1 Canadian and us 2 kiwis. They were all great people. It was fantastic, the food, the culture, the tradition, the cooking classes all exceeded our expectations. The people from CDV were all great people and very helpful and very funny. Carla the head cooking teacher was funny and a great teacher. Linda was an excellent funny cheeky tour guide. We went to Rome after this trip for a week and it was great that we got to see both sides of Italy"

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  • Review by Morrisa C

    "My husband and I recently took our second vacation with the Culture Discovery team and, as with our first trip, we were blown away with every aspect of the week. This trip we joined the Sicily tour and were treated like royalty all week. From Sophie's amazing leadership to Ivan's and Betta's hospitality, we could not have asked for a more top rate experience. The culture we were exposed to on the island of Favignana is something we never could have arranged on our own. Great food, unique and fascinating activities, and a great team to guide us. CDV, another great vacation for us. Can't wait to come back and try yet another of your amazing itineraries. All the best!"

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  • Review by a traveler from Lancaster, UK

    "Some experiences in life you never forget - for once they happen, you are forever changed. Such was our week in Soriano nel Cimino with Culture Discovery Vacations. With CDV you aren't a customer, you are a guest - a friend - a member of the family.You don't just see Italy, you see it through the loving eyes of those who know its secrets and hidden treasures.You don't just eat the food, you learn to prepare and savor local dishes you make yourself under the expert guidance of those who have a passion for the culture and history of the cuisine. You don't stay in a hotel, you live as the locals do in a home in the village. In short, with CDV you don't tour Italy - you live it.The greatest gift of all is the people of CDV - Michael, Carla, Rocky, Ian, Linda, Katia, Rita, Sergio - professional and knowledgeable, and their work is marked by their love of what they do. When this group uses the word family - it is genuine and sincere. They care about you, and make it their mission to see that you experience the best of Italy. With these friends to lead you, the journey is inspiring, intimate and an experience you will never forget."

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  • Review by a traveler from Michigan, USA

    "Just got back from a week in Soriano and I cannot say enough nice things about this company. They are very well organized and the trip was exactly as they promised. The cooking classes are fabulous and all of places we visited were wonderful. Definitely not places that you would find on your own or even have access to. My only complaint is that I can no longer button any of my pants. I hold them completely responsible."

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  • Review by a traveler from Edmonton, Canada

    "Its taken me a couple of weeks to formulate a review after an amazing week in Sicily (Sept. 13-20). I was the lone solo traveler in a group of couples and one foursome and although I had trepidations prior to my arrival that I would be a fifth wheel (or in my case, the 11th wheel), the experience I had was wonderful and I will certainly be back to take part in another CDV tour.From the moment I was greeted by the lovely Sophie at the airport in Palermo, I knew this was going to be a great experience. The food was made from the best ingredients, fresh, rustic and delicious. The outings were amazing (especially jumping off the top deck of the boat with Ivano), but it was the people we encountered along the way that make this trip marvelous.From Francisco, who insisted on giving us, not only a tutorial on making ricotta cheese and collecting honey, but an explanation on the Sicilian dialect, to his beautiful family for making us feel so welcome. Then there was Adelina, Rita and Graciella the kitchen goddesses and of course Ivano, Shepio, Paulo (Maria) and Laura and the fishermen - this is what makes CDV a rich and fulfilling experience.If you go, relax. Go with the flow. Try everything. I didnt think I would like sea urchins, but I did. I didnt think I would like eel, but I loved it. This is probably not the holiday for you if you dont like fish, as the meals on this excursion are fish dominated. Favignana is very proud of its rich tuna heritage. I love tuna, so it was paradise for me.The accommodation at Nido del Pellegrino was fantastic. The little apartment style villas were perfect. Despite several of my fellow travellers commenting on the beds being hard and the pillows being too flat, I found the bed and pillows very comfortable. The rooms were clean, spacious and each had a private front and back patio. The sea view from the villa was beautiful. What more could you ask for?I will be back. Alone. I loved being able to be part of a group or just take the time to relax and unwind by myself. I had the safety net of a group to take part in the various cooking classes, wine drinking, salt harvesting, sausage making, wine drinking, cheese making, honey pressing, wine drinking, swimming and fishing in the Mediterranean, but plenty of down time to nap, read a book, drink some more wine and eat. See you in a couple of years. I wonder which tour Ill try next."

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  • Review by a traveler from San Francisco

    "I had the good fortune to learn of Culture Discovery Vacations from a family friend. Given my love for travel and food, it was an easy decision to sign up for a week of culinary indulgence in this small town in Italy. This was my 2nd week long culinary adventure in Tuscany and it didn't disappoint. Seamless execution of all the little details. Amazing culinary lessons, enjoying the fruits of our labor afterwards. Varied, unique and thoroughly enjoyable/special side trips to nearby towns. And an amazing crew behind and in front of the scenes. I would absolutely return for another adventure in another part of Italy with Culture Discovery Vacations and have no reservations about sending friends and family their way. Visited October 2014"

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