What would you look for when thinking of a cooking holiday in Italy? An informal, friendly atmosphere, a little sight-seeing, wine tasting and of course, informative and fun lessons, all in an idyllic setting on a farmhouse in the country. I found all this and more when I experienced a short break with Flavours Holidays in Tuscany.
Last weekend I flew into Pisa airport where I was met by my Flavours’ chauffeur. After a shirt drive, we turned into the Varramista estate to be greeted by the most wonderful view up the tree-lined avenue. Passing the main house standing proudly on a hilltop, we drove on up to one of a number of former estate workers’ houses which had been restored and were now comfortable holiday homes.
The 7-acre estate is home to deer, wild boar, rabbits and pheasants and is open to the public to walk and jog through. Varramista plays host to weddings and produces its own wine and olive oil. Our villa, Monsonaccio, by an orchard of poplar trees (that will be used for paper) made the perfect base for a holiday in Tuscany.
On arrival we are greeted by Franca, our hostess and the dashing, Alessio, our chef! With a pop of a cork we are soon sipping a welcome glass of cool Prosecco.
There are just 8 of us on the course and before we know it we are starting our first lesson. Cooking together is a wonderful way to break the ice and soon we are all laughing like old friends while trying our hand at making fresh pasta. On the menu tonight – tagliatelle with sausage and truffles, pork ribs with olives and pine nuts and almond biscuits.
That evening we tucked into our culinary creations with vigor. It was all delicious and the tagliatelle was superb! As I tasted my first mouthful a memory of the pasta I had eaten in Modena last summer flashed in my head. The penny drops that it is truffle butter (both then and now) that is the secret ingredient that makes the pasta taste so very good!
The next day the risotto is the star of the show, the best I have ever tasted. Mind you the same can be said for the scrumptious tiramisu and so it continues throughout each wonderful lesson.
Having cooked in the morning, we spend a lovely afternoon wine tasting at Castelvecchio. The wine was excellent (and much cheaper I noticed, than at the airport) but it was their olive oil that particularly stood out, possibly the best I’ve ever tasted, drizzled on a little Tuscan bread. Do you notice a common theme running through the holiday?
On our last full day we visit Florence and spend a couple of hours exploring the food market before having a short tour of the city’s main attractions. A superb lunch follows with a little time to wander off on our own before heading back to our villa and another cooking lesson.
And so our last morning is here and we have the option to visit Pisa before catching our flight but I decide to stay a little longer to have an extra cooking lesson as I’m keen to learn all I can.
My fellow budding chefs were a mix of ages, made up of two small groups and a couple of solo travellers, just 8 in total, as is typical of a Flavours holiday. It’s hard to believe that we packed so much in. I really did learn a lot in just a few days and it was obvious that everyone had a fabulous time.
Flavours, as well as cooking, also offer Pilates and painting holidays in a number of locations throughout Italy. It is particularly worth noting that they never charge a single’s supplement!
This 4 day / 3 night short break costs, £899 and includes £100 towards your flight plus all your meals, local wine (and lots of it!), transfers, lessons and excursions. The chef is always from the area you are in and an expert in local, traditional cuisine.
With everything included, if it hadn’t been for the visit to the food market, I wouldn’t have spent a single additional penny during my stay, making these holidays good value for money, especially for solo travellers.
Thank you to Flavours Holidays for inviting me on this culinary short break. As always I am free to write whatever I wish and will always give you my unbiased, honest opinion.