Compare Us...

There is no shortage of websites advertising cooking vacations in Italy, and they certainly all look wonderful. How to choose? This guide will help you decide if ours is the best for you.

1Our vacations are TRULY All-Inclusive

Look at others VERY carefully!

We encourage you to browse other websites and look at their detailed itineraries, but look closely. Since we began to offer our cooking vacations as 'all-inclusive', many others have tried to copy what we do. But if you are looking at them, look very closely. Most of the time you will find that they are peppered with lines like 'this afternoon you are free to...' , or 'optionally you can...', etc. Many only include meals resulting from the classes. Most don't even offer airport transfers in their pricing. We include everything. Every day is divided into 'morning activities' and 'afternoon activities'. If we are cooking in the morning, we have an excursion in the afternoon. If we are not cooking at all one day, we have an all-day excursion, and so on. While we are out, every meal is included, every excursion, every entrance fee, all transportation, etc. Of course, if you would rather venture out on your own or stay back and take it easy one day, you are free to, but if you want to go on an excursion with us, it is there, and it is included. This may not seem like such a big deal for you, but consider that if we were to make just a single half-day 'on your own', we would save thousands of dollars per week! So while others like to make their vacations appear all-inclusive, they often cannot resist the temptation to save money where they can. We are able to do it because we take a long view of what we do, so we don't look to maximize profits in the short term. We want you to come back over and over. So that while our pricing is in line with others, the value is much greater.

All the Food & Wine is Included
Many others will leave some meals up to you, or charge extra for wine. For us, we want you to feel like visiting friends and family... and after we get to know one another, you will be! We are your hosts, and you are our guests... and we believe you should be treated that way.. So every breakfast, every lunch, and every dinner is included in our pricing. Feel like a drink or a snack while at the villa? Just grab something from the refrigerator. When you are with us, you are home. That includes wine with all of the meals (not breakfast). Add to that that if our itinerary calls for a Gelato stop or refreshment stop, we're buying the Gelato. If it calls for a stop to have drinks, we're buying you a round of drinks. You could conceivably never pull your wallet out during your entire time with us.

Fantastic Accommodations
Many others don't provide accommodations, or provide 'shared' accommodations, or simply put you up in some anonymous hotel. Accommodations are always completely included with us, and they are always private, beautiful, and to very high standards. Furthermore, they are always very unique! We never stay in anonymous hotels. On our vacations based in Soriano, we include a beautiful private village home for each party. Our village homes are absolutely stunning, completely restored homes in the village center, just below the medieval castle, where you will have local villagers for neighbors so you get a real sense of living Italian village life! On our vacations in Norcia, we stay in a small boutique hotel, which is both luxurious and inviting. You will feel right at home, get to know all of the staff, feel pampered, and get a feeling of living in the local lifestyle all at the same time. For our Sicily vacations, we completely take over a private peninsula on a breathtaking island, and have our own private residences on the cliffs that will make you want to pinch yourself!

In all cases, it is an experience unlike any other that really gives you the feeling of living like an Italian, not a tourist. All of the accommodations are beautiful and extremely comfortable. All accommodations have air conditioning, beautiful decor, and most have wireless Internet, etc.

Airport & Train Station Transfers
So many of the companies that do what we do are located in remote areas that have difficult transportation access. That, in and of itself, is a good thing... because remote areas give you a good sense of the true culture. But because of this, transportation to their location is difficult and very costly. So they tell you that you have to get yourself there, or charge extra for the transfers. We think that is just absurd. After all, you are our guests. The least we can do is help you get to us without any stress. So we offer transportation at the beginning of the trip from the closest major airport and the closest major train station. The same goes with the final day with us. We will drop you off just as we picked you up. What this means is that for our vacations based in Soriano and Norcia, we offer pickup and drop off at the Rome Fiumicino International Airport (Rome's primary airport), as well as the Orte train station (A station that offers easy access from all major Italian cities). For our trips in Sicily, we offer pickup and drop off at the Palermo airport.

Like others, it is not easy or inexpensive for us. After all, Soriano in 90 minutes from the airport, Norcia is two hours away, and our base in Sicily is two hours by van and boat... but it is always included in our base price. Because the distances are great, our pick up and drop off service is at scheduled times. If you cannot make our scheduled time, you may have to use other forms of transportation, which would be at your own expense. We schedule our transfers differently for each itinerary based on times that will work for the majority of people, so please check the itinerary for more info.

What Is NOT Included
To be completely up front, here is what we do not include: Airfare; Expenses you have BEFORE or AFTER your time with us; Costs associated with getting to our base location if you miss our shuttle pickup times; any expenses you have if you choose to go off of our itinerary; any personal purchases you make; hard alcohol (except we almost always have after dinner drinks like Grappa and Limoncello -- which is included) or special request wine with meals (we always include excellent local wines wherever we go, but if you want that specific $800 bottle of wine with dinner, it is at your expense :-) ); food & drink outside of main meals and refreshment stops on the itinerary (everything is included for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and some refreshment stops).

2100% Hands On, Full immersion classes
Many of the others do a great deal of 'Demonstration'. In other words, your class may include a 4 course meal, but you are only preparing one or two courses, while a great deal of the meal is being demonstrated for you, or being done separately in another kitchen. We don't believe this makes sense. With us, you will be 100% involved in preparing 100% of the meals.

3Balance: Cooking, Major sightseeing & Off the Beaten Path
Our unique locations in Italy afford us a luxury others simply cannot afford... we are close to so much! We have chosen locations that allow us to build itineraries that balance cooking classes with fantastic sightseeing excursions to major sights, all the while immersing you in the true culture. It is all about BALANCE. Our vacations in Soriano and Norcia are close to Rome, Florence, Assisi, Perugia, Orvieto, and Tuscany's best wineries! Our location in Sicily puts us close to Palermo, Trapani, and Marsala. Still, we balance all of these excursions with visits to many of Italy's most precious hidden treasures. You will find that our itineraries strike a wonderful balance that is unmatched.

4True Cultural Experiences You Will NEVER Forget
So many others will have you seeing more than doing. But we know that the strongest memories you take home will be the actual experiences, not the sights. You will tell stories for years to come about the time you made fresh Ricotta cheese on an Italian country farm with a local shepherd, but seeing an Italian cheese factory won't be as big a deal. You will forever cherish an evening spent having dinner in the home of a gracious local Italian family much more than the service you received at an anonymous restaurant. You will always smile as you think back at the night you spent at sea casting nets with local Sicilian fishermen, but you would quickly forget taking pictures of fishing boats somewhere. And friends will listen in awe as you describe a night that you are hosted for dinner with an Italian Baroness in her palace, but they won't likely get much out of the photos you took standing in front of a castle in some city.

The point is that we go to great lengths to weave amazing lifetime experiences into all of our vacations. We choose wineries, olive mills, etc. that are personal to the extent that you get to know the artisans. We introduce you to amazing local people that share their hospitality and life experience with you, and we go to great lengths to involve you, hand on, in the culture of the place. If the locals are harvesting, you will harvest. If the locals are fishing, you will fish with them. If the locals make an amazing cheese, you will make the amazing cheese. While others have you seeing things, we have you doing them. While others are merely taking pictures of the sights, we have you doing the things they are taking pictures of.

All of this gives you an amazing sense of belonging that cannot be fully described, and it is the key reason so many of our guests say that they had no idea how amazing the trip would be. In fact, the most common comments are that we far exceeded expectations, and that they truly felt like they had acquired a new family.

5Home Cooking vs. High Cuisine
While this is a matter of preference, it is important to note that we focus our classes on home cooking for our cooking classes. Some others focus more on high cuisine, which doesn't translate well into the real world. We focus on traditional Tuscan and Umbrian dishes that you can make at home on our Soriano and Norcia vacations. In Sicily, we focus on traditional Sicilian cooking. It is always a very 'Family Style Experience'. We believe that you should be able to use all of the knowledge you have gained while you were with us once you get home. Because of this, we carefully select recipes that can be made with ingredients found outside of Italy, and we will provide you with a recipe book that includes both metric and imperial measurements, as well as substitutions for ingredients that you may not find at home.

6You are Family
This can't be stressed enough, and we often marvel at how so many people that do what we do don't understand the concept of family. They think they must "serve you professionally". That just isn't the way it is for us. Of course there are lines that must never be crossed, but we started this after friends and family visited us and said that it was the most amazing experience of their lives. One treats "family" differently than they treat "customers", and we saw the difference. So we endeavored to do exactly what we did with our own friends and family... and wow, did it work!

As a result, a week with us just doesn't feel like a tour at all. We are VERY different from others. You will honestly feel like you are visiting extended family, and we will feel like extended family is visiting. It is all because of that little nuance: We see you as visiting friends, not customers. This isn't part of some formula to make your trip special, it is just the way it all works out. We have a very casual attitude toward it... this is fun for us, and we love sharing this wonderful place with others. You will go home having had the most amazing vacation of your life, having made amazing new friends, having learned to make incredible Italian home cooking, having seen remarkable things few tourists have seen, and having felt an uncanny sense belonging in a place so far away. Long before you get home, you will have started planning your return.

7We Are Well-Established and Solid
It can be hard to tell the difference between a solid, established company, and a fly-by-night. Among the companies that operate cooking vacations in Italy, some are very well-respected and very well-established, while many others pop up overnight, then shut down at the blink of an eye once they begin to realize how incredibly complicated the logistics are of providing this kind of service. We have been doing this since 2006, and have had spectacular growth every year, despite the global economic downturn.

Most others have very simplistic websites that leave much to the imagination. Instead, we want you to know as much as you can about us before you make your choice, so we have worked tirelessly to make our website as comprehensive as it can be. As you have a look around, every one of the countless pictures you see on our website is taken from one of our vacations. We never use stock photography. Every person you see in the photos is one of our guests. Better yet, have a look at our comprehensive video gallery, and know that 100% of our video footage was taken during our vacations, and those are all actual guests.

We want you to know that you can feel completely confident, so we have a comprehensive list of letters our guests have written us on our website. Visit our Guest Testimonials page, where you will see excerpts of these letters, and be sure to click on the names of the people below each excerpt to be taken to a page that has not only the complete text of their letter to us, but a scan of the actual letter they wrote us.

To take it a step further, our past guests would be happy to speak with you. Just visit our Facebook page and ask a question. Someone will be sure to answer, as we are friends with hundreds of our past guests. Or just ask us, and we will be glad to put you in touch with other past guests via e-mail that would be happy to tell you what our vacations are like from their perspective.

8We Are Owner-Operators
A great deal of the cooking vacations you find on the Internet are being marketed by resellers or affiliates that have little or no direct connection with the vacation being provided. Not so with us. Every vacation you see on our website is organized and operated by us. We don't resell itineraries operated by other companies, and we never act as an agency. Our location in Soriano is completely owned by us, staffed entirely by our employees. Our locations in Norcia and Sicily are under special contract with local providers only for the core services (transportation, accommodations, etc), but we operate the vacations. We control every aspect of your vacation from the moment we pick you up until the moment we drop you off at the end. This means that when you speak with us or e-mail us before your trip, the knowledge we share is direct, first-hand knowledge that only comes from the experience of actually providing the service one is offering.

9Our locations cannot be matched
Many people are not really familiar with the various regions in Italy, but they know certain buzzwords like 'Tuscany' or 'Umbria'. People often tell us they want to go to Tuscany and Florence. That is like hearing someone say they want to go to Los Angeles and California. The area of Italy that most people think of when they hear terms like 'Tuscan Countryside' or 'Tuscany Hilltowns' is actually made up of Southern Tuscany, Southern Umbria, and Northern Lazio. In fact, many places people think of when they think of Tuscany, aren't in Tuscany at all. Our locations in Soriano and Norcia are both right in the center of this area. They were chosen because their locations offer good transportation access, they are geographically well-situated for excursions to spectacular destinations, they are not overrun with tourists, they are beautiful, and they still hold true to real Italian culture.

Our location in Sicily was chosen because it still offers true Sicilian culture, and it is close to Palermo, Trapani and Marsala. Add that to the fact that we have the most beautiful water in Sicily, and we had a winner! Most tourists that visit Sicily stay around Messina and Taormina. This area has become very touristy, and has lost a great deal of its original charm. So we were certain to avoid it.