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An All-Inclusive Dream Week of Stunning Beauty, Luxury and Cooking at the 2017 Hotel of the Year - Palazzo Seneca! We will visit Wineries, Go Truffle Hunting and Indulge in Incredible Food and Delicious Chocolate in Picturesque Umbria and Tuscany!

Click above to view a video presentation of our Norcia weeks

This page details the overview for our standard weeks in Norcia. If you are looking for our Olive Harvest week in Norcia, click here for the correct overview.

This vacation will consist of a very small and intimate group of about 16 or fewer people. It is an 8 day, 7 night all-inclusive experience in Umbria with visits to Tuscany and Marche 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. This trip will make you pinch yourself over and over in amazement that you are actually living it. Most of all, it is a week of fun, family and laughter as we share what makes Central Italy so special in a very personal way.

Norcia : Our Home for the Week

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.

The 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. There is now also a mini-class, where we will be learning how to make an Italian favorite, deep-fried stuffed olives, in the town that made them famous!

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.

The Excursions & Experiences

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, Cortona in Tuscany, Montefalco's Sagrantino Wine Region, Ascoli Piceno 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.

The Food & Wine

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 amazing! And if you are not familiar with Umbrian wine, know this: The wine growing areas border with Tuscany, and Umbrian wine is some of the best in the world. In Tuscany, we will visit a family-run winery on the outskirts of Cortona - The town made famous from the novel Under the Tuscan Sun!

Additionally, the meals at our cooking classes are not little 'learn to make pasta' classes like many others. Instead, the classes are done to the max.

The People

It's all about friends and family! Our groups are small and intimate. We attract people that are looking for an authentic experience, so our guests always become friends right away. Furthermore, we are about friends and family! We are not guides, we are hosts. We are part of the group... we see you as our guests, not our clients.

Along the way, you will meet all sorts of new people in the towns we visit, and before you know it you will find yourself greeting locals you have befriended while walking the streets of Norcia. You will know the local grocer by name, you will find the local barista waving to you as you pass them on the street. A sense of belonging develops very quickly as you become part of the fabric of this amazing little town.

To Sum it Up...

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. You will have cooked, drank, laughed and had the time of your life. This is a vacation unlike anything you have ever experienced.


Cities we'll visit...

  • Norcia
  • Assisi
  • Cortona
  • Castelluccio
  • Spoleto or Ascoli Piceno
  • Montefalco

What we'll be cooking...

  1. Class 1: Chianina Beef & Vinagrette Vegetable Salad; Ricotta Ravioli with butter & Sage Sauce; Local Sausage & Romano Cheese Country Tart; Hot Chocolate Mini Cru
  2. Class 2: Pizza!
  3. Class 3: Farro Salad with Prawns & Salted Ricotta Cheese; Tagliatelle Pasta with Truffles & Mushrooms; Fruit Crusted Turkey Spiedini; Farro & Pear Cake With Sagrantino Wine Sauce - Plus the Olive All'Ascolane (Deep-Fried Stuffed Olives)
  4. Class 4: Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate!
  5. Class 5: Herb Crusted Roll with Trout Filling; Castelluccio Lentil Soup; Porchetta; Lentil Crème Brulee

Factories, Wineries, Mills, Artisans & Experiences...

  1. Visit with a "Cinta Senese" Prosciutto Producer
  2. Scacciadiavoli Winery Tour, Pairing and Lunch
  3. Frantoio Carletti Olive Mill Tour & Tasting
  4. Tenimenti d'Alessandro - Tuscan Winery Tour, Pairing and Lunch
  5. Truffle Hunting with National Champion Truffle Dog
  6. Gregorian Chant at St. Benedict Monastery
  7. Make Pecorino & Ricotta Cheese with Artisans
  8. Italian BBQ

Dates & Prices


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Palazzo Seneca is a Relais & Châteaux Member Property
Palazzo Seneca is a Relais & Châteaux Member Property
Palazzo Seneca is a Relais & Châteaux Member Property
Standard Room at the Palazzo
Standard Room at the Palazzo
Standard Room at the Palazzo
The Palazzo Garden at Night
The Palazzo Garden at Night
The Palazzo Garden at Night
Morning at the Palazzo
Morning at the Palazzo
Morning at the Palazzo
The Palazzo Lounge
The Palazzo Lounge
The Palazzo Lounge
Evening in the Palazzo
Evening in the Palazzo
Evening in the Palazzo

Palazzo Seneca

Palazzo Seneca was voted as the 2017 Hotel of the Year by a "World-Leader" Travel Organization!

Our home for the week is the stunning "Palazzo Seneca". This Renaissance-Era 16th century palazzo was completely 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 2016 Earthquakes and 2017 Hotel of the Year Honors

In 2016 the town of Norcia and the surrounding areas were hit by a series of earthquakes. Some were devastating to many towns in the area. Norcia itself had severe damage to many buildings, including the collapse of the 500 Year-Old Basilica of St. Benedict - All that remained was the facade. Miraculously and thankfully, no-one was seriously injured! The historical center was completely shut down for months while inspections had to be done to insure the safety of the residents and shop owners in order for them to return to their beloved town. The Palazzo Seneca withstood the earthquake in fine fashion as during the restoration many years earlier, it underwent a major seismic retro-fitting effort for this very reason. The rebuilding effort for the town of Norcia was spearheaded by the Bianconi Family. Along with city officials, the Bianconi's put all their efforts into restoring Norcia back to the beautiful city in the mountains that it had become famous for and making it stronger and more vibrant than ever. Through their tireless efforts and with a renewed spirit and staff overhaul-they lost most of their previous staff as they all had to find other work- their commitment was unwavering as, after being shut down for over 6 months, they re-opened the Palazzo Seneca to much anticipated fanfare. They even brought in Master Chef Valentino Palmisano to run their much-celebrated, Michelin-Star restaurant, Vespasia. Slowly but surely, the historical center, it's shops, restaurants and cafes have all been re-opened. The Basilica is currently going through a massive rebuilding effort and it's re-opening is undetermined at this time.

The efforts of the Bianconi's did not go unnoticed. Not only for their first-class service and operations at the hotel, but also for their humanitarian work and community involvement, they were recognized and named the 2017 Hotel of the Year by a world-leader tour organization. Their competition were all very well-known Five-Star Hotels from around the world. The presentation was made at a large industry banquet in Las Vegas. We congratulate them on their wonderful accomplishments and we are proud to be associated with them. We believe that once you arrive in Norcia and the Palazzo Seneca, you will see why they truly are in a class by themselves.

How We Found This Amazing Place

We first dicovered it by accident. We were in Norcia on a day excurions 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 gretted 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, etc.). We all agreed that they would do everything our way with us, and we chose to put a week on our calendar to try it out.

Our Alumni Week in Norcia

We announced an "Alumni Only" week based in Norcia for 2011. Seventeen of our past guests that had previously joined us on our Soriano weeks jumped at the opportunity. In fact, we sold it out in three hours.

All of our guests agreed. This was something truly special. They had the time of their lives, and like their initial experience with us, they felt an amazing sense of family and belonging here in Norcia. They found themselves becoming friends with the Bianconi family and their staff. Everyone knew everyone by name. They were having drinks together at night, getting to know the locals. They all agreed that this place was magnificent 10 out of 10 in every way. It was a hotel, but it was not a hotel. To sum it up, at the end of the week we asked what they thought, and the cheers were deafening. We asked if we should begin to do this regularly, and all gave two very enthusiastic thumbs up.


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.


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

Visit the Palazzo Seneca Website

Click here to visit their website.


See More Photos of Palazzo Seneca

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Is This For You?

Is This For You?

Your Disposition

Our vacations are focused on having a good time with new friends. Everything we do revolves around that. People seeking a self-centered vacation might reconsider. Our groups tend to span all ages, men & women, singles & couples... everyone is welcome, and when our guests come ready to embrace a new culture, look forward to trying new things, and interact with other guests, it is always amazing. Even the way our guests see us is important. If you see us as "providers of a service", you may reconsider our trips. We bring you into our family and become part of the group with you... as though you are visiting friends and family. If you are able to be in this frame of mind, our trips will be like nothing you have ever experienced, but if you are looking for a more detached relationship with us, our trips may not be for you.

Be Ready to Embrace the Culture

Our trips focus on bringing you into the true culture of the place, but some guests want to see it, but not live it. We embrace the culture and do things the way locals do, which may or may not be what you are looking for. This includes little things like not having cappuccino with our meals (Italians only have cappuccino as a breakfast beverage), not having bacon and eggs for breakfast (Italians have coffee or tea and pastries), or larger things, like the fact that we have our dinners after 8:00 PM, like the Italians do. Every step of the way we adapt to the local culture, rather than asking the local culture to adapt to us. This also tends to make us much mroe welcome guests than other groups!

Physical Limitations

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.

Physical Intensity
You by no means need to be athletic for this vacation, but you must be able to handle some level of physical exertion. A good rule to follow would be to ask yourself if you can do three flights of stairs, then continue walking without needing to sit down for a while.

Age Concerns
We have had guests as old as 90 years old with no problems whatsoever. Age is not a limiting factor, so long as you are in good physical condition with no health problems that exertion would complicate.

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).

Walking & Bus Time
In Italy, walking is always a larger concern than it probably is back home. This is because the towns are ancient, and much is closed to vehicle traffic. Some guests are also concerned about how much time they will spend in a bus. Some days will have more travel time, and some very little.

Here is a general outline of the intensity and amount of walking and time in the bus during this week:

Total Walking All Week (Excluding walking between the Palazzo and the bus pick up/drop off each day): 
~3.5 miles (6.6 km) - Total for the week, NOT per day

Total Time in Bus All Week (Excluding transfers at beginning and end of week):
~12 hours - Total for the week, NOT per day

Detail Day By Day:

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.

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 rural terrain 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.

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.

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 Ascoli Piceno will include about three quarters of a mile of walking (1 km) or more on cobblestone streets, but the town is very flat and even.

Time on Bus onTuesday:
The morning drive for the truffle hunt is only about 5 minutes. The drive to Ascoli in the afternoon is about 1 hour each way.

Rest Time onTuesday
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 after lunch before we go to Ascoli. However, if you choose to skip on the truffle hunt, this is quite a relaxing day.

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 Cortona today is about an hour and 50 minutes each way.

Rest Time Wednesday
Being a full day out, we never cross back to Norcia until dinner time. This one of the more active days of the week, as we spend the morning walking aorund Cortona, have our private visit at the winery followed by lunch, then head to the Perugina 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.

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 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.

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 TimeFriday
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.

How This Trip is Unique From Our Others

Many people ask us how our locations are different when trying to choose the trip that is best for them. Each of our locations is diffferent not just in he places you see, but in the overall "feel" of the week. Here is some information about the Norcia weeks to help you choose:

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), while in Soriano we are standing up for breakfast at a cafe with the locals. You will have a hotel staff in Norcia that is there 24 hours a day to cater to your needs, while in Soriano you are in a self-catering private home among the locals. The hotel in Norcia offers spa services, laundry, room service, etc, while the Soriano and Sicily locations do not.

Special Needs we can (and cannot) cater to in Norcia

Physical Limitations
You must be able to walk up to one mile and do at least a couple of flights of stairs in order to come on this trip in order to go on the excursions.

Food Limitations
We can cater to most food allergies, vegetarian diets, and to some extent kosher diets. Please understand, however, that this area is known for its pork, so many of the dishes will have pork in one way or another. We will substitute with other dishes if you let us know in advance. Our cooking class menus will not change based on a guest's food limitations, but even in the classes, we can usually offer alternatives to eat.