An All-Inclusive Dream Week of Stunning Beauty ,Luxury, Cooking, Wineries, Truffle Hunting, Incredible Food... and Chocolate!
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 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. 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.
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 pasta from scratch, Herb Roasted Pork, Tuscan Roasted Chicken, Homemade Ravioli, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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...
What we'll be cooking...
Factories, Wineries, Mills, Artisans & Experiences...
Please allow a few seconds for the interactive map to load.
Press the "Play" button below to start a 7 minute guided tour of the itinerary, showing day by day where we go, along with photos at each stop. At any time, you can press the little "hand" icon in the map to stop the tour, zoom in and out of the map, and go through the itinerary on your own.
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.
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 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
See More Photos of Palazzo Seneca
Is This For You?
Is This For You?
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!
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. Here is a general outline of the intensity and amount of walking during this week:
While in Norcia
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.
Walking to Casa Bianconi for the cooking classes is just a few steps from the hotel. The excursions to Castelluccio and the Pig farmer require very little walking.
There is no extensive walking involved at the pizzeria, but you will walk at least a half mile total while in Assisi. There are some inclines and cobblestones to be aware of.
The afternoon excursion to Spoleto will require roughly a half mile to three quarters a mile of walking, some of which is on an incline. Additionally, many of the streets are cobblestone.
The excursion in Perugia will require roughly a half mile walking, mostly on flat surfaces.
The Truffle hunt is not a particularly long walk, but you will be on dirt trails and in the fields. Consider about 1/3 a mile of walking today.
There is no significant walking today.
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 rated 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
You must be able to walk up to a half mile and do at least a couple flights of stairs in order to come on this trip in order to go on the excursions.
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.
Tuscany and Umbria Cooking Vacations
- Wine & Cooking Under the Tuscan & Umbrian Sun
- Wine, Cooking, Truffles & Chocolate: A Foodie's Paradise
- Wine, Cooking, & The Olive Oil Harvest
- Medieval Chestnut Festival & Wine Harvest Season
- The Best of Both Worlds : Soriano and Norcia
- Cities Lost in Time