Cooking Vacations in Italy: Tuscany & Sicily Culinary & Wine Tours
Our company is all about living the real life wherever we go, and given that we are based in Italy, there is a huge focus on food, so many see us as a company that is all about cooking vacations in Italy. While we do focus heavily on that, there is so much more that makes us unique. After all, when we started CDV, our goal was not to do Italian cooking Vacations, it was to completely change how people travel.. to do something nobody else was doing. So as you browse various companies, we know it can look like information overload. This page will show a little bit about what truly sets us apart, and help you decide if we are a fit for you.
Most of Our Vacations are TRULY All-Inclusive
100% Hands On, Full Immersion Cooking Classes & Local Experiences
Balance: Cooking, Dining, Major Sightseeing & Off the Beaten Path
True Cultural Experiences You Will NEVER Forget
Home Cooking vs. High Cuisine
You are Family
We Are Well-Established and Solid
We Are Owner-Operators
Our locations cannot be matched
Nearly every tour company excludes alcohol, even on their included meals. So if you want some wine with your meal, you get a separate receipt. Wait a second, we are based out of Italy. Wine is like water! 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 the wine will be flowing at every meal, period. OK, not breakfast. We have some standards, of course. 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.
There is a little known secret in the tour business. That restaurant over there doesn't open until 8PM for the locals, but before 8PM, they are open for Tour busses, and they have special deals in which they charge 1/4 the price for unbelievably substandard food that the locals would never touch... as long as the tourists are gone before their local diners arrive. Ahem! No. No. No. No. We want to share the best of the best with you. So we focus on family-run, nonna-in-the-kitchen local farm-to-table restaurants. You know, the ones where nonna made the pasta from scratch that day, and they picked the vegetables from their garden a few hours ago. Maybe the waiter is their son, and this pigs you walked past on the way in are next year's sausage.
Even in the cities, we find that best place in the neighborhood that all the locals are raving about. You know, the one that is so hard to get into, because their Carbonara is the best in Rome. At the end of the day, if we did not knock your socks off with the food & wine, we failed. And here is the thing... Food is the number one highest cost in this business, so it is the first place companies try to shave off the bottom line. Simply put, to us, it is our name on the line, so we are not going to try and save a few bucks there. You are in Italy, and we are going to make sure you have meals you will never forget.
Every choice of our accommodations is uniquely chosen based on our very high standards, and always a place we want to stay. Much as you would do with your own visiting friends, right? We don't pick anonymous big brand hotels, or that cheap cattle-call place outside of the city. We pick unique places that fit the flavor of the vacation we are on, while living up to high standards. For example, on our full immersion vacations in Soriano, we have beautiful village homes peppered throughout the medieval quarter of the village. On our Chianti vacations, we stay in a small, boutique hotel in Radda in Chianti. On our Norcia vacations, we stay in a 16th century Palazzo, converted into a Relais Chateaux, and on our Sicily Island vacations, we stay in amazing boutique accommodations on our own private peninsula.
On our point to point coach tours, we do it different than others as well. For example, Rome has thousands of hotels. The budget companies stay in "corporate" hotels outside of the city where you have to be with them to find your way into the city. The mid-line companies stay closer to the city, but in "Tier 2" hotels that survive on mass tourism and make their money on overpriced, banquet hall food. Even the super high end luxury companies are little different, as they simply put you in a 5 star Americanized hotel, completely robbing you of the local flavor. This does not make our job easy! We painstakingly check hundreds of hotels until we find that perfect one... the small, family run, boutique hotel... that happens to be in that amazing location, and happens to truly carry the flair of local living.
While the big point to point coach tour companies generally include transfers, the smaller local companies rarely do. They are often 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.
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.
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, unless we list it on the itinerary. For example, if we say we are going to stop for Gelato, we are buying you a gelato. If we say we are going to have cocktails, we are buying.
One of the pillars of our trips is cooking classes. After all, we started exclusively doing cooking vacations in Italy. One of the things we have seen over the years is how many try to make it look like they do what we do. Most 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. Often they call a few moments of "playing with pasta" a cooking class. We typically do full 4 or 5 course meals, in which you are fully involved (unless you just want to sit back and sip some wine, of course). They are also all true farm to table. You may be the person picking the veggies from the garden, or notice that we were just at that ranch to pick up the meat. The milk came from those cows we passed down the road. The pork... well, if you are at our Soriano location, you can meet next years pork in person. Even the flour comes from local family-run mills. Furthermore, they are not academic classes. Our cooking classes are more like big parties, where even the people that dislike cooking have a blast!
The same goes with all of our local experiences. They are truly the real deal. If we are harvesting wine grapes, we are right there with the owner of the winery, and having lunch with his family and workers. If we are harvesting olives, we are there making the olive oil, pressing those grapes, and going home with our own oil. If we are making cheese, it is with our friend, the local shepherd down the road... or we may be distilling our own Grappa in our private cellar. All of this is designed with the one goal in mind that you will have an experience that you never could have on your own, with a private guide, or another tour company. It is, quite simply, who we are. And thousands of our guests tell us it has changed the way they travel forever.
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, local living experiences, 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. Our Bologna location puts us in reach to Parma for prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Modena Balsamic Vinegar, Venice, and so much more.
When you add up these base locations in which we have a local presence and contribute to the local economies, you can quickly see we have built up deep friendships throughout. Put all of this on a map, connect the dot0, and you will see that we have a vast network! This is how our point to point boutique coach tours started.. You know, the traditional style tours, but with our flair! While others tend to use wholesale catalogs, we have years of friendships and bonds from which to do something truly extraordinary. We have the connections nationwide to do things nobody else can.
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 once-in-a-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. In fact, it is not uncommon at all for us to see tour buses stop, watch the tourists get out for a photo opportunity, and we are the people they are photographing.
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.
While this is a matter of preference, it is important to note that we focus our cooking classes and dining experiences mostly on home cooking. While some of our itineraries have us dining or doing a cooking class with a Michelin Star Chef, we tend to favor the "Grandmas Cooking" over "Modern Cuisine."
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."
As a result, a trip 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 experienced 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.
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. Often it is simply a restaurant or hotel that figured they would jump on the bandwagon and make some extra cash. But it is actually about the full experience, and we have been doing this since 2006, and have had spectacular growth every year.
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 countless letters guests have written us over the years..
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.
It is hard to tell the difference between a travel agent that specializes in cooking or culinary vacations, tour companies that partner with local "destination marketing companies" that are actually just vendors for them, and actual owner-operators, providing the service they sell. In fact, in December 2018, we did a search for "Italy Cooking Vacations" on Google, then "Italian Culinary Tours", and of all the results on the first page in both cases, we were the only one that is not an agency for services others provide.
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. We control a Destination Marketing Company in Italy in order to operate under Italian Law, and all of our guides, location managers, and many of our chefs, accommodations, etc. are under our direct eye. 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.
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.
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. The same goes for each of our locations.
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