Cooking Vacations in Italy: Tuscany & Sicily Culinary & Wine Tours
We Put Our Guests First, Period!
The Tourist versus The Traveler
The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.
A "tourist" has a list of famous places they have seen in pictures and movies, or learned of over the years. They make lists of the things they want to see on their journey, and the goal is to see the sights. They visit, take a tour or two, and pose for photographs so that their friends and family back home will see that they were there.
A "traveler" knows something the tourist doesn't. They will not cherish memories of the photo they took at a famous sight, and they will never have a sense of fulfillment for having seen popular monuments wih their own eyes. The traveler knows that those cherished memories will come from things they would never expect. It is the hospitality someone showed them, the people they meet, and all sorts of unexpected things that happen as they get outside of their comfort zone. The true memories come from unexpected moments during which the traveler is interacting with the culture they are visiting, not while they are taking pictures.
For the "tourist", these moments are rare if they happen at all, because they are so busy getting from Point A to Point B, that they miss out on what is happening around them.
Our goal is to help people be travelers and have extremely rich, rewarding, and memorable experiences.
Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.
We believe that most people would rather be travelers than tourists, but many simply don't know how. Most travel agents only know about places that are marketed for tourists and large tour companies go where there is demand. Travel guides may write about a lesser known place, but the moment they do, it quickly becomes popular with tourists. Even suggestions from friends are most often based on their own experiences as a tourist, despite what they may think. Unless you actually know a local that will give you good advice, 99% of the time you will find yourself visiting places that have been shaped for tourism, and have lost their local charm.
That is where we come in. We are your locals. Our vacations are very different than what you are accustomed to. They are not "sightseeing tours". They are quite literally a symphony of rich cultural experiences, local immersion, family, friendship, bonding, and a balance of new & largely uncharted destinations mixed in with a dose of popular sightseeing. Our goal with each vacation is to make you feel a part of the place you are visiting, such that during our time together, you feel a sense of belonging. You don't feel like a tourist... you feel like an invited guest. When you leave, our goal is for you to feel like you are leaving a second home. It will completely change the way you travel forever.
It starts with our base locations...
It is not down in any map; true places never are.
With each vacation we create, we follow a comprehensive formula that assures we create the level of experience we aim for. The first point is that we don't want to have you packing and unpacking all the time. Most of our vacations use a hub and spoke approach to travel. In other words, you stay in one place for the duration. Excursions are done in concentric circles, so that you always come "home" at the end of the day instead of going from hotel to hotel. This also means that we stay fairly local, so we don't do those "see a whole country in 7 days" tours. Instead, we give you a real sense of the place you are visiting.
Even our longer tours are designed to use as much a hub and spoke approach as possible, so that our guests don't spend more time packing and unpacking than enjoying their vacation! We do this by keeping our accommodations changes to a minimum throughout our vacations. We even take an extra step on our longer trips, by sending a "chase van" ahead of us when we change the city we will sleep in -- A CDV Exclusive! That way you are not worrying about moving luggage around. You leave your luggage when you leave, and when you get to the next place we will be sleeping, you find your luggage waiting for your in your room.
Beyond that, as you look at our base locations, chances are that you have never heard of most of them. This is very much by design, because if a place is still true, you probably haven't heard of it. We select our base locations for their beauty, authenticity, access to transportation, and local feel. If the big tour companies are there, we usually are not.
Think of it this way: The places you have always wanted to visit are places millions of others want to visit, so they have usually been spoiled by the ravages of mass tourism. But those same places were once largely undiscovered and truly amazing. We focus more on locations that are still largely undiscovered, and have yet to be spoiled. Once they are, we will be somewhere else. In some cases you may find us based in a popular location, but you will find that we quickly get you off the beaten path.
The Food, The Drink, The Cooking...
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.
It is certainly obvious if you have made it this far that many of our vacations are 'cooking vacations'. This isn't just because we want to attract people that wish to learn to cook. In fact, many of our guests are not cooks at all. Italy is quite simply all about food. Our cooking classes have two goals. Food is central to just about every culture. If you go shopping in the local vegetable markets & butchers, prepare lunch with locals, share meals with them, you have taken a major step toward being integrated into the culture. You will be a part of their customs, you will have insight into their daily traditions, etc. You will fully experience the authentic cuisine in a way that you never would by just eating at a restaurant. But it goes far beyond that. Cooking is bonding. Our groups become family, and nothing bonds them quite like our cooking experiences. We laugh, we play, we drink, and we share meals together that we prepared.
Aside from the cooking classes, when we eat out, we always do it like locals... with locals. We never select that tourist restaurant that gives us a great deal. Instead, we always go where the locals go, and we build close relationships with proprietors so that we are always welcome guests, not clients. We always favor farm to table local eateries. We obey local customs, we practice local traditions. We respect and honor the people that invite us into their towns so that we are wholly welcomed by them. As a result, their hospitality shows in a way that you would never experience as a mere tourist.
Rich Cultural Experiences...
Experience, travel - these are as education in themselves.
Imagine some tourists driving on a beautiful day, and stopping on the side of a road to take a picture of a stunning view. In the view, they see a gorgeous valley with rolling hills, little farm houses and sheep grazing while some people are outside one of the houses making fresh cheese. They then jump into their vehicle, having taken their photos, and drive on. Would you rather be the people in the car, or the people they see making the cheese? Now imagine some tourists on their way to a city, driving through beautiful vineyards in the hills of Tuscany. One of them points out a group of people harvesting grapes as they drive by. Would you rather be the people in the car, or the people out there harvesting the grapes? Imagine now a tourist shopping in a bustling town. He stops in a store and buys some precious truffles to take home! Would you rather be him, or the person that went on a truffle hunt and actually found those truffles?
We are the people that are making that cheese, harvesting those grapes, hunting those truffles. Our guests are often not looking at a view... they ARE the view. We weave in a balance of rich cultural experiences for each of our vacations, and we always do it in a local setting that is not touristy. In other words, we won't make that cheese at some cheese making demonstration facility geared toward tourists. Rather, we build relationships with local farmers that do this every day as part of their livelihood, sharing with us their lifestyle. The same goes for all sorts of experiences like harvesting grapes for wine and olives for olive oil. Or going out to sea at night with local fishermen and selling our catch at market. Or participating in local ceremonies and festivals that the tourists are watching. We get our guests into the local lifestyle so that they are part of the fabric of the place they visit.
Understanding the Culture by Embracing It
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
The tourism business in general makes their own lives easier. In order to keep the masses happy, they adapt heavily to the cultures that visit them. In doing so, however, they are also taking away from the experience of learning about a new culture. For example, if you visit Rome, the hotels will all serve breakfast with American coffee, bacon, eggs, etc. But if you venture outside of the city to an area without tourists, you won't find these things. Perhaps you like to have them, but you won't discover the amazing experience of a fresh just-baked pastry and cappuccino, you will have missed the pure pleasure of standing at the counter of a small cafe with the other Italians if you sit down to your bacon and eggs in the morning. When it is all said and done, the sights, sounds and aromas of that Italian cafe will form lasting memories, but the bacon and egg breakfast will merely be really bad bacon and eggs. The cappuccino will be better than anything you have ever had at home, but the American coffee will be as bad as Instant coffee, because it is simply not something the excel at.
We not only fully expose you to the local culture, but also the local customs. And we will ask you to embrace them as much as possible. While the other tourists are having that cappuccino after dinner, we will advise against it. Because that is a cultural Faux Pas. No self-respecting Italian would ever have a cappuccino after dinner. Instead, they would enjoy an espresso, or an after dinner drink like Grappa or Limoncello. We'll even help you learn some of the language so that you are more welcomed. This may not seem like a big deal, but you will have lived like a local, and it will count for something when you are telling stories down the road because all of these little things add up to a significantly different experience. You will come to understand the culture you are visiting by being like them, and this never fails to give people an amazing insight into the place they are visiting. It connects them in a way that trying to bring your culture with you doesn't.
Learning the True Culture, rather than the internationalized version of it
To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.
When in Italy, if you order a Latte, you will get a cup of milk. If you order a "Venti Latte", don't be alarmed if they bring you twenty cups of milk! When the bread arrives at your table, there will be no butter, and no olive oil dipping sauce. You will never find Alfredo sauce, and there is no such thing as Italian salad dressing. That is, if you travel into the real Italy. You will find many of these things where the tourists go, because the locals have gotten so tired of people asking about them that they have simply given in and started offering them. But these are not Italian things by any means, and while you are getting them where the tourists go, you are not getting what the Italians really get. In other words, you are getting a fake experience without even knowing it. When you get away from all of that and actually experience true Italian culture, you will discover amazing things you never imagined. These discoveries will change the way you see a country for the better, and you will go home with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the place you have just visited.
Building Friendships, Becoming Family
A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.
Have you ever visited friends or family that lived in a place you were visiting while you were on vacation? Have you noticed that when they take you out, you go to the best "local" restaurants? Have you noticed that when they show you around, they are not giving you an educational tour of the place? Instead, you go out as a group of friends and instead of giving you a 'tour', you take it all in together. Of course, they live there and know more about the things you are seeing, so they will weave information in and out of the conversation, answer questions, etc. But it is never about being guided. It is about friends being together in a wonderful new place. If you have had this, aren't these memories more fulfilling than a classic guided tour?
This is how we see it. In fact, this is the premise on which we started Culture Discovery Vacations. Before we opened, we regularly had friends and family visit us at our summer villa in Italy. They always left telling us that it had been the most amazing and rewarding experience of their lives to see the sights in a causal way with locals that were friends. They couldn't believe how amazing it was to eat in the little local places, or to get together and shop for tonight's dinner then cook together in the country kitchen. They always left feeling like this had become a second home for them. So when we started our company, our first thought was "Hey, let's do exactly what we do with friends and family". So we do, and it is possibly the biggest reason for our incredible success.
Everything we do. The cooking, the meals, the excursions, the experiences, getting together with locals... it is all put together in a way to really foster bonding between us, the guests in our groups, and the locals at the places we visit. We only work with people that operate small, family-run establishments; People that are truly hospitable. Nearly everything we do is all-inclusive, and we will never offer to sell you something extra. There is no financial relationship between us when we are together. We treat our guests like visiting friends and family, rather than clients... so they become friends. Absolutely everything we do is done in a way to foster this notion that when we are a group of friends embracing a local lifestyle, magic happens.
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
All of this comes together to create an amazing experience like no other. Guests tell us that our vacations almost feel like a retreat, or summer camp for adults. However you see it, it is a very different way of travel that will change the way you see the world, enrich your life, create new bonds, and leave you with a wonderful experience and new friends that you will never forget.
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