The 10 Best Cooking and Wine Vacations in Italy for 2020
10 Incredible Italian Food & Wine Vacations for 2020
Close your eyes for a moment and think about ethnic food, and name as many dishes as you can for each country. I'll take a guess that Italian is the longest list. Think about the number of ethnic restaurants you can go to, and I would bet you have a pretty solid selection of Italian food. Now think about a fine wine, and I would bet something Italian or French came to mind right away. Think about it... Italy, a country only about 2/3 the size of California is without question the culinary capital of the world.
It is no accident, because absolutely everything in Italy revolves around food and wine in one way or another. No matter how you look at virtually anything in the country or culture, it somehow connects to a culinary tradition. With that in mind, it is no wonder so many of the world's most treasured dishes originated here.
It is only natural, then, that if you are going to visit, you should consider a food and wine vacation in Italy. After all, if the culture revolves around food and wine, why shouldn't your vacation? Yet, so many people visit Italy wanting to see the sights, and they settle for sub-par tourist food when they visit. Usually they don't even realize it. They are sadly robbed of the full experience that makes traveling to Italy so special for those in the know.
Here we have compiled a list of our Top 10 favorite food and wine vacations in Italy. Of course we have bias, since this is what we do, but we offer so many options that people often ask us which ones are our favorites. In truth, the ranking is in no specific order, as each culinary vacation is different, so it depends on what your preferences are. But our opinion is based on the vacations our team most enjoys!
1. Wine & Cooking Under the Tuscan & Umbrian Sun
For travelers looking for a full immersion experience, this is the vacation is the one. This a a week-long, all-inclusive vacation based in the town of Soriano nel Cimino, right at the border area between Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria. Just an hour north of Rome, and right at the Tuscany and Umbria border, one of the thing that makes this vacation so special is that it is not flooded by mass tourism (yet), but so close to many bucket-list destinations. Cooking classes are true local farm-to-table family hands-on experiences held in the family's breathtaking 17th century country villa. In addition to cooking traditional dishes from the region, guests make fresh pecorino and ricotta cheese with a local shepherd, as well as grappa in an old copper still in the villa's cellar. Cooking classes range from home-made tortellini, to fresh pappardelle with Ragu. The 500 year old wood-fired oven fires up for Tuscan Roasted Chicken and Potatoes, as well as the villa's weekly Pizza class.
Guests stay in beautiful residences in the medieval quarter of the village, giving them a true sense of living the local life, mingling with and getting to know the locals.
Excursions on this vacation include special visits to small artisan Brunello wineries in Montalcino, Tuscany, as well as a beautiful Vino Nobile winery in Montepulciano, Tuscany. At each, guests get to know the winemaker behind the wine, and experience their life. In addition, this vacation visits a small Extra Virgin Olive Oil Producer and Winery in Umbria, a visit to Assisi, Deruta Pottery, and other small hilltop hamlet in the region.
Wine & Cooking Under the Tuscan and Umbrian Sun is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that begins in May, and runs through early November for $3,845 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
2. Culinary Treasures of Bologna, Venice, Michelin Stars & Exotic Cars
The city of Bologna has long been one overlooked by visitors to Italy. Travelers have traditionally passed it up on their way between Florence and Venice or Milan, yet it is undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. Moreover, given that Italy is the food capital of the world, consider that Bologna is considered by Italians to be the food capital of Italy! The area is known as the Food & Motor Valley. Food? Yes, this area is home to such delicacies as Mortadella, Tortellini, Parmesan Cheese, Parma Prosciutto, Balsamic Vinegar, Bolognese Sauce (Ragu), and so much more. Motor? Yes, because for those not fully convinced by the food, consider that Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati all make this area their home.
This is a week-long, all-inclusive culinary vacation that is based right in the center of Bologna. The week features hands-on cooking classes taught by local nonnas in their country farm just outside of town. Guests learn to make the classic dishes of the area, including Pappardelle alla Bolognese, Tortellini made from scratch and much more. All of the classes are local family-style, like a group of friends cooking together. In addition, there is a special cooking class taught by a Michelin-Star Chef this week.
Foodie Excursions take guests to a mall artisan Parma Prosciutto producer, a Parmigiano Reggiano producer, where guests have a chance to milk their cows and see how Parmesan cheese is made, a special lunch with a small Modena Balsamic Vinegar producer, and quite a bit more. There is a visit to the Ferrari factory Museum, where guests get. chance (optional) to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari or Lamborghini and drive the same roads they use to test drive on. In addition, there is an exclusive private behind the scenes Lamborghini factory tour, where guests walk the working Lamborghini assembly line during operation.
Sightseeing excursions this week take guests to Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, and a very special day in Venice, during which guests get a very exclusive visit with am artisan Gondola Builder who makes many of the most exclusive Gondolas in Venice.
Culinary Treasures of Bologna, Venice, Michelin Stars & Exotic Cars is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that begins in May, and runs through early November for $3,995 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
3. Cooking & Adventure on the Islands of Sicily
If adventure and the sea are in your blood, this is one Italian food and wine vacation to seriously consider. Based on the tiny island of Favignana, off of the western coast of Sicily, this adventure brings guests into the heart of Sicilian island life. The week begins at the Palermo airport, where a shuttle brings guests to the port of Trapani. They then board the hydrofoil that takes them to the island of Favignana, where vans meet the group to bring them to a private peninsula on the cliffs of the Mediterranean. This is home for the week.
As with all of the food and wine vacations listed here, regional cooking is at the heart of the week. Here, cooking classes are held in a private villa overlooking the sea, and are taught by a local Sicilian nonna. Guests learn to cook traditional Sicilian recipes, such as Busiate, Arancini, Cannoli, and much more this week. All classes are hands-on and family style. On one afternoon, the group visits a local butcher, during which they make traditional Sicilian Sausage together.
The week is full of experiences that bring guests into the soul of island living in Favignana. On one unforgettable evening, guests make their way to the local port in the middle of the night to go fishing with a local fisherman. They cast the nets at sea in the moonlight and wait for the catch while singing, drinking, and learning some Sicilian dialect that will be needed as morning arrives. At sunrise, the catch is sorted as the fishing boat makes its way back to port, and guests have a chance to sell the catch to the locals in the local fish market using traditional calls in the local dialect to attract customers. After an opportunity to get some sleep, it is back to the fishing boat for an afternoon at sea in the crystal waters of the island, during which part of this morning's catch is cooked up for lunch.
One day during the week, a trip to Marsala brings guests to a small, family-run Marsala winery, to the famous Salt Flats os Trapani, where the group walks past the normal "tourist zone" for an exclusive experience in which they put on rubber boots, and go into the flats to harvest their own sea salt with the locals. There are many other local experiences, including making fresh ricotta cheese and honey with a local shepherd, a wonderful evening barbecue with the locals, trying just-caught sea urchins, and so much more.
Cooking & Adventure on the Islands of Sicily is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that leaves guests wondering if what they experienced really happened. It is truly a memory of a lifetime. This trip begins in May, and runs through early November for $3,995 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
4. Cooking in Paradise on the Amalfi Coast
For those looking for a budget trip to The Amalfi Coast, pass over this one. This
What makes this week so unique is that while many bucket list destinations are visited, it is all done outside the bubble of the masses of tourists. The group is hosted by a local family all week, and brought into the heart of local life on this beautiful coast. Instead of doing the normal tourist thing, it is as though you are visiting your own family here, and they are welcoming you into their lives. Just about everyone encountered, from the chef teaching the cooking classes, to the hosts, to the people driving the boats are all husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, moms and dads in the same family... and they live hospitality.
Cooking this week is right at the villa in the beautiful gardens overlooking the coastline. Traditional local dishes are made, including Caponata, Braciole, Baba, Pasta Fazul, Limoncello, and traditional Neapolitan pizza in the villa's wood-fired oven. Guests even make fresh buffalo mozzarella from scratch right at the villa this week. All of the ingredients for the classes are bought together as we visit the local street markets in the village of Minori, one of the less touristy villages on the coast.
The excursions this week are not only done in style, but unlike any other. They include a day of boating around the island of Capri (including the Blue Grotto) on private boats that pick the group up in Amalfi. Or a day in which private boats take to group to Positano for a little shopping, followed by sunset Prosecco toast in the bay overlooking Positano... capped off by a Beach BBQ dinner in a private cove accessible only by boat. There is a a visit to Amalfi where guests visit the old paper mill and make their own paper. A visit to a family winery in the hills above the coast, an evening visit to Ravello when the tour busses have left, and a wonderful day visiting the ruins of Pompeii.
Cooking in Paradise on the Amalfi Coast is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that reveals an Amalfi Coast that is new even to those that have been there countless times, and leaves guests feeling a sense of "Home" there. This trip begins in May, and runs through early November for $4,995 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
5. Sicily, The Motherland - Wine, Cooking, Culture & Adventure
For those looking for a classic tour of Sicily, but done with authentic cultural experience, fabulous food and wine, this is a tour not to miss. The 11 night adventure starts in Catania and ends in Palermo. One may look at the destinations visited, and chalk it up as a classic tour of Sicily, but they would be greatly mistaken. It took Culture Discovery five years to develop this tour, because every day includes the classic bucket-list destinations most want to experience in Sicily, woven together with unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime local experiences that you simply don't find in a brochure. These are experiences and events that only happen after spending years cultivating relationships and building trust.
Over the course of the 12 day, 11 night tour, there are 3 locations for accommodations, and excursions from each are done in a hub and spoke fashion so that guests are not continuously packing and unpacking as with most tours of Sicily. The accommodations are part of the experience. The first, just outside of Taormina, in an ancient village converted into a small family-run hotel with spectacular views of Mt. Etna. The second, near Ragusa on the southern part of the island is another ancient village converted, and the group takes over the entire location. As guests walk in, they cannot help but here the violins from that oh-so-famous film based on a certain Sicilian crime family in their heads. It is other-worldly to say the least. The final location is near Trapani on the western end of the Island, which is a breathtaking wine estate, that leaves guests wondering if they magically appeared in Tuscany.
Along the way, there are hands-on cooking classes with local families, where you learn to make all sorts of traditional Sicilian dishes. There is even a chocolate-making class where guests learn to make the famous Modica Sicilian Chocolate, and of course a class in which Sicilian sausage is made. The week is peppered with local family parties, singing, dancing, music, and a true sense of belonging. The wonderful hospitality of the Sicilian people is something to behold.
As for sightseeing, the tour visits Taormina, a trip up to the top of Mt Etna by four wheel drive vehicles, Catania, Siracusa, Ragusa, Modica, Agrigento (Valley of the Temples), Mazzaro, Trapani (including harvesting salt at the Salt Flats), Marsala, and Palermo, where guests are treated not only to a city tour, but a foodie's dream with a street food tour in the ancient Ballero Street Market, following the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern.
Sicily, The Motherland - Wine, Cooking, Culture & Adventure is an eleven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that shows a Sicily few visitors every have the opportunity to experience. This trip begins in May, and runs through early November for $5,995 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
6. Wine & Cooking in the Heart of Chianti and Florence, Tuscany
For those looking for an all-Tuscan food and wine experience, this is the trip to look at. This a a week-long, all-inclusive vacation based in the town of Radda in Chianti in Central Tuscany. This home base puts guests close to Florence, Siena, and sites right in the heart of the Chianti wine region. Cooking classes are farm-to-table family hands-on experiences held a special teaching kitchen right at the hotel, and one in beautiful Cortona. The recipes taught are all classic Tuscan regional cuisine such as Tuscan Pici pasta made from scratch, Eggplant Millefoglie, Tuscan Lasagna, and much more.
Guests stay in a beautiful boutique hotel right in the center of town, with all of the amenities.
The week features visits, tasting and meals four wineries, including two Chianti wineries, one Brunello winery and one Vino Nobile winery. Each is a truly personal experience, as these are not the typical wineries visited by all of the tours, but actual family experiences. In addition, there is a visit to a Cashmere got farm, and a ranch that raises Chianina Cows, famous for the Bistecca Fiorentina.
Excursions during the week include a day in Florence, during which guests are treated to a city food & wine market tour, and a visit to the Academia gallery to see the David, a day in Siena, Gaiole in Chianti., Cortona, Castellinuzza e Piuca, Montalcino, Montepulciano and Pienza.
Wine & Cooking in the Heart of Chianti and Florence, Tuscany is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that begins in May, and runs through early November for $3,895 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
7. Wine, Cooking, Truffles & Chocolate: A Foodie's Paradise in Umbria and Tuscany
Set in the beautiful hills of Umbria, just east of Tuscany, this is a mix of both opulent luxury and an of-the-beaten-path culinary experiences. The home base for this 8 day, 7 night all-inclusive cooking vacation is the darling village of Norcia. When we consider Italy a foodie hotspot of the world, consider that this little village is a top foodie hotspot for Italians themselves. It is know as the home of the best prosciutto, sausage, and all that is pork in Italy. It is also known to be the home of the best Black Truffles found in the country, as well as the best lentils. And the town is home to only 3,000 residents.
Guests are hosted in the luxurious Relais & Châteaux Palazzo Seneca Hotel, right in the middle of the historic center of town, and home of the Michelin Star Ristorante Vespasia. Two of the cooking classes for the week are taught by the chef and soux chef of Vespasia, offering guests a unique experience in Italian "Alta Cucina."
The week features two more exclusive cooking classes. One day, guests visit the Perugina Chocolate Factory, where they are admitted into the teaching kitchen at the factory, which is normally reserved only for professional instruction for their artisan customers. Here, Perugina's master chocolatier teaches the group a private chocolate making class. On yet another day, the most famous pizzeria in Assisi will close its doors to the public, and teach a master "pizzaiolo" class.
Excursions during the week include visits to Assisi, Perugia, Montefalco, Ascoli Piceno, and Castelluccio, mixed in with life-experiences, such a truffle hunt with a world-champion truffle hunter, experiencing the Gregorian Chant with the world-famous monks at the Monastery of Saint Benedict, a visit to a farm where the area's coveted "Cinturino" pigs are raised, a wonderful private party in a country villa, a visit, tasting and lunch and lunch at an Umbrian Sagrantino winery, and a visit and tasting in an ancient 16th century functioning olive oil mill.
Wine, Cooking, Truffles & Chocolate: A Foodie's Paradise in Umbria and Tuscany is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that begins in May, and runs through early November for $3,895 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
8. Cities Lost in Time on the Road Less Traveled
After reading the description of Wine & Cooking Under the Tuscan & Umbrian Sun, one might think that is truly a full-immersion week, but the team of Culture Discovery once sat down and asked themselves what they would change on that week if a group of people would come and blindly trust them... to make it even more off the beaten path. In other words, if they had a week to do only their favorite things that may not seem too attractive on a website, but have always been the favorite experiences for them and their personal guests. They then put up a special "Alumni Only" week on their website, and simply wrote". "Itinerary to be announced. Book this if you trust us". They posted a little mention of it on their Facebook page, and everyone's surprise, this little experiment sold out in a couple hours... and it was a huge hit
Since then, they have offered this trip one or two weeks per year to keep the tradition going, but have actually made a series of web pages that detail the vacation. While it keeps a few things from the Wine & Cooking Under the Tuscan & Umbrian Sun itinerary (The wineries in Tuscany, The Olive Oil Mill, staying in the private apartment-homes in the village, and cooking in the villa), the cooking class recipes are different. For example, on one day, the cooking class focuses on recipes from the oldest known cookbook in the world, "De re coquinaria", which dates back to the first century AD in Rome. Excursions take the group to 2,000 year old waterfalls built by the ancient Romans, a light hike in the woods to the ruins of a 3,500 year old Etruscan Village, quite a bit more where it is unlikely to find any other tourists.
Cities Lost in Time on the Road Less Traveled is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that begins in May, and runs through early November for $3,895 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
9. Medieval Chestnut Festival & Wine Harvest Season
Also based in Soriano nel Cimino, this vacation only occurs twice per year during the Chestnut Harvest and the local Medieval Festival. The Wine & Cooking Under the Tuscan & Umbrian Sun itinerary is rearranged to allow for more time in Soriano to experience the festivities of one of Italy's greatest festivals. Depending on how the weather has been, this week may also include a day of harvesting wine grapes in Tuscany, or making wine.
This is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that occurs on the weekends that include the first two Sundays of October each year, for $3,945 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
Medieval Chestnut Festival & Wine Harvest Season is a seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacation that happens during the first two weeks of October for $3,995 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.
10. Wine, Cooking, & The Olive Oil Harvest - Soriano or Norcia
This s a once-in-a-lifetime trip that the company only does twice per year, either the last week in October or the first week of November. One week based in their Soriano location, and one based in their Norcia location. It is during this tiny window of time that the world-famous Umbrian Olive Oil is produced. Every year. While thousands flock to Umbria to experience the new olive oil when it is first made, guests on this vacation experience the art of making olive oil from the inside.
A day is set aside during the week, in which the group makes their way to an Olive Orchard, and spends the morning picking olives, relaxing, snacking, and having an overall good time. Once enough olives have been picked, it is off to the small, traditional olive mill. On this day, the mill closes its normal operations and send the workers home for the day. The group will take the olives they picked and operate the mill, pressing their own olives. Once all of the olives are mashed, and in the press, the group is treated to a wonderful home buffet lunch by the owners of the mill. Finally, after lunch, each person goes back into the mill as the pressing is finishing, and each person fills a one- liter can of the olive oil they produced that day, from the olives they harvested.
Aside from the day of harvesting and making olive oil, the Soriano-based week is largely similar to the Wine & Cooking Under the Tuscan & Umbrian Sun vacation, and the Norcia-based week is largely based on the Wine, Cooking, Truffles & Chocolate: A Foodie's Paradise in Umbria and Tuscany vacation, except some excursions are removed to make time for the olive harvest, and some recipes are unique "Winer Recipes" for this week."
Wine, Cooking, & The Olive Oil Harvest (Soriano) and Wine, Cooking, & The Olive Oil Harvest (Norcia) are seven-night small-group cooking and wine vacations that occur on the last week of October or 1st week of November for $3,895 per person, including all classes, tours, trips, tastings, food, wine and accommodations.