A wonderful time in the Tuscan countryside.

When you arrive that you are now part of the family. When you leave, it is like leaving family with the friendships made.

Written By: Semi-Old-Traveler
Location: The Villages - FL - USA
Review Source: Trip Advisor
Type of Traveler: Couple
Itinerary: Soriano - Tuscan & Umbrian Sun

Full Review

This week, my wife and I returned from a trip to Europe. While there in the second week of May; we attended a cooking adventure hosted by Michael and Paola Kovnick. I say “adventure” because that is just what it is. Michael is a California boy and his wife Paola was born and raised in locally. Upon arrival in the small village of Soriano, about 1-1/4 hour drive north from the Rome Airport, we were met by Bill and his wife Carol (Michael and Paola’s support team) and settled into our own small private apartment. Bill and Carol are from Florida and spend their summers working for Michael. Bill acts as a guide on the tours and helps coordinate the daily actives and Carol is the cooking instructor with the assistance from two of the local women. Waiting for us in the apartment was some sandwiches and sweets with a bottle of wine to make us welcome. We were located a short 5 minute walk from the town piazza and could see the town castle and Tuscan hills from our balcony. The apartment was fully furnished with private bath and very comfortable. 

This is an all inclusive (except airfare) week event. The only thing not included is any personal shopping you may do while there or any extra food/wine you may buy for your apartment. We did buy some fruit during the week to snack on before breakfast. After you are settled into your apartment, you meet in the piazza for gelato, a discussion of the next day’s schedule and a walk around the town. The evening is finished off with a 5 course dinner at one of the local taverna or trattoria.

Each morning, we (there were 16 in our group) would meet at Bar Roma (a small coffee bar) on the piazza where we started the day with cappuccino and a pastry. The people living in Soriano are so friendly and by the second days many were striking up conversations with us. In the event they didn’t speak English (many did), they would grab someone else to help.  

After breakfast, we either shopped for the items needed for our cooking class or we were off on a sightseeing trip. The shopping was part of the adventure. We went to the local bakery for bread, the butcher or a meat vendor for whatever meat was required (how many of you have seen a whole chicken with feathers removed and the head still on?), and one of the vegetable markets. Paola, Bill and/or Carol lead the way. After the shopping, we went by van (although it is walk able) to the Villa Eddarella for the cooking class. The Villa Eddarella is Paola’s ancestral home and sits on about 5 acres in the beautiful Tuscan hills. While there, you are given full run of the house, including full access to the 90 bottle wine rack in the 700 square foot kitchen. During the cooking, Michael has a webcam set up and your friends can watch you from home. Each class included an appetizer, 1st course (pasta), 2nd course (meat w/a side), and dessert. During the class, the wine bottles are opened and the fun begins. Everyone gets a chance to try their hand in the preparation of the various courses with everything starting from scratch. During the preparation there time for relaxation on the patio with a glass (or two) of wine and conversation. Upon completion of the cooking, everyone sits down either on the patio (weather permitting) or in the large dining area. After lunch it is off sightseeing in one of the nearby Tuscan towns. The day is completed with a 5 course meal with wine at one of the many fine eating establishments that Michael and Paola know about. Michael and Paola are friends with most everyone in the region and are always welcomed in the restaurants with, I believe, special attention provided to their guests. Did I mention there was a lot of wine to drink?

On the days without cooking, we were off sightseeing for the day. Transportation was always provided by Sergio, Paola’s brother in his 25 passenger van. Guides for the sightseeing were either Bill as I mentioned before or Spartaco, a close friend of the family. One night after sightseeing one all went to Spartaco’s sister home for dinner. This is a very close knit group.
The sightseeing days were spent visiting small off the beaten track places without the herd of tourist that you normally encounter. There was always time for a little shopping while strolling around or a quick gelato. Lunch was provided, often at a winery or possibly an olive oil mill. Did I mention the wine? The day could not come to an end without a gathering for dinner and a little more wine.  

During the week, you prepare four meals. The last of which was pizza cooked in an outdoor wood oven. Currently the wood oven is located across the lane from Villa Eddarella on a working farm which previously part of Paola’s ancestral farm. Michael is in the process of building a new covered pavilion next to main house which will contain a place to eat, a brick wood oven and a wine cellar.

Michael tells you when you arrive that you are now part of the family. When you leave, it is like leaving family with the friendships made. I can’t begin to tell you what a wonder time my wife and I had (and based on the e-mail comments and Culture Discovery web site posting was everyone’s experience). Many of our fellow travelers are already talking of returning next year for one of Michael and Paola’ new itineraries or just to return for alumni week.

Sample Photo from this Itinerary