How to book the best Italian food and wine holiday, with advice on gourmet tours, cookery courses and wine tastings, our favourite trips, including ice-cream making and vineyard visits, and the best tour operators. By Telegraph Travel’s Italy experts. Scroll down for a list of tour operators offering food and wine holidays.
Italy has obvious attractions as a gastronomic destination. It has rich and varied regional cuisine, ranging from rich dishes using maize, beef and butter in Lombardy, to light seafood specialities on the coast, to the saffron and other spices that signal Arab influences in Sicily.
Wine and cookery courses, therefore, are among the country’s most popular activity holidays. Many seek to teach the basic principles of Italian cooking, using traditional ingredients such as spelt, radicchio, rabbit and wild boar. There is often plenty of opportunity to sample local specialities, as well as preparing meals from scratch.
Such itineraries are becoming increasingly flexible, moving from week-long residential schools, with hands-on lessons and visits to local markets, vineyards and producers, to drop-in courses lasting anything from a morning to two or three days.
Nowhere in Italy lacks for culinary interest, but when choosing longer courses, which are often set in rural villas rather than towns, consider the destination. You will have free time, and will visit local towns as part of the course, so is the area one that you want to explore? Are other historic centres within striking distance?
You may want chose somewhere that, even by the country’s high standards, is especially known for its gastronomy, or has a stronger than usual regional element to its food, such as Bologna, Parma, Sicily or Piedmont, or a coastal area such as Amalfi for fish and seafood. If you want to learn about a specific region’s cuisine, it naturally makes sense to book a holiday in that area. Most specialist companies offer Tuscan and Umbrian bases, but some of the more established operators venture to more unusual locations such as Piedmont, Le Marche and the Veneto.
The most flexible arrangement can be to contact an Italian school directly. In Bologna, La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese (00 39 0 51 649 1576; lavecchiascuola.com), established in 1993, has a range of courses in English from €50/£42 for all abilities and ages, including children. “Lesson and Lunch” courses are offered for visitors, with lunch included and available to non-participants, so friends or family can join you after sightseeing.
Similar short courses can be booked independently in other cities, such as Florence. Florencecookingclasses.com, for example, has pizza and ice cream making classes from €49/£41. Some villa and hotel operators, such as The Italian Connection (see “Tour operators”) will also package drop-in courses as part of a longer villa or hotel stay.
Wine tours can also be booked independently. In Chianti, for example, you can easily organise tastings yourself – chianticlassico.com is a good starting point for Tuscan tours, or try movimentoturismovino.it for countrywide information. However, in emerging areas such as Sicily, where estates are less used to visitors, it is worth paying for the contacts and expertise of an operator. (Tim Jepson)
Tour operators offering food and wine holidays to Italy
Arblaster & Clarke (01730 263111; winetours.co.uk) has run expert-led tours and “wine walks” to Italy for over 25 years, including Tuscany, Piemonte and the Veneto, plus emerging regions such as Sicily.
Awaiting Table (awaitingtable.com) is a charming small Anglophone company in Lecce, a base for lessons and insider insights into Puglian food, wine and culture.
The Italian Connection (01424 728900; italian-connection.co.uk). Typical of several hotel and villa operators that can also tailor-make half-day, one-day or longer cookery and wine classes as part of a longer Italian trip – lots of options are available.
Flavours (0131 343 2500; flavoursholidays.co.uk) has week-long cookery holidays in Puglia, Sicily, Amalfi and Tuscany (also three-night Tuscan breaks).
Italian Wine Tours (0039 0588 35132; italianwinetours.com) is a Tuscan-based small company offering tailor-made tours (in English) from one to four days in the region, with private guides, plus longer set and custom-made itineraries in Tuscany, Sicily, Piedmont, the Veneto and Puglia.
Martin Randall Travel (020 8742 3355; martinrandall.com) runs gastronomic small-group tours of Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Veneto.
Smooth Red (020 8877 4940; smoothred.co.uk) offers “wine weekends” to Puglia, Amalfi and Piedmont, plus longer trips with cookery lessons and other extras.
Stirred (01347 868 659; stirredtravel.com) organises six-night courses at the elegant Villa Casagrande in the Veneto town of Cison di Valmarino, including hands-on tuition, wine and olive oil tasting sessions, and a day trip to explore Venice’s fresh fish and vegetable market.
Sunvil Discovery (020 8758 4722, sunvil.co.uk) offers tailormade food and wine themed itineraries throughout Sicily, with a range of wine estates and farmhouse properties, with many that offer regional cookery experiences or wine tasting.
Tuscookany (07039 400235; tuscookany.com). Three-day and one-week residential cookery courses in a choice of three attractive Tuscan villas.