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Iconic Tuscany

Tuscany is a necessary part of any cultural education, as it has been for centuries.

By Eva Stelzer

tuscan landscapeTuscany long ago earned its reputation for capturing the very essence of Italy – picturesque rolling hillsides with vineyards and charming medieval towns. The geography varies dramatically: coastal cities teeter along the Tyrrhenian Sea, while lush mountains, quaint hill towns and river plains stretch far inland. Add to this beauty seeing some of the world’s famous art in person. One of many reasons we are drawn to Italy and other European destinations is that touring “the Continent” always has been part of the ultimate educational experience.

Cook under the Tuscan Sun

Cooking Class in Tuscany

Cooking with Costanza: a culinary adventure to awaken and inspire all your senses and allow you to experience the very essence of Italy!

The Renaissance Villa, on a hill with all of Florence spread out below, focuses on regional cuisine that is more regal and elaborate in preparation than in the villages. Set in a heritage-protected five-hectare property with colourful gardens, this is an opportunity to experience the lifestyle of the Tuscan city folk and immerse yourself in Italy as you imagine it in films. Your experience begins al fresco with a tour of the organic herb gardens. You are encouraged to smell, feel and taste the various greens. Learn how to choose the most perfect natural flavour enhancers of Tuscan cuisine. The discussions will cover food traditions, history, and what makes food such an integral part of everyday life in Italy. Of course you choose the freshest herbs for your cooking lesson.

tuscan cuisineFood choices are seasonal and take advantage of the freshest produce. The first dish to prepare is an authentic antipasto. Too many restaurants ignore antipasti and focus on pasta, but this is a traditional meal to be enjoyed all evening long, and enjoyment of each course is paramount to your culinary experience. The antipasti selection is based on seasonal and local produce. Each course is paired with an Italian wine.

Appetizers are based on both wild and cultivated foods. In spring you might make frittata di carciofi – fried artichoke. Jewish Romans made this dish famous in the ghetto, and it is still a staple of spring cooking. Chef Costanza may thinly slice an artichoke and treat it like a carpaccio – which is usually thinly sliced raw beef or fish – and serve with a deep grassy flavoured olive oil. In summer tomatoes ripening on the vine make delicious bruschetta al pomodoro (tomato bruschetta), insalata caprese (tomato salad with garden fresh basil, oregano and local buffalo mozzarella). Autumn is the season for melt-in-the mouth crostini con i funghi procini (porcini mushrooms in a flaky crust).

Breakfast in Tuscany

Breakfast in Tuscany

Some mouth-watering delights from Italy

By Eva Stelzer

Starting breakfast with dessert is a slightly wicked Tuscan tradition that I thoroughly enjoy. At Florence’s Hotel Il Guelfo Bianco, the chef’s freshly baked crostata is a sensory delight. The sweet jam oozed in my mouth as the buttery crust crumbled onto my tongue. Manager Antonella Rocchini says the cheerful chef can be heard humming and whistling while baking. “Of all the treats on our menu, crostata is the most popular,” she adds. After devouring too many pieces of the lattice masterpiece, I understand the attraction.

The tiny, unadorned breakfast room hardly seems like the setting for such delicious food, but the morning buffet is filled with goodies from melt-in-the-mouth burratta cheese to warm apple tarts topped with smooth, creamy ricotta. As in most small Italian-owned hotels, a barista makes guests the perfect morning coffee. A barista is a professional coffeemaker who understands the important harmony between milk frothed into white airy peaks and the bitter dark espresso base. The combination of taste and texture creates the perfect balance.

“A barista is a professional coffeemaker who understands the important harmony between milk frothed into white airy peaks and the bitter dark espresso base.”

Guided walks Italy

Guided Walks in Italy

A great way to connect with a place is on a guided walk or day tour with a local expert. In Italy, we have amazing one day and week-long guided walks and tours to suit every fitness level. You may wonder why we choose to use Italian licensed guides with quirky accents. The simple truth is that you can have the best accommodations and food, but without a local guide, you will miss the insider experience. Our local guides know the people in each small town or village, they know the off-the-beaten-path trails, and they are passionate about the history, geography and culture of their land. We engage North American staff to help with bridging the gap between cultures. But it is our local contacts that really make the difference and will leave you with memories to last a life time.

Our guided walks take you on footpaths that have connected towns for centuries, before paved roads became the norm. Turning a good trip into a great one is no easy feat. We do this by choosing leaders for their knowledge and expertise and of course, for their humor. Our feature image is a special walk to the church in Sicily where the Godfather II was filmed. Our expert guides are leading us to the church where Michael Corlioni was married. We end with a glass of limoncello at the local bar, followed by some grappa for those with a strong stomach.

Join us for one of our group departures or let us customize a journey tailor-made to your tastes.

Walking Tuscany’s White Roads

At the top of my list of fabulous things is walking through Tuscany’s network of white roads. These winding routes were originally carved out centuries ago by the enigmatic Etruscans, and later expanded by the Romans so that their war horses and soldiers could reach all parts of Europe from France to England. As a matter of fact, the sentence “all roads lead to Rome,” actually refers to this network of interconnecting trails. As cities grew they became neglected, left to be used by farmers and locals as they strolled from town to town.

To spit or not to spit part II

While French wine tasters roll the wine around in their mouth and spit before tasting the next, this is definitely not the custom in Argentina. I spent a week cycling through Mendoza where lunch often included 5 or 6 wines, following which we’d cycle to another winery a mere 10 kilometers away, and begin the tasting process again. I managed one sip from each glass while watching others drain their liquid happily and with ease. I did learn how to check the colour or a red and the clarity of a white, inhale the bouquet, and differentiate between citrus, chocolate and tobacco flavours of a good Malbec.