Highly recommended is the new Italian Food, wine and Cooking holiday that was started by Chef Ezio Gentile in summer 2016. It creates a food narrative of Abruzzo that embraces mountains and sea, and provides some authentic cooking experiences to take home from the 4 provinces of L’Aquila, Pescara, Teramo and Chieti.
The tour is based just a short ride away from Ovid’s Sulmona in Ezio’s hometown of Prezza, a sleepy medieval gem which is gastronomically famous for its artichokes and divine pillowy potato bread. I treasured each morning waking up to large empty skies, watching the light play on the Marrone mountains and swallows swoop across rooftops as they caught their breakfast. Other members of the cooking holiday that were all new to Abruzzo made use of this being a hilltop town for their morning constitutional walk, which provided a peek into the rhythm of Italian rural life: the 3-wheeler Ape van selling freshly picked fruit and vegetables in the piazza, the older men making the walk up the hill to save a cent or two and jointly read the cafe’s newspaper together.
Guests share large airy apartments quirkily styled with basic mini hob and coffee & tea making facilities. A scrumptious selection of local pastries and breads accompanied by a tasty collection of conserves and jams (also available at London’s Borough Market) are served for breakfast, to be eaten inside or on the terrace that looks across to Pacentro, pop-diva Madonna’s ancestral town.
Part of this cooking tour’s charm is that you really feel that you are embraced by locals. They really do mingle as you sit in the quaint little piazza with fountain and bar in the evening for your final glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Most speak more than 1 language as many have worked overseas so conversationally you will get by, they are a cosmopolitan bunch! For those that live a hurried urban life back home expect a warm feeling of contentment as you are recognised by the butcher who had inspired you earlier with his lesson on how to make real Italian sausages and just what to put in the local porchetta!
Those travelling with children may like to book when the local commune (council) sets up week-long sets of activities for the children each night in the piazza; one night that I was there they had a free bouncy castle, slide and magician. The following week there was a concert with a Zucchero tribute band.
Abruzzo’s greatest gift, which always catches people by surprise is how it gently releases all those hidden stresses over some incredible landscapes and exceptional food & wine whilst indirectly learning some mean local cooking skills to take home. This cooking holiday is no exception and it was wonderful to watch newbies to the region fall in love with it over a mix of cooking workshops, food and wine excursions. It was great to hear that 2 members of the group that I accompanied have already booked to return in 2017.
What I most appreciated beyond learning how to make some interesting new dishes, was that I didn’t spend too much time bombing around in a minibus or packing up a suitcase each morning to explore another part of the Abruzzo; it’s great to have a charming base and get into its rhythm and participate in local life as much or as little as I fancied each day.
What excursions did the Abruzzo newbies that I spent an enjoyable week with most appreciate on the tour?
1. Visiting the 150-year-old small family business Mascciarelli Pasta which is regarded by many Italians as making Abruzzo’s finest artisan pasta. Everyone enjoyed seeing how great to see how good pasta is made commercially and what is exactly meant by bronze die pasta. Everyone in the group who were returning home with checked-in baggage stocked up!
2. Partaking in an al fresco 10-course fish extravaganza aboard a trabocco on the UNESCO heritage area of the coastline. This land-locked antique fishing machine (now converted into a restaurant) provided a delicious insight into the culinary traditions associated with the province of Chieti and the Adriatic Sea’s unique shellfish.
3.Tasting Confetti – when you try the real thing as well as the other tempting sweeties offered by the factory you discover a little bit of sweetie heaven.
4.Climbing castles – oh if only they could always be followed with a sparkling Pecorino afterward as was arranged at Roccacasale.
5. Truffle hunting was a wonderful experience especially as many members of the group hadn’t tried a truffle before. All of the group fell in love with Lara the truffle dog, especially when they found out what she could be bribed with to give up her prize – a hot-dog! The agriturismo that afterward served our found truffles was excellent and their antipasti out of this world
6. A guided ramble around Sulmona Market was a treat especially meeting the old ladies from neighbouring small villages who go there twice a week to sell their produce. Everyone loved their contagious pride and belief in their products and their offers to try, surely the best ever sales pitch!
3-day tours start at US$ 935,00 1-week tours start at US$ 2,549.15
Website – http://italiancooking.holiday
Sam is a very lucky midlife mamma to A who is 5 and works as a freelance travel and food web content manager and copywriter. She is currently writing a book 'Abruzzo: Folk and Food', its release date is Winter 2017.
She is the co-founder of the social enterprises: The Abruzzo Blogger Community and Let's Blog Abruzzo.
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Saluti a Fortunato!!
It was a pleasure to host you Sam, thank you for the nice review