Includes 5 nights accommodations at Poggio Etrusco, all meals/beverages, classes/visits/tastings, and ground transportation (arrive/depart Chiusi).
This sample itinerary may be subject to change due to weather, seasonal conditions, and serendipity.
Reaching south from Florence, the province of Siena ripples with the gentle forested hills of Chianti into the rich valleys of the Chiana and Orcia Rivers. The area bubbles with the earthly pleasures of hot mineral waters and agricultural wonders. It is a region of contrasts. Depending on the season, travelers are treated to the visual splendors of the blazing colors of reddened grape leaves or cheery sunflowers, soothed by billowing fields of wheat.
Beyond Chianti, the road is less traveled by tourists, less touched by the winds of commercialism. It is not uncommon to see deer, porcupine, pairs of pheasant, and perhaps even wild boar as you drive or walk the area. Many quaint and traditional food-making practices still exist here. The highlighted foods of this area are the pecorino cheese, truffles and porcini mushrooms, and Chianina beef. You’ll also be introduced to some uniquely local products such as a pasta called pici and a pork sausage called finocchiata, which is salted and cured in a coating of aromatic wild fennel flowers and black pepper.
Accommodations are in the countryside at Pamela Sheldon Johns' gracious farm, Poggio Etrusco (near Montepulciano, halfway between Florence and Rome). The villa is divided into private apartments for the students, each with two bedrooms, two baths, and a fully-equipped kitchen and living area with a fireplace. On 15 acres, this estate is an active oliveto with 1250 olive trees. We have a garden to pick our fresh, seasonal produce from. Our three neighboring farms provide us with organic fruit, wine, and pecorino cheese. The views are breath-taking from every angle. In the distance we can see the charming hilltown of Cortona, and nearby we see the ancient towers of the historic town of Chianciano Terme. In warm weather, we can enjoy the swimming pool and dine al fresco. In cool weather we can dine in the family dining room and sip our after-dinner drinks in front of the fireplace.
Day One Lunedi (Monday)
Arrive to Chiusi train station (halfway between Florence and Rome) at approximately 11:00 am(see train schedules at www.trenitalia.com). We will head for the old part of Chiusi, the heart of the Etruscan world. Our first stop is the celebrated Etruscan museum for a quick overview of Etruscan civilization, then visit the underground labyrinths. Our historian guide will take us to see one of the seldom visited ancient tombs near the Lake of Chiusi. Our lunch at a lakeside trattoria will be one imagined to be similar to what Etruscans ate: fresh perch from the lake smoked over canes and dressed with local olive oil, pici (the local pasta with ancient roots), and the local Sangiovese wine.
Once we have settled into Poggio Etrusco, we will head to the medieval village of Monticchiello where we will have a demonstration of a dish using farro, an ancient strain of wheat. We’ll have some time to stroll around charming Monticchiello, then return for dinner and a lesson from a wine master on the spectrum of wines in Tuscany.
Day Two Martedi (Tuesday)
This morning we start with a visit to an antique frantoio, an olive pressing mill, for a demonstration and tasting of oils. On our return, we continue the discussion of the artisanal Italian pantry as we enjoy explanations and tastings of olive oils, vinegars (including 30-year-old traditional balsamic vinegar), capers, pasta. Lunch is a hands-on cooking class utilizing the artisanal ingredients.
Afternoon cooking demo in Montepulciano at a renowned restaurant, followed by some time on your own to explore the winding streets of Montepulciano, home of the DOCG wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made from the Sangiovese clone Prugnolo Gentile. This wine became ennobled in 1549 when Pope Paul III’s sommelier (things were different then!) named it "a most perfect wine, a wine for lords." We recommend visits to cantine (such as Palazzo Avignonesi, with cellars built over visible Etruscan tombs). Later, we meet for dinner at the restaurant.
Day Three Mercoledi (Wednesday)
This morning we head out for market day in Chianciano Terme to purchase the ingredients we need to prepare our lunch. After the market we will return for hands-on cooking class to make Crostini Fegatini, Ribollita, Grilled Sausages, and Crostata di Fichi. This afternoon we have a guided visit of the gardens of La Foce, the estate of Iris Origo. Dinner will be a seasonal risotto, stuffed guinea hen, seasonal vegetables, and meringata.
Day Four Giovedi (Thursday)
This morning we get an early start to see a bit of Cortona before we arrive for our appointment at noon at the elegant farm of one of the best producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. After a visit to the cellars, we will also learn the process of making vin santo, then enjoy a relaxed lunch. Tonight we fire up our wood-burning pizza oven for a hands-on lesson to learn to make the dough and properly stretch out pizza with the classic toppings. Weather permitting, we will eat al fresco. Along with the pizza we will have tasting of a variety of Italian prosciutti and Italian beers.
Day FiveVenerdi (Friday)
We visit Trequanda and a special macelleria to learn about the famous Chianina beef. Afterward we pay a visit an artisanal cheesemaker to learn about Pecorino cheese, Cinta Senese (a unique breed of pork), and salumi production. After lunch there will be time to explore the charming Renaissance hilltown of Pienza.
Our farewell dinner is at Mondo X, in Cetona - very special!
Cetona is a beautiful little wooded village is at the very edge of Tuscany and home to an unique restaurant. Mondo "X" is in the Convent of St. Francesco which dates back to 1212. This convent was in a total state of disrepair when Father Eligio assumed possession. With a crew of reformed and reforming drug-users, the convent was restored to a magnificent state. The residents then began growing their own vegetables and fruit, raising meat, and learned to cook in an unbelieveably gourmet style. We will arrive early to enjoy the grounds, perfectly maintained by the residents who are learning the trades of gardening, as the others work at cooking and restaurant and hotel jobs.
Day Six Sabato (Saturday)
Morning departure after breakfast to Rome or Firenze by train.