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All Posts for ‘culinary tours’ Category


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Taste of Tuscany

  • June 14th, 2011

Imagine the tastes, aromas and sights of Tuscany, the incomparably beautiful and sensually rich region of Italy. Explore the culture, food traditions and wellness practices of the Tuscan people through visits to local markets, vineyards, olive groves and oil producers, spas and springs, farms, cafes and restaurants, formal gardens and museums.

The program will alternate between interactive sessions on food and wellness, and complimentary field visits throughout the region. The group will stay at Villa Marzalla in the Tuscan countryside near Lucca in the Provencia of Pistoia in the Arno River Valley. La Villa Marzalla is a lovely seventeenth century noble estate in the hills above the village of Pescia and offers modern comfort and convenience in a gorgeous setting and produces olive oil, wine, grappa, vin santo and chestnuts.

Anthropologist and chef, Mark Haskell of Friends and Food International, and health coach and food educator, Kim Rush Lynch of Cultivating Health, will take you on a wellness holiday exploring the rich culture and food traditions of Tuscany.

Trip Details:

  • October 1st through 8th, 2011
  • Pick-up and drop-off in Florence
  • Includes accommodations, food & wine, restaurant meals, entrance fees, guided instruction programs & ground transportation (airfare not included.)
  • $3,200 per person — Inquire about group rates and early bird discounts.

For more information contact Mark Haskell at or 202.726.4616.


Groups will stay at our primary residence Villa Marzalla in the Tuscan countryside near Lucca in the Provencia of Pistoia in the Arno River Valley.

La Villa Marzalla is a lovely seventeenth century noble estate in the hills above the village of Pescia, approximately 50 km. west of Florence and 20 km. East of Lucca. Called “Azienda Agricola Marzalla,” it is an agritourismo; a historical agricultural estate protected by law and allowed tourism amenities of a restaurant, pool, suites and much more. Marzalla offers a blend of traditional Tuscan beauty, and modern comfort and convenience in a gorgeous setting, and produces olive oil, wine, grappa, vin santo and chestnuts. The Cecchi families have been the lords of Marzalla (and Pescia) since the Medici granted it as a defense against the state of Lucca.

Meals & Wine:

Morning and evening meals will be offered at the Villa and will emphasize traditional Tuscan cuisine. Midday meals (the main meal in Italy) will be in carefully chosen restaurants and trattorias that reflect not only the local delicacies, but also fresh, traditional food grown and prepared on the premises. Our program stresses quiet comfort and unhurried pleasure. We will also be visiting markets and food producers and may cook our own meals as the participants wish. We will dine at some of the best restaurants in Italy and at cafes only locals frequent.

Cooking Classes:

The group is small, never more than ten people, creating an intimate and flexible learning atmosphere. Cooking Classes will be available throughout our stay, and as participants wish to schedule them. They won’t be on the proposed itinerary – but it should be assumed that they are available throughout our stay. Often, Tuscan cooking is technically not complicated, however, the quality of the ingredients cannot be compromised – this is where the beauty of Tuscan food shines. Therefore, we will visit a number of markets and food producers, as well as meeting chefs, as part of our cooking classes.

The program is designed to alternate, as much as possible, days visiting sites with more relaxed days for seminars, cooking classes, walks, and individual interests, thus sparing the participants the usual “cultural overload.” All group travel will be in a chauffeur driven minibus with sufficient time allotted for shopping and exploration. Members of the group are encouraged to participate in all the group activities, but are certainly permitted to choose activities as they wish.

Wine and Olives:

Wine and olive oil are central to all Tuscan cooking and during the course of our stay we will have numerous opportunities to sample and learn about both ingredients. We will visit several producers and learn about, use and develop a taste palate for both.

Proposed Itinerary:

We have a number of different options for our day trips in the region which may change with weather conditions, travel conditions, etc. But we have a rich selection to choose from in Tuscany, as seen by just a few of the alternate days listed.

Day 1 — Arrival in Florence, chauffeured transport to accommodations. Luncheon (weather permitting on patio in the olive groves). Settle in and exploration of villa and estate grounds, meet with hosts & staff. Late afternoon walk through our host community, visit Roman and medieval sections of town. Dinner and program orientation in evening.

Day 2 — Visit to Lucca, the city of wide beautiful walls, numerous ornate churches. A tour of the city will include a stop at the famous sculpted tomb of Ilaria del Caretto (from which the story of Sleeping Beauty came). Also we will visit the Sunday antique & truffle markets, Roman theatre, and Puccini’s home. After lunch (at Buca San Antonio), in the green hills above the city, the group will stroll through the formal gardens of the Royal Villa Marlia, the exquisite eighteenth-century country estate of Elisa Bonaparte, older sister of Napoleon and governess of Lucca.

Day 3 – Guided morning visit to “Svizzera Pescistine,” literally the Switzerland of northern Tuscany. This high, hilly region where the estate is located, is filled with small villages dating from the middle ages. It is a location where one can see the genuine Tuscan folk traditions. Lunch will be served at “Il Frantoia,” a restaurant located in an eighteenth century mill used for pressing olive oil. We will visit olive oil presses and meet porcini mushroom and truffle gatherers, and visit a medieval monastery. In the afternoon we will visit the spa at Montecatini Termine and take the “views and cures” of the internationally known springs founded by the Romans, and set in the hills above the Arno.

 Day 4 – Guided visit to the hills of Chianti with stops scheduled for private, wineries and vineyards to sample the reds and whites of one of the world’s most famous wine appellations. We will meet Count Ferdinando Guicciardini of Castelo Guicciardini in Popiano for a tour of his estate. Lunch at Il Vicario in Certaldo, home of Giovanni Boccaccio, XIVth century author of the Decameron Tales. In the afternoon, we will visit the XIIIth century towered town of San Gimignano, to see the famous frescos and towers on the “frontier” between the ancient Tuscan powers of Siena & Florence.

Day 5 – Guided morning visit to Pistoia weekly street market. Once known as the bakery for Roman legions crossing the Apennines, Pistoia boasts a colorful, outdoor food market and numerous examples of medieval, renaissance and modern sculpture. Visit to Vinci to see the lovely museum housing replicas of Leonardo’s many inventions and to San Miniato, a town made famous by the film, “Night of the Shooting Stars.” San Miniato was also the home of the eleventh century ruler Countess Matilde, whose castle overlooks the village.

Day 6 (alternate) – South of Siena, we will visit Pienza, built by Pope Pius II to exemplify the perfect Renaissance community, and its sister city, Montalcino, famous for Brunello, perhaps the finest of all Italian wines, and where Dante hid from the Florentines after fleeing the city. Following lunch in Montalcino, we will listen the Gregorian chants of the Augustinian monks at the IXth century monastery of Sant’Antimo. A visit to Siena, the city republic of St. Catherine and the Palio horse races with a leisurely walking tour through the city to complete the day.

Day 6 (alternate) – Guided visit to Florence, the majestic Renaissance treasure. Ample time will be given for exploring the many historical and artistic sites, highlighted among them will be the church of San Lorenzo famous for Michelangelo’s Medici tombs, the Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, etc.. To provide enough time for afternoon visits and shopping, lunch will be at a typical Tuscan rosticeria with a stunning view of the city and fragrant wood oven cuisine. Goodbye dinner.

Day 6 (alternate) -Guided visit to coastal Tuscany, known locally as Versilia. Here the group can visit Torre del Lago, the beautiful lakeside home of the composer Puccini (the Lady of the Lake). The group will then visit Pisa and see the famous leaning tower and cathedral of this famous former maritime republic. If time and weather permit, the group will also visit the marble quarries of Carrara, high in the mountains above the coast, where Michelangelo sought the stone for his statues of David and La Pieta. The Medici country estates of Artimino and Poggio a Caiano. Wineries, markets, leather & shoe shopping.


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