Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Italy Cooking School Tours: How To Choose The Right One For You
Cooking school tours in Italy and around the world have multiplied like zucchinis in a summer garden. This article tells you how to sift through the overwhelming choice of Italian cooking tours and find the right one for you, so you experience a feast for your senses, heart, mind and soul, a trip of a lifetime and avoid disappointments. A cooking holiday in Italy can add up to a big investment of time and money. Maybe you've been dreaming for years about a cooking school tour in Italy. Maybe it's a special trip to celebrate a 40th, 50, 60th birthday or a big anniversary with family and friends you love. How to choose an Italian cooking school tour that gives you the joy and value you expect? How to protect your investment in your trip? Ask yourself these 10 questions. 1. What is important to me in my Italian cooking tour? List what's important to you in your cooking tour. Read tour itineraries critically with the mind of a detective. If an itinerary seems vague, ask the tour operator detailed questions. Here are some examples of what may be important to you and what to look for in tour itineraries. A. Lots of cooking lessons? How many lessons are in the itinerary? B. Lots of wine visits? How many winery visits and wine tastings are in the itinerary? Where do they take place? In wineries with the producer? In wine shops with a knowledgeable staff member? C. Lots of stimulating food visits? What kind? Cheese and olive oil producers? Truffle hunting? Make sure the itinerary has visits that make YOUR mouth water. D. Immersing yourself in Italian life? How many different local people do you meet and how many different towns or locations do you visit? What kind of Italian cultural experiences delight you? Meeting an artist in his ceramic studio? Cooking in a family's home and dining with the family? Are these events in your tour? 2. What is my budget? Prices for a six day Italian cooking tour package vary from about $2000 to 5100 Cdn or $1900 to $4800 U.S. Four day tours go from about $1200 to 3400 Cdn or $1100 to $3200 U.S. at current exchange rates. 3. What kind of accommodation is best for me? Some people are happy in simple, clean rooms in B Bs with minimal decor because they're hardly ever in the room. They prefer to put their money towards special food and wine experiences. Is this you? Others want beautiful, four star hotels or country properties with magnificent views and rooms oozing with historical charm and designer decor. Is this you? 4. What kind of excursions do I want? Is this your first time in this particular region so you prefer sightseeing? Are you a foodie hungering for gastronomic adventures or a wine lover thirsting for winery tours? If you'd like a bit of it all, how much sightseeing and how many food and wine visits do you want? Often cheaper tours offer mostly sightseeing where you explore and shop in medieval towns and admire beautiful country panoramas. More expensive tours give you exclusive gastronomic visits where you watch artisan producers making cheese or tour wineries with owners who tell you all you ever wanted to know about their wines and give you special tastings. 5. When do I want to travel in Italy? Are you keen on the wine harvest? Food lovers swarm to Italy for the wine harvest in September and October when you have a large number of cooking tour choices so reserve early. Is warm weather important? Generally in most parts of Italy, mid May to mid October are warm to hot. July and August in some parts of Italy may be too hot for you. Would you like a quieter time when chefs and winery owners can give you more personal attention? You'll find a good choice of cooking tours in May and June. In steaming mid August most Italian businesses shut for annual summer holidays. Cities empty out. Masses flock to the mountains or beaches, leaving cities like Florence to the tourists. You'll find less cooking school choice in August. 6. How many people in my cooking class? Six or eight? You'll get to prepare the whole lunch or dinner menu. Ten or more? You'll join the "eggplant" or "tiramisu" team and not learn how to make the other dishes. But the more the merrier! A larger class also may give you demonstration style, not hands-on lessons. Which do you prefer? 7. What level of cooking teacher and class do I need? You can savour once in a lifetime experiences with great home cooks on their farms. If you're a gourmet cook, you may prefer more professional level cooking lessons with restaurant chefs. Check cooking teachers' qualifications. Ask about class level. Most classes are geared to food loving tourists, ranging from gourmet cooks to rank beginners. If the thought of cooking with people who can't separate eggs gives you nightmares, gather your own group of good cooks together for a private cooking tour or classes. 8. What kind of cooking lessons do I like? Hands-on lessons where you put your hands in the flour, or demonstration style classes where you watch the chef's expert moves and ask lots of questions? Many demonstration classes tend to be large from 10 to even 20 people. Julia Childs reportedly had 40 disciples watching her in classes at the five star Hotel Cipriani in Venice and following her in a long line through the Rialto market. 9. Where do I eat on my cooking tour? Do you want to eat in a variety of local restaurants, so you get a real flavour of different cooking styles and towns and countryside in Italy? Or do you prefer quieter meals at your country villa or estate, where the chef feels like an Italian family member? Less expensive cooking tours feature most meals at home, while more expensive ones take you to more restaurants. 10. What is included and not included in the price of my cooking tour? Some tour itineraries don't make it crystal clear what's included. Some say "optional" excursions or lunch "on your own" which mean you pay extra. Some say "evening at leisure" which means free time and dining on your own. 11. Ask for references If you want to feel reassured you've chosen the right Italian cooking tour, ask the tour operator for names of past tour clients and their e-mails. Contact them to find out first hand if the itinerary delivers on what you want to experience. For many food and wine lovers, taking a cooking tour in Italy means a long time dream is coming true and represents a big investment of time and money. Make sure your dream becomes a fabulous real experience. When you have a short list of tours that appeal to you, read the itineraries critically and ask yourself these 10 questions. Buon viaggio! Buon appetito!