The Tastes of Tuscany Culinary Tour

June 2-11, 2016

• 2 hands-on cooking lessons with local chefs
• Explore Florence, San Gimignano and Montepulciano
• Visit several Chianti and Montalcino vineyards and, of course, sample their famous wines

Price: $3,999 ppdo

This 8-night culinary adventure is all about living la dolce vita! With our small-group Italian tour, we’ll have 2 hands-on cooking lessons with local chefs, where we’ll learn how to create some classical Tuscan dishes that we can recreate at home. Then, we’ll visit several Chianti and Montalcino vineyards, where we’ll have private guided tours and sample their famous wines. We’ll spend time exploring some of the region’s most beautiful towns, including Florence, San Gimignano and Montepulciano. A bike ride through the Tuscan countryside with a local guide is one more adventure in store, and we’ll even have a foodie tour of the market in Siena and hunt for ingredients that we’ll later use to make the perfect meal. Last but not least, we’ll certainly have a dose of downtime, where we can simply relax by the pool with a glass of Chianti.

Tuscany is a treasure trove of experiences for the senses. Many would argue that Tuscany’s cuisine, wine, and scenery rival both its archaeological gems and its artistic masterpieces. Let’s put it to the test. Why not join us on our Tuscany culinary tour for a week that you will never forget?

Day 1—Saturday D
Arrive at the Florence airport in the afternoon, where our tour leader meets us; drive to our “borgo” hotel in the Tuscan countryside. After getting settled, we enjoy some apertivi before enjoying a gourmet multi-course dinner at the borgo.

Day 2—Sunday B, D
After a leisurely breakfast, we depart on a wine-tasting tour through the gorgeous Chianti countryside. Passing over the rolling hills and olive groves, we’ll visit several vineyards for private tours and tastings, sampling Chianti Classico DOCG, prestigious Chianti Riserva and Supertuscans. In 1716, Cosimo de’ Medici III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed that this region could produce what today is known as Chianti Classico – easily recognizable by the distinctive Black Rooster label.

We’ll stop in the quaint town of Castellina-in-Chianti for some free time and lunch in between winery visits. At the end of the day, we’ll return to our inn for a hands-on cooking lesson with the chef. Afterward, we’ll dine on the fruits of our labor and settle in for the evening. Perhaps an evening swim will be in order?

Day 3—Monday B, D
Today we visit the medieval town of San Gimignano, perhaps the most picturesque of all Tuscan hill towns. It’s noted mainly for the numerous 12th-century towers that still dominate the skyline. The town served as an important relay point for pilgrims traveling to or from Rome in medieval times, and the patrician families who controlled the town built about 72 tower-houses as symbols of their wealth and power. Although only 14 have survived, San Gimignano has retained its feudal atmosphere and appearance. Today, San Gimignano is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site worth exploring.

As well as as the obvious beauty of the town, San Gimignano boasts some incredible Renaissance art. Inside the simple-looking main church (La Collegiata) lies a treasure of fine frescoes, covering nearly every part of the interior. Bartolo di Fredi’s 14th-century fresco cycle of Old Testament scenes extends along one wall; the Life of Christ (attributed to 14th-century artist Lippo Memmi), was painted on the opposite wall just 14 years later; and Taddeo di Bartolo’s Last Judgment (late 14th century), with its distorted and suffering nudes.

While we’re there, we have to sample the town’s own variety of wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a light and fruity white. After a day well-spent, we return to our inn for some downtime before we head out to dinner at a local area restaurant.

Day 4—Tuesday B, D
After a hearty breakfast at the villa, we head to southern Tuscany to the small Renaissance town of Montepulciano, set within a circle of Cypress trees and perched at an altitude of almost 2,000 feet, making it the highest of southern Tuscany’s hill towns. We’ll have a private guided walking tour of the town and afterward have free time to explore on our own and have lunch.

The town’s greatest claim to fame is arguably the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a robust red wine. This area has been known since at least the 8th century for its superior wine, which we can sample in various wine shops and bars lining the twisting roads.

We then head to the small hamlet of Montalcino, a medieval town which boasts a 14th-century fortress (La Fortezza) providing 360-degree views over most of southern Tuscany. There’s even an enoteca in the walls of the fortress, where we can sample one Tuscany’s most esteemed red wines—Brunello di Montalcino. Later in the day, we head to a Montalcino vineyard with spectacular views and wines for a tasting followed by an early dinner at the vineyard’s restaurant. We return to our inn for a free evening.

Day 5—Wednesday B, D
Get ready. Get set. Go! No trip to Tuscany is complete without a visit to Siena, the 2,000-year-old city of brick founded by Augustus. Sienese myth designates the founding of the town to the sons of Remus, younger brother of Rome’s legendary forefather. Whatever you believe, however, you won’t be able to deny that Siena is special: a magnificent melange of medieval palaces, cathedrals and towers cast in the characteristic warm brown (Siena) colored brick. A visit to Siena is like journeying back time, with its winding alleyways, its 17 unique contrade (neighborhoods) and scallop-shaped Piazza del Campo, the undisputed heart of the city.

Today will be less about history, though, and more about food! With our local Sienese guide at the helm, we will explore the city’s famous Wednesday mercato. With chef-supplied lists in hand (written in Italian, no less!), we will divide into teams and set off to find our specific ingredients. It’s the perfect way to try your hand at speaking Italian and to have fun with the locals, who are always more than happy to lend a helping hand! After lunch on our own and some free time to explore this wonderful city, we head to a local restaurant for a cooking lesson—with the ingredients we gathered earlier in the day—and for a fabulous Sienese dinner!

Day 6 — Thursday B, D
Most everyone who has dreamt of going to Tuscany has at least heard of the Frances Mayes’ bookUnder the Tuscan Sun, which is set in the beautiful hill town of Cortona. Well, today, we’ll set off for a relaxing day of touring, beginning with a visit to this charming town.

Set on the border of Umbria, Cortona sits high on a green mountainside terraced with olive groves and cypress trees and with views to Umbria’s Lake Trasimeno. While its founding dates from as early as the 4th century BC, Cortona is still very much a vibrant tourist destination today. After time to explore its steep streets lined with shops and restaurants and to have lunch, we then head to a nearby olive-oil mill, or frantoio, to learn how the delicious and healthful oil is produced.

In Italy, there exists a designation for certain extra virgin olive oils that denote that they have been produced with olives from specific regions and with strict regulations and protocols to ensure quality. This designation is called “DOP,” meaning Protected Designation of Origin, and when you select a DOP olive oil, you know that you are getting some of the best olive oils money can buy.

It’s then back to the inn for dinner on our own and a relaxing evening.

Day 7—Friday B, D
Today the vans stay parked, and we, instead, put on our bike helmets for a leisurely ride through the Tuscan countryside. What better way to view the gorgeous undulating hills, olive groves and vineyards than from the seat of a bicycle? Don’t worry about your fitness level. We’ll have a private guide who will take us at an easy pace so that it’s enjoyable; if you find that you’ve lost your stamina mid-way, no worries: You can enjoy the rest of the ride from the comfort of our support van, so you’re sure not to miss anything. If a ride isn’t for you, you’re free to stay back at the inn and enjoy the comforts there.

The afternoon will be free to lounge by the pool, read a book or do whatever it is you’d like to do back at the inn. Tonight, we’ll head out as a group to enjoy a wonderful multi-course dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 8—Saturday B, D
This morning, we check out of our inn and say arrivederci to the countryside, heading to the undisputed capital of Tuscany: Florence. After checking into our charming hotel in the historic center of Florence, we meet our friend and local guide for an “Off the Beaten Path” walking tour of this historic and fascinating city.

There’s not another city in the world that can rival the influence that Florence has had on the world of art and literature. Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was home to such luminaries as Dante, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Da Vinci, just to name a few; it’s literally an outdoor museum, and a visitor can enjoy so many of the artistic and architectural stunners of this city without ever setting foot inside a museum. If you’ve always wanted to see Michelangelo’sDavid or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, you’ll have free time to do so in the afternoon. Your Buon Gusto Tours’ director can help you secure tickets in advance, so that you don’t have to wait in line.

The afternoon will be free to explore this magnificent city, alive with outdoor markets and lively cafes. We will reconvene this evening for our farewell dinner at a neighborhood restaurant serving Florentine specialties.

Day 9—Sunday B
We depart this morning for the Florence Peretola Airport for our flights back home.