As I pull open the curtains to reveal the sun emerging over the rolling Tuscan hills highlighting the vineyards and oak woods, my senses are alerted to the heady mix of smells drifting from the kitchen beneath me, things are already afoot. I hurriedly put on my apron and scurry down the winding pastel stone steps of Villa Arezzo, a beautifully renovated traditional farmhouse, and into the kitchen taking my place at my cooking station.
I was lucky enough to be joining a group of 7 other likeminded pasta enthusiasts in a private villa in Siena as part of a Flavours cooking holiday, carefully tailored to fully immerse you into Tuscan culture. When it comes to relaxing there are many different holiday tribes, from the fans of 9 hour chicklit poolside shifts to the action man type survivalist and everything in between. I am most definitely an inbetweener. I love an activity but I can find myself stressing (rather counter intuitively) that given my short amount of holiday time, am I using it in the ‘best’ way? Am I seeing the ‘best’ places at the ‘best’ time of day, eating the ‘best’ food, have I got the ‘best deal’, the ‘best’ list is endless. Thank goodness the expert team at Flavours had taken all the unnecessary stress out of my holiday itinerary.
Arrival is a breeze, you are met by your host at the airport and you can spend the 90 minute transfer from Pisa airport getting to know your fellow foodies. A cold glass on Prosecco meets you on arrival as you unpack in your charmingly rustic bedroom which will be your home for the next week.
A typical day involves a hands on cooking lesson in the morning to prepare your lunch, personal favourites included the only ragu recipe you will ever need (top tip: lots of wine and patience are needed) and a carbonara so light yet rich and delicious nobody will believe you haven’t added cream. Followed by a delightful self-congratulatory glass of Prosecco in the ivy draped pool side gazebo prior to the main event, an indulgent languid lunch which you have the pride of knowing has been made by your own fair hand. Giving you the opportunity to get to know the other wannabe chefs in the making, indeed over half my group had already been on one or more Flavours trips, always a good sign! Our chef Mauro and host Simonetta were so warm and offered interesting insight into all aspects of Tuscan life. Indeed, where Flavours approach really succeeds is the sense of camaraderie it creates within its groups, not only is your group brought together by a shared passion and the communal activities, it creates a welcoming space for solo travellers looking for something a little different.
Afternoons are either spent with the Flavours team in the neighbouring towns Siena and Arezzo, allowing you to explore the ancient piazzas and peruse the shops at your own pace. You then reconvene at a specially selected local restaurant for dinner. Another difficult ‘best’ decision I didn’t have to make! One afternoon is well spent touring a local vineyard, concluding in an all-important wine tasting. I can’t help believing that supping wine in the late afternoon sunshine, whilst overlooking the vines on which it was grown cultivates a special appreciation and insight into the art form that is wine making.
When it comes to booking a holiday I am sure we have all been caught out by seemingly reasonable starting prices only to find it nearly doubled by the time you added your excursions and meal options. Flavours have thought of this and have removed all of the dastardly supplements. All your lessons, meals, transfers, wine and excursions are included in the original price, no stress or hassle at all.
Thankfully the schedule is carefully balanced and allows ample time in the afternoons to enjoy a pasta induced snooze or read your book around the pool (the only decision I had to make was a ‘best’ holiday book buy.) Or feel free explore your beautiful surroundings on foot, there is a beautiful village on the top of the hills that is worth the venture, walk fast in the vain attempt of making room for dinner!
Back on home soil I am pleased to say I have easily transferred the newly acquired skills from the quaint country kitchen to my own at home, due to the simple techniques and short (easily sourced) ingredients list. I am smugly wowing friends and family with meals I have oh so casually whipped up. As I start to think towards next year’s escape from it all, I am excited to find out Flavours have branched out into painting, pilates and photography retreats. And thus contemplating what new skill I can acquire whilst relaxing on holiday next year, the ‘best’ way to do it!
Flavours Holidays offer seven-night cooking holidays in Tuscany at £1,599 per person with no single supplement. All prices include £100 towards flight costs, private ensuite accommodation, 5 cookery lessons with a local Italian chef, experienced host throughout, all meals and local wine, visits to Siena and Arezzo via the itinerary, a private wine tasting at a local winery and transfers.
By Lucy Coghlan