Cooking was my first love. When I was much younger, I remember helping my Mom make cookies, pies and then later on dinners and special meals. I loved seeing the combinations of colors and tastes come together to bring joy and laughter around the table. My father always in the kitchen too, mostly because it was his profession, but still today, this is where you can find him most of the time. So it’s no surprise that I would organize an Italian cooking course in Italy for another adventurous ©Travel with Wendy trip.
I knew it wouldn’t be hard to convince a few travelers to join me on this trip where we would stay on an Agriturismo (working farm) and cook authentic Italian food. I had know idea how much I would fall in love with Umbria or Raffaela from Let’s Cook in Umbria from a Pinterest post.
With an extended mini van and seven other “foodies” we headed down to central Italy for a long weekend of cooking, trekking and exploring the Umbria region. Despite the recent earthquakes thankfully this part of Perugia did not sustain any damage or loss. This area is so close to Tuscany we explored Cortona one night for dinner also. Here are the highlights of our trip!
Pit Stop – Lake Como
Wanting not to drive so far in one day we broke up our excursion by stopping overnight in Lake Como, Italy. Absolutely love Lake Como. We had a wonderful dinner at La Cava di Sapori. Although our hotel location was not optimum for being on the lake, we were within walking distance to this FANTASTIC restaurant.
Just look at this wine room!
We enjoyed organic salads, charcoal oven brick pizzas and delicious wine.
The next morning we headed out to the old town district and harbor of Lake Como for breakfast.
At our hotel we were fairly close to the old town, however parking is an issue. (see below)
While walking the streets of Como we discovered many treasures including the Como Cathedral. This gothic catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Mary is unbelievably ornate. We also walked through the shopping piazzas (squares) where there was a little market going on. What a wonderful morning strolling through the beautiful streets along the lake while the church bells rang out all around us.
Next time, I visit Lake Como though, I think I will stay in the Bellagio area of Lake Como. I heard this is area is one of the most breathtaking and picturesque places in the region and called the “pearl of Lake Como.” So on our cooking in Italy trip as we began, what better way than to stop in one of Italy’s most famous glacier lake regions, Como!
Most of our visit to Italy would be in the Perugia, Umbria region, just south of Tuscany. I was so excited to explore this new area filled with history, culture and different cuisine. After e-meeting Raffaela (Raffa), I knew I would thoroughly enjoy the authentic hospitality and culture of this lesser-known gem considered to be the heart of Italy.
Raffa greeted us with open arms, wonderful wine and yummy treats in our suites. Our rooms overlooked the valley and mountains on this quiet hillside farm. After a little rest we headed out to Perugia for dinner, where we enjoyed a spectacular meal at La Luna Nel Pozzo.
Our awesome waiter Kazeem was johnny-on-the-spot with wine suggestions, spoke great English and kept our “still” water filled. This incredibly busy restaurant, hotel and resort was just what we were thinking of for a wonderful dinner. Be sure to make reservations. I enjoyed some “Lemon Ravioli in White Wine cream Sauce” and we all tried samples of dessert, including a “lemon iced drink (not Limoncello) that was unforgettable. But the Tiramisu… oh my!, Bellisimo!! With our bellies full and a long day of travel we headed home for rest before our first day of cooking and trekking.
Cooking & Trekking in Umbria
Our days began at 9:30 when Raffa would round us up and all meet in her lovely house for what we would be days full of laughter, Italian education, and smells and sounds that will forever be etched in our hearts.
Our menus included – Flourless Chocolate cake, Pork Tenderloin with grapes and white wine reduction sauce, Eggplant Ratatouille, Tiramisu, just to name a few. You’ll have to sign up if you’d like to know more or be invited to dinner by one of my gals.
After our mornings of cooking and full lunch’s, Raffa organized tours and trekking of the region. On our first day we would be hiking the hills around the ancient Roman aqueducts near Assisi. So on day one, we met our driver Paolo and our tour guide Paolo, no kidding! With the Paolo’s we headed off in yet another 9 passenger van, this time I didn’t drive. We had one traveler under the weather who stayed back to rest, but would catch up with her later. Here are some shots from our first trekking day.
Our second day included an “urban trekking tour,” so we headed out to old town area of Perugia, where we met Valentina from Guide in Umbria, also.Our lovely guide gave us the BEST tour ever! Filled with insights and intrigues of this pivotal town along the pilgrim’s route to Rome and Spain. But of course, when we told her shopping was a must she took us to a regional flea market happening only TODAY! My ladies had a ball.
We also learned about this fortress town of Perugia once ruled by Pope’s who were more like Kings and ruled with an “iron fist” and collected taxes on salt to help pay for wars. Not well liked by the town’s people, these Pope’s didn’t last too long, just a few hundred years. We also “happened” upon a cultural market going on in the old palace, where a very enthusiastic historian was very excited to share the history of Perugia. Unbelievable!
Having told Raffa that “demi-johns” were important she hooked us up with Michele, an antique dealer who works with Luigi Filippo Bastianelli, and scrambled around to find us what he could in a hurry. As you can see he was quite successful!
Some other highlights of our trip was our night in Cortona. Although we were a little bit rushed from our first day of trekking with Paolo, we headed out the 45 minute drive across the valley and around the lake to Cortona.
Having visited Cortona twice in the last few years with family, I knew this would be a keeper with my girls as well.
Although we arrived at sunset, you could still the beauty of this town glisten off the ancient houses and cathedrals that line every cobblestone street. Passing a leather purse store was one of the highlights of our trip. One traveler hugged her new purchase the rest of the trip. I won’t say which one.
If you get a chance to visit Cortona it is well worth it. The information center is located right off the Piazza Signorelli as is the international ATM. The information center has loads of information from bike tours, wine tastings, farm stays (Agriturismo’s). Also, you can discover local events that are happening all the time.
Driving through Italy
Driving through Italy in the fall is unforgettable. Rolling hills, full grape vineyards, and olive groves dot the countryside even though you happen to be on an AutoStrada (highway.)
Narrow streets and equally narrow archways and tunnels can make driving in Italy a challenge. My advice is to drive slow. I am happy to report, I came through scratch, bump and dent free. It was a nerve-wrecking trip in a nine-passenger van.
Tolls – our tolls in Italy totaled about €150. It’s mostly the highways/Autostradas that charge these fees. Be sure to add this to your budget if you’ll be driving through.
Be very careful about where you park in Italian tourist towns, pay attention to public parking signs (you will still need to purchase a ticket – for window display.) Parking in garages are a little tricky even for the smallest of cars. PARKOPEDIA helps me search for three different possibilities.
I have always wanted to travel to Italy to learn how to cook authentic Italian FOOD. Meeting wonderful people too and discovering new things. So check out my video for more information and follow me on YouTube too!