OCTOBER 29, 2011 First let me tell you that we have just completed two incredible weeks in Italy. Contributing were the incrediblly unseasonal weather; our wonderful tour guide, Paola; our hosts, Stefano and Sergio, at the castle-villa Fabbroni; the artisans who welcomed us into their worlds and in some cases their homes; and lastly our guests and fellow travelers. One more mention is our guide’s mother, who hand embroidered an EVOO logo in yarn on a “memory tote bag,” that she first sewed together! Paola’s mom is in her 80’s and she was already asking Paola what she might do for our next culinary tour. The totes were presented on our first night together and used daily by our guests. Every aspect of our tour here has been greater than we imagined.
Our farewell dinners served to reinforce our opinions because each person holding the olive branch had to share something they were thinking. But perhaps I should start from the beginning. Our little group of 17, including Paola, our guide, and us, were called to breakfast daily around 8 AM. We would be greeted with American coffee, assorted fresh bakery pastries, a veggie omelet, sliced or baked tomatoes, fresh whole fruit, choice of three cereals, yogurt, salami, ham, and orange juice. The bus would arrive about 8:45 and we were to be aboard by 9 or 9:30. Anyone late to board was to supply the group with gelato! (Lenore was a few minutes late one morning herself–and she paid up with chocolates at the farewell dinner.) Typically we would drive to our destination for a tour, lesson, and before long, lunch, after which we would purchase products made by our hosts. Back at the villa we would enjoy about an hour of free time to explore, nap, or refresh for dinner. We had two dinner classes in which we prepared recipes under our chef-hosts’guidance; or it was a dinner prepared for us by them. Only once were we on our own for dinner, and that night Lenore and I prepared the sausages we made during our visit with a butcher as well as some steaks and burgers. Food was ample and “typical” the entire week.
On our last night, after a full day in Lucca, shopping and having a bakery lesson and lunch, we got back to the villa about 5PM. It was enough time to refresh for the farewell dinner that our hosts prepared for us. Without going into detail, let me just say that our guests and I really wanted to see some veggies by the end of the week, so we asked for a vegetarian menu. Eggplant parmesan fried stuffed celery, artichokes, salad, ricotta pie, and a fruit salad dessert. Just right. Since our farewell dinner was on Saturday, our villa happened to be hosting several other groups, so we shared the dining room with them. But they were amenable or at least tolerant with our olive branch game.
You see after each dinner at the villa, Lenore would place the olive branch (plucked from the orchards on the first day) over a guest’s head. She then asked a question or requested some information about themselves or what they were thinking. Each person then shared their thoughts. On the last day each week, we passed the branch around so that each guest could tell us one “take away” from the trip. This is when Lenore and I truly knew we had a successful tour. Our guests shared that the greatest part of this tour is that it is one of a kind. We went where tourists do not go. We were told that the passion exhibited by our hosting artisan vendors was priceless. That the friendships forged during our time together were unexpected. And that we as a group of people going through this life have a shared a one of a kind experience during this our first culinary tour of Italy.