There’s nowhere quite like Italy for gastronomic delights, as Premier’s Steve Cox discovers on a foodie tour of Portico di Romagna.
Our first taste of Italy began at the Hotel Al Vecchio Convento – our base for the week in Portico di Romagna, set in the beautiful Apennine Hills. Following an evening flight from Heathrow and short transfer we were greeted with a welcome drink and the chance to meet our hosts, including Head Chef and Sommelier, Massimo. A fantastic evening meal set the bar for the forthcoming week which I was really looking forward to, mainly for all the delicious food!
We woke to bright sunshine and after breakfast set off on an introduction to Italian cooking, starting with a lesson on making pasta and fresh tomato sauces from scratch using very simple ingredients. Aiming to teach people how to create delicious Italian dishes with little to no effort required, the chefs use only the very best fresh ingredients available to enhance the taste of every dish and you can learn from the experts as you go along. Perfect for beginners!
After our hands-on demonstration and a spot of lunch, it was off to a local vineyard to sample excellent varieties of red and white wine as well as rich olive oil. Set on the border of Romagna and Tuscany, the stunning town of Portico di Romagna is surrounded by beautiful vineyards making it an ideal location for this tour. Our host Massimo explained in detail about where each wine comes from and which ingredients they are best paired with, which was a great addition to the afternoon.
The following day we set out on an amazing truffle-hunting excursion with the hotel owners and their dogs, which are especially trained to track down the truffles (and also try their hardest to eat them!) This was great fun and something I really enjoyed. We were then treated to a delicious lunch made by Massimo using the truffles we had collected.
The following day we were escorted to the beautiful city of Ravenna – famous for its stunning Byzantine Mosaics and stained glass windows. We spent the day visiting some of the city’s churches and I was amazed by how detailed they all are when you see them in person, each indicating a huge amount of detail and craftsmanship involved.
Next we tied on our aprons and got out our rolling pins to continue our hands-on experience in the kitchen with Massimo, our Master Chef; cakes and pastries were the focus of today’s class. A perfect experience for anyone who has a sweet tooth like me.
The next morning we set off to explore Portico, the charming town in which our hotel was based. We wandered along the cobbled streets soaking up the scenery and admiring the beautiful old buildings, stopping for photo opportunities and to chat with the locals. With its rustic charm and authentic feel, this lovely hillside village is well off the tourist track and offers a refreshingly rural insight to the local area.
Back at the hotel that afternoon it was time for another cooking lesson. We watched intently as Massimo constructed an amazing Aubergine Parmigiana using fresh vegetables, herbs from the garden and cheese from the region, and we each created our own dishes to replicate his example. The menu at Al Vecchio Convento changes frequently dependent on which local ingredients are available each season, so be aware that classes may vary accordingly.
We were up early the next morning to visit a neighbouring Agriturismo town to learn about cheese production and on to Modigliana for a decadent chocolate tour – these were two of my favourite excursions and I’d highly recommend both. The Italian cheeses we sampled were very mature and full of flavour, while the chocolate was a perfect contrast with its rich, velvety taste – the perfect gifts for family and friends.
On our last day in Italy we enjoyed free time in Portico for a spot of artisan shopping and a quick dip in the clear, freshwater pool near the hotel grounds before heading back home that afternoon, full of new found cooking skills and stuffed with delicious Italian cuisine!
Premier Travel can offer an escorted seven night Italian cookery tour from £1,249pp; including return flights from London Heathrow to Bologna with British Airways, return transfers, 3* hotel accommodation and all excursions as stated, all cookery classes, the services of a tour manager and a full board meal basis throughout. This offer is valid for departures on 25th June or 1stOctober 2016, please ask for details.
For more information or to book, contact either Premier Travel’s Huntingdon team on 01480 371777 or the St Ives team on 01480 371371; alternatively, visit the website: premier-travel.co.uk for more information.