Travel /
Toscana /
Sicilia

WORKSHOPS WE LOVE

There are many ways to LIVE ITALY, but some are better than others. The key to experiencing the country at its finest is to look beyond the comfortable and the predictable. Get lost! Get to know the locals. And one of the easiest and most rewarding ways is through a lifestyle study experience. This month we recommend three celebrated workshop and retreat maestros that share a simple but significant concept: go deeper, but go slower. Whether it is enjoying Annette Joseph’s commitment to slow food, making Sugo with Anna Tasca Lanza or embracing the true notion of La Dolce Vita through Italian literature and art with the Idler Academy, you will go deeper into Italian life, and you will relish it.

 

ANNA TASCA LANZA – SICILIAN FOOD CULTURE

Well over a thousand kilometres south of Annette Joseph is the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, set on 1,300 acres of vineyard in the green hills of central Sicily. The Marchesa, Anna Tasca Lanza di Mazzarino, has been described as “Sicily’s culinary ambassador to the world”. What she began as a project in the beautiful stone farmhouse, Case Vecchie, inherited from her father, has become a true farm to table way of learning, where students study as much about the sources of ingredients as they do about cooking them. The aim is to teach the hidden and complex values of Sicilian food. Such is the School’s reputation that it has attracted many visiting dignitaries including Julia Child, Robert Mondavi and Alice Waters. Since its inauguration over thirty years ago Sicilian cooking has come to be regarded as one of the great cuisines of the world, without doubt aided by Anna Tasca Lanza herself. The food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who has spent time at the school, wrote: “I think Sicily might well have the most interesting regional cuisine in all of Italy. All these influences have swept across the island and left an imprint—from the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. The Normans and Germans were there too.”

 

There is great flexibility in the courses one can take – from a one-day class to the four-day residential workshops, staying in the 19th century farmhouse or nearby cottages and enjoying the lovely pool in the grounds. Workshops range from lessons in horticulture and cheese making to wine production and coffee roasting. And good news for those who cannot travel, there are online courses too

 

A truly immersive and unique workshop is the ‘Cooking Wild Sicily’ which is all about wild greens. Participants explore the abundance of spontaneous edible plants in the Sicilian landscape – learning to recognize edible plants with local foragers – and then return to the kitchen to cook them.  

 

The ‘Tomato Paste’ Workshop takes place in the heat of August when Sicilian sweet and tangy tomatoes are at their best, and indeed may well be the finest in the world! Here one learns to make the staple of Sicilian cooking, estratto di pomodoro (tomato paste) as well as the delicious salsa pronta, sun-dried tomatoes and raisins. 

 

If you would love to learn more there is the ‘Cook the Farm: Experiential Food Education’. This two-month winter programme was launched in 2016 by Fabrizia, Anna Tasca Lanza’s daughter, who took over the running of the School fourteen years ago, and while honouring her mother’s practices has made many enticing additions including this two-month programme. It brings together participants from around the world to cook, eat and think about food. Lectures, tastings, and hands-on lessons both in the kitchen and on the land look at the complexity of our food systems at both local and global scales, as well as considering the cultural, social, economic, and environmental issues around food.

 

 

The Autumn brings two enticing workshops, the first being the ‘Slow Food Experience’ which takes place over five days at the end of September and beginning of October. This food-forward workshop is all about the traditions and slow food of the Lunigiana region. Taught often by locals, whose knowledge has been handed down from generations, chestnuts inevitably make a strong appearance with classes on making bread, cakes, pasta and fritters from the locally milled chestnut flour. There are workshops, taught by Annette Joseph and La Fortezza Chef Philip Meeker, devoted to preserving from the organic kitchen garden, preparing fresh tomato sauce and grape jam and making pizza in the outdoor forno, as well as learning the origins of local foods. The ‘Slow Food Experience’ is far from being workshop based only and there are visits to a mother/daughter team of cheese makers, an Amaro liqueur laboratory, an organic flour mill, a chestnut baker and regional vineyards as well as opportunities to take part in the grape harvest and taste local products including chestnut honey, chestnut bread and wine from La Fortezza vineyard. High on the list is a day devoted to the gourmet truffle: hunting for truffles and a 3-course truffle filled lunch at a rustic farm. 

 

‘All about Olives’, also a five-day workshop, begins in early October and is described as “the olive-centric workshop which will guide you through olive grove heaven”. This is led by Annette Joseph herself and she teaches all things related to olives of the region, from harvesting, pressing to cooking. There are lessons on the production of olive oil. Lunches and dinners are devoted to the eating of olive-heavy meals. Like the workshop, ‘Slow Food Experience’, there are also excursions including those to local farmers markets. La Fortezza has its own photo studio in an old stone barn, where you can also take part in traditional photography classes. 

  

 

ANNETTE JOSEPH STYLE WORKSHOPS & RETREATS

Annette Joseph, celebrated cook and stylist, writer on entertaining and the Italian experience, has created the dream location for her workshops on cooking, art and photo styling.  La Fortezza is a stunning medieval fortress in the region of Lunigiana, a beautiful, rural and mountainous region at the far northern tip of Tuscany renowned for its olive and chestnut groves. The fortress, surrounded by rose and vegetable gardens and its own vineyard, has been restored with great care in a style Joseph describes as “part monastic, part bohemian”. 

 

“Have you ever dreamed of meandering off the beaten path destinations …. harvesting Italian grapes for wine, picnicking in olive groves, dining on local streets, painting al fresco or enjoying movies under the stars”, Joseph asks, and creates at Fortezza. This is the fantasy study abroad retreat where you will be able to take part in workshops run by highly experienced and visionary instructors, while staying in luxurious accommodation and dining at night alfresco on the terraces surrounding La Fortezza.  

If you would love to learn more there is the ‘Cook the Farm: Experiential Food Education’. This two-month winter programme was launched in 2016 by Fabrizia, Anna Tasca Lanza’s daughter, who took over the running of the School fourteen years ago, and while honouring her mother’s practices has made many enticing additions including this two-month programme. It brings together participants from around the world to cook, eat and think about food. Lectures, tastings, and hands-on lessons both in the kitchen and on the land look at the complexity of our food systems at both local and global scales, as well as considering the cultural, social, economic, and environmental issues around food.

 

 

IDLER RETREATS

 

The Idler is a bi-monthly magazine, dedicated to “fun, freedom, and fulfilment”. Devoted to the art of ‘idling’, which better place to hold its relaxing but knowledge enriching retreats than Italy, the country of dolce far niente.

 

Hosted by editor and founder Tom Hodgkinson and academy director Victoria Hull, the Idler offers two upcoming week-long retreats this year. Both take place in the beautiful Umbrian countryside at the picturesque Villa Pia, where you can enjoy the swimming pool, tennis courts, yoga studio or long siestas in the extensive gardens. 

 

‘La Dolce Vita’ (the Good Life) retreat is guided by two authors. Henry Eliot, editor at Penguin Classics, will give an overview of Italian literature from Rome to Post Modernism, taking in Ovid, Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Manzoni, Svevo and Calvino, to see how the concept of ‘La Dolce Vita’ has been considered. Kamin Mohammadi, journalist, author of La Bella Figura and a yoga and Reiki practitioner, will provide the basic tools to live the good life the Italian way, with her philosophy of slow living. 

 

The workshop will not only be a joy for the ears but a visual and palatable paradise. In the course of the week participants will go foraging for wild local berries and herbs, visit amongst other places the beautiful hill village Anghiari of Leonardo da Vinci fame, a local olive press and Sansepolcro, birthplace to Piero della Francesco and home to many of his paintings. One of the highpoints of the week is the walk from Villa Pia to the village of Monterchi to see one of the most revered works of the Renaissance, the Madonna del Parto by della Francesca. 

 

Artisans of Florence and the Chianti’: guided tours of the beautiful and art rich city of Florence are plentiful, but the Idler’s week programme is distinctive for being both in the heart of the Renaissance and the beauty of the Tuscan country. The retreat has two gorgeous locations, the Pensione Bencista, in the green hills above the city overlooking many of its famous landmarks and the organic farm of Podere Castellare, in the verdant Chianti countryside. Both residences have spas, gardens and flower filled terraces and are perfect places to unwind and relax. 

 

As the name of the Workshop implies, there is a strong focus on artisans. Florence has a great history of craftsmanship and creativity and there are organised tours of local markets, the bohemian Oltrarno district and the opportunity to meet the master craftsmen who are preserving the traditional skills of winemaking, bookbinding and silk production. 

 

Daily art historical tours of the medieval and Renaissance city, with visits to the principal sites as well as much lesser known ones, are led by Tom Hodgkinson and Alan Pascuzzi, professor of Renaissance art. Finally, the evenings are not only enlivened by the renowned Tuscan cooking and wine at both residences, but by lectures and discussions on such subjects as the city state revolution from 1100-1400 and Florentine Renaissance sculpture.