Tastes & Textiles
16–24 May & 27 June–5 July 2014
Feed the silkworms and yourself on a small-group escorted tour of the artisan food and textiles of Lucca and the Garfagnana. Become inspired by the passion of people who practise their lifelong craft or have discovered afresh a tradition handed down for centuries. Taste the intense authentic flavours of artisan food and learn to cook traditional dishes. Very small group (only 8–10 guests).
Itinerary at a glance
This year we've added another day to include even more textile experiences and time for shopping for yarns and dyes.
Day 1 — Arrival and welcome dinner
Day 2 — Visit silkworm breeder, tour villa, visit cashmere & silk scarf weaver, silk tour & yarn shopping in Lucca
Day 3 — Marsh reed festival (to be confirmed), hands-on dyeing workshop
Day 4 — Bake Garfagnana potato bread with village baker, spinning demonstration, sightseeing in Barga, pizza party
Day 5 — Visit cheesemaker and wool dyeing demonstration, visit water mill, optional walk
Day 6 — Visit Niemack textile collection, cooking lesson
Day 7 — To Prato for dyes & pigment shop and historical textile museum, visit blacksmith, handloom weaver
Day 8 — Visit ethnographic museum, tour of spinning & weaving mill, farewell dinner
Day 9 — Departure
Highlights of Tour
13 Textile Experiences
- Share Stefania Maffei's enthusiasm for silk, feed the silkworms and learn about the history of silk in Lucca
- Hands-on dyeing workshop with Lucia Nesi, Lucchese expert at dyeing with natural local dyestuffs
- Tour 17th-century villa with original silk bed dressings
- Attend marsh reed festival with demonstrations of traditional basket-making and chair-caning (to be confirmed)
- Visit Romeo Ricciardi's attic studio where he demonstrates traditional floor-loom weaving with antique hand-spun hemp
- Visit Textile Museum of Prato with collection of textiles, fashion and weaving implements from the 3rd to the 19th centuries
- Visit Vladimiro's shop where Romina demonstrates weaving with fine silk and cashmere fibres on a traditional Garfagnana floor loom, shop at Sapori e Saperi discount prices
- Private tour through the streets of Lucca visiting landmarks from its silk history
- Hands-on lesson with village women spinning with distaff and drop spindle
- Visit carding, spinning & weaving mill run by one man and his cat
- Private tour of Laboratorio Maria Niemack with its collection of traditional local textiles and dress
- Watch Ombretta Cavani dyeing her own sheep wool with natural vegetable dyes
- Shopping opportunities: yarn, dyes, woven & knitted products
1 Cheese Experience
- Gemma Cavani, Ombretta's mother, makes cheese from the milk of her flock of native Garfagnina sheep and hopes to save them from extinction
2 Cooking Lessons
- Learn to make ravioli filled with ricotta and nettles
- Learn to make Garfagnana potato bread and bake it in a wood-fired oven
- Lucca, Barga, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
- Party with the locals at a village festival
- Visit ethnographic museum with weird and wonderful objects to keep you guessing
- Visit blacksmith who uses water power
- Visit 18th-century water mill that grinds farro and corn
- Meals in family home and restaurants
- Optional walks
Transfer from Pisa airport, Pisa Centrale or Lucca train station to our hotel in the historic centre of Lucca. Welcome dinner at Slow Food restaurant in former dyer's premises.
This is our silk day. Stefania's ravenous silkworms await us to give them Sunday brunch, and Stefania illuminates the complicated process of turning the cocoons into fabric. Our next stop is Villa Torrigiani where our private tour takes us behind its extravagant baroque façade to an interior where original silk bedclothes mingle with granddad's needlepoint. Lunch at a nearby restaurant whose owners are three sisters who are active members of Slow Food. We return to Lucca to visit Vladimiro's shop where Romina demonstrates weaving with fine silk and cashmere on a traditional Garfagnana floor loom. The rest of the week she weaves at a mill that produces scarves for international fashion houses. If you're tempted to buy, you get our special discount prices. Paola our Lucca guide whisks us away for a silk history tour of the city. Free time for shopping at the yarn shop and elsewhere. Dinner at a restaurant along the Fosso, a Renaissance water course constructed for the silk industry.
This morning we head to the remains of the marshes that lay between Lucca and Florence for a marsh reed festival at which local artisans demonstrate the ancient techniques of basket weaving and chair caning (to be confirmed). After lunch at the festival, Lucia Nesi gives us a hands-on dyeing lesson using local plants. Transfer via the Devil's Bridge to Agriturismo 'Il Venturo', our farm home for the rest of the tour. Dinner at the farm's restaurant with a menu composed almost entirely of ingredients produced and prepared on the farm.
Today we go to the mountain village of Petrognola to learn to make traditional Garfagnana potato bread with the village baker, Paolo Magazzini. While our bread rises, we'll see the colossal farro-polishing machine. Farro (emmer) is an even more primitive wheat than spelt and is still grown today on terraces around the village. While our loaves bake in the wood-fired oven, Teresa Bertei demonstrates spinning hemp with a distaff and drop spindle and will be delighted if you'd like to have a go. Lunch, cooked by Paolo's wife, will be the bread we baked with typical dishes made with farro. We return to Venturo before sightseeing in Barga with its sublime romanesque cathedral followed by a pizza party thrown by a beekeeper.
Cerasa farm is trying to save the Garfagnina breed of sheep. Signora Gemma shows us how she makes pecorino cheese, and we find out why ricotta isn't cheese. Her daughter Ombretta takes over the dairy to dye some of their sheep's wool. Papa Mario joins us for the homemade lunch and philosophises about life when he was a boy. On our way back to Venturo we stop at the water mill that grinds Paolo's farro. Optional walk to dinner at Andrea's parallel gastronomic universe.
In the morning we have a private tour of the Laboratorio Maria Niemack in Lucca. Niemack made a definitive collection of traditional local textiles and dress, handsome and simple fabrics made of wool, cotton and locally grown hemp; the collection includes a variety of traditional floor looms. We have a typical Italian worker's lunch at Bagni di Lucca, before a cooking lesson in an Italian home to learn to make ravioli with our Cerasa ricotta and nettles we pick ourselves.
New this year is a visit to Prato to a specialist shop selling dyes and pigments followed by the Museo del Tessuto, a museum that preserves textiles, fashion and weaving implements from the 3rd to the 19th centuries. Find your own lunch when you want a break from the museum. Then to Carlo Galgani, a blacksmith who makes agricultural tools and kitchen implements using water power, and on up the hill to Romeo Ricciardi who, as a pensioner, has learned to weave traditional textile patterns of Lucca with hand-spun hemp. Dinner at Venturo.
This morning we head to San Pellegrino in Alpe, high in the Apennines, to its ethnographic museum, full of weird and wonderful objects that will provoke many a game of Twenty Questions. Lunch in the village, after which we follow the crest of the Apennines to Cutigliano and Silio Giannini's filandra, a carding, spinning and weaving mill where you'll find yourself knee-deep in boxes and sacks of wool and machines of an uncertain age that surely should have broken down 60 years ago. We end up in his office shop where there are bargains to be had. In the late afternoon we meander down the Lima Valley and up a mountain road to Vico Pancellorum. Here we have our farewell dinner feasting on Giovanna's silky pasta and Enrico's rich game stews.
Transfer to Pisa airport or Pisa or Lucca train station.
Agriturismo 'Il Venturo', Pieve Fosciana
A working farm with farm buildings converted to comfortable rustic accommodation (en suite bathrooms). On-site bar and restaurant, swimming pool, stables opposite.
Following her careers as archaeologist, orchestra and artist manager and chef, Heather came to Lucca to pursue her passion for traditional artisan food. Her tours, inspired by her infectious curiosity, open captivating new worlds to her guests.
Prices & What's Included
Per Person €1985 (Euros)
Single Supplement: none
Friendly knowledgeable English-speaking guide throughout your stay
8 nights welcoming, relaxing accommodation, en suite bathrooms
Local ground transportation for 9 days
Daily continental breakfast, 5 lunches, 8 dinners
Cooking lessons, guided visits with artisans, museum and villa entrance fees
Does Not Include
Travel and cancellation insurance
Wine and drinks other than those served with meals, additional meals
Personal expenses such as telephone, mini-bar, etc.
Pisa airport, Pisa Centrale train station, Lucca train station
If you are flying from outside Europe, we suggest you arrive a couple of days early to recover from jet lag so you can fully enjoy your time with us. We are happy to advise about where to stay and eat and what to do before and after your tour.
Most dietary requirements can be accommodated as long as you tell us in advance. There is a space on the Booking Form for this information.
Informal. Jeans or smart trousers are acceptable everywhere. Raincoat/jacket advisable. Good walking shoes are required for cobbled streets and optional walks.
Weather in May
10–22°C/50–72˚F, precipitation 61 mm/2.4 in
Weather in June
12–24°C/54–75˚F, precipitation 43 mm/1.7 in
The Itinerary is subject to change if necessary due to weather or agricultural conditions or other events outside our control.
What People Say
I joined the course with Heather last May as a break from home, my husband was very ill. It was the most wonderful week! We had the privilege to meet many people in their own homes and experience their passion and enthusiasm for their cheese, textiles, bread, life. The small group allowed us to be flexible and experience things a larger group would not be able to — hands on cooking, dinner in a family home. The people on the course had an interest in textiles, weaving, dyeing, woodworking making looms and spindles, as well as other varied interests. Spending a week with this group, I have met people from Canada and Vienna as well as the UK. I am currently booking my next course for next spring.
This is a tour for those who want to get below the surface. You will meet extraordinary people, share meals with them in their homes and watch as they keep ancient traditions alive. Heather's knowledge comes from her love for the Garfagnana and its people and it is infectious.
Thank you so much for organising such a wonderful tour. We all had a great trip! As much as we have enjoyed everything that we have seen, and done (and eaten), the best part is who we have met and shared stories with.
I want to thank you so much for the wonderful week we had with you. It was so much fun. I’m telling everyone about it.