Autumn Harvest: Grain & Grape
13–27 September 2014
A collaboration with Viaggi Senza Fretta
A tour for wine enthusiasts—whether you're a connoisseur or amateur, this is your chance to discover new Italian wines. From the famous regions of Montepulciano and Montalcino to the lesser known Colline Lucchesi and Gattinara, you'll get to meet and talk to excellent small winemakers as you taste their wines from the barrel and the bottle, and contribute to the next vintage by picking grapes.
In Italy wine accompanies food — grains and cheese are the basics. September is the time of the rice harvest in Piedmont and Lombardy, regions rich in food traditions including one of the world's noble blue cheeses, Gorgonzola, once known as 'the cheese of the devil'. Parmesan and pecorino, durum wheat, 8-row maize and farro are other stars of the tour, who you'll get to know along with their artisan producers.
Join a small group of only 8 to 10 wine-drinking foodies for an unparalleled journey from southern Tuscany to northeast Piedmont.
Itinerary at a glance
Day 1 — Arrival and welcome dinner with winemaker
Day 2 — Visit Nobile di Montepulciano vineyard, sightseeing Montepulciano
Day 3 — Visit durum wheat farm, make pici, cooking lesson pasta al forno
Day 4 — Visit Chianti vineyard, visit Bagno Vignoni, hot pool therapy (optional)
Day 5 — Make focaccia and pecorino cheese, sightseeing Pienza
Day 6 — Visit Brunello di Montalcino vineyard, sightseeing Montalcino
Day 7 — Sightseeing Arezzo, move to Barga, make pizza for pizza party
Day 8 — Vendemmia (grape harvest), visit 8-row maize farmer, pastry lesson
Day 9 — Make Garfagnana potato bread, visit farro farmer, sightseeing Parma
Day 10 — Visit parmesan dairy, move to Lomellina, sightseeing Vigevano
Day 11 — Visit modern rice farm, visit gorgonzola dairy, risotto lesson
Day 12 — Visit two Gattinara vineyards, balsamic vinegar, Loro Piana outlet shop
Day 13 — Visit traditional rice farm, optional walk in nature reserve, farewell dinner
Day 14 — Departure
Highlights of tour
11 wine experiences
- Visit Nobile di Montepulciano vineyard, tour cellar, taste from the barrel
- With owner tour Chianti vineyard and cellar and taste his wines
- Visit Brunello di Montalcino vineyard and taste wines with sommelier
- Dinner with historical food and wine pairing
- Lunch at restaurant with one of Italy's top sommeliers
- Pick grapes at biodynamic vineyard, and taste from barrel with owner
- Lunch with vineyard owner's family
- Dinner with typical dishes of Parma paired with local Lambrusco wine
- Visit vineyards, cellar and taste wines at small Gattinara DOCG vineyard
- Lunch at vineyard: traditional dishes paired with wines
- Visit cellar and taste wines at larger family Gattinara DOCG vineyard
11 grain experiences
- Visit farmer who grows durum wheat for pasta
- Visit remains of water mills
- Visit farm and make focaccia in wood-fired oven
- Make pizzas for pizza party
- Visit farmer of primitive maize and see how it's ground into flour for polenta
- Bake Garfagnana potato bread with village baker
- Learn about farro (primitive emmer wheat) and see the farro-polishing machine
- Lunch based on traditional Garfagnana farro recipes
- Visit small modern rice farm, watch harvest and polishing of rice
- Lunch consisting of traditional dish using rice from the farm
- Visit traditional rice farm and help harvest the rice
4 cheese experiences
- Demonstration of making pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) and ricotta
- Watch parmigiano being produced and tasting
- Visit parmigiano aging warehouse
- Tasting at cheese maker of gorgonzola, dolce latte and taleggio
4 cooking lessons
- Pici of Siena
- Pasta al forno (lasagne)
- Risotto al gorgonzola
Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, Arezzo, Barga, Parma, Vigevano
- Thermal bath at Bagno Vignoni (not included in price of tour)
- See how balsamic vinegar is made in a family attic
- Tasting of goose salami of Mortara
- Visit Loro Piana outlet shop
Transfer from Chiusi-Chianciano Terme train station to Osteria dell'Orcia, Bagno Vignoni, our accommodation in the Val d'Orcia, a World Heritage Site, for the next six nights with hosts Silvano and Eliana. Welcome Dinner.
Our first wine experience is at a Nobile di Montepulciano vineyard, where we tour the vineyard and the cellars. We taste wine from the barrel, a privilege usually reserved for wine professionals. Montepulciano is our next stop, where you are free to have lunch and explore. Next to the magnificent Renaissance Piazza Grande is one of the last coppersmiths in Tuscany. Dinner at Osteria dell'Orcia.
All the best dried pasta is made from durum wheat. What is it? At Spedaletto, a 12th-century castle, we start in their wheat fields learning the differences between ploughing, sowing and harvesting with oxen and today's computerised tractors. We follow the process to the archaeological remains of water mills at Bagno Vignoni and return to the farm to watch the transformation of the grain into flour, which we use to make pici, the traditional pasta of the Province of Siena. After lunch on the farm, we return to Osteria dell'Orcia for a lesson on pasta al forno with Eliana.
Today we visit a family vineyard that makes Chianti outside the 'Classico' area. The vineyard owner guides us through the original 19th-century cellar dug into tufa rock, and in a tasting of his excellent wine tells us what makes it different from Nobile di Montepulciano. The afternoon is free to visit the ancient pilgrimage town of Bagno Vignoni just 10 minutes walk from the hotel, bathe in its thermal pool known to the Etruscans and frequented by pilgrims and nobility ever since, or simply relax at Osteria dell'Orcia.
A self-sufficient morning at Il Casale making ciaccia, as the Val d'Orcians call focaccia, in a wood-fired oven and pecorino cheese. The flour, oil and milk come from the farm. For lunch we'll eat our bread and cheese. In the afternoon, free time in Pienza. Dinner at Osteria dell'Orcia.
Today we encounter one of Italy's best known wines, Brunello di Montalcino. With our sommelier we find out why it is also one of Tuscany's best loved wines. Lunch in Montalcino and free time for sightseeing. We return to Osteria dell'Orcia for our farewell dinner of historical dishes matched to appropriate wines.
We bid farewell to the Val d'Orcia and head to the Garfagnana in northern Tuscany. Luckily we arrive at Arezzo in time to lunch at a restaurant with one of the top wine sommeliers in Italy. Arezzo merits a visit in its own right for its churches and art, especially the Piero della Francesca cycle, 'The Legend of the True Cross'. We continue to Hotel Villa Moorings in Barga, north of Lucca. Time for sightseeing in Barga before we go to Francesca's pizza party, where we help roll and top the pizzas and bake them in her wood-fired oven.
Now we get involved in making wine. We learn to pick and select grapes at a biodynamic vineyard, see wine in the early stages of fermentation, lunch and wine tasting with the owner, who explains the difference between organic and biodynamic wines. On the way home we stop to see a farmer of primitive maize, see how it’s processed and ground into polenta flour. Back at our hotel, we have a pastry lesson with Beatrice Salvi, whose prowess with the rolling pin you will have sampled at breakfast. Dinner at the hotel will be made of ingredients from her family's farm.
This morning you'll make your own loaf of Garfagnana potato bread, a Slow Food presidium, with Paolo, the village baker, in his wood-fired oven. While the bread rises we find out all about farro of the Garfagnana, an even more primitive wheat than spelt, which requires polishing, like rice. Paolo's wife cooks our lunch which we wash down with farro beer made next door. We continue through rugged mountain scenery to Parma, where we eat at one of Parma's most traditional restaurants. Our wine will be the local Lambrusco, usually undrinkable in the rest of the world, but a revelation in its home territory.
Making parmigiano reggiano is a much more complicated and lengthy process than pecorino. We arrive at Davide Avanzini's farm in time to witness the dramatic raising of the parmesan. We tour the dairy ending in the farm shop for a tasting. Next we visit the specialist who matures Davide's parmesan — a warehouse full of 50,000 cheeses! Now we cross the Po Plain to our final destination, the rice fields of Lomellina between Pavia and Novara. Free time for lunch and sightseeing in the picturesque town of Vigevano, with its quintessential Renaissance piazza. Our accommodation will be at Locanda da Carla, set in the Ticino Nature Reserve. Dinner at Trattoria da Carla.
We thread our way through the bleak beauty of absolutely level rice fields with a backdrop of Monte Rosa and the full panorama of the Swiss Alps. The irrigation system we see around us was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Cascina Fornace is a small modern rice farm, where we watch the harvest of the ripe golden rice and follow its progress through the dryer and the polishing machine, very like Paolo's farro polisher. The lunch menu at a nearby restaurant includes paniscia, a Lomellina risotto made with the Fornace rice, and another local speciality, fried frogs (alternative available). In the afternoon we visit Caseificio Arioli for a tasting of their gorgonzola piccante, gorgonzola dolce and taleggio. We return to Locanda da Carla for a risotto lesson using Fornace rice and the Arioli gorgonzola.
We head north to Gattinara, a wine region since Roman times. Gattinara DOCG is made from the Nebbiolo grape and in the best vintages can rival Barolo and Barbaresca. We tour the vineyards and visit the cellars of Anzivino and Travaglini for tastings with the owners. Lunch at Anzivino where we get to peek at their balsamic vinegar production in the attic. The offices of fashion designer Loro Piana happen to be nearby, and we stop at the outlet shop on our way home. Dinner at Trattoria da Carla.
We might participate in a traditional rice harvest (to be confirmed). Remember the film 'Riso Amaro'? It was shot in Lomellina. Farewell dinner at Trattoria da Carla will include the goose salami of Mortara, another little known delicacy from Lomellina.
Departure. Transport provided to Milan Malpensa airport with rail connections to most of Italy.
Relais 'Osteria dell'Orcia', Bagno Vignoni
A 17th-century post house along the Via Francigena where pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome stopped to rest, take refreshment and change horses. Since modernised, but still peaceful with excellent restaurant.
Villa Moorings, Barga
A 'stile liberty' villa built by a Scottish shipping magnate with original frescoes by Barga artist Bruno Cordati. Sympathetically converted to a boutique hotel. Mouth-watering breakfasts.
Locanda da Carla, Molino d'Isella
A former water mill converted to hotel and restaurant, set in the Ticino Nature Reserve. Fall asleep to the sound of water running in the millrace. Owners obsessed with wine. Bottles everywhere.
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.
Lucia founded Viaggi Senza Fretta (Slow Travel Tours Tuscany) to share her community's valued traditions, culture and countryside with people who travel to learn, compare cultures and exchange ideas as a means of relaxing and regenerating their minds, bodies and souls.
Prices & What's Included
Per person: €4,395 (Euros)
Single supplement: €650 (Euros)
Friendly knowledgeable English-speaking guide throughout your stay
13 nights in welcoming, relaxing accommodation, en suite bathrooms
Local ground transportation for 14 days
Daily continental breakfast, 9 lunches, 13 dinners
Entrance to wine tastings, cooking lessons, guided visits with producers
Does not include
Travel and cancellation insurance
Thermal bath treatments
Wine and drinks, other than those served with meals, additional meals
Personal expenses such as telephone, mini-bar, etc.
Chiusi-Chianciano Terme train station (nearest international airport is Rome)
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.
Informal. Jeans or smart trousers are acceptable everywhere. Good walking shoes required for grape harvest.
Weather in September
Val d'Orcia: 14–25˚C / 57–77˚F, rainfall 35 mm / 1 in
Lucca: 15–26˚C / 59–78˚F, rainfall 123 mm / 5 in
Lomellina: 13–23˚C / 55–74˚F, rainfall 30 mm / 1 in
Itinerary is subject to change if necessary due to weather or agricultural conditions or other events outside our control.
What People Say
When people ask what I liked best, I must say that I rave about our trip with you — it was excellent and a real contrast with all the big city tours we did.
It was one of those magical trips for me that you can't really ever re-live, you just have to cherish it.
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.
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.
We had the most wonderful time on our tour. I knew I would enjoy myself but I was blown away by how much Bryan enjoyed himself. I have not seen him so relaxed. We all got on so well and loved all the things we did and saw. Just wanted to say thank you for organising such a great tour. I would recommend it to anyone.
Your tour was the highlight of our seven-week absence from home. There were so many highlights that it is difficult to single out one experience above another, but I must say that the contact with the olive trees was very special. Above all it was your preparation and organisation and great communication with us all that will remain with me forever.
We are truly grateful for the opportunities afforded by traveling with you. You willingly share your passion for the slow food lifestyle with your clients, creating unforgettable and personal experiences like visiting with Beppe at his metato, picking olives with Augusto, or tasting the newest prosciutto with Andrea. Everyone made us feel like part of the family. Not to mention all of the amazing meals! We learned so much and are eager to apply it to our life here at home. It was truly a perfect honeymoon, and a once in a lifetime holiday.
Amazing trip for us both. Much enjoyed every segment of our itinerary and our congenial group and coach driver! Food, our hosts, accommodation, your information and effective communication—all very good.
We had so much opportunity to learn, not just by observing the producers, but by cooking, tasting and eating and, of course, being involved in all aspects of olive oil production. It was just brilliant to be able to pick, process and bottle our own oil.
The pleasure hasn't waned and I have already prepared food differently and made a big veg soup, bruschetta with OUR oil and the mondiola. Went to my local Sainsbury's last evening and was totally depressed at the range and quality of the veg ... My life won't return to exactly where it was before the trip, truly: I shall experience greater satisfaction and greater frustration!