Tastes & Textiles
18–25 May 2013, 28 September–5 October 2013 & 17–24 May 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
Day 1 — Arrival and welcome dinner
Day 2 — Visit silkworm breeder, tour villa, attend festival
Day 3 — Visit cheesemaker and wool dyeing demonstration, visit cashmere scarf mill and outlet shop
Day 4 — Visit Niemack textile collection, sightseeing in Lucca, cooking lesson
Day 5 — Bake Garfagnana potato bread with village baker, spinning demonstration, visit water mill, pizza party
Day 6 — Visit blacksmith, handloom weaver, hands-on dyeing workshop, sightseeing in Barga
Day 7 — Visit ethnographic museum, optional walk, farewell dinner
Day 8 — Departure
Highlights of Tour
7 Textile Experiences
- Share Stefania Maffei's enthusiasm for silk, feed the silkworms and learn about the history of silk in Lucca
- Watch Ombretta Cavani's newly learned skill dyeing wool with natural vegetable dyes
- Visit Romeo Ricciardi's attic studio where he demonstrates handloom weaving using antique hand-spun hemp
- Visit modern mill that weaves cashmere scarves for top international fashion houses on traditional Garfagnana handlooms, shop at factory outlet
- Demonstration of spinning with distaff and drop spindle
- Private tour of Laboratorio Maria Niemack with its collection of traditional local textiles and dress
- Hands-on dyeing workshop with Lucia Nesi, Lucchese expert at dyeing with natural local dyestuffs
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
- Walk in the Apennines to see wild gentians
- Private tour of Villa Torrigiani
Transfer from Pisa airport, Pisa Centrale or Lucca train station via the Devil's Bridge to Agriturismo 'Il Venturo', our farm home for the coming week. Aperitivi and introduction to the tour before our welcome dinner at the farm's restaurant with a menu composed almost entirely of ingredients produced and prepared on the farm.
Stefania's ravenous silkworms await us to give them Sunday brunch, and Stefania illuminates the complicated process of turning the cocoons into fabric. Lunch at a nearby restaurant whose owners are active members of Slow Food. 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. Next a village festival or return home for dinner at the farm.
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. We spend the afternoon at a modern mill that weaves cashmere scarves for top international fashion houses on traditional Garfagnana handlooms and shop at the factory outlet. 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 number of traditional floor looms. Then free time to sightsee, shop and lunch in Lucca. With its renaissance walls, its churches, its towers, its amphitheatre and its human size, Lucca offers many attractions. We return to Il Venturo for a cooking lesson to learn to make ravioli with our Cerasa ricotta and nettles we pick ourselves.
This morning 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. Lunch will be the bread we baked with typical dishes made with farro. We stop at the water mill that grinds Paolo's farro on the way to a pizza party with a beekeeper.
First to Carlo Galgani the blacksmith who makes agricultural tools and kitchen implements using water power. Then to Romeo Ricciardi who, as a pensioner, has learned to weave traditional textile patterns of Lucca with hand-spun hemp. Picnic lunch at the Nottolini aqueduct, followed by a session learning to make and use local seasonal dyestuffs to dye the Cerasa wool, which you can keep. On the way home we stop at Barga, with its sublime romanesque cathedral and one of my favourite family restaurants, where we have dinner.
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. Find your own lunch in one of the village restaurants, after which an optional walk to see the wild gentians in flower and to work up an appetite for our farewell dinner at Il Venturo.
Transfer to Pisa airport or 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 €1875 (Euros)
Single Supplement: none
Friendly knowledgeable English-speaking guide throughout your stay
7 nights welcoming, relaxing accommodation, en suite bathrooms
Local ground transportation for 8 days
Daily continental breakfast, 4 lunches, 6 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.
Informal. Jeans or smart trousers are acceptable everywhere. Raincoat/jacket advisable. Good walking shoes are required for optional walks.
Weather in May
10 – 22°C/50 – 72˚F, precipitation 61 mm/2.4 in
The 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!