A Cook’s Tour

By Sandra Ramani / November 26, 2018

ABOVE: Don Alfonso

Italian hotels that showcase their local specialties—and teach you how to cook them, too

Italy’s food scene can be summed up in three words: fresh, seasonal and regional. Despite the country’s relatively compact size, its diverse topographies make it a haven of locally grown and sourced ingredients—something that, over time, has led to unique signature dishes in each region.In true form, Italians are passionate about enjoying dishes where they were created, and when they should be eaten. To help showcase their local specialties, these hotels offer chef-led cooking classes that celebrate their signature dishes—and show you how to re-create them back home.

Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria

Set along the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Amalfi Coast is a feast for the senses, from the beauty of its cliff-top towns and warmth of its azure waters to the fresh flavors of its diverse homegrown products. Now run by the fifth generation of a hotelier family, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, perched above the bay in Sorrento, not only showcases those flavors in its menus (one of its Michelin-starred restaurant’s standout dishes, for example, is made up of over 20 regional varieties of tomatoes), but also grows many of them in its five-acre on-site gardens.

While traditional Amalfi Coastal cuisine focuses on seafood, the owners of the hotel have drawn upon their ties to nearby Naples to offer a class centered on that city’s signature creation: pizza. Guests will join the hotel chefs in an open-air, poolside kitchen to learn about key factors in making Neapolitan-style pizza, then get their hands dirty kneading and rolling dough, ladling on sauce made from fresh cherry tomatoes, and sprinkling on buffalo mozzarella. exvitt.it

CastaDiva Resort & Spa

Up in the north, the Lombardy region encompasses finance and fashion hub Milan, as well as the legendarily beautiful resort area of Lake Como, where a collection of lakeside villages is surrounded by Alpine foothill views. Set along the lake, the CastaDiva Resort & Spa offers two-hour classes with Executive Chef Massimiliano Mandozzi that reveal secrets behind several signature Italian dishes.

Opt for a lesson in making fresh pastas like fettuccine, ravioli and gnocchi, or craft a four-course lunch of regional specialties like pizzoccheri (a short, flat ribbon pasta made with buckwheat and wheat flour), polenta uncia (polenta cooked in a copper pot, with cheese and melted butter), and torta miascia (a traditional “bread cake” made with dried and fresh fruit). Settle onto a lake-view table to savor your masterpieces, along with a selection of Lombardy wines. castadivaresort.com

ABOVE: CastaDiva Resort & Spa

JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa

Set on its own private island in the lagoon (and home to a Michelin-starred restaurant), the JW Marriott Venice’s state-of-the-art Sapori Cooking Academy culinary classes include one that highlights traditional Venetian delicacies.

Start with an early-morning private boat ride to the vibrant Rialto Market, accompanied by a hotel chef who will introduce you to local producers and regional ingredients. Back at the Academy, you’ll use your morning’s haul of fresh veggies, seafood, meats and more to craft gourmet versions of traditional snacks—which you can then enjoy with drinks, around a large wooden table made from a recycled briccola (old Venetian lagoon marker). Note that the Academy also offers a healthy cooking class in conjunction with the resort’s spa. marriott.com

ABOVE: JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa

Don Alfonso

High in the hills above the Amalfi Coast sits the two-Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant and nine-room inn, run by two generations of the Iaccarino family: sons Ernesto and Mario helm the restaurant’s kitchen and front-of-house, respectively; mother Livia oversees the smooth operation of the whole property; and father Alfonso is passionate about managing the over 850,000-square-foot Le Peracciole organic farm, which is set along a series of lush fields overlooking the water.

Produce from the farm—which might include peas, potatoes, figs, cactus, prunes, fava beans, almonds, artichokes, herbs and lemons from the extensive orchards—is used both in the fine dining restaurant and the cooking school. There, in a room lined with hand-painted tiles and overlooking the garden, guests learn about a different aspect of Italian cuisine depending on the day: Wednesday’s class, for example, highlights seasonal veggies from the farm; Thursday’s focuses on seafood from the Amalfi Coast. The three courses end with a tasting, and you’ll receive a book of recipes to take home—an even more delicious souvenir when paired with some Don Alfonso-branded products like homemade pastas and jars of organic tomatoes from the farm. donalfonso.com

Sandra Ramani

Sandra Ramani

Senior Contributing Editor at Organic Spa Magazine
In addition to serving as OSM’s Senior Contributing Editor, writer/editor Sandra Ramani covers travel, wellness, and lifestyle topics for such publications as Travel + Leisure, Robb Report, Premier Traveler, AFAR, Bridal Guide, Elite Traveler, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. She is also the author of “Day Trips from Dallas / Fort Worth,” now in its second edition. Recent assignments have found her sleeping in the Sahara, hopping helicopters in New Zealand, and making this new friend in Bali.
Sandra Ramani

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