Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Out of the Ash and into a Flavours Experience

Our Flavours Group - Lynn, Elizabeth and Christine
Flavours Host - Emily Isles
Flavours Chef - Sunshine Manitto
Flavours Team in Edinburgh/Blogger - Louise McIntosh

Tour Date - 1-4th May 2010
Location - Villa Maria, Tuscany, Italy.

Saturday 1st May 2010

I arrived with the ever-smiling, Emily, Flavours host extraordinaire, into Pisa airport. The Flavours group were all smiling as we piled into the taxi. I tried to not show that I was apprehensive as it was my first time in Italy. I needn't have worried though as Emily was a natural and the group embraced the experience and from the offset there was a lovely atmosphere.

As we drove through the Tuscan countryside the group chatted excitedly in the back getting to know one another. Lynn and Liz were cousins while Christine decided to travel by herself courtesy of her husband who was at home looking after their children. We do have a lot of clients who come on their own to make friends and have an interesting experience.

The journey flew by and soon we arrived, up a cobbled road with rustic buildings all around to Villa Maria. It was even more beautiful than the pictures I had seen. Fragrant lemon trees stood either side of the door and Sunshine our Italian chef was waiting for us. I've never seen anyone smile so warmly.

Once we were all settled in our perfect rooms we sneaked back downstairs for a bottle of Prosecco on the terrace, looking over the Tuscan countryside. Sunshine created a stunning array of antipasti dishes, the perfect indulgence. Then, before we knew it we had our aprons on and rolling pins at the ready and the cooking table had been transformed into a work table with chopping boards, knives and flour. It was an exciting prospect. Christine, Liz and Lynn were enthusiastic from the word go and we all piled in which was the perfect recipe in my book.

Can i just say, I'm not a cook. Sunshine was very patient with us and I was amazed how much I could learn in a short time.

First Day Dishes

1) Zuppa di Cereali Toscana - which is a nutritious Italian bean soup,
2) Rosticciona Stufata Con Olive Nere A Pinoli - Pork ribs, black olives and pine nuts.
3) Tiramisu - the first one I'd ever tasted and the whole group enjoyed it. Surprisingly light and fresh.

Sunshine was a typical Italian - his enthusiasm and passion for food fired us up. After dinner (amazing!) and some more wine, it was lights out.

Sunday 2nd May

Next morning our aprons went on again after breakfast and we got stuck into making Bolognese sauce with sausage meat, garlic, onions and fresh herbs including rosemary, sage and bay leaves. We even made our own pasta and then got to eat it for lunch. We left Sunshine behind and headed in our private transfer to San Gimignano.

In town it was raining but we walked up the tiny street, littered with quaint little shops selling everything from leather handbags, to colourful pasta. I immediately noticed the elegance of Italian wome
n but kept getting distracted by the amazing aromas coming from the coffee shops. I found a journal shop, hidden, quietly at the top of the hill. A tiny shop that smelt of leather. The biggest journal was the size of a chopping board - a writers dream!
After an hour of shopping it was time for our wine tour. The lady running the tour owned Al Quattrorsi Shop & Events, a beautiful shop ( She was full of amazing and interesting facts, like that Giamignano has a population of 3000 people and of them, 92 families have winery farms.

As we emerged from the tasting it was torrential rain, unusual for May, and we hopped into the transfer car and back to the Villa for some tea. Sunshine of course, was waiting and dinner was on the way.

I have to say we got quite squiffy that night and there were some tales told - enough said. Around midnight everybody headed off to bed.

Monday 3rd May

We woke to the beautiful Tuscan sun and with breakfast out of the way, we made our way to Lucca. Sunshine is from Lucca so he was especially enthusiastic. We had lunch at his friend's restaurant and Lynn, a big fan of risotto, was over the moon when that and asparagus were dished up. We had steak and a beautiful, light, citrus mousse for pudding. Feeling full, we headed into the streets of Lucca. Emily translated when required and guided us around the streets. What a wonderful place Lucca is, full of life and the Amphitheatre was definitely a treat.

After a few hours it was time to head back, through the beautiful countryside, where there seemed to be very little sign of life, the public holiday kept people indoors with their families. We were glad to get back into the kitchen and get cooking again. The last night we made:

A pasta, truffle butter, and sausage dish.

Guinea Fowl with mushrooms (picture to the right).

Almond Biscotti (biscuits).

All three girls were up for having a go and chopping the guinea fowl but none of us found it easy and in the end Sunshine saved the day. Lynn's attempt at pasta turned out well but not as good as her first, Liz and Christine became pros and I required help and lots of it! The girls put a lot of energy into all of the courses and asked lots of questions. This really helped us bond as a group. That evening, we chatted for hours and it turned out that everyone had come with different expectations and for different reasons. Christine's husband had bought her the break as a gift. This was the first time she'd been away without her young children. Lynn had our Flavours brochure in her drawer for 7 whole years and eventually booked the trip that she'd dreamt of. Liz decided to join Lynn on this adventure and isn't shy of travelling. We weren't a group you'd naturally choose to put together but everyone got on really well.

The next morning we packed and heading to the airport, saying our goodbyes to the lemon trees, Villa Maria and Sunshine. We were all going on very different journeys from that point on. Liz was planning a flying extravaganza, I'm sure she said 25 flights over the next few weeks. Christine would be met by her family at the airport, a lovely picture and Lynn I do hope you got your dream house. If you did please send us a photo and update us. Emily was heading off to see her partner in Milan for a few days, Sunshine was heading home with his family and I got on the plane from London Stansted to Edinburgh crying, the trip had just hit me so suddenly and I just thought, "What a wonderful experience a Flavours holiday is".

Lynn Barnett posted us feedback.

Sunshine was a great chef and teacher. Good interactive lessons and learned new skills.

The trips were very relevant and informative.

Food: Memorable dish: Loved the potato Tortenlini and ragu. The Chestnut Cake with chocolate sauce...HEAVEN.

Wines: Loved them ALL!!

Value for Money: Yes

Staff: Emily was fabulous, very friendly and helpful and did a marvellous job translating for Sunshine.

We've taken on board all of Lynn's comments and appreciate such feedback. Thank you.

This is the end of this Flavours Holiday, many more to go.

Louise xx


FlavoursofItaly said...

I've added 15 photo's onto the Flavours Holiday facebook account for this trip. I hope you enjoy them. Louise

AnaVar said...

Hi! I just discovered the site and enjoyed going through it! I'll visit you again soon!