by Margaret Cowan
Today on vacations in Italy, travelers want to experience real, local life in a meaningful ways with families, to visit their homes, share pieces of their lives, learn new things and even make new friends.
Four ways to get to know locals are cooking with families in their homes, taking a course and renting a room in a local home, staying at a farm B & B, and dining with families in their homes through Home Food.
1. Take a cooking class or cooking school tour with a family in their home kitchen
Here's an example of a delicious cooking school in Bologna, Italy's gastronomic capital.
For your cooking week you live in an independent apartment in the medieval centre, next door to your host family's home, so you live like a local and have local friends nearby.
With the mother and daughter, both excellent home cooks, you cook full menu dinners hands on for about three hours in three lessons in their kitchen. Then you gather around the dining table to eat your creations with the father, sons and your two cooking teachers, sharing laughter and good conversation. You soon feel part of the family!
Your cooking teacher tours you around Bologna's food market, telling you about local food treasures like parmesan cheese and buying ingredients for your lesson. Your week also includes a Bologna city tour and a day trip to Florence or Venice where a local guide shows you the sights. You can also enjoy a one day experience with market visit, cooking class and lunch.
2. Take a course and ask for home stay accommodation
In 1996 I took a month long Italian language course in Rome and asked the language school to get me a room with a family where nobody spoke English. They matched me up with Lucia, a 45 year old high school art teacher, architect and single mother of two kids, aged 8 and 16 in their apartment near the Vatican.
At first Lucia was surprised to see a woman her age arrive, not the usual 22 year old student. We discovered we had a lot in common, had many long conversations in her kitchen and became friends. For 12 years, I've visited Lucia, shared many meals around tables with her friends and taken trips to Naples and her country home in Le Marche with them.
Take a course, stay with a local family in your favourite Italian city! You never know what lovely surprises may come out of the experience!
3. Stay on at a farm B & B or apartment where the owners live on the property
If you're renting a car to explore the Italian countryside, stay in agriturismos (farm B&Bs or apartments). Many agriturismo owners make wine and olive oil. You may want to help pick grapes or olives at harvest time!
To make sure you meet the owners, confirm they live on the property so you'll get to know them. For example, in southern Tuscany about nine km south of Montalcino, Agriturismo Podere La Fonte offers two small suites in the country with marvellous views of Val d'Orcia. The organic property full of exotic plants and trees, birds and a chemical free swimming pool, has many olive trees. Owner Alberto makes olive oil the traditional way using the big granite wheel.
Friendly, joyful Alberto and his wife make your breakfast and can make dinner for you. Alberto is a fantastic cook and gives cooking lessons too.
4. Eat traditional dishes with families in homes all over Italy through Home Food
Imagine yourself arriving at 8:30 p.m. at a family's home in Venice. The mother, Mercedes, whom you don't know, welcomes you warmly to share a dinner of traditional Venetian dishes she's just cooked for you. You join her and up to five food loving tourists you may not know around her table through the Home Food organization.
You savour dry cod with polenta (a dish from the 1500s), risotto with radicchio from Treviso, sardines with saor (fried onions, wine, vinegar, pine nuts, raisins) that fishermen in the 14th century made, vegetables in oil and pincia, a soft cake of bread soaked in milk with raisins and apple.
As you eat and drink local wines, you learn about Venetian culinary traditions and history and get to know a local family as well as fellow food lovers.
Home Food started in Bologna in 2004 and spread to 14 regions in Italy. Its mission is to preserve traditional recipes and food traditions handed down from mothers to daughters and to share these dishes and local food culture with food lovers.
About 100 women throughout Italy, all excellent home cooks with a wealth of food knowledge, enthusiastically open their homes for scheduled dinners for small groups. Visit the Home Food website to know more and register for dinners.
Have fun cooking, speaking Italian, picking grapes or olives and dining with Italian families at their homes! You'll experience genuine Italian life as an insider friend and soon feel Italian!
About the Author
Since 1995 Margaret Cowan has owned a tour company, Mama Margaret & Friends Cooking Adventures in Italy. For a free report on finding the right Italy cooking school tour for you, see Italy Cooking Schools.
Thanks to Margaret, and Go Articles for the use of this entry...