Lifestyle & Culture

Kitchen Detail: Italy, Really

Vivid ceramics are to be found just about everywhere in Italy, especially in Sicily. Pictured on the front: a view of Cefalù, Sicily, from the pier. / Photos courtesy Vero Viaggio.

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine: The Cook’s Resource in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.

Some Questions

SINCE WE MOVED to Italy, I have received a number of queries about traveling here, longerimage from stays and how we were managing to learn Italian. And for those who asked me about certain tour packages, you’re right—there’s a lot to analyze. It’s probably too much to absorb when you first start looking into doing something a bit more personalized than what’s  recommended by Trip Advisor (a site I’ve tried a few times, but with whose results I have been, without exception, disappointed). Even reading through the two  trips that Liz DiGregorio executed for her family, you can understand the amount of research she did to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them. And she is proficient in Italian. But there is hope!

Some Answers

I may have an answer for you in this new website and series of travel options developed by Francesca Peretto and Jean Rivaldi. Through my daughter, I met Francesca, a teacher of Italian to foreigners for over 20 years. During Covid, I was fortunate to have had rollicking Italian conversation lessons on Skype with her. Jean Rivaldi is a dual citizen of the US and Italy, a certified tour guide, and fluent in Italian. While there are plenty of tours with painting, cooking, or just gawking as the focus, their website, Vero Viaggio, offers several unique strategies for traveling in Italy.

I live with someone who has racked up more gemstones on Duolingo than I ever had the patience to acquire. And yet ordering a bottle of wine in a restaurant seemed an insurmountable linguistic task for him. To speak any language, even haltingly, conversation must occur, and that happens  only with some form of  immersion, which is how a young child learns. Francesca and Jean have launched a website that offers both immersion experiences and services to organize an Italian trip to suit your desires and wallet.

Francesca Peretto, left, and Jean Rivaldi of Vero Viaggo in a customary pose, a tavola! At the table in Italy. / Photo courtesy Vero Viaggio.

Immersion Tours and a KD Discount

While there is an endless quantity of Rome-Venice -Florence tours, Vero Viaggio takes you in a different direction. Along the way, it improves your Italian immeasurably and gives you the opportunity to savor an Italian area overlooked for the more publicly touted, and crowded, destinations. Not that they aren’t worthy of a day trip or two, but it’s difficult to avoid the pitfalls of restaurants serving mainly tourists (where English is the lingua franca) and shops that hawk wares from dubious sources. Having done my share of dutiful gawking, some of  my most pleasurable moments have really been in an unsung delightful restaurant, or shopping in an unusual local store, even simply having a spectacular view or historic site all to myself. And the icing on the cake is to have  Italians compliment you on how well you speak their language.

Palazzo Maria Cefalu from Hotel website

The view of the Cefalù cathedral from the Palazzo Maria, a Sicilian palace that is now a hotel. / Photo courtesy the Palazzo Maria website.

Vero Viaggio currently has five immersive tours planned for 2024 and is offering Kitchen Detail readers a 15% discount on any of them. Two are in Cefalù, Sicily (one in April and the other in October). You’ll spend a week in a furnished apartment in the Palazzo Maria, with daily Italian lessons, fun tours, aperitivi—something that Italians have brought to a near art form—and some group lunches and dinners. And of course time to make your own discoveries, which is always the unexpected and rewarding part of any trip. Take note that for the trip to Cefalù in April, Francesca and Jean are offering KD readers a special price—for details on the trip and cost, click here.

On the advice of Francesca, our family traveled to Cefalù several years ago and reveled in its beautiful but manageable historic center and seaside life. One of the most pleasurable and dramatic times occurred at dinner with my grandson in a restaurant built right onto the volcanic rocks, where we could watch the sea come rushing in and then pull back. Unforgettable.

They also offer in late October an unusual week in Montepulciano, with a cooking class and wine tasting, along with intensive Italian lessons. You will not forget your dinners overlooking the Val d’Orcia, which has been immortalized in books and films.

An unusual option is their expanded weekend trip in the countryside of Emilia-Romagna in June, whichSiracusa-Sicily-Italian-Immersion-Trip includes a cooking lesson and a vineyard visit along with practicing your Italian around the pool. Perhaps combine this with a personalized trip in a neighboring region. And in November, Francesca and Jean have opened an immersive experience in Siracusa, Sicily, a city packed with so much history it makes your head spin.

To take advantage of the discount that Vero Viaggio is giving to Kitchen Detail readers for any of the 2024 tours, click here

Your Own Vero Viaggio

If you want to make your own holiday, follow a trail that you read about, or just visit a region in a much more personal way, you can fill out a detailed questionnaire about your trip goals and then have a Zoom conference, where they will provide options, answer further questions, advise you on what to avoid and probably give you some insider choices you did not know were available. You will then receive a detailed document with all the information, including the necessary links and resources you need to complete your travel plans. You can also arrange to have another call or text messages if you need further clarifications or help.

Hidden Treasures

For those who have wished to make a longer stay in Italy, whether it is for research or fun, their third service is perhaps the hidden jewel in the crown. My own experience has been that if you want to  find a suitable rental apartment or other details about setting up a longer stay, you need some insider help. Need to find a school for your children? Some advice for navigating the Questura? Vero Viaggio is there to guide you. After your conference call, the team will send you a detailed document with their notes, advice, pertinent links, and resources for your particular destination.

In the Explore section, you’ll find some diverting but also very helpful blog entries: Even after being here a few months, the entries on trains and pharmacies were both quite helpful to me. Sign up for their monthly newsletter, which will share with you places you should visit and insider tips on Italian travel, along with some engaging stories about Vero Viaggio experiences. This incomparable travel and language resource might not offer gemstones, but odds are good you’ll learn to order wine in Italian!

One thought on “Kitchen Detail: Italy, Really

  1. Nancy G says:

    Wow! A lot packed into one column. This year is Spain and Portugal, but next year perhaps Italy, the way you describe it. I’ll sign up for the newsletter. Thanks.

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