SEPTEMBER 8 – 11 LAKE BOLSENA
Having fallen in love with this beautiful, fascinating and largely undiscovered area on the border between Tuscany and Lazio, many years ago, we have been unusually guarded about letting friends in on the secret. We have put together this workshop in order to share the things we love with a small number of like-minded people.
Marco and his canoe had a love affair with this place long before I came along. It has just about everything that both of us love: Natural unspoilt beauty, the cleanest natural lake in Europe whose 16 km circumference is totally free from modern construction, wooded hills, Medieval villages that have grown out of the foundations of Etruscan and Roman occupation some of which are classified amongst the ‘most beautiful villages of Italy’, numerous and fascinating archeological sites, a touch of grandeur from its historic past as part of the Papal States, and of course – a must for us - it is gastronomically exciting. The wines are wonderful – and not just the famous Est Est Est - the sheep cheeses, the black lentils and tiny white beans with the unlikely name of ‘purgatory’ that I am crazy about, wild fennel growing in abundance along the roadsides, fabulous fish from the lake.
To top all this we stay as guests of an hereditary Count, in his fabulous 15th century Palace in the centre of a fascinating village put on the map by Florence born Giovanni de Medici during his period as Governor of the area before becoming Pope Leone X in the 1590’s. We walk down to the lake shore through the old village for an early morning dip in this lovely lake accompanied only by a colony of roosting ducks. Just over the hills and across a few kms of wonderfully emotive wild country, past olive groves and grazing sheep, there is the surprize of arriving at the sea.
With the help of local people from wine growers to cheese producers who have contributed to our love affair with this area, we have put together a taste of our favourite things to do, see, eat and experience, which we would like to share. We will, of course, be staying at the Palace where the hospitable, ever-present Count, encourages his guests to feel at home, to wander around the fabulous frescoed rooms (the frescoed walls in one of the bedrooms honours the stay in the 1700’s of the famous French writer Stendhal), to browse books in the historic family library, to sit in the squidgy sofas of one of the many magnificent lounges, to converse, read or enjoy an after-dinner drink. Amazingly the Count has agreed to allow us to have a cooking lesson in the Palace kitchen and afterwards to lay our dinner in the fabulous frescoed dining room with the family porcelain and candelabras.
If we are able to leave this seductively lovely setting (every time I stay here I say I would happily stay shut inside for a week working my way around each one of the amazing rooms), we will be visiting some beautifully situated wine estates to sample wines, visit growers and producers, beautiful villages, roam around the lake and just marvel at the existence of such an unspoilt, uncrowded spot.
On Day 1 of the workshop (following arrival the evening before), we will be cooking first at our place in Tuscany - Il Mulino di Ferraia - taking a short drive through the olive groves and vineyards flanking the oldest Roman Road in Tuscany, to visit a second generation Chianti ( Colli Aretini) wine producer of international repute who talks of his wines as if they were his children, which in a way they are.
We will be sleeping over at Il Mulino for an early start on Day 2 to enjoy the drive through the spectacular landscape of the Crate Senese, stopping enroute for a tasting of the world famous Brunello wines of Montalcino, before driving on to Lake Bolsena and its beautiful Medieval village where we will lunch, explore the historic village, castle and lakeside and then eat some more in a traditional restaurant in the village.
The morning of Day 3 is dedicated to visiting a family-run sheep and goat farm producing ‘to-die-for’ cheeses which of course we will be sampling with the totally contagious enthusiasm of the brother and sister cheese makers. After this, back through the marvellous countryside to our historic Palace for our cooking workshop in the Palace kitchen with a local lady specializing in the traditional preparation of fresh fish from Lake Bolsena on which we will later dine in the formal fabulous painted dining room of the Palace.
On our return journey on Day 4 will be making two special visits. One to a hauntingly beautiful and memorable hilltop village which has a well deserved place in ‘the most beautiful villages of Italy’ listing. The other visit will be to one of our favourite wine producers in the area where we will sample the famous Est Est Est wine.
Replete with beauty and with wonderful wines and cheeses, we will continue our journey to arrive in Florence early evening where you are free to continue your holiday.