When I do research for something, be it for buying a dog, house or going on holiday, I go a bit mad. For Europe, I gathered together advice and recommendations from sources as numerous and varied as internet, guide books, friends, magazines and more. I highlighted, short-listed and made special holiday Word documents and Excel Spreadsheets with lists and notes to myself.
It's through this fanatic approach that I became intrigued by the region of Umbria. I don't think this is a common stop for most first-time Italy goers because it doesn't contain any well-known cities. What it does have is a reputation for amazing food.
I proded further with my research and came across 'Let's Cook in Umbria' which offers day cooking classes, multi-day cooking classes (incl accom) and multi-day cooking and hiking excursions (incl accom). I was most interested in the latter because the concept of cooking classes mixed with active tours sounded like a match made in heaven. I then basically booked what I wanted, realised it was based around Perugia and then plotted our itinerary to accomodate. In other words, we went to Perugia specifically for this.
It turned out to be a great idea because the hiking component of our stay included an urban trekking afternoon through Perugia itself. This way, we got to have a brief, yet thorough tour of a city that we otherwise wouldn't have known anything about. It's a beautiful city too, with gorgeous buildings and lots of hills, which make it difficult to walk around but lovely to look at.
The three nights accomodation was at a large private residence with pool and olive groves and fruit trees. Marc and I didn't really explore the extent of the premises because after all, it was someone's house. Our own accomodation was downstairs in a self-contained one bedroom unit. It was comfy but the lack of airconditioning made it a bit warm at night.
Our cooking classes were held in the mornings, upstairs in a large kitchen. The instructor was thorough, informative and had an air of authenticity. She was also very patient, as tested by the time Marc nearly broke the pasta machine with his vigorous motion.
Chicken with foraged herbs
We made a really good variety of Italian entrees, pasta dishes, meat dishes and dessert over two days. In particular, the proteins interested me (pork loin day one and chicken day two) because I've never cooked or eaten much of Italian-style meat dishes.
Lemon ricotta ravioli
I feel like I learnt a lot and have even replicated at least two of the dishes back home in Australia. Our instructor provided lots of suitable alternatives for ingredients that might be difficult to source back home. All in all, it was a practical course, not just fun.
White chocolate pana cotta with fresh berries
The mornings always ended with a big lunch to enjoy our creations with wine. After our meals, Marc and I developed a routine of napping before embarking on the hiking portion of the day. It was really a perfect combination because even though I'm sure we ate more than we walked, it gave the illusion that we were burning off the calories.
Our first day of hiking was through the countryside, up and down some hills. We enjoyed very expansive views of the Umbria region. The next day, we did an urban trek through Perugia itself, complimented by informative directing by our German guide.
I thought this was a great combination of activities and the cooking and hiking itself was well-coordinated. I didn't love our accomodation but I am a bit picky and I generally feel uncomfortable in homestay-type environments. It was weird trying to use the pool and having the host family's kids and other family members wading at the other end. It was also difficult for us to get dinner because we had no transport to town. On our first night, the host ordered us pizza but on the second night, she was away and her hubby didn't understand english well and just gave us scraps from their kitchen. That's all fine and well and no, we were far from being in danger of starving, but it seemed like an oversight on their part.