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Bells, Balls and a Basilica – Cooking in Abruzzo; Eating & Drinking In Rome

Bells, Balls and a Basilica – Cooking in Abruzzo; Eating & Drinking In Rome

Dec 1st, 2013, 02:53 PM
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Bells, Balls and a Basilica – Cooking in Abruzzo; Eating & Drinking In Rome

Prologue…Pre-trip Details:

After reading a Fodors trip report last year about a Groupon deal for a cooking school vacation in Abruzzo I couldn’t stop thinking about a visit to Italy to cook. My mom and I had been eyeing cooking vacations in Italy for a while and were familiar with the going rate of a week-long vacation.

When the Groupon deal for the “Taste of Abruzzo Culinary Vacation”, at Abruzzo Cibus Cooking School – Italia (http://www.abruzzocibus.com/index.php ) came up in January 2013 we didn’t dawdle on deciding and bought the Groupon deal right away. Frankly, it was a combination of the enticing price, a region of Italy we had not been to yet, the previous year’s Fodors trip report - called Top Chef Abruzzo on the Fodors Europe message board, which really was a big persuading factor- and the fact that this trip included round-trip transportation from the Rome airport to the cooking school at Palazzo Tour D’Eau in Carunchio, Italy, (because I am scared to death to drive in Italy, but I’m really digressing here!) that truly sold us on booking this trip.

Booking the trip through Groupon, but ultimately via Epitourean ( http://www.epitourean.com/ ) was a lengthy process, because, as I was told, this was one of the most popular deals Groupon ever had and when calling to book the dates I wanted for October 2013, I had to make multiple calls at various times of day for 3 days until I actually got an agent at Epitourean. However, once I spoke to an actual person the booking process was smooth and there were no glitches. It’s my opinion that the company was simply overwhelmed with the response to this vacation deal and hopefully for future bookings the backlog of waiting customers won’t be so large.

Mom and I selected the second week in October to take this trip for several reasons. The first and most important was because that would be mom’s birthday week and who wouldn’t want to spend their birthday in Italy (at least that’s how our minds “tick”!). But also, we felt the weather would be a nice mix of cool and sunny. I’m happy to say our weather forecast was spot-on!

Since the cooking vacation was based in the hills of the Abruzzo region, but we needed to be in Rome for the transportation to and from the cooking school, before we purchased our plane tickets we decided that if we had to transit through Rome anyway, how could we not stay in one of our favorite cities in the world, so we hatched a plan.

We would fly into Rome the day before we were to meet the rest of our cooking class-mates (we did this because it was a four hour drive from Rome to Carunchio and neither mom nor I wanted to be on a bus for that length of time after a trans-Atlantic flight) and stay at the Fiumicino Airport Hilton ( http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/ita...PTW/index.html ). I redeemed points from one of my credit cards for the room and this worked like a charm. Then upon finishing the cooking vacation we would be transported back to Rome and stay in the Eternal City at the Albergo del Senato (http://www.albergodelsenato.it/ ) for a week before going home, it was the perfect plan for us.

Once we had our accommodations worked out, I began scouring the Delta website for airfare. Since both mom and I have our frequent flier miles through Delta’s Sky Miles program we try to fly with Delta or their partner airlines. For this trip, we choose to book on the Delta website, but we flew Air France in their Premier Voyager cabin, which is the Air France version of premium economy. Our route would take us from Savannah, Georgia to Atlanta, to Paris and then into Rome. This may appear to be slightly out of the way since Delta does have a flight from Atlanta to Rome, but we really like the Air France premium economy seats and with our Sky Miles Gold status, we can take advantage of the lounges in Atlanta and Paris, which we did.

And now the trip begins…

Friday, October 11, 2013

Our travel day began with leaving from home at 2pm for a 5pm flight. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the security check point to find the Savannah Airport has implemented TSA Pre-Check, although there was no separate lane yet (that would come on Oct. 19th), we each got a green card with Pre-Check written on it that allowed us not to have to take off shoes, or belts and we were allowed to keep our liquids bag and computer inside our carry-ons. Finally I feel like Savannah is catching up to the rest of the airports!

All our flights ran on time and as I’ve mentioned previously, we really do find the Air France Premier Voyager seats to be much more comfortable than regular economy. When we arrived in Paris we had a couple hours before our connecting flight to Rome. This was plenty of time to make our way through passport control and find the Air France lounge to relax, check emails and have a bite to eat.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Before we knew it, the time had come to board our flight to Rome and in less than 2 hours we landed at Fiumicino right on time at 4pm. We made our way to the baggage claim area and waited and waited and waited for the conveyor belt to start up. Once it got moving bags started coming around, but it was like an episode of the old I Love Lucy Show. The conveyor belt started and five bags came around, then nothing for 10 minutes, then five more bags, then nothing for 10 minutes, this went on and on. I turned to my mom, shrugged my shoulders and said with a big smile, “This is so Italian”. Our bags did make in on the fourth or fifth go-around.

Fortunately we did not have far to go. We walked from baggage claim through the terminal and followed the signs for the Hilton Hotel. It’s not a far walk, but when traveling for close to 24 hours, it seemed like it took forever. We walked into the hotel lobby and were greeted with a smile and a speedy check-in.

The Hilton at Fiumicino is exactly what one would expect of a chain hotel at an international airport. It suited our needs perfectly, had comfortable beds, a clean bathroom and most important of all, there was a lounge in the lobby where we could get a couple glasses of wine.

We tossed our bags in the room, ran a brush through our hair and toddled down to the lounge. We snagged a couple seats at the bar and in honor of our friends K and S, who were traveling in Puglia, we ordered a bottle of chardonnay from Puglia. With the little aperitivo snacks the bartender put out for us we were two happy ladies, even though it still didn’t feel like it was Italy to us, being in a hotel lobby lounge!

While at the bar we noticed two other ladies sitting a few feet away from us and they were speaking with another couple, telling them they had just spent a week at a cooking school in Abruzzo. When mom and I heard this, our ears perked up and when the couple they were talking too moved on, we introduced ourselves and asked if they had just come from the cooking school in Carunchio. As it turned out they did and they were also a mother/daughter traveling together! Well, our intention to have a couple glasses of wine and then go to sleep, turned into several hours (and more wine then we want to admit to having) of chatting with these ladies about their experience. By 8pm, mom and I were exhausted and said our good-byes to our new friends and took the elevator up to our room. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Dec 1st, 2013, 03:53 PM
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Your trip sounds so fun...Can't wait to read more.
Paquintravel is offline  
Dec 1st, 2013, 04:20 PM
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Waiting anxiously for the next installment. Headed to Italy next September.
Julie49 is offline  
Dec 1st, 2013, 05:28 PM
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LCI - looking forward to your TR, always an interesting adventure! I'll be in Rome in April and plan on booking reservations at a few restaurants from your past reports. Wonder what new places you found on this trip? I'll be waiting with baited breath for the Rome week of the TR! Janet
Janetd5 is offline  
Dec 1st, 2013, 06:48 PM
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I can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip!
KayTKay is offline  
Dec 1st, 2013, 10:48 PM
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You guys know how to travel! I'm looking forward to the rest of the story.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 03:46 AM
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Me, too!!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 03:51 AM
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Yay! So happy to see this. As you know, I relied very heavily on your food advice for this trip to Rome... I had each of your Rome reports on my iPhone for perusal...
flygirl is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 05:04 AM
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Thanks everyone for the kind words and encouragement. It's nice to know people are reading. My plan is to try and post a new installment each evening, we'll see how that goes! LOL! ;-)

Janet...we did get to several new (to us) restaurants in Rome, and I will definitely write about them, 2 in the Prati neighborhood, near the Vatican, which is an area we hadn't explored much in the past, and really enjoyed this time around.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 05:19 AM
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Traveling along with you! (and your mom)
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 10:06 AM
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Looking forward to the rest of your trip! Thanks for taking the time to post.
Margaretlb is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 10:40 AM
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Same here!
TDudette is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 11:17 AM
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Marking my spot. I hope you enjoyed Abruzzo as much as I have.
Maybe you'll want to join us for 3.0
johnnyomalley is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 12:28 PM
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johnnyomalley...I would certainly consider version 3.0 ;-)
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 12:40 PM
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Anxiously awaiting the report.
rncheryl is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 05:53 PM
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Looking forward to reading more of your adventure. I am itching to get back to Italy... Even though we were there this past October during the same time you were.
HelenG is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 05:59 PM
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Sunday, October 13, 2013

When I opened my eyes this morning all I could think was, that was the best first night of sleep on a trip I ever remember having. Maybe the beds at the Fiumicino Hilton are that great, or more likely, I was just exhausted.

We had a leisurely morning because we didn’t need to be back at the airport for our pick-up until just before 1pm. We wouldn’t typically go for a big buffet breakfast but, we had plenty of time and since dinner the night before was only aperitivo snacks and wine we were fairly hungry. I know hotel restaurant buffets are not always a great deal, and IMHO, this was no exception at €25 per person. But, after taking a look at the ala carte menu and knowing we both wanted the fresh squeezed orange juice (priced at €8 a glass ala carte), we figured, we’d go for the whole “she-bang”, since the other selections available looked pretty good. I will say the food was abundant and the eggs were a welcome addition to our empty stomachs.

Just before 12noon, we checked out and walked back to the airport and to the designated meeting point in Terminal 3. We arrived at the café in the arrivals hall and while mom went to order 2 cappuccini for us, I wheeled the cart with our bags to an empty table. As luck would have it, the two women sitting next to us were also on the same tour we were and we chatted with them until we saw our driver come in.

I approached the driver to give him our names and while I was waiting I introduced myself to a gentleman who was also on the tour. He really threw me for a loop when he said, “Oh, yes, aren’t you celebrating a birthday today?” The look on my face must have been priceless, and then I said, “I’m not but my mom is tomorrow” and then he gave a quick smile and said, he was at the Hilton Hotel lounge the night before and overheard us talking with the other mother/daughter duo who had done the tour the week before. I had a feeling we’d get along just fine and we sure did! Our fellow class-mates on this adventure came from all over the United States and one Canadian. Colorado, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio and of course, South Carolina were well represented in our group and ages ranged from 20’s to 70’s, it was a diverse group with a mix of culinary skills.

Once we were all accounted for, we loaded onto the bus for the 4 hour drive to Carunchio. There’s not much exciting to view on the A-1 Autostrada outside Rome, but once we got off the highway and looped our way through the mountains of Abruzzo the views got more and more interesting. Once we reached Carunchio we took the winding roads to the palazzo that is perched at the very top of the village.

We arrived at Palazzo Tour D’Eau at just about 5pm and were welcomed with a variety of savory snacks and Campari and soda, this trip just kept getting better and better. We each introduced ourselves to the group and the palazzo staff and were then shown to our rooms. We had a room that looked out over the beautiful countryside, and we felt so high up we could reach out and touch the clouds. The room was comfortable, basic and spacious.

Once we were settled in, it was time for a quick spin around the lanes surrounding the palazzo and then before we knew it, the time for our first meal together as a group had arrived. The large table was set in the dining room so we could all sit at one table. The meal started with puff pastry filled with truffles on a bed of saffron sauce. The pasta course was gnocchetti (half potato and half flour, made this dish incredibly light) served with porcini mushroom sauce. The main dish was wild boar marinated in wine, wrapped in prosciutto and puff pastry (yes, there was a puff pastry theme going on, actually by the end of the week, we had enough puff pastry to last us a lifetime!) with roasted vegetables. The boar was perfectly tender. The dessert was a fresh lemon semi-freddo with wild berries, and the best part was that it was not cloyingly sweet. Red wine flowed freely (as it did at every subsequent meal) and we ended our first night in Carunchio with espresso and grappa. The espresso was great, the grappa…ummm, not so much.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2013, 09:24 PM
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Loving your trip report already.
Its a shame we don't see such great deals like cooking schools advertised in Australia on Groupon.
aussie_10 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2013, 10:03 AM
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My salad-bar lunch at my desk suddenly doesn't taste that great. It's usually very good, but....mainated boar....
Margaretlb is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2013, 01:11 PM
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LowCountry: I just noticed this recent article on Abruzzo; thought you might be interested, so I will link it here:

ekscrunchy is offline  

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