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Top Chef Abruzzo! - A Week in an Italian Cooking School (+ Rome)

Top Chef Abruzzo! - A Week in an Italian Cooking School (+ Rome)

Old Oct 9th, 2012, 12:26 PM
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Top Chef Abruzzo! - A Week in an Italian Cooking School (+ Rome)

I am finally getting started on my trip report, as requested! Did I research and ply the boards with questions for this trip? Amazingly, no! This was a different type of adventure for us – planned by a palazzo owner in Italy and, other than airfare, everything, and I mean everything, was included. Transportation from Rome, cooking classes, all meals, wine, excursions, more wine! We sat back and let it all happen. Now, for someone who loves to spend all my pre-trip time reading up, it was incredible that I would survive a trip without spending months researching. Luckily I had 3 days in Rome to plan, but more on that later.


February, 2012: The Golden Baby

How did we end up in the middle of non-touristy Abruzzo, an area I had never heard of? Well, it started last winter a few months after I had booked a family cruise, and had spent considerable time persuading said family to cruise together. The cruise was a done deal when I received my daily email from Groupon. This particular deal featured the picture of a beautiful town with quaint tiny stone houses spilling down the side of a mountain and describing a week of cooking, touring and eating. I don’t usually read the travel Groupons, but this hilltown was so beautiful that I opened it up and read about an amazing opportunity. Darn that cruise that I had already booked! We are a one-vacation-a-year-family, but nevertheless, I showed the Groupon to my husband…for dreaming’s sake.

And he said, “Book it!”

“Yeah, right”, I replied, “did you forget the cruise?”

He repeated it and off I went to a Mardi Gras party, keeping that beautiful picture firmly tucked in the back of my mind.

As is always the case, I headed right for the wine , and much to my surprise, there, smack in the middle of half a dozen normal size bottles of wine, was a huge double size bottle of wine labeled ABRUZZO! Honestly, I had never even heard the word Abruzzo before, and here it was staring me in the face, daring me to book this trip! I enjoyed telling my friends about this ‘sign’ for the rest of the evening. To top it off, I bit into my piece of the Mardi Gras Kings’ cake at the end of the night, and what did I see? The little golden good luck baby looking back at me from my slice! OMG! Another sign! Now, who could ignore a golden baby! By now my friends were all excited and wishing me luck so I went back home and explained that I had received a couple of important signs. I heard the magic words ‘book it’ once again, warned ‘If you say that one more time, I will’. And the next day, I did!

Turns out this was the most popular trip Groupon had ever offered. They were overrun with calls and it was difficult to get through for a while. Apparently, there were a lot of golden babies out there that month!

June 8:

We live in Pennsylvania, but drove to JFK for our $900(!) flight, after a quick detour in Manhattan for brunch and a quick visit to the new Laduree store for macarons. The AerLingus flights to Dublin (which was in an excitable state for an upcoming soccer tournament), and then Rome, were uneventful. We were on our way!
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 12:37 PM
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Looking forward to more!
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 12:37 PM
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YAY!
Can't wait to read your report. maybe it'll be the kick in youknowhat I need to get mine done.
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 12:40 PM
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Yeah johnny...I was hoping I could just add to yours but the pressure on my other thread was just too much - I was forced to get started! (just kidding everyone!)
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 01:08 PM
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ttt- can't wait for more.
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 01:53 PM
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This is going to be good...
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 04:08 PM
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Yes, kwren, the pressure is on. We are waiting with baited (bated?) breath for The Rest of The Story!
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 04:35 PM
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I took a lot of photos so here is the first bunch taken on our way to Carunchio...

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...7765993&type=3

Facebook hasn't been cooperating with me lately so I hope this works!
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 04:43 PM
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Sunday June 9 – Flower Festival

We arrived in Rome, turned left once out of the security area, and found our meeting point in front of a row of eateries. (Adding a bit of detail for anyone going on this same trip – you know who you are!) It was a good place to grab a table and lunch and wait for our driver, who arrived precisely on time. There were 21 of us waiting and we didn’t even realize it, but should have given the amount of English being spoken. Soon we were all gabbing in a small bus on our way into the mountainous Abruzzo region about 4 hours to the east of Rome. We had one stop at an AutoGrill. There were piles of pastries, sandwiches, candy etc, but we were more taken with the huge selection of huge salumes, whole proscuittos, and bags of pasta. On our way again, the terrain became more and more isolated and rugged. Just about everyone had their cameras out snapping pictures of the passing communities high on the hill tops, down the sides of cliffs, and fields of poppies.

Soon we arrived at yet another hilltown, but this one was different as we didn’t just pass it by. The roads were cordoned off and we had to wait until the owner of the palazzo was contacted. Turns out there was a festival in town and visitors (I suppose) had to park down below and walk up. We, however, were allowed in and zig-zagged up the tiny roads to the tippy-top near the cathedral. It was a bit scary being in a bus navigating hairpin curves, but we made it and finally, there sat the Palazzo Tour d’Eau with its corner turrets overlooking the most gorgeous view of other hill towns and plains. We were welcomed by Massimo, the owner, in the interior courtyard with snacks and drinks and taken to our rooms. Since we had our daughter with us, we had been given a suite consisting of a tiny vestibule connecting 2 simple yet beautiful and sparkling clean rooms and a nice bathroom (although it was one of the smallest shower I had ever seen!). Solid furniture, not the type of nondescript stuff you see in hotel chains. Being that one of our rooms was a corner room, we also had a turret and could walk into it. The interior was very tiny and the slits for guns from the past were filled in with colored glass.

We are of the take a quick nap once arriving in Europe camp, but quickly forgot about that when we were told of the yearly Infiorata – the Flower Festival – going on in Carunchio (Cah-roong’-kyo) that day. Curious, we walked to the cathedral, just down the street at the other end of the top of the hill, where Mass was already going on. The church was beautiful…and packed! Imagine just arriving in Italy and being greeted with chanting and church music played on an 18th century organ. It was almost too much to take in. The best part, however, was that the center aisle was completely decorated in a carpet of flowers. We walked outside to take in the view and saw costumed band members congregating at the side of the church. Soon, mass was over and the band and religious dignitaries led a procession, complete with amplified prayers and responses, down the winding pathways to the town’s main square. The people formed 2 lines which I wondered about until partway down when we filed on either side of many large flower artworks in the middle of the walkways. Finally we reached the square, watched the priests and canopy enter the square walking on the path of flower pictures, and another religious ceremony commenced.

As amazing as that was, we realized that dinner was at 8:00 and we had to go all the way back up to the top of the hill. We didn’t really know where we were, but all we had to do was just…go…up! You can’t really get lost when you are staying at the uppermost point and following the constant celebratory ringing of the church bells.

We reached the palazzo – I love saying I stayed in a palace! – and entered the vaulted dining room, dressed up in white tablecloths with candelabras and formal place settings. That was nothing compared to dinner though. The chefs welcomed us with a cheese and truffle filled popover on a pool of saffron sauce, “priest choker” pasta with porcini sauce, wild boar with red wine sauce and truffled duchess potatoes, and a creamy ‘spumoni limone’ dessert with berry sauce. The homemade Montepulciano wine started flowing tonight and wouldn’t stop for the next week.

What a wonderful start to our cooking vacation…and we didn’t even need to cook!
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Old Oct 9th, 2012, 04:54 PM
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The Flower Festival and our first dinner:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...7765993&type=3

The pictures look best if you click on the first one and see them full size and uncropped!
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 12:33 AM
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great start, kwren. Sadly though I can't open your photos as it says that i am not enabled to do so.
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 02:08 AM
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I remember when you first asked us about this Groupon, so am looking forward to hear how it went!
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 04:10 AM
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Annhig, Darn! I'm sorry my pictures didn't work. Is everyone having the same problem?
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 04:22 AM
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I logged in to Facebook and could see the photos just fine.

Waiting to hear the rest of the adventure . . .
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 05:33 AM
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ellenem - thanks. lovely pics, kwren.

me - complete idiot. duh!
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 07:08 AM
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Loving this so far - is there a link to the cooking school??
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 07:21 AM
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I am devouring your report! Looking forward to reading the rest!
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 08:46 AM
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jamikins - The websites are not the best I believe Massimo plans to update them over the off sesaon. Plus adding a Facebook page.

http://www.abruzzocibus.com/index.php
http://www.palazzotd.com/us_html/us_home.html

Also, some tripadvisor reviews http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Revi...i_Abruzzo.html
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 10:53 AM
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I had thought about adding these websites to start, but decided I'd write my report first! First, it's really hard to access the actual palazzo website for some reason, and the school/tour website does not do the program justice IMHO. As johnny said, Massimo is thinking about redoing some of his materials. Some of us talked to him about that when we were there.

However, the Tripadvisor reviews are all glowing for good reason. The week just gets better and better!!!
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Old Oct 10th, 2012, 10:55 AM
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Thanks so much for the websites!! I will keep in mind that they dont do the best job of selling it and cant wait for more report!
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