Academic Trips & Language Classes
Florence holds more foreign student programs than almost any other city in the world. The list of universities and programs operating there is endless. For adults interested in studying in Florence, the list narrows a bit. One good place to start looking is Education First (tel. 1-800-992-1892; www.ef.com), as they run a number of educational programs in Italy, including Italian language classes in Florence. Another private group with a Florence program is Academic Studies Abroad (tel. 888-845-4272; www.academicstudies.com), which works through Florence University of the Arts. Note that they cannot accept applications from outside the U.S. or Canada, and that all classes and programs are at the undergraduate level. One of the better schools is the Lorenzo de Medici (tel. 055-287-203; www.lorenzodemedici.org), with branches in Florence and Tuscania on the Lazio border. Smaller towns can offer a more intimate experience of Tuscan life: The Language Center in Todi, Umbria (tel. 075-894-8364; www.wellanguage.com) has a well-deserved reputation for teaching Italian.
Food & Wine Trips
Most tourist boards offer guided tours of the vineyards in their province, as will a number of local tourist agencies. They're often sponsored by the vintners themselves. The Associazione Strada del Sagrantino (tel. 0742-378-490; www.stradadelsagrantino.it) offers packages and can coordinate tours of the Umbrian Sagrantino region. Another good example is Brunello and Chianti producer Donatella Cinelli Colombini (tel. 0577/662-108; www.cinellicolombini.it), which offers winery tours and tastings.
Local tour company Fufluns (tel. 0132-227-0495; www.fufluns.com) runs excellent custom-made wine and gourmet tours through Tuscany, and can also help arrange cooking classes. Qualified sommelier Angela Saltafuori runs Tuscan Wine Tours (tel. 0333-318-5705; www.tuscanwinetours.net), usually driving groups of 2 to 8 adults in an air-conditioned minibus (tours 120€-145€).
The most serious cooking courses in Tuscany (and there are a lot of them these days) in our opinion are at La Petraia (tel. 0577/738-582; www.lapetraia.com), for a simple reason: the simplicity of it all. The ingredients you use: the eggs, the chestnuts, the peas, the ham, the spices, almost without exception come from the very property where you are staying. Classes cost around 200€.
One of Italy's most respected cookbook authors, and former TV cooking show star, Giuliano Bugialli shares his secrets in summertime weeklong classes, with lodging in Florence and classes conducted in a kitchen in the Chianti. One-week courses can run $4,800 per person, including first-class accommodations and most meals. For more info, contact "Foods of Italy" at 105 S. 12th St. Apt. 205/206, The White Building, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (tel. 215/922-2086; fax 215/923-3502; www.bugialli.com).
Another high profile school is the one started over 20 years ago by Lorenza de' Medici, author of 30 kitchen tomes (including the coffee-table favorite, Tuscany: The Beautiful Cookbook) and star of her own TV cooking series. Unfortunately, she's hung up her apron and now leaves the lessons to Florentine Chef Andrea Gagnesi. March through November, 1-day (155€) and 2-day, 3-night (900€) courses take place in the 12th-century abbey and wine estate Badia a Coltibuono. For more information call tel. 0577-744-831 or visit www.coltibuono.com.
March through November, Cook Euro, 708 Third Ave., 13th floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-794-1400; www.cookeuro.com), offers a weeklong course, "L'Amore di Cucina Italiana" with visits to wine estates and cultural day trips in Tuscany and Umbria, for about $3,200 per person based on double occupancy.
If a week's time or a $4,000 investment are too rich for your cooking-lesson tastes, check out Judy Witts Francini's La Divina Cucina (tel./fax 055-292-578; www.divinacucina.com) for 1-day and 1-week courses designed to teach you to cook as the Florentines do. You start off each class by shopping in Florence's large central market at 11am, and by 4pm you've put together a meal based on the freshest ingredients available that day. A single Monday at the market costs 125€ per person, or a 1-week Colle Val d'Elsa program costs 2,700€.
The best way to experience Tuscany and Umbria just may be by bicycle. Bike-it-yourselfers should arm themselves with a good map. You can rent a bike by the week or longer at outlets in most cities.
Several operators specialize in setting up itineraries and making some of the arrangements for you or in leading fully guided tours. Ciclismo Classico (tel. 800/866-7314 in the U.S., or 781/646-3377; fax 781/641-1512; www.ciclismoclassico.com) is one of the best. A weeklong tour of Tuscany runs about $3,295 per person. May through October, the outfit runs several guided tours through Tuscany and Umbria, always van-supported, and will help you arrange a do-it-yourself tour as well. Groups average 10 to 18 people, with all ages and ability levels welcome.
VBT Bicycling Tours and Vacations (tel. 800/245-3868 in the U.S., www.vbt.com), a 40-year-veteran of the bike tour business and a specialist in Tuscan and Umbrian routes, makes a point of combining a great experience with excellent value. Bike tours start at $2,850 and walking tours are also available.
Experience Plus (tel. 800/685-4565 in the U.S., or 970/484-8489; www.experienceplus.com) offers both guided (Sept-Oct) and self-guided (Apr-Oct) biking and walking tours through Tuscany lasting 7 to 11 days (from $3,050). Florence-based I Bike Italy (tel. 561/388-0783 in the U.S.; www.ibikeitaly.com) offers guided 1- and 2-day rides in the Tuscan countryside. The 2-day tour requires a minimum of four participants and ends in Siena. They provide a shuttle service in and out of the city, the bike, and a bilingual guide. The 1-day tour returns to Florence around 5pm. Tours cost around 80€ per person, lunch included.
If you don't feel the need to cover so much territory, you can appreciate even more of the countryside by walking or hiking (called trekking in Italian). Italy's resource for everything from countryside ambles to serious mountain trekking is the Club Alpino Italiano, Via E. Fonseca Pimentel 7, Milan 20127 (tel. 02-2614-1378; fax 02-2614-1395; www.cai.it). Many outfits run walking tours in Tuscany and Umbria. Besides Ciclismo Classico, you might want to try Butterfield & Robinson (tel. 866/551-9090; www.butterfield.com); or Country Walkers (tel. 800/464-9255 in the U.S., or 802/244-1387; www.countrywalkers.com), which has a rather refined, romantic outlook on Italy and offers several Tuscan tours, one of which divides your time between exploring hill towns on foot and taking cooking and wine appreciation lessons.
For intelligent walking tours in Florence, one of the best operators is Context Travel (tel. 215/609-4888; www.contexttravel.com), whose experts in their respective fields lead guided tours and seminars on everything from Renaissance art to ceramics to cuisine.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.