"Forks & Corks in the Belly of Italy" 2017

A Culinary Extravaganza

Oct. 16-24, 2017

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Come fill your belly with food, wine and laughter as you graze your way through Perugia, Umbria, Bologna and Tuscany. Yum-yum, this is a gastronomical adventure like no other. Why would we repeat it again? Because it was our best Italy adventure ever! Having visited Italy over 30 years, this is my favorite itinerary! I designed this food-centric vacay because travel and food go together like stinky cheese and juicy red wine. I can't imagine one of life's greatest pleasures without the other. Through local cuisine we discover local culture. When travelers return from Europe, they talk more about the unique dishes in great cafes than the churches and museums. And you'll be talking about this "delicioso" tour forever!


 Enjoy a gastro-walking tour through Bologna.  We'll visit a boutique farm of "designer pigs", specially bred for salami and then tour the factories of Parmesan, Prosciutto and Balsamic vinegars.  In Florence, we meet "The Butcher of Panzano" (featured on the Food Channel) for a steak dinner extravaganza.  In Assisi, tour the Basilica of St. Francis built in 1253.  On our final "Day of Wine and Roses", you'll love the vineyards and the Villa we booked for you.

The highlight is the annual Euro Chocolate Festival sponsored by Nestle for a million visitors!  Chocoholics – prepare to immerse yourself in euro festchocolate heaven as you taste your way through vendor stands of Caffarel to Lindt.  See the world's largest bar and an igloo made from 3 tons of dark chocolate.  There's chocolate art, liqueurs, classes, sculpture competitions and even chocolate spa treatments!  Afterwards we'll visit Perugino Chocolate Factory to see how Baci is made.

In small medieval villages, we'll visit noisy colorful markets that only Italians visit.  See a "belly button" pasta demonstration, a bakery and cheese shops.  Taste regional wines and local delicacies throughout.  No reservations, just a deposit to hold your space for the sweetest tour you could ever imagine.  If you're a foodie, here' a recipe for the perfect vacation.  It's a feast for all your 5 senses.  Come savor the edible delights.  Come savor La Dolce Vita!

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Our Glorious Itinerary

Oct 16 - Fly from USA to Florence

No group air - Fly USA to Florance.  Air details in TripTips.

Oct 17 - Welcome to Italy!

A guide will greet us at airport arrival and transfer us to our hotel in fabulous Modena.  Our Hotel Canal Grande is conveniently located in the center of town.  This elegant 4 star was once a monastery in 1788 and then a palace.  The artwork is exquisite.  There’s a terraced garden, excellent restaurant, bar, in-room WiFi, flat screen TV and more.  This is our hub for 3 glorious nights.  Have a rest or explore the town until dinner.

If Italy were a meal, Modena would be the main course. Here, on the flat plains of the slow-flowing Po, lies one of the nation's great gastronomic centres, the creative force behind real balsamic vinegar, giant tortellini stuffed with tantalising fillings, sparkling Lambrusco wine and backstreets crammed with some of the best restaurants no one's ever heard of. Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/italy/emilia-romagna-and-san-marino/modena/introduction#ixzz4BIObzTgB

Mondena is in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy where sensory pleasures are abundant.  It’s home to Ferrari and Pavarotti and famous for it’s tortellini and Lambrusco wine.  It holds one of the oldest universities in Europe with 48 mile of bike paths.  Visitors flock here for the art treasures; museums, a 12th century Cathedral, Ghirlandina Tower, Romanesque masterpieces, the “Wealth of Mankind” and more.

Visit the museums and chic boutiques along the cobbled streets of Piazza della Pomposa filled with bars and outdoor cafes.  There’s a bustling market open since 1931.  The historic center of Piazza Grande is a UNESCO certified treasure.  Here you can buy the world’s finest Balsamic vinegars and dine in the world’s finest osteria, Francescana with 3 Michelin stars.   In Maranello, 10 miles away, you can even tour the Ferrari factory and test drive a cherry red car around laps.

Tonight we get to know each other at a Welcome Dinner Trattoria Aldina of Modena’s local specialties and wine.

Overnight: Hotel Canal Grande – D

Oct 18 - Parmigiano, Prosciutto, Balsamic

Today we depart on a full day tour to learn all about this region’s Parmigiano, Prosciutto di Parma and famous Balsamico. 

We’ll visit 4 different places including Antica Corte Pallavic, an amazing place on Po River.

The region of Parma is famous for their production of ham and cheese, specifically the world famous Parma ham we know as prosciutto and the "King of Cheese" cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano. We will visit production facilities for each of these delicacies to learn how they are made and aged. After our tours we will get to sample the labor intensive results.

Cheese:  You will watch behind the scenes the master cooking, separating the rich whey and lifting this magnificent DOP product.  The shaping and salting rooms are equally enthralling as we begin to realize the enormous amount of care and daily toil this product requires. Moving on from the salting vaults we enter the aging room.  Here among wheels of cheese is where the fullest, richest aroma ignites the senses as we learn how after 12 months the Consorzio experts, test and skillfully hammer the cheeses before the ritual of branding. Only then do the 38 kilogram wheels that pass this test finally mature on wood for 2 or more years.

Ham: Next is a visit to a remarkable curing workshop of Prosciutto di Parma. Located along the Langhirano valley, it lies in the heart of the Parma Ham DOP production area. It is the along these Apennine foothills that the seaborne breezes, and the secreted skills of the makers conspire to create the unique conditions necessary to cure only genuine Parma Ham.  They say just salt, air and time is needed...  But there is something else perhaps most fascinating of all: the marriage between Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma.

We will see where the fresh haunches are selected and salted.  Then visit the cooling and "resting" rooms.  Best of all we will take you to the cellar branding areas where the "Naso" or master nose deciphers the perfume of only the perfect product for the ultimate branding of the twin crowns of Parma Ham - fit for the tables of the top restaurants of Parma, Italy and the World.

Antica Corte Pallavicina:  We visit a boutique farm that raises a special breed of pig for salami making and special cows for making Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  They also grow an amazing variety of organic fruits and vegetables as well as grapes for making their own wines.  See the unique breeds of white cows from the Po Valley, the “Black Parma” pigs, geese and the kitchen gardens.  This place is famous for its salami!  We will visit to the castle here to see ancient wine cellars, dating back to 1320.  Then enjoy a lunch of cheese, salami, salad, focaccia bread, homemade desserts and Fortana wine.
Balsamic:  Later a visit to a Balsamic Vinegar producer will introduce us to the process of reducing and aging wine that has been done since the Middle Ages.  There are 2 types of balsamic – the highly prized DOP regulated tradiziomale (these are nearly priceless) and then there’s everything else.  Educate your palette.  Discover the smooth flavors redolent of plums and cherries with a smoky or spicy tang on the finish.  Traditional balsamic is made in only 2 places in Italy – Modena or Reggio Emilia.  Locals infuse vinegar into nearly everything here.

Overnight: Hotel Canal Grande –B, L

Oct 19 - Oh, Bologna!

After breakfast, we visit the fun city of Bologna.  Here we split into 2 smaller groups and depart on a Gastronomic Walking Tour.
 We begin with a demonstration in tortellini making.  This ring shaped pasta or navel shape is called umbelico or “belly button” pasta.  We will stroll to the colorful markets, a local bakery, cheese shops and a mortadella shop – or bologna shop but far more delicious then we know it.

A stop will be made at the legendary deli of Tamburini.  See towering stacks of the freshest salamis, cheeses and pastas your eyes and nose has ever discovered.  There will be free time to shop, eat and explore.  Our guides will offer the best suggestions before returning to hotel.

Evenings are beautiful in Modena.  Discover some trattorias and osterias that have been featured on the Food Channel.  The most popular of all now is Brasserie Franceschetta where each culinary creation is just 7 euros.

Overnight: Hotel Canal Grande –B

Oct 20 - Glorious Florence – A Foodie Walking Tour

We check out for an early departure to Florence!  You may have been there but not with this unique experience.  Our local guide will lead us out to explore this gastro city of local delights.  It begins with a tour of local markets to learn about different specialties.  We also visit a true “fiaschetteria”, a wine bar/ sandwich shop that is now a dying breed in Italy.  The line is long for the 30 different special sandwich fillings, like wild boar and creamed goat cheese.   This is the place locals flock to wait and sip their wine.  Mark it on your map, as you may want to return later.  You’ll have 2 hours of free time to lunch and shop.

Later our guide escorts us to a popular local Geleteria for a lesson of gelato making with the freshest ingredients and so many flavors, you won’t want to leave.

Late afternoon we board our coach and head through the Tuscan countryside to Panzano in Chianti.  You better come with a hearty appetite for hunks of beef.  Dinner tonight at Officina Della Bischecca, featured often on travel and food channels.  Owner Dario Cecchini, “The Butcher of Panzano”’ is a huge personality who entertains guests.  It’s a steak lover’s paradise with his famous steaks that are grilled by master chefs!  (To order it “well done”, ask them to “ruin it.”)  There are also fresh vegetables, breads, pork fat butter and all the local wine you can drink.  (See www.dariocecchini.com) With our bellies full and cheeks rosy, we head back to our hotel. You’ll never forget this place.

Perugia, the capital of Umbria is crossed by river Tiber.  It’s a university town and major center of medieval art.   You can easily get around this large hill town by the new MiniMetro.  Off the main square you find Etruscan architecture and fountains, citadel of Rocca Paolina, Cathedral San Lorenzo, Gothic Town Hall and take escalators down into Underground Perugia.
Tonight we check into Sangallo Palace Hotel, in Perugia for three nights.  It’s a beautiful property in the historic district just 5 minutes to Old Town.  There’s an indoor pool with water jets, a gym and free Internet in you room.

Overnight: Sangallo Palace Hotel – B, D

Oct 21 - “Food of the Gods” or Total Chocolate Day

Perugia Chocolate Festival & Factories

This morning we visit Perugia, the famous Italian confectionery based in Perugia.  Now part of Nestle, they are world renowned for their exquisite Easter eggs and Baci dark chocolate kisses filled with hazelnuts and wrapped with multilingual loves notes.  The smell of chocolate engulfs you among sheets of candy bars.  After the factory and test kitchen tour, help yourself – there’ll be plenty of sample tastings!

After we head to the Euro Chocolate Festival.  Indulge your inner chocoholic at Europe’s largest chocolate fair, that began in 1993.  This is the real deal for industrial, wholesalers, crafters and manufacturers such as Lindt, Caffarel, Nestle Europe and more.  It’s chocolate in all forms, not even pasta or salami are safe.  You can even taste cocoa from Venezuela and chocolate liqueurs from around the globe.

Graze your way through food stands of the choco-factories.  Look for exhibits, classes and special tastings.  There’s a chocolate spa, choco-themed nightlife and Guinness record breaking choco- sculptures like a life-size igloo, King Kong, famous nudes and more.  (These are destroyed the last day for anyone to consume.)  Who knows what the festival will present for 2017!?  Google Eurochocolate.com or better yet, wait for the surprises! 

Tonight remain at festival or return to hotel.

Overnight: Sangallo Palace Hotel   B,

Oct 22 – Umbria, small villages, Assisi

After breakfast, we head out to surrounding villages in the countryside to see what markets or festivals are taking place.  (This region abounds with festivals in October, which focus on local products like Chestnuts, Truffles, Black Celery and more.)

Then we continue 12 miles to the sacred Roman hill town of Assisi.  Famous for the birthplace of St Francis, it holds so much religious, historic and artistic significance that it’s a World Heritage Site.  We walk cobbled streets and alleys off Piazza Matteotti passed churches and shops to the Church of St Francis, mother church of the Franciscan Order in Assisi. 

The basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage.  Cross St Peter’s Gate to see the friary, frescos and tomb of Saint Francis.  Free time to lunch and shop for unique religious crafts and medieval art.  Embroidery and chocolate manufacturing are typical here.  

Return to Perugia hotel for evening at leisure.

Overnight: Sangallo Palace Hotel – B

Oct 23 – Day of Wine and Roses

Check out of hotel.  We have an early start today heading back to Tuscany tasting wines enroute for a day of wine!  In the heart of Montepucliano, just a few steps from Piazza Grande, the main square in town, below the elegant Palazzo Ricci, a Renaissance palace commissioned by Cardinal Giovanni Ricci (1498-1574) to the great Sienese architect Baldassarre Peruzzi (1481-1536), there is the monumental Cantina de’ Ricci, one of the most ancient and beautiful in the world, which is accessed through an impressive equestrian staircase that gradually leads the visitor to the discovery of an enchanted place.
Here, for many centuries, the now extinct Ricci Family has lovingly cared and treasured one of the most demanded products of these lands: the wine. Time permitting, we will stop at Frantoio di Spello http://www.frantoiodispello.it/

On to Vignamaggio!
Vignamaggio is one of Tuscany’s oldest farming estates, a Renaissance treasure trove in the heart of the Chianti region, positioned on the hills at the source of the Greve River. Half way between Florence and Siena, the estate extends for over 200 hectares in the hills of the Chianti Classico region. It overlooks a countryside landscape, of forests, vineyards and ancient hamlets scattered about on the surrounding hills. At the core of the farm is the Renaissance villa, surrounded by Italian style gardens, which fill the spaces between rows of cypresses, vines and olive trees.

On all sides, forest mingles with farmland, where for hundreds of years, farmhands have been working the land. At the edge of the forest or among the vineyards, one can glimpse ancient stone farmhouses, once the homes of the sharecroppers. A working farm since 1404, Vignamaggio has been cultivating the vines and producing wine for over 600 years.
We depart and make our way to our villa for an overnight in Tuscany at Villa La Palagina for one night.

Our property, set high upon a Tuscan hill, is close to the town of Figline Valdarno, surrounded by the olives groves and vineyards of the Chianti. From our land we obtain what the best nature has to offer: wine, oil, honey and other local products are part of the new line of our top quality production. Villa la Palagina makes a delightful base for anyone travelling in Tuscany, a place where you can breathe the magical air of our country, seasoned with flavors of the past. Panoramic and Scenic views, available from all our rooms. Free Wi Fi connection available in each room, 2 swimming pools in panoramic position, park and Italian style garden, free parking, concierge services, excellent restaurant, bar, panoramic terrace, wine and olive oil tasting.

Here we enjoy our Farewell Dinner and toast each other for a journey well done!

Overnight: Villa La Palagina – B, L, D


Oct 24 - Transfer to Florence airport for our flights home.

Villa Palagina



Canal Grande


Activity Level:

2. I have no trouble walking and if necessary, can walk for 3+ miles. Uneven surfaces are not a problem. I do not need a cane or walking device.


Don’t miss this unique 8-day culinary adventure.  Limited to 40 participants.

A $400 deposit + $550 mid-payment ($950)  will secure your space on a first come basis, don’t delay!

Land price:  $1895

Air: No group air - not enough wanted it.

Suggested routing

  • 16 Oct:  DL 20       EWR / CDG     8:43 - 10:10 (+1  next day)
  • 17 Oct:  AF 1566   CDG / FLR       12:35  - 14:20  
  • 24 Oct:  AF 1067   FLR / CDG       10:00  - 11:50 
  • 24 Oct:  DL 21       CDG / EWR     13:15 -  15:57 

Check in at the Delta counter in Newark airport 3 hours before departure at 5:45 PM on Oct 16.  Upon return Oct 24 date, allow 2 hours (6:00 PM) to connect to flight home.  

Includes:  Transfers, first class accommodations, meals as stated, daily guided tours, AFS GTL.



This 'option' is a required additional charge for this trip.

It is protocol to tip your drivers, porters and local guides - we have the absolute best. $11 pp per day should suffice as minimum and will be added to your final bill. We will give this to your GTL to disperse accordingly
Group Air - NYC to Florence
No group air - not enough wanted it. 16 Oct: Depart Newark 8:45 PM (thru CDG) 17 Oct: Arrive Florence 2:20 PM 24 Oct: Depart Florence 10:00 AM (thru CDG) 24 Oct: Arrive Newark 3:57 PM See full flight details in Trip Tips
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Please review AFS Terms and Conditions as well as Heading Abroad with AFS. Group air - Airlines may add surcharges to offset fuel inflation or taxes. The total ticket cost is not final until we receive your final payment and are ticketed. If doing own air, airport transfer may or may not be included depending on your air schedule. Do not buy air until we either group air is set or we advise - dates can change! Itineraries are prepared often a year in advance. Though not likely, AFS and our suppliers reserve the right to change or modify such to meet local conditions. Although rare, hotels can change – all hotel rooms are run of the house. Our prices are based on current taxation structures. In case any revision in taxes, sudden fluctuation in currency levels, change in Visa fees or increase in fuel charges, we will amend our prices and inform you accordingly. Land price is based on minimum number of trip participants.