Europe Unlimited

By Carole Kotkin

The village of Follina is a sleepy Treviso hamlet with characteristic views of olive groves, vineyards and crumbling old villas. Villagers sip their morning cappuccino standing up at a counter, and the scent of garlic being sauteed in oil wafts through the air. There aren’t many unspoiled scenes like this in Italy’s tourist hot spots, where visitors sometimes seem to outnumber the locals. In Follina, the few tourists are mostly out of sight—tucked away in the kitchen of Villa Abbazia, learning the difference between al dente and overcooked. Everyone knows you can eat well in Italy. But why stop there when you can spend your vacation digesting the fine art of Italian cuisine? As an alternative to tramping through churches, museums and shops, an increasing numbers of visitors to Italy are instead enjoying culinary tourism by enrolling in cooking classes. Lauren Scuncio Birmingham, whose Boston-based firm, Cooking Vacations International, says her clients want "an authentic experience. And the simplest introduction to a country is through the food." Her passion for food and wine sparked her to pursue the idea of creating this unique cooking vacation adventure. “In my family everyone is always in the kitchen before dinner-helping to prepare the dinner. The preparation and cooking part is just as important as the dinner. The kitchen is the center of conversation, laughter and fun. Italian cooking is a family experience and Cooking Vacations gives everyone the opportunity to experience great food, wine, music, and the feeling of being Italian. As they say in Italy, ‘it is not healthy to eat alone.’