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There’s nothing like immersing yourself in a culture to discover the wonders of its culinary traditions, and an upcoming visit to Italy is bound to appeal, as Julie-anne Sprague reports.

GUSTO readers who have a favourite Italian restaurant have been warned – a decadent foodies’ trip to Europe this April may lead to disappointment.

Not disappointment in the trip, mind you, but rather that, according to event organiser Anne Moore, once you experience Italian produce prepared by Italians to an authentic recipe, going back to your favourite Italian restaurant just won’t be the same.

Director of Colombera and Moore, Anne and business partner Emma Colombera will take a small group of West Aussies to Lucca, Italy, for 10 days of true Italian hospitality to learn the art of Italian cooking.

Anne has been taking foodies to Italy since 1995 but this year will be the first of a program dedicated to retaining Italian cooking heritage.

“Italy is trying to hang on to its culture but the young ones are not interested,” Anne says.

“I went to a dinner party held by a young couple and the food was atrocious, I was staggered. I said the only way Italy will hang on is to get the nonnas [grandmothers] to pass on their skills.

“I did the cooking classes for our trips but I thought it would be better to have the nonnas in to do that.

“It is amazing the way they cook. They do it with no equipment and no fancy gear. They have a few good pots but nothing that we are used to having. It’s very simple cucina.

“Were hoping to build on that and turn the estate [where the classes are held] into an educational school and incorporate the language.”

The trips began with Anne wanting to create a more relaxed and enjoyable environment to soak in the sights and culture.

“I don’t like how most people travel on those tours, you miss so much when you don’t stay in one area,” she says.

Bronte Phillips has been on two trips with Colombera and Moore and says staying in the one spot was advantageous.

“The major things for the trip are: Anne’s extraordinary expertise with food; the pure luxury of packing your bag once and unpacking once; a common passion for Italy; and, quite frankly the villa and venues Anne chooses are amazing. The atmosphere is great,” Ms Phillips says.

Originally the trips headed for Chianti but Anne chose the location of Lucca, a precinct not reliant on tourism, which enables visitors to be up close and personal with the locals.

“It’s becoming more tourist oriented but on the whole they are not focused on it, they have their own industry,” Anne says.

“Lucca was a silk merchants area and it made the area wealthy. They put the money into large estates and grew olives and grapes and found out the soil was brilliant for that.”

Lucca is in the north-west region of Tuscany about 60km from Florence and boasts an enormous historical and artistic heritage as well as a thriving wine and oil industry.

Bertolli Oils come from Lucca, for example.

Lucca is surrounded by a fortress wall and has limited entry points. Vehicles are not permitted except for residents.

Jill Johnstone was a participant of the trip last October and said she enjoyed the hands-on food element.

“You could go to the shops for goods or buy them at the local farm. There are not piles of supermarkets, there is just one, which is like the Re-Store. You spend a lot of time going to speciality shops,” Ms Johnstone says.

“We live like the Italians when we are there. For breakfast it’s steamed fruit and fresh yoghurt. You put the espresso on, we eat like they do; it’s not bacon and eggs or vegemite.”

Those joining the trip to Lucca will stay at Fattoria Mansi Bernardini, the estate of Marcello Salome.

“He is the great grandson of Antionetta Bernadini and Raffaello Mansi, a very famous family in Lucca,” Anne says.

It’s through her relationships with those families that Anne gains access into the estates for her foodies to stay in.

Anne also sees the value in creating Aussie foodie trips for Italians.

She is currently in discussions to bring Italians to Australia.

“I have thought about it for ages. We have so much here but the northern Italians don’t like travelling. We need to sell them something good. They don’t like travelling on planes for more than four or five hours,’ Anne says.

“They are becoming more interested in what we are doing with oils and wines and it’s easier to do business here. You can’t sneeze over there without having to get permission.

“I want to get the Aborigines involved. I did an Indigenous dinner over there and they loved it. That’s what I’m after, that’s what they are interested in.”

The trip to Lucca takes place from April 12 to 27 and costs $6,900, including two meals a day plus wine, some cooking classes and wine and olive oil tastings.

“There is a maximum of nine . It’s a very hands-on trip. You don’t get waited on hand and foot. You get in there, you get dirty,” Anne says.

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