'Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon...'

Be Seduced By the Tastes of Italy

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Vegetarian Cooking Tours in Italy is Italy's #1 culinary tour company.

Marcello and Raffa,
Your Hosts

Let us introduce ourselves! We're Raffaella Raspadori and Marcello Tori, the tour guides for Vegetarian Cooking Tours in Italy. We are a family company that specializes in wine and gastronomy tours in Italy.

Marcello and I are married over 20 years now. We were both born in Imola in Emilia-Romagna. We have three children: Emanuele 21, Francesca 15 and Tommaso 11. Raffaella graduated from Law School. Marcello has worked over 20 years in the travel industry. We have owned our own travel agency in Bologna since 1987 so you're traveling with experts who know how to run top-notch tours and can help you with travel arrangements, too.

When Marcello was a boy, he often went bicycling with his father out in the country, stopping at farmers' homes for a glass of wine here and there, so he knows lots of people and takes you to places and people he likes. You share genuine Italian experiences and feel immersed in our culture.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother taught me how to roll out pasta, make tortellini, tagliatelle and all kinds of pasta and how to cook our traditional dishes. Cooking has always been a passion of mine and I love to experiment with new flavors, and new combinations. Marcello and I make a great pair. I love to cook, and he loves to eat!

Marcello has traveled extensively in Asia and Europe as well as the United States, so he can put himself in your traveler's shoes and understand what little things make you happy. We've combined his love of traveling with my passion for cooking. "You have to enjoy every moment!"

We decided to wind down our travel agency and focus on our long time passion...showing friends the region we love so much. In 1995, we opened our tour company and have had the great pleasure of showing American, European, and Asian food lovers our Emilia-Romagna, Italy's gastronomy paradise.

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Learn why the Mediterranean diet has created health, vitality, and longevity for Italians for centuries. Being heart-healthy in Italy includes the very best part of their cuisine.

If you are interested in a healthy travel adventure, and would like Marcello and Raffaella to share with you the Italy they have known their entire lives, please read why

• Our gastronomy and wine tours in Italy are #1
• Why we have so many repeat customers
• Why our price, for what you get, can't be matched by any other tour company!
• How we can promise you that you will enjoy our tour more than you have ever enjoyed a travel vacation before.
• Why Emilia-Romagna is the birthplace of Northern Italy's richest flavors.

We offer custom tours for the 'passionate traveler'. We create an environment for our guests, which is supportive of learning, exploration, friendship, and relaxation.

Please read on, and you will discover the secret of the
most successful culinary tour company in Italy:

Before I begin this letter or testimonial, I would simply like to say that I NEVER do this sort of thing. I find that most 'marketing' testimonials are simply marketing tools written to pull on your heartstrings and sell you something. This letter is written from my heart and is truly meant to convey an experience that did not last long enough, but will continue to live on in my heart and memories forever.

In September 2002, my sister, a dear friend, and I booked a tourwith Vegetarian Cooking Tours in Italy. This was our first trip to Italy. I am an artist and designer, so my imagination runs away with me. I tend to imagine larger than life. What a wonderful surprise to find my imagination could never conceive the beauty of the country, the food or the people of Italy.

Meeting our host in Bologna was instant friendship. The warmth and genuine enthusiasm of Marcello and Raffa won our hearts.Their passion for all things Italian make us fall in love.

I am still reeling from all of the things I saw and experienced in Italy. The markets, the cooking lessons, the wine, the herbgarden, the gelato, the people, and the wonderful food made this an unforgettable tour.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot we were tourist and we began to blend into the landscape. We forget Marcello and Raffa were tour guides and begin to think of them as family. It is simply impossible to put into words our Italian experience.

I am someone who enjoys visiting different places and always going somewhere new, but I cannot think of any place more beautiful or more inviting than the Italy of Marcello and Raffa. Be warned, you will never be the same once you have experienced the Vegetarian Cooking Tour in Italy.

Reata Strickland
The University of Alabama
September 8, 2002

Italy's Premier Culinary Company

Marcello's Culinary and Wine Tours of Italy

"This trip was unlike any others we've taken. What made it so special was the warmth and sweetness of Marcello and Raffaella. They did everything to ensure that we had an unforgettable experience. And it was! For a real insider's view, you must travel with this extraordinary pair!"
Ben and Randi Gould, NY 2001

What is the biggest challenge when traveling in Italy?

According to a recent independent survey of more than 700 travelers returning from Italy, the challenge is this: "Because we weren't able to speak Italian, we were not able to really have the trip to Italy that we had fantasized about. We sure wish that we had known somebody who lived there who could have taken us under their wing and introduced us to the Italy that the locals know and love."

It is not surprising, therefore, that many of those travelers returning from Europe felt that their trip would have been dramatically improved had they been escorted by a local who has an intimate knowledge of the best restaurants, off the beaten track destinations and activities, very affordable shopping, and wonderfully comfortable accomodations.

Let me ask you a question: Have your travels in Europe been all that you wanted them to be?

If your answer is No, what is the reason for the lackluster experience?

If you're like most people, you have spent many hours planning, lots of money on guide books, travel agents, and all-inclusive vacations, and yet the most exquisite travel experiences have still eluded you. You're puzzled, because your travel experiences have never matched up to your romantic fantasies, and you're just not sure what you need to do, to at least once in your life, go on a trip that delivers as much as it promises.

You're stumped!

Why is it that most people come back from vacations needing another vacation to rest and recuperate from the first one?

Why is it, when we fantasize about foreign travel, we visualize ourselves having life-changing new experiences, seeing breath-taking sights, learning hidden secrets about another culture, having an endless cornucopia of mouth-watering delicacies, being welcomed into a beautiful country home and dining with their family, getting relaxed and peaceful, and spending romantic one on one time with our partner?

But in actuality, most travel vacations are stressful, unnecessarily expensive, frustrating, culinarily disappointing, confusing, and require countless hours of preparation, lots of asking passersbys if they speak English, and if they can direct you to your destination: anything but relaxing and romantic!

Here's the answer:

More often than not, the single most important ingredient in creating an unforgettable trip is missing.

That ingredient is ... a tour guide who welcomes you into his own family, and is committed to showing you the time of your life in his homeland.

"Friendship - not tourist attractions -
is the true currency of memorable travel."

-- Marcello Tori, the "Italian Tour Guru," leading
fantasy tours in Italy for over 15 years

Family and friends are the true currency in all aspects of life. Why would travel be any different? Cherished memories in travel start when you are welcomed into another person's heart and they share with you what is dearest to them. This, ultimately, is what travel dollars are buying. Why settle for anything less?

Let me ask you a question:

If I could show you a way that you could go on a tour of Italy that would meet or exceed the sweet magic of your fantasy vacation, would you be willing to spend the next 7 minutes to read about it?

If you answered Yes, then I urge you to read every word on this page. This could be the most valuable article you'll ever read concerning the unforgettable joy of traveling abroad.

The Deadliest Mistake Most International Travelers Make

When I visited a bookstore recently, I noticed something peculiar.

There were bookshelves literally overflowing with books on travel, accomodations, what to take on a trip, phrase books for travelers, guidebooks, bed and breakfasts in different countries, currency exchange, how to not look like a tourist. But there wasn't a single book on why we travel - nor one on how to make your travel dreams come true.

Can you figure out why?

One reason is that most travelers are so overwhelmed by the sheer magnatude of the information and details that they must be mindful of to prepare for their upcoming trip abroad, that they lose track of their reasons for going in the first place. In fact, when it comes to traveling, most travelers either:

· leave their trips in the hands of a travel agent; or

· rely on a series of recommendations in a guidebook, very few, if any at all, are written by locals.

Big mistake!

Travel agents sell tours and accomodations all over the world. Not only are they not locals, at best, they have only spent a day or two in your destination city. Their expertise is in using the computer to make extremely detailed travel arrangements and buying air travel and hotel accomodations. They are not tourguides. Period! (More on this later.)

Fantasy travel is an art and a science, and is best left in the hands of trained and experienced tourguides who truly understand the craft.

You see, each part of each country has a culture, cuisine, psychology, and even language all its own.

"Did you know that even the most thoroughly researched and implimented itinerary can actually kill a trip?"

Why? Because it is so easy to get bogged down in the details and logistics of a journey, that one misses the essence of the experience. The real juice in a trip has to do with you having a fantastic time while you are experiencing the beauty and excitement in a country.

Therefore, Marcello's Culinary and Wine Tour of Italy is a pearl necklace of exquisite moments which celebrate the marvelous courtship between Italian food and life. Cooking lessons and meals in wonderful private homes, a relaxed hike with Merino (and his wonderdog Mitch) who takes us on a truffle hunt, the hardwork and pleasure of life on a farm with Maria Grazie and her husband Gianni, Nicola and his wife who perfom magic in the kitchen of their own restaurant, and Novella who teaches us the secrets of making real Italian pizza and feeds us to the point of no return in her big Italian kitchen where we sit down with her entire family.

If you go on a 10 day 7 city tour in Europe, you get a brief overview of the sights and sounds of each particular country. The very nature of this variety of travel creates a huge chasm between the traveler and the environment. The trip is so fast, and the amount of new sights, sounds, and information is so vast, that there is no time or energy for subtleties. This is not at all what we are offering.

The ironic thing is that this type of trip is perfectly suited to some people who travel abroad.

Our commitment: To provide you with a fantastic all-inclusive, carefree gourmet-getaway that meets or exceeds your expectations, at the lowest possible price.

Brought to you by Italy's premier culinary company: We create distinctive culinary vacations, with small groups, gracious inns, and wonderful dining in private homes and countryside estates.

A gastronomy tour in a land of spectacular castles and palaces: We provide you with an opportunity to experience Italy like local, and do it less expensively than if you tried to arrange your own trip with the aid of a guidebook. Take the guess work out of travel!

Live Passionately: Eat, drink, laugh, learn, and make life-long friends. Our small group escorted wine and culinary tours of the most romantic country in the world combines:

· cooking classes and demonstrations
· tastings of artisan food products
· dining in private homes
· shopping and guided cultural visits
· vegetarian or vegan feasts

"A wonderful way to relax and experience the
splendors of Italy."

Here's a sample from the itinerary: Tuesday dinner
"Top off your day with a cooking lesson at the country home of renaissance artisans, Maria and Gianni, who grow grapes to make their wine, grow olives to make their olive oil, and grow their own herbs, fruits, and vegetables (using sustainable farming methods, of course). But more importantly is what they do with them. Maria is one of the great chefs of Italian country cooking in Italy. You will feast not only on the meal, but also on the old world ambiance of their home."

Click here for the complete tour itinerary:

Eating, to Italians, is much more than a biological necessity. It's a ritual. And needless to say, Italians consider their cuisine second to none. The idea of "eating on the run" is repugnant to most Italians, who, if at all possible, prefer to eat at home.

"Vegetarian and vegan travelers have exquisite dining opportunities
awaiting them in Italy."

The province in Northern Italy known as
Emilia-Romagna, is a vegetarian
culinary paradise.

Your host, Marcello Tori, is the: "Italian Tour Guru."

Marcello and his wife Raffaella take hospitality to a whole new level. Their joy in life is to share their home and deep knowledge of Italy with all of their guests. Their generosity knows no bounds. The testimonials that they have gathered over the last 15 years, of leading tours in Italy, basically repeat the same accolades over and over again.

· "Beyond our wildest dreams"

· "Everything we were hoping for and a lot more"

· "Best food and drink I could ever imagine."

· "The Italian families we dined with were so interesting and fun to be with."

· "When I think about all of the culinary secrets I have learned, and will be taking home with me. This trip was a steal."

· "I promise you that I will recommend this tour to everyone I know."

· "Nothing is too much trouble for Marcello and Raffaella."

· "Marcello and Raffaella are an 11 on a scale from 1 to 10."

Hundreds of glowing testimonials are evidence that Marcello and Raffaella are extremely good at what they do, and are always willing to go the extra mile to create a feeling of family, and to make this the most enjoyable vacation you will ever take!

Marcello and Raffaella have been leading small group escorted tours in Italy for over 15 years. Their clients have included ambassadors to Italy, chefs of the rich and famous, and ordinary people like my wife and me.

Vegetarian Cooking Tours in Italy is
Italy's #1 Culinary Tour Company.

Learn why the Mediterranean diet has created health, vitality, and longevity for Italians for centuries.

Being heart-healthy in Italy includes the very best part of their cuisine.

If you are interested in a healthy travel adventure, and would like Marcello and Raffaella to share with you the Italy they have known their entire lives, please read why:

· Our gastronomy and wine tours in Italy are #1
· Why we have so many repeat customers
· Why our price, for what you get, can't be matched by any other tour company!
· How we can promise you that you will enjoy our tour more than you have ever enjoyed a travel vacation before.
· Why Emilia-Romagna is the birthplace of Northern Italy's richest flavors.

We offer custom tours for the "passionate traveler."

We create an environment for our guests, which is supportive of learning, exploration, friendship, and relaxation.

"This trip was unlike any other we've taken. What made it so special was the warmth and sweetness of Marcello and Raffaella. They did everything to ensure that we had an unforgettable experience. And it was! We cooked in restaurant kitchens, with accomplished home chefs, saw first hand how cheese, olive oil and Balsamic vinegar is made, visited wineries, markets, makers of fine linens, and more. Everywhere we went Marcello and Raffa made certain that we 'lived as Italians.' For a real insider's view, you must travel with this extraordinary pair!"
Ben and Randi Londer Gould
New York, NY September 2001

*** Your dream vacation in Italy will include***

· Eating home cooked meals as a special guest in charming country homes with Italian families. This is a wonderful feature of our tours, and we are not aware of any other tour that offer this special option. This would be very difficult to arrange if you were trying to create your own tour.

· Cooking classes and demonstrations taught by fun-loving master chefs in their own homes, or their own restaurants. You will love these sessions, even if cooking is not your thing. We have established a close working relationship with these artisan chefs over the years, and they are willing to share their culinary secrets with you. It is almost impossible to create this special opportunity if you travel to Italy on your own, or with the assistance of a travel agent.

· Exquisite dining in wonderful undiscovered hillside winery/restaurants. Marcello and Raffaella keep close tabs on every restaurant in the entire Emilia-Romagna area. They know when they are bought and sold, who the new chef is, where the old chef went, and if they have changed their menu recently.

We want every meal you have while you are on our tour to be a great one! Not only does the restaurant need to be able to serve up a great vegetarian or vegan feast, but the ambiance, service, wine list, and friendliness of the chef and staff have to be above reproach for us to even consider including a restaurant on our tour. These standards are adhered to regardless if the restaurant is a small hillside trattoria that serves Italian country style, or an elegant 5 star restaurant specializing in haute cuisine. Restaurants change, our standards never do!

A tremendous amount of time and energy on an ongoing basis goes into providing our guests with the best possible dining experiences while they are in Italy. No published travel guide can possibly make this claim. Most large volume tour companies have an entirely different set of criteria.

· Go on a truffle hunt with Marino and his dog Mitch. This extraordinary travel opportunity is without question the most difficult feature for any tour to match. It took years of searching for the right combination of truffle hunter, dog, and area before we could offer this magical opportunity to our guests. In our 15 years of offering gastronomy and wine tours, this is the very first time that a truffle hunt has ever been included. No wonder it is so difficult for another tour to match this experience!

· Visit the most prestigious family run Balsamic Vinegar producer in Modena. Some of these vinegars have been aging for over a hundred years. Generation after generation in this family have refined their skills, and passed along their secrets. Through a friend of the family relationship, we are allowed to go behind locked doors into their aging rooms. This extremely rare treat for our guests is sledom offered to the public.

· Sample all the varieties of estate bottled olive oils in Brisighella. Freshly made and bottled olive oil is ALIVE. There are no additives, and no preservatives. It is pressed, bottled and sealed right there, before your eyes.

It is only through a visit to an olive oil estate that you can ever have a chance to taste extra extra virgin first cold press fresh olive oil with extremely low acid, velvety taste, and all of the vital energy as it comes from the tree. It is this olive oil that is the centerpiece of the Mediterranean Diet, and has proven its effectiveness over the centuries. You will be able to refine your skills as an olive oil connoisseur in this tasting session. This olive oil is undeniably the best of the best!

· Watch the production and painting of world famous Italian ceramics in Faenza. To fill the enormous demand, most Italian ceramics are made and painted in large factories. We have made special arrangements to tour a one-man ceramic studio so you can experience the actual craftsman at work in his natural setting. Then, a few doors away is the artist who paints the age old Italian designs on these masterpieces, finishing the process by firing them in the oven. Be a part of Italy's art and design heritage.

· It's the herbs that make the real difference between the wonderful cuisines of the world. For this reason, no gastronomy tour would be complete without a guided tour of the most extensive commercial herb garden research center in Italy.

Elena, our guide for the gardens, is an herbologist, and very talented in the kitchen. She introduces us to the world of Italian herbs for the palate, mind, body, and spirit. We complete this visit with a "cooking with herbs" demonstration by Elena, in the kitchens adjacent to the gardens.

Very few people know about these gardens, since they are not even mentioned in other tour books.

· Have a gelato class and taste every flavor in the entire store. This part of the tour is beyond description. It's only by sampling all of the flavors juxtaposed with one another that you can really know which flavors you like the best.

The Italians take their gelato very seriously! Maurizio, our guide and chef for this segment of the tour is a member of the Italian National Gelato Team. This is the most prestigious honor that Italy can confer upon a Gelato master.

Maurizio owns and operates an exquisite gelato parlor, and because he is a close friend to Marcello, he gives you the keys to the kingdom. Not only do you get to sample as much of each flavor as you want (Be careful not to fill up -- there are a lot of flavors to sample.). In addition, Maurizio will teach us the finer points of making gelato.

There are plenty of flavors for vegans as well. And don't forget to ask Maurizio about how an expert makes granita.

· Learn to shop like the locals at the Bolognese Central Market. Raffaella guides us through the Bolognese central market where she has bought her fruits, vegetables, breads, herbs, and other ingredients since she was a little girl. She knows the vendors well, and they treat her like family.

The colors, smells, and excitement of this open-air market place
are probably the same as they have been for hundreds of years.

· Wineries are very fussy about their wines before they are completed and properly aged. Have you ever heard of a winery allowing their wines to be sampled at the different stages of development. Here's your chance to challenge your palate while you learn the secrets to making great wine!

Because Marcello grew up with Mario, the wine master, our tours and only our tours, are given special privileges at the Terre Naldi Winery. Not only do we have carte blanche to sample reds like the San Giovese and whites like the Trebbiano and Albana from the aging barrels, the vintner guides us through each stage, explaining what is happening to the wine. Make the moment sparkle!

Finally, as you savor the finished product, you can taste for yourself why these wines are considered superbly balanced, smooth, graceful, and delightfully well rounded. This wine master's skill is astonishing, even by Italy's high standards!

· Go behind the scenes into the kitchen of the finest restaurant in Italy. The Executive Chef, Valentino, gives you a fabulous vegetarian or vegan cooking demonstration in his own kitchen. Come see for yourself why some believe that San Domenico might very well be the finest and most elegant restaurant in all of Europe.

Because Marcello and Raffaella have known Valentino since they were in elementary school together, you get a personally guided tour of their 20,000 + bottle wine cellar and a cooking demonstration from San Domenico's Executive chef.

· Have time to savor your mouth-watering meals, and relax with a glass of wine or a cappuccino, and a digestivo. Because we lead only very small group escorted tours, we can take our time when it comes to those romantic evening meals. You and your partner can even have a private table if you prefer.

Because we go to great lengths to make sure that every meal is special, we want to make sure that you have plenty of time to savor every aspect of your meals, from the appetizer through the after dinner digestives.

· Eat at a vegan restaurant in Bologna where their food creations are to live for. You will get some great meal preparation ideas at this popular local eatery.

· And many, many more wonderful experiences and visits. Many of our special visits and cooking demonstrations are tour specific to either vegans or vegetarians, so we have not mentioned them in this list.

Please click on the appropriate link below to check out the specific itineraries to learn even more about the wonderful treats you have in store when you join one of our gastronomy and wine tours.

· For a detailed vegetarian itinerary please click on this link: www.vegtour.com/itinerary.html

· For a detailed vegan itinerary please click on this link: www.vegtour.com/veganitinerary.html


Vegetarian Cooking Tours in Italy
Other Package
On Your Own Using a
Travel Agent and/or
Guide Book

Dining and cooking lessons in private homes


Experienced English speaking guide and car


Truffle Hunt


Guided tour of herb garden with master herbologist


Partially Customizable


Guaranteed vegetarian or vegan meals


Guided Tour of prestigious Balsamic Vinegar aging rooms


Over 15 years leading culinary and wine tours in Emilia-Romagna


Guided Tour of the prestigious Terre Naldi Winery and tasking of wine at different stages of development


Gelato visit and full tasting of wine at different stages of development


No research or reservations needed for cars, hotels, restaurants, etc.

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While working to create "the perfect gastronomy and wine tour in Italy," we interviewed numerous travelers who had recently returned from Italy. We asked them about their experiences, in order to enhance our tours. We discovered a common thread in their responses. Though there were very few things that everyone agreed on, there was one comment that was the same.

They said that because they were unable to speak Italian, they did not feel at home in Italy. They felt like a tourist and were unable to penetrate the exterior to discover the real treasures in Italy: exquisite country inns, the best restaurants, hidden meadows, quaint villages, or having the opportunity to sit an talk with the people over a coffee, or watch master chefs or craftspeople at work, which is why they went to Italy to begin with.

They went on to say that their trips included wonderful moments, but they sure wish they had known somebody who lived there who could have taken them under their wing, and introduced them to the Italy that the locals know and love.

Would you like to experience Italy like a local, visit spectacular parts of Italy that very few tourists ever see, make life long friends, enjoy a wide variety of the most mouth-watering vegetarian and/or vegan foods that Italy has to offer, experience Italy like a local, and learn the lazy gourmet tips and tricks from Italian Chefs that will have you preparing fantastic quick and easy Italian dishes by the time your tour is over?


Vegetarian Cooking Tours in Italy!

If you want to explore Italy with a Eurail Pass, of course it leaves out the possibility of seeing anything that is not within a short taxi ride from the train station. You won't be spending much time appreciating the natural beauty outside of the city, or eating at out-of-the-way village inns. You are very restricted, but it is the least expensive travel option.

If you rent a car so you can really experience Italy, plan on spending a significant amount of time driving around trying to figure out where you are on the map and asking questions of people, most of whom don't speak English. Unfortunately streets in Italy are not well marked.

The majority of foods that are on the menu in city restaurants are pretty standard items that you are familiar with from your Italian restaurants at home. However, these commonly seen dishes comprise only a very small percentage of the actual number of Italian dishes that you will enjoy on our tours.

When you happen to have a fantastic meal in Italy, that is just the kind of authentic Italian delicacy that you would like to prepare at home for your family and friends, it is almost impossible to get the recipe, since most chefs only speak Italian, and are not particularly interested in sharing the secret recipes or cooking techniques that their businesses are based on.

It turns out, the ingredients to make such a dish are probably available at your local Italian deli, if you only knew what they were, how to use them, and what to ask for.

On our culinary and wine tours, each tour comes with a tour specific cookbook so you will be able to bring these national treasures home, without taking notes!

On a self directed tour: You come home from your dream vacation in Italy with not much more access to the secrets locked away in your local Italian deli, than before you left. And, it is hard to gain an appreciation for the subtleties of fine Italian ingredients without sampling them by themselves.

Even though you very much appreciated the wonderful new taste sensations that you sampled in restaurants, with lots of exotic ingredients blended together, if you do not have the opportunity to taste test different varieties and grades of olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, truffles, pasta, sauces of different types, red and white wines, Spumante, Proseco, gelato and granita, cheeses, mushrooms, etc., it is hard to learn to appreciate them.

When you use a travel guidebook, the only things that you end up seeing are the same few things that all tourists see. Many people come back from traveling abroad saying that it was a tourist trap, because the only shops that they had access to were around the major attractions, where the prices are sky high, but easily accessible to all of the tourists that go there.

"Look at all those buses going by; I wonder which one goes to Il Duomo? I have heard that it is really cheap to ride the bus in Italy." You ask the bus driver, but he does not speak English. So you wait for the next bus and ask someone getting on if they know where Il Duomo is and if this bus goes there. The first few people you asked do not speak English, but the third does. However, by the time you start talking to him the bus is leaving and all you found out was that that the bus you want does not stop here.

You have just discovered a very important concept. If you are going to spare the expense of a guide and travel on your own in a non-English speaking country, be sure to learn the language before you go.

It's difficult to see the glorious vistas out in nature, and savor special flavors of the Italian country cooking in out of the way village inn restaurants without a car to get around, and an English speaking guide to help you get where you are going. Needless to say, there are so many interesting and fun, exquisitely beautiful sights and smells and sounds that it is not possible to see all of them. However, to spend a week or so in Italy, and not really get a flavor for the spirit of the people, the cuisine, the country, the natural beauty, and their unique customs, is unfortunate, all in the name of saving money.

The fact is that, it costs much more to try and put together a wonderful tour of Italy by yourself, than you would spend with us. Plus, you won't need to spend endless tedious hours learning the language, making hotel, restaurant, car or train reservations, buying and studying all of the well-known guidebooks, and asking directions from Italian people who don't speak English.

Then, once you get to Italy, your vacation is only so long. Every minute that you are not relaxing, or enjoying the things you want to be enjoying, is wasted. If you are on a vacation and you are feeling frustrated and upset with your partner because you're lost in the car and one of you had thought that this was the right way to go, and you have been driving for an hour or two in the wrong direction, it does not foster a loving, peaceful, romantic feeling between the two of you.

When you are feeling hungry and tired and possibly resentful because the last person you asked for instructions knew little or no English, and though he was friendly, it took forever to get decipherable directions from him, it is hard to enjoy what you are going to visit next. More time wasted, more stress and anxiety, less closeness and understanding for your partner who is horrible with directions, and refuses to ask for help. The vacation that you saved for and fantasized about for years is becoming a nightmare. "I thought Italy was the country of love and romance."

Some approaches to travel in Italy don't work. You can take an inexpensive all-inclusive bus tour with 40 other people together, where the only real Italian person that you have contact with is the bus driver and your guide. You go to restaurants that are huge, and can accommodate large groups coming in for food. The huge quantity of food needs to be prepared, served, eaten, and the group out of there in one hour so they are not late for the next visit. The tourists are treated like cattle, and though you do actually spend a whole week in Italy, you would have been better off watching a good travel show about Italy on the travel channel, and eating at the best Italian restaurant at home.

The only way these tour operators can get the price of the package tours down to an inexpensive level is to do it with quantity. The number of people that are allowed on the tour is usually dictated by how many people the bus will hold. All of the subtleties of the trip are lost, and there is no customization of the tour possible because of the strict schedule involved. There is no stress here because you don't have to think about anything, just do what the tour guide tells you to do, and don't wander off, because it will hold up the whole group.

What is really frustrating is when the group visits someplace that you and your partner really like, and find very romantic. Your spirits soar, you're feeling very relaxed and totally in love with your partner. You feel like you could hang out in this magical moment/spot for hours. All of a sudden, your tour guide comes along with his little whistle, and you are forced to move along and get back into the bus because there are 7 other stops planned for that day, and you are already running a little bit behind.

The only way that the two of you can mentally justify being prodded along, is by fantasizing about visiting this place the next time you come back to Italy and spend as much time there as you want, assuming you ever come back to Italy, and assuming that you can find this particular spot again. Once the moment is lost, it is lost forever.

I am not interested in a sanitized tourist version of a country, cuisine, and its people. I want the exotic flavors, especially since they are different from what I am used to. I want to see the passion of the people the way they relate to their family and friends around their dinner table. I want to capture the illusive secrets of their cuisine, so I can return home with these treasures that will enrich my entire life, and bring an exciting taste and flair to everything I cook for my family and friends. It will also give me a more refined sense of taste for the food and culture. I will see how people live and relate to one another. I will be able to have experiences that rival my fantasies. Sometimes large tours only get a "just what the camera sees" view of a country. I demand more from my travel dollars than I can get by watching a good travel documentary on the TV.

Vegetarian Cooking Tours in Italy