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Italy with relish
. . . cooking holidays, cooking vacations, culinary tours in Umbria and Tuscany


Italy has been a favorite place for travelers for hundreds of years, and of all the regions Tuscany is perhaps the richest in history and culture. More recently Cortona too has gained in popularity though it was always been known as one of the more interesting towns, even back in the early sixties when Jonathan Arthur first came to Italy.

The city was founded by the Etruscans around 700 BC and has been continually inhabited ever since. The surrounding countryside of olive groves, vineyards, wheat fields and grazing sheep provide the raw materials for the famous Tuscan cuisine.


Look up Cooking Holiday Italy on Google and there are 247,000 relevant sites and 32 sponsored links. So plenty to choose from. Those organised by Italy With Relish however are truly unique, the result of many years experience and fine tuning. The result is two very different holidays both designed to give visitors the best possible experience and the best value. Both give plenty of time to learn or to laze, to cook and create or slow down and snooze. All well away from the tourist trail.

"When designing a holiday I try to imagine that a group of my best friends has arrived and I want to show them a great time." ~ Jonathan Arthur


Chef Jonathan Arthur

Cooking in ItalyI have always seemed to find myself by accident or design, in a kitchen. As the youngest child of a farming family in Cornwall I was always the one helping my mother make butter, bread and of course pasties. As a teenager in school we were allowed to chose between metalwork or domestic science, as the former was taught by a notorious sadist and the later was full of girls it seemed a no brainer, though I was the only boy in the cooking class.

After getting a degree at Bristol University, like many a stary eyed youth I decided that the life of rock and roll was the one for me but even here found myself organising the catering for music festivals like WOMAD and Young CND. After a while it was obvious that the music industry while it makes some very rich indeed it wasn't going to do much for me and so I applied to work on the management team of a small chain of restaurants, Huffs of London. I soon found that when one of the Chefs called in sick, hung over or had a new girl or boy friend I was the one left holding the fort or baking tray. By the time I left I was making and cooking hundreds of croissant and Danish pastries every morning before the rest of the staff arrived.

Life changed when I met Sarah Miatt who used to work occasionally in the kitchens to pay for her studio in Wapping, after being together for a year we decided we wanted to get married and have children but both felt the big city wasn't the best place to raise a family, so the week after our wedding we moved to Italy.

My family is very well known in the horse world having broken and trained a number of Olympic competitors and so my first employment in Italy was as a riding instructor and by chance the club I taught at was based at a lovely farm near Orvieto called La Cacciata that was also the place where Alister Little held his cooking courses, we became friends and I learnt a lot not just about food but also how to run an enjoyable cooking holiday. Alister no longer teaches at the farm but still gets the olive oil shipped over to sell in his west London shop.

Cooking in Italy Cooking in Italy Cooking in Italy

Cortona Cooking holiday

The Cooking Cortona residential cooking school is designed for those who want a real cooking course, in one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany on a limited budget.

Any one who has been to Italy will have noticed the abundance of Churches and Monasteries, some of these, though still owned by the church can be rented for holiday accommodation. The one we use also has a large airy kitchen ideal for the course.

The rooms are comfortable, heated and all with en-suite bathrooms, however being built for monastic contemplation rather than luxury they lack satellite TV and mini bars. Not that people spend much of their free time at the convent as the bustling centre of Cortona with its shops, bars and restaurants lies just two minutes walk away, down through the medieval alleys of the town.

All classes are in the evening, leaving the day free to enjoy the town and the surrounding area or to take a train to visit one of the other towns such as Siena, Arezzo or Orvieto . . . or to visit one of the busy street markets.

There is also time after the evening cooking classes, for those who wish, to return to Cortona centre which is still buzzing until two in the morning.


Private coach can pick up clients from Perugia airport or local rail station.
Dinner together in the "Antica Trattoria" on tables set out in the square.

After breakfast, a visit to the large street market in Camucia, lunch optional. The evening cooking class starts at 6:00 pm and is followed by dinner on the results.

Time off in Cortona, lunch optional, class at 6:00 pm and dinner.

A trip to Florence, guided walking tour of the city, on return we dine together a the "La Grotta" Restaurant.

Breakfast, time off in Cortona, lunch optional, afternoon - evening lesson

After breakfast, a guided tour of Cortona museum and local Etruscan ruins, lunch optional, afternoon - evening class at 6:00 pm

Breakfast, time off in Cortona, lunch optional afternoon - evening lesson - farewell dinner


Including transport, accommodation, breakfasts and evening meals with house wine €850


Dream Cooking holiday on Amalfi Coast

Accommodation and cooking classes will be at "La Primavera" in Massa Lubrense. Both the town and hotel are among hidden jewels of the coast.

Massa being little known has avoided tourist overcrowding which affects much of the rest of the area. However, it and the nearby towns of S Agata and Marina del Cantone sport some of the very best restaurants.

La Primavera, a family run restaurant since the 1950s was later expanded to offer accommodation. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms and either balcony or patio.

Cooking classes will be given by Anna, the family matriarch and her Chef Gennaro.


Day 1
Participants will be picked up from Naples airport or Sorrento rail station. After settling in, dinner at La Pimavera.

Day 2
After breakfast and a quick orientation session explaining the public transport system, internet access, etc, a trip down to Sorrento. Lunch is optional with transport back in time for the first cooking lesson at 18:00 after which dining on the results.

Day 3
Is a free day for participants to explore the area. Cooking will start at 18:00

Day 4
Trip to the Roman ruins of Pompeii for a guided tour. There will be time to relax before the evening class.

Day 5
Today is free, perhaps for last minute shopping in Sorrento and/or trip into Naples followed by the evening cooking lesson.

Day 6
Below Massa lies the little harbour of Marina della Lobra. From here, weather permitting, a boat will take participants on a tour around the island of Capri stopping off at its Marina Piccolo. The boat returns in time for the evening cooking lesson.

Day 7
A tour along the Amalfi coast stopping at Amalfi, Positano and Ravello, returning with enough time to pack before the farewell dinner.

Day 8
Transport is provided for the return trip to the rail station or airport.

Including transport, accommodation, breakfasts and evening meals with house wine 1,250 Euro


Luxury Cooking holiday

Thankfully Italy is one of the easiest places for vegetarians to visit. The wide range of delicious, locally grown fruit and vegetables are a staple of the Italian diet, reflected in the longevity statistics. The availability of more exotic fare such as truffles, balsamic vinegar and porcini mushrooms only adds to the fun. The inhabitants of Tuscany, where the vacation will be based, are known in the rest of Italy as the "Mangia Fagioli" or "Bean Eaters" due to the wide variety of legumes found in their traditional dishes.

Born in Italy to English parents I have been working with my Father in the tourism sector for some time now. During this time we have perfected the art of providing a luxury, villa based holiday at a very reasonable price.

For many years I have been a vegetarian, a decision based on concerns about animal welfare, the welfare of the planet, and my own health.

So it seemed only logical to combine the two and offer fellow "Veggies" a great holiday, at an affordable price, freed from the worry of what will be on the menu or in the dish.

Lizzy Arthur

Sample Program

Pick up from Rome airport followed by a visit to the beautiful town of Orvieto. Lunch optional, but once everyone is aboard the bus we can, if needed, phone ahead to book a meal. Arrival at the luxury villa in time get settled in before a welcome dinner.

Mid-morning brunch at the villa, followed by a visit to Cortona. A guided tour of the museum and Etruscan ruins on the outskirts of the town can be organised for those who are interested (tickets 10 Euro). There will be time to return to the villa before dinner at the Antica Trattoria on tables set out in the square.

Visit to Pienza one of Tuscany's most beautiful hill towns, to taste various delicious balsamic vinegars and the local Pecorino sheep's cheese. Then to Montefolonico and the unforgettable Fourteenth century cellars of the Innocenti winery, whose vintages still win international prizes. Light lunch at nearby Montepulciano . . . then evening cooking class at the villa.

Visit to the ceramics centre of Deruta. Here the Pimpinelli family will demonstrate the traditional craft of hand made pottery - from the original piece of raw clay, through various firings and glazes all the way to the final product, hand painted by Sig Pimpinelli himself. Lunch at a local trattoria specialising in traditional Umbrian fare, after which a visit to Perugia. This evening all will be invited to make their own pizza in the wood burning oven of our local pizzeria.

Remembering that this is a holiday rather than a forced march, Wednesday is a free day to lie by the pool or stroll through the countryside. Transport at no cost will be provided for those who want to return to Cortona or go to the train station for a day trip to another city such as Rome or Arezzo. A light supper is provided at the villa.

The nearby town of Camucia has one of the largest and most varied street markets of the area where guests can make their own choice of fruit, vegetables cheeses and breads for a picnic. There will be time to relax before the evening hands-on cooking lesson and supper at the villa.

Guided visit to Florence the most famed of renaissance cities and a great place to shop. We can organise advance booking of the Uffizi and/or Accademia (tickets 12 Euro). Lunch optional. On return farewell dinner at the villa.

Breakfast then return to Rome Airport.

The price of €1350 includes:

  • Breakfast and maid service on each day.
  • Transport and bi-lingual guide.
  • All tastings and meals if not shown as optional.
  • House wine for all meals (except breakfast).
  • Free high speed internet access is available at all the villas we use.
  • The group will also be provided with an Italian number cell phone and the numbers to call the two organisers who will be on call at all times.


For this vacation, meals and cooking lessons may include some dairy produce and eggs, but only those produced from animals kept humanely and free of antibiotics and steroids in local farms that I have personally visited.

All the food provided in the villa will be strictly fresh, unadulterated and non GM, fortunately in Italy this is a relatively easy task.

No fish or meat products will be used.

Non vegetarians welcome (we won't eat you)!

This is a sample program, we can change it to better fit your interests

For further information email

Other options:

  • Bread day: visit to a local bakery, back to the villa to learn how to make wholemeal and other breads, cooking lesson on the various uses of bread in the Tuscan kitchen.
  • Olive oil day: visit to a local olive grove and mill followed by olive oil tasting, lunch at the olive oil mill.
  • Wine making day: visit to the Avigionese vineyard and winery followed by wine tasting and dinner.
  • Cheese making day: learning cheese making and ageing techniques by a local expert followed by cheese tasting and dinner in a cheese specialized restaurant in Cortona.
  • Painting day: painting of classic Italian landscapes with the assistance of an established painter followed by picnic. (Some painting experience necessary)
  • Spa day: visit to the local thermal baths of Rapolano (near Siena) with optional dinner in Siena.

Accommodation is in the peaceful and simple surroundings of the one of the Monasteries in the hilltop Etruscan town of Cortona with its breathtaking views across the plains for as far as the eye can see.

The rooms are comfortable, heated and all with en-suite bathrooms, however being built for monastic contemplation rather than luxury they lack satellite TV and mini bars. Not that people spend much of their free time at the convent as the bustling centre of Cortona with its shops, bars and restaurants lies just two minutes walk away, down through the medieval alleys of the town.

Whilst the convent is a haven of tranquillity there is also time after the evening cooking classes, for those who wish, to return to Cortona town centre which is still buzzing until two in the morning.

Jonathan Arthur
Italy with Relish
Loc Cignano32
52042 Cortona
Mobile Phone:
+39 338 809 3978
(for emergency contact)
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number and times when you would like to be called.