There’s one overwhelming reason why people book on Walkabout Florence’s Cooking Class at a Farmhouse in Tuscany with Local Market Tour: last year it was voted the best experience in the world on TripAdvisor. Yes, you read that right… of all the experiences in the WORLD – from walking the Great Wall of China to bungee jumping off a waterfall in New Zealand to riding the opulent Orient Express across Europe – this tour was voted number one. So of course I had to experience it myself!
It can be easy when browsing sites like Viator to wonder what the difference is between the various cooking classes in Tuscany. I hope that this blog post will give you an insight into my Walkabout Florence experience, and encourage you to book the class so that you can experience it too.
An Early Morning Trip to the Mercato Centrale
The day starts bright and early (8.45am) at the meeting point outside Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station. My group was met by Isak, our guide and chef. Isak is an American-born fine-dining chef with a local’s knowledge of Florence; his dry humour and laidback demeanour helped to put the group at ease and was a constant reassurance throughout the day. Our group, armed with headsets so that we could hear his running commentary, wove its way through the narrow streets to the Mercato Centrale Firenze, or Florence Central Market.
Fact: Much to the surprise of some of the American visitors on the tour, jaywalking is legal (and positively encouraged) in Florence. Expect to dash across roads and take absolutely no notice of the traffic lights.
It was great to be able to explore the market early in the morning – I think I would have felt awkward shuffling around in a big group if the market was bustling with people, but at around 9.30am it was quiet enough to navigate easily and yet clearly in use by locals. Isak took us to a variety of stalls – bakery, grocers, butchers – buying the fresh ingredients for our meal and engaging in a bit of Italian banter with the vendors.
We were given plenty of information about Florentine cooking, produce and history, as well as tastings at various stalls (it’s never too early in the morning for pecorino, in my opinion). For me, the market visit makes this experience stand out from other cooking classes in Tuscany; it makes you feel like an insider – if not like a local buying your weekly shop then at least like a cook finding fresh ingredients for your restaurant – and the market is the perfect environment to learn about the traditions of Tuscan cooking in some detail.
You can find out more about the Mercato Central Firenze in this blog post.
Lunch in Paradise: the Walkabout Florence Estate
After collecting the ingredients needed for our feast, we met the coach that would take us to the Walkabout Florence estate. I had already been on a Walkabout tour during my trip so I had had the pleasure of visiting the estate that is the jewel in the crown of many of their experiences, but the view will hit you for six every single time you visit.
Before I left home I had read that the cooking class takes place in a “farmhouse”, so I was expecting a kind of rustic ancient kitchen with bare stone walls, an old metal range and battered work surfaces scored with the cuts of a thousand knives. The reality is actually quite different. The land used by Walkabout Florence was purchased in 2015 for the sole purpose of hosting cooking classes and has been adapted for exactly that purpose. It consists of
- A high-tech kitchen with top-of-the-range equipment
- An open-air dining room with panoramic views of the Tuscan countryside
- A kitchen garden that provides fresh produce for hungry class participants
These facilities perch on the edge of the hillside, offering the most incredible vista that provides a stunning backdrop to everything you do in the cooking classes. In Tuscany you surely couldn’t find a more quintessential view that communicates la bella vita.
Fact: The estate is accessed via a set of steep stone steps, so unfortunately it’s not accessible for anyone with mobility issues.
A Cooking Class to Remember
When we finally managed to pull our gazes away from the views, we were ushered into the kitchen to meet Carmela, our other chef for the day. Although she speaks very little English, Carmela makes up for it with song! She has a song for absolutely everything: chopping celery, pouring passata, toasting bread…. Her bubbly enthusiasm and Isak’s self-deprecating patience make them perfect team to lead the class.
Our menu for the feast was as follows:
Antipasti – bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, garlic and lashings of olive oil
Primi – handmade tagliatelle with a beef ragu
Secondi – roasted pork loin with potatoes
Dolci – classic Tuscan tiramisù
The preparation was impressively choreographed so that each element was prepared while another was cooking or resting, and so we moved seamlessly from ragu to bruschetta to pork to pasta, etc. It’s a hands-on cooking class so everyone can have a go at chopping veg or stirring pots, but there’s no pressure for you to get involved if you’d prefer to stand back and watch. There are a few elements that involve individual prep – making pasta from scratch and building your own tiramisu – but the chefs are always on hand to help you out, so don’t be worried if you’re not a natural in the kitchen.
Throughout the day there are demonstrations from the chefs as well as useful titbits about Tuscan tradition (never use garlic in a beef dish!) and general cooking techniques (the best ways to crack eggs). The vibe is generally laidback, relaxed, friendly and fun … all in all, I can genuinely say that there is no better way to spend a morning than in one of these cooking classes in Tuscany, enjoying the region’s cuisine, wine and sunshine!
Sharing a Table (and a Bottle)
Of course, the best part for most of us was tasting the fruits of our labour. I don’t know whether our four-course lunch tasted incredible because of the fresh ingredients, the traditional recipes, the perfectly choreographed timing or the knowledge that we had genuinely prepared the whole thing ourselves… but probably a combination of all the above.
I think that the meal stands out from those provided by other cooking classes in Tuscany because the long tables of the dining room give you the chance to sit down with your fellow cooks and enjoy your meal together. I sat with three lovely women from Australia; conversation flowed as smoothly as the Chianti Classico, which was ever-present on the table.
After all that food you are rewarded with an Italian cooking diploma for your efforts, which is awarded with joyous ceremony (again, that’s probably the influence of the wine!).
So why should you book your spot on Walkabout Florence’s experience over other cooking classes in Tuscany?
- You get to combine a factual walking tour of a Florentine market with a hands-on cooking class
- You spend the day in the most idyllic location imaginable
- The whole experience from start to finish is faultlessly organised to ensure that you are not left bored for a single minute, and yet at no point do you feel rushed
- You get to enjoy a traditional Tuscan meal in a way that means so much more than a trip to a local restaurant – as well as recipes and techniques to take home with you
- You are supporting a local independent business that strives to share its love of Italy with visitors from all over the world.
I want to offer my thanks to Isak and Carmela, who were the most incredible hosts, but also to the rest of the Walkabout team who unobtrusively ploughed through a mountain of washing up throughout the day and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make our Tuscan cooking experience so brilliant.
We Are Walkabout Florence
If you’re searching for fun things to do on your next holiday, think Walkabout Florence. Our half- and full-day walking tours, unusual experiences and cooking classes in Tuscany regularly top the lists of TripAdvisor and Viator – but you can also book directly through our website. Find out what all those five-star reviews are about by booking a tour with our today.