|The Jovial Foods Gluten-Free Getaway looked like a dream come true and a trip of a lifetime. It is advertised as an intensive culinary experience. Unfortunately, we did not receive the full value of what was promised. I did hear similar sentiments from other guests as well. It seemed as though Carla and her staff had good intentions but had difficulty executing things well. I heard some great things about it in the past, but I think something may have changed with it. It seemed like perhaps Carla was too busy to devote her full attention to the getaway, and appeared somewhat apathetic about making sure people enjoyed themselves. They never asked for our feedback, throughout the trip, or even after it was over. I did contact them with my feedback and received a polite response, but no offer to compensate us for the poor experience. Other guests plan to contact them as well. I didn't speak to a single guest on our getaway who was satisfied. Italy? Wonderful! But the getaway? Not worth the cost.
The villa and its grounds are beautiful, and the choice to set it in the Tuscany region of Italy was great. The food, which was all strictly gluten-free was consistently delicious, and it was nice that wine was also provided. I appreciated several tips from Carla about working with gluten-free flour and about some of the Italian philosophies about food and cooking.
The website boasted the wealth of cooking lessons we would learn. However, there was very limited meal instruction -- we mostly stood around her in a crowd and watched her- we did not get the opportunity to follow along and do it ourselves start to finish. In addition, one of the 4 classes was cancelled. Of the 3 we received, the pastry "lesson" did not involve any instruction- it was a team baking challenge. Guests ranged from beginner cooks to restaurateurs and chefs - unfortunately, no one felt they learned much. It is now 1 month after the getaway and we still haven't received the written recipes!
The itinerary promised 5 dinners. However, when one cooking class was canceled on Thursday, dinner was also dropped from the schedule. See my comment about the stocked kitchen below. This incurred additional cost to guests, who have to provide their own meal on a day they planned to receive a formal meal.
Aside from gluten-free food provided, other food sensitivities were not sufficiently respected. Several guests reported some level of lactose intolerance at the start. However, no accommodations or adjustments were made for anyone.
Stocked Kitchen for Guests to Use:
Jovial promised to have a kitchen they would restock "daily" with fresh produce, dairy, and breads. Although leftovers were available, the kitchen was not stocked for us. On the day they cancelled dinner, about half of the guests planned to stay in and cook. Carla brought over a box of tomatoes, some boxed pasta, and jars of tuna. No apologies, no offer to order food for us or bring in groceries. Then she left with her staff to go to dinner. There was also no working microwave for reheating leftovers.
The website describes the villa as very accessible, located in Lucca, Italy. "The villa is a short walk to town..." However, the actual location is in the mountains above Ponte a Moriano, a 15 min drive or train ride from Lucca. It is up a very steep hill with no lighting or sidewalk. You really must be willing to rent a car or hire a driver for the week.
There was no internet functionality for at least 2 full days. Then, the internet was very slow and cut out frequently. The Wi-Fi signal did not work in bedrooms at all. This cost us money for roaming fees on our phones, and made planning tours and things very difficult.
The weather was unseasonably cold. The much-needed heat was not turned on for 1 day, and some rooms continued to be without heat. Our room was also missing a set of towels as well as a shower curtain. Several rooms did not have keys for a couple of days. The groundskeeper was slow to respond to issues.
This is a pricey getaway that didn't deliver all it promised. I suggest you skip the getaway and save your money for better activities- Italy is INCREDIBLY gluten-free friendly. You can enjoy the plentiful restaurants and groceries with the best gluten-free foods you will ever eat! You can find gluten-free cooking classes in Italy elsewhere too. Go enjoy Tuscany and forget this organized getaway. That's my plan for next time.
|If there exists a gluten free heaven-on-earth, I'm pretty sure I've found it.
After receiving a celiac disease diagnosis three years ago, I was afraid my international travel days were over until, here on GlutenFreeTravelSite.com, I spotted information about a gluten free culinary getaway in Italy. This seemed like the chance to travel to Europe with relative confidence in food safety, so my husband and I flew to Italy. Here is our story of the gf cooking school. What an exceptional experience!
The week-long cooking school unfolded in a gorgeous villa, built in 1729 near the historic walled city of Lucca in northern Tuscany. The magical week was a dream-come-true for persons with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or gluten allergy. All food and cooking ingredients in the villa complex were gluten-free. All pans, utensils, and toasters were dedicated to GF cooking and baking.
The week was sponsored by Jovial Foods, a small Italian pasta, olive oil, and tomato company dedicated to producing fine-quality products. Jovial products can be found in the U.S. or online. Jovial Foods founder, Carla Bartalucci, taught the cooking classes, which included theory and history of Italian cooking and baking, modified for gluten free flours and ingredients. Participants made pasta, pastries (e.g. Torta della Nonna), breads (e.g. sourdough and focaccia), pizza, desserts, and rolls. After cooking classes, the fruits of our labors were served for dinner, complete with red and white vino (including a delicious Solgirato Mulerna rosso) and mineral water, desserts, coffee, and cappuccino.
Breakfast at the villa was a smorgasbord of gluten free offerings including breads, rolls, cereals, muesli, eggs, prosciutto, pecorino cheeses, fruit, jams, Nutella, yogurt, coffee, espresso, cappuccino, blood orange juice, milk and a special dish each day -- such as frittata or caramelized potatoes prepared by Carla.
The villa was built at a time when it was customary for wealthy families to retreat to the countryside on holidays. The complex sits on many hillside acres lush with vegetation, including herb gardens and many fruit trees such as lemons, oranges, persimmon and pomegranate. Olive trees are plentiful and vineyards are interspersed. Rose or grapevine covered gazebos and pergolas abound and flowers are everywhere. The villa's owners raise their own chickens and maintain two swimming pools. The villa itself is luxurious, complete with ballroom, library, multiple living rooms, enormous kitchen, pantry, huge dining rooms, and at least two floors of bedrooms, all with private baths. Three vine-covered guest houses offer additional sleeping space.
Carla was aided by a staff of assistants who were knowledgeable, fun, and very helpful with classes and meal preparation as well as useful resources regarding local foods, food preparation, travel, and Italian customs. They made recommendations for safe dining senza glutine (without gluten) in restaurants on free days and helped with dinner reservations. The week also included plenty of free time to explore Lucca, the Garfagnano region, Cinque Terra, Pisa, Florence or other cities, villages, and landscapes in northern Tuscany.
Indeed, we are still in awe of the experience. Bellissimo! Contact Heidi Gordon from Jovial Foods at the number above or visit Jovial's website to learn of future dates for their Gluten Free Getaways. They usually happen twice per year -- Spring and Fall.