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In October we travelled to Tuscany for two back-to-back tours with Chef Jenna of Amore Trattoria in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We visited charming Tuscan villages: Cortona, Greve in Chianti, Montalcino, Bagno Vignoni, Siena… and savored the absolutely picturesque countryside that characterizes the region. They say the light in Tuscany is unlike any other place in the world. They’re right. The purple sunsets, the olive trees heavy with fruit, the Cyprus trees…. absolutely intoxicating. Or was it the Chianti?

Highlights from Amore in Italy 2015 ~ Tuscany:

The olive oil.
We were in Tuscany just as the olives were ready for pressing. And 2014 was a crummy year for olives (due to a warm winter) so locals were dying to get that bright green gorgeousness back in their kitchens. It was wonderful tasting a variety of different oils and equally wonderful sharing in the joy and enthusiasm that locals exuded. (And thank goodness I still have two bottles in my cabinet.) We even visited a press in Cortona, on one of the first days they were pressing for the season, and Chef Jenna translated the process and history of this business.

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A charming cheesemaker in the hills. We visited the homestead of Federico Bagnoli, a cheese maker in a mountaintop village whose secret lies in the pure farmland his cows freely graze and his dedication to quality. He set up a table in the olive grove, talked about making cheese, and cut wheel after wheel of absolutely gorgeous cheese for us to sample.

CheesemakerTuscany

Attending Sagra del Tordo in Montalcino! This is Montalcino’s most important annual festival and it includes food, dance, and celebration. The city is divided into four corners and the residents spend the weekend competing, on food, archery, traditional dance, and falconry. There is lots of parading and revelry. We spent two sunny days enjoying the festival. We dined at the open air food stands with a view of the valley (all four corners did great in our opinion!), attended a feast clad with bandanas supporting the city quadrant where we were based for our stay in Montalcino, watched the nail-biting archery competition, and watched the parades and dancers with joy. Those costumes!

The highlight was absolutely the food tents. Each city quadrant had their own set of tents with local specialties (hand-rolled pici pasta with ragu, giant grilled porcini mushrooms, polenta, chocolate salami (made with dark chocolate, cookies, and wine)… and so much more! We shared at least one of everything and the well-stocked wine tents made sure we had the terrific local Brunello di Montalicno to wash it down.

Top Left: A drummer in the parade, Jenna with a tray of food at the food tents, flags decorated each city quadrant. Bottom left: Molly and Jenna with their quadrant's scarves at the evening feast, a man working the wine tent, locals grilling porcini mushrooms.

Top Left: A drummer in the parade, Jenna with a tray of food at the food tents, flags decorated each city quadrant.
Bottom left: Molly and Jenna with their quadrant’s scarves at the evening feast, a man working the wine tent, locals grilling porcini mushrooms.

Cooking & eating together. We love including cooking classes on most of our tours. In addition to picking up new recipes and enjoying a fabulous meal, we get to chat with instructors about their home.  Spending a day in Chef Alessandra’s kitchen in Cortona was wonderful. Here is Chef Alessandra’s Tiramisu Recipe (delizioso!!) ~ enjoy!

ChefAlessandra

And the views! Oh, the views! We enjoyed this view from Cortona at a private home we rented, owned by a Prada fashion designer. Unique accommodations always help us experience the essence and flavor of the local area.

Views

Check out this Facebook album for photos of our time in Tuscany.

We’re excited for more culinary adventuring with Chef Jenna this fall in Sicily. View tour details here; at the time of writing there are a few spots left.  Amore in Italy ~ Sicily promises to be another tour full of unique experiences, great wine, hilarious moments, and stunning scenery. Our October 2016 Tuscany tour is sold out but we’re considering going again in 2017. Interested in joining us? Let us know!

A few days after getting from home Spring B’Reykjavik, our design-tour of Iceland with AIGA, I re-packed my suitcase and headed to Cornell University for a long weekend. Every year, the Cornell Hotel School hosts Hotel Ezra Cornell, a weekend long conference where students take over the school, invite industry leaders to speak about a range of topics, and spend hours on end in the kitchen creating fabulous food.

It was my first HEC since graduating from the Hotel School in 2010, but I will be a regular from now on! I want to share some highlights from the weekend. But first, a throwback.

Dean Johnson, Peggi, Molly, and Herb in 2010, at the HEC gala a few months before Molly’s graduation.

Molly in the culinary lab fall semester freshman year, 2006!

Highlights from HEC 91, March 2016

  • Keeping Up with the New Consumer Panel

  • This was my favorite panel and it featured industry leaders from AirBnB, Flatbook, Hilton Hotels, Expedia, and Capella Hotel Group. It is an interesting time for the major hotel companies as consumers are booking directly with hotels at a decreasing rate, and more and more the sharing economy is catching on, with travelers booking with Airbnb, VRBO, Flatbook, or others.
  • Interesting, what all the folks on the panel cited, is that above all else the “new consumer” is craving authentic experiences. They are sophisticated and want to be treated as individuals. They want to experience the place they travel to. They want to wake up and know they are in Tokyo or Paris or Hungary. They desire unique opportunities and discovery. They want transformative experiences – not just a clean, comfortable hotel room.
  • Horst Schulze, hotel industry legend, current chairman and CEO of Capella Hotel Group, former president and COO of the Ritz-Carlton Group who coined the motto “We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen”
  • Schulze gave a dynamic hourlong presentation about the soul of luxury travel. He defined good, effective hospitality as offering a product or service defect free, in a timely manner, and with kindness. The kindness doesn’t have to be difficult but it is where we so often go wrong. In the hotel world, kindness differentiates hospitality from simply a sleep commodity. It is not the function that is essential, it is the soul provided by human beings.
  • Trends in the Food & Beverage Panel
  • Kat and I love to know the latest and greatest in F&B so can create terrific dining experiences for our travelers. When it comes to current F&B industry trends, I got a terrific primer from restauranteurs Drew Nieporent ’77 of Tribeca Grill and Nobu fame, Abby Murtagh ’92 who recently opened La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria in NY, and Jeff Zalaznick ’05 of NY’s taste-making restaurant group, Major Food Group.
  • Marty Weintraub, founder of aimClear®.
    Weintraub gave an absolutely fabulous crash course in psychographic targeting. He broke down the steps involved in leveraging Facebook’s Ad Manager tools to focus marketing and advertising efforts and sell to consumers using data collected about their lifestyle, habits, hobbies, and values. I found it so interesting to learn about this new and evolving area of digital marketing.

In addition to the program mentioned above (see the full schedule here), reconnecting with old friends, meeting dozens of Hotelies, and enjoying wonderful food and wine was all terrific.

Handmade pasta and Maine lobster tail paired with a Viognier from Napa Valley.

Molly with Hotel School Class of 2010 friends!

I look forward to #HEC92 and in the meantime, here at Onward Travel we’ll continue creating those unique and authentic and transformative experiences that travelers love.

Onward Travel

Nearly three years ago, Kat and I founded Onward Travel with a simple website and a serious passion for travel. We’d grown up observing our mother and grandmother host culinary tours all over Europe and the U.S. (with fabulous partners like David Geen of Villas & Vines) and we wanted to plan and organize trips with the same approach: small groups, unique experiences, amazing food, excellent accommodations, soul-filing comradery, and fabulous destinations…

Blog-Vineyards
Here’s a group of fun-loving travelers on our June 2015 tour Gourmet in the Bay. Enjoying a vineyard in Napa, California.

Top photo: Travelers in Provence, France in 1995, at Julia Child’s home. Molly and Kat’s Mom Peggi is front and center, and grandmother Winnie is far right.

Fast forward a few years, and we’ve hosted trips to New Orleans, Iceland (three times!), Charleston, Florida’s Gulf coast (twice), the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, San Francisco, Tuscany, Spain’s Basque Country, Belgium, Northern Italy, Austin, the Chesapeake Bay… and at the time of writing, we have upcoming adventures to New Mexico, Iceland, the Czech Republic, Michigan, Tuscany, Sicily and the Netherlands!

We’re so excited to be sharing our travel style and passion with folks. This new website (with this shiny new blog) feels hard-earned and exciting! Thanks for reading and being part of our travel-loving community. We hope you’ll check back to see what’s new and stay in touch through Passport, our email newsletter.

Onward!