It was a stroke of good luck that I met Marlane Miriello and heard about her Tuscan cooking school. The Italian-American was visiting with friends in San Diego who thought I might find her story interesting. Of course, I was – not just interested, but really interested.
Marlane and I are both of Italian descent, and I love hearing about travelers who fall in love with a destination. Our first coffee date lasted nearly two hours. By then, I knew I wanted to write about Il Campo Cucina – her Tuscan cooking school – in Ranch & Coast, San Diego’s ultimate lifestyle magazine, where I am the travel editor. Imagine: she went to Tuscany, got lost, ended up in a tiny Tuscan hill town called Radicondoli, fell in love with it, moved there, decided to write a cookbook, discovered the villagers didn’t have written recipes for their “unbelievably delicious” meals, and instead started a cooking school.
Ok, I admit that’s the Cliff Notes version – but it’s all true. And here’s the best part, the “teachers” in Marlane’s Tuscan cooking school are her neighbors in Radicondoli – and they teach in their homes, on their farms, and sometimes in other historic buildings.
Could it get any better? Yep. Marlane is a very authentic traveler and, in addition to cooking with the locals, she makes sure that her guests have lots of opportunities to savor the culture of Tuscany.
Tiny Radicondoli (pop. 680) is located 16 miles southwest of Siena and an hour south of Florence. “The few people who live here and weren’t born here found it when they got lost,” she explained. Marlane was almost immediately drawn to the sense of community and sustainable lifestyle of her soon-to-be-adopted village. The 8-12 guests in each week-long session of the community-wide Tuscan cooking school stay at Il Bel Canto, an 18th-century stone farmhouse with a large teaching kitchen. When not cooking, participants enjoy the pool, ride bikes, do photography, and go for walks.
Every group does a daytrip to beautiful Siena, and there are special weeks when, in addition to cooking, guests do yoga, cycle, or attend the famed Palio horse race in Siena. Check the website for the next Palio Adventure Week and the next Il Campo Cucina Yoga Retreat, taught by Anne Marie Welsh. In another stroke of extremely good luck, Marlane introduced me to Anne Marie and I now study yoga with this talented teacher here in San Diego.
The Tuscan cooking school participants range from age 20-96 and include couples, singles, men, and women. One class included a retired Catholic priest and a high-energy 96-year-old woman. Some people are great cooks, some just want to eat, and everyone enjoys the wine. Local women teach the group in Italian with an interpreter. Everyone picks vegetables from the garden, goes on at least one farm tour, does a cheese tasting, and learns to make a variety of traditional Italian dishes with heirloom recipes (think lasagna, gnocchi, tiramisu). Doesn’t this sound like a dream Tuscan cooking school vacation?