Edward’s Typically Italian Familiarisation Trip – Al Vecchio Convento

Typically Italian Familiarisation Trip
Friday 15th – Sunday 17th November
Al Vecchio Convento – Hotel, Restaurant. “Albergo Diffuso”

Friday

My first “Fam” trip began with an early start leaving home at four in the morning. With a rendezvous time of six o’clock at Gatwick I was excited and nervous; excited to be travelling and exploring somewhere new but also nervous as this was my first work based excursion and I was travelling by myself. Upon meeting Daniele of Typically Italian, John and the other agents I quickly felt at ease and soon knew that we were in for an enjoyable and informative weekend.

After a short flight; already feeling exhausted, we were greeted at Bologna Airport by the enthusiastic chef of Al Vecchio Convento, Massimo, who gave us a warm welcome and a quick history lesson of the local area providing some background to the Emilia Romagna region.
On our way to the hotel we had a surprise change of plan and journeyed to Drei Dona – a local vineyard. The tiredness the group and I experienced during the morning suddenly lifted as we indulged in a tour of the complex which was complimented with a light lunch and of course some delectable wine. I’m not a wine drinker myself but I can honestly say that the few glasses I had at Drei Dona was the best wine I have ever tasted. It must have had something special about it as the group finally broke out into smiles and laughter after a long morning! After improving our spirits we left the garden; not before purchasing a bottle or two to bring back home, we carried onto Al Vecchio Convento which can be found in the town of Portico di Romana.
Upon arriving I was struck by the remoteness of the region. Situated among rolling hills and existing alongside a waterfall, Portico di Romana, comes across as an authentic Italian town with a quiet existence punctured by visiting tourists which brings out the best in local hospitality.
Within moments of walking into Al Vecchio Convento we were treated to a “Snack” which soon became a multiple course lunch, assisting us in dealing with all the wine we drank previously! After completing lunch we were taken on a tour of the town; which has a population little over four-hundred, we took in the local landmarks such as the bell tower and the Ponte “Della Maesta” bridge.
Following the tour we returned to our rooms for a much needed rest. Rounding off the day we dined at the hotel restaurant where we were served a truffle inspired meal. Despite the hotel being marked as three stars – the food was certainly not that. The numerous meals we had there; without exaggeration, wouldn't look out of place in five star restaurants. Each meal was prepared by experienced chefs with locally produced ingredients. With a long day coming to an end we retired to our separate rooms in preparation for a busy Saturday.

Saturday

After a brief lie-in breakfast was called for, serving up Italian style bread, fruit and cakes. Soon after our group – a strong fifteen, were called into the kitchen for a cooking lesson. The lesson began with a demonstration of how to prepare; from scratch, bread and pasta. Already thinking about lunch the group enthusiastically threw themselves into the task and produced ravioli, tagliatelle, loaves of bread and pizza bases. The class was led by Massimo – head chef and his attentive staff who, despite the language barrier helped us along and maximised the experience for us all.
Proving ourselves in the kitchen our efforts were rewarded with our various pasta’s and bread’s being enjoyed at lunch time. Sadly after being photographed cooking, my Mum now has proof that I can cook and has demanded that I do so at home now! With the morning activities being enjoyed we were informed that the afternoon would be spent walking off our lunch with a Truffle hunt across the hills of the region.
Gearing ourselves up in water-proofs and boots we trekked across the stunning landscape which was only slightly hidden by the winter mist. Being led by expert truffle hunters and their working dogs Rex and Otto, our group experienced at firsthand the time and patience needed to collect truffles. According to our guides on average a truffle dog takes four years to train, meaning many long walks and wrestling with the dogs to stop them eating the truffles first! If you’re thinking of spending time at Al Vecchio Convento both indulging in truffles and joining the expeditions is a must, both for learning more about truffles and experiencing a glimpse of real Italian landscape. Our walk proved fruitful as we found both white and black truffles, which were made use of, that same day in our evening meal. En route back the hotel we stopped off at “Il Vulcano” which despite the name isn't an actual volcano. Without underselling the site; it’s still a marvellous stop off point. Sitting atop of one of the many hills in the surrounding area, beneath the earth gas storage rests which has escaped through a division in the earth. Over time and because of an unknown incident a flame arises, which has been recorded to be ablaze since the twelfth century. In the summer time, groups are offered the chance to have a picnic on top of the hill. Whilst we weren't there to experience it, one would say that at the right time it would be quite the spectacle and worth considering if you visit.
Finishing off our stay, the group was spoiled with an evening drink and meal; which we all had too much off, resulting in much merriment and did nothing but spur us into dancing the night away when the local band made an appearance.

Sunday was an early start as we made the trip home back to Gatwick. All the while I was thinking that despite being to Italy before I had over the course of a couple of nights had learnt and experienced more of the real Italy then in some of the more well known places associated with Italy which I've been to.
Typically Italian has tapped into a popular market but have excelled themselves with providing tours and excursions which bring forth true authentic Italian experiences which one may miss out on. A summertime visit to this region would be advised as to enjoy the better temperatures allowing you to dine outside. It can also be advised that spending a week at Al Vecchio Convento may prove to be slower for those more acclimatised to busy holidays but as a weekend excursion or a close to a wider Italian experience; a couple of nights at Al Vecchio Convento would prove to be an excellent compliment to any holiday.
On a personal note, if all FAM trips are like this one with, good company, lovely country and exquisite food, I think I’ll get on with the travel industry quite nicely. Thank you to Typically Italian for organising the trip and to those agents who I met who made my trip a really good experience for me personally and professionally.