March 23-30, 2019
Join the renowned food writer Joan Nathan on a culinary cultural exploration through Italy’s rich Jewish heritage on this eight-day journey to Tuscany and Rome. As you discover the secrets of pasta making and kosher wine production, sample traditional and modern dishes, and explore the imprint of 2,000 years of Jewish life in Italy.
Since the days of Julius Caesar, Jews have lived in Italy and left an indelible mark on the country’s history, culture and cuisine. Through visits to synagogues and former ghettos, exclusive access to Rome’s ancient catacombs and dinner in private homes, trace the history of Jewish life in Italy over the centuries, concentrating on the food. Explore the symbiosis between Italian and Jewish cuisine, steeped in tradition and history, on this delicious culinary program curated by Joan Nathan.
Florence: Welcome to Italy
Arrive in Florence, transfer to the city center, and check into the Grand Hotel Minerva, your home for two nights. This evening, gather for a welcome reception at the hotel. You are scheduled to dine at Ristorante Cibrèo, where the chef, Fabio Picchi, presents an innovative menu highlighting regional flavors and seasonal ingredients.
Florence: Market Shopping and Pasta Making
Dive right into Tuscan food culture with a guided visit to a bustling market overflowing with local products including seasonal fruits and vegetables, fish, fresh and salt-cured meats and cheeses. Appetite whetted, continue to a private cooking class, where you’ll learn all about making fresh pasta, from kneading the dough to cutting, rolling and filling forms like ravioli, tagliatelle and tagliolini. You’ll also learn to prepare three different sauces, giving you all the skills you’ll need to serve delicious homemade pasta like a true Italian cuoco. If you’re hungry when dinnertime comes around, explore Florence’s vibrant culinary scene on your own.
Florence: Jewish Heritage and on to Siena
Take a guided walking tour of Florence’s historic city center, beginning with the famous domed cathedral, or Duomo, and the octagonal Baptistery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Next, delve into the city’s lesser-known Jewish heritage with a visit to the Great Synagogue of Florence, one of the largest synagogues in southern Europe. Completed in 1882, it served the local Sephardic community and incorporates elements of Moorish architecture from Spain. The museum inside traces the history of the Jewish community in Florence from its origins in the 15th century. Continue to the area surrounding Piazza Repubblica, once home to the city’s Jewish ghetto, which was destroyed at the end of the 19th century. After lunch on your own, transfer to Siena, where members of the local Jewish community will join the group for dinner.
Siena: Jewish Life and Kosher Wine
Start with a visit to the Synagogue of Siena, built at the end of the 18th century with a simple exterior that contrasts with the fine decorative detail inside. (Under Italian law, synagogues at that time could not be identifiable from the street.) Emerge into the Contrada della Torre district, formerly a ghetto where Jewish citizens were forced to live until 1859. After lunch on your own, head to Castelnuovo Berardenga in the Tuscan countryside to visit Terra di Seta, the only kosher wine estate in Europe. Take a guided tour with a rabbi, who will explain the process through which grapes are grown and made into wine according to kosher laws. Taste some of the vineyard’s own Chianti. Then travel through the otherworldly, moon-like landscape of Crete Senesi at sunset, arriving at the Tenuta di Monaciano estate for dinner with members of the local Jewish community.
Pitigliano: Little Jerusalem
Depart Siena for Rome, stopping en route in Pitigliano, a medieval village known as Little Jerusalem, because it was home for Jews fleeing the papacy in Rome. Meet a specialist guide for a walking tour of the old Jewish quarter. Visit the synagogue from 1598 and descend into underground rooms such as the ritual bath and the kosher cellar. Have a light lunch of Jewish-influenced local dishes at an osteria before continuing to Rome. Dinner is on your own in Rome.
Rome: The Ghetto and Trastevere
Spend the morning exploring the area of Rome’s Jewish ghetto near the Tiber River. Visit the Great Synagogue, completed in the early 20th century after the unification of Italy, when the ghetto was abolished. Beneath the synagogue, explore the Jewish Museum, with exhibits tracing the life of Rome’s Jewish community over 2,000 years. Next, stop at the renowned pastry shop Pasticceria Boccione for a taste of its signature pizza ebraica, a sweet treat filled with nuts and dried fruits. Have lunch at a restaurant in the ghetto that features the iconic dish carciofi alla giudia, deep-fried artichokes with a tender heart and crispy golden crust, a centuries-old local favorite. Later, cross the river to Trastevere, a captivating neighborhood that was once home to Rome’s first Jewish settlers, who arrived as early as the second century B.C. Dinner is on your own.
Rome: The Jewish Catacombs and a Special Farewell
This morning, by special arrangement, descend into the ancient Jewish catacombs, an elaborate network of underground burial chambers and passages dating from the second and third centuries. Discovered beneath a vineyard in 1918 and excavated over a period of 12 years, they offer intriguing clues to the lives of ancient Rome’s Jewish residents. (Most of the religions in Rome had their own catacombs, because space was tight even then.) This evening, cap off your celebration of Jewish food and heritage with a festive dinner scheduled to be hosted by Hamos Guetta, a Tripoli-born chef and fashion designer who will share traditional Libyan Jewish dishes along with music and stories in his home.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for flights home.
Grand Hotel Minerva
Overlooking a pedestrian square in the historic center of Florence, this newly refurbished boutique hotel has a terrace with views of the Duomo.
Grand Hotel Continental
Set in Siena’s medieval heart, this five-star boutique hotel occupies a stunning 17th-century palazzo brimming with Renaissance art and architecture, a short walk from the Piazza del Campo.
Rose Garden Palace
Just off the Via Veneto, the Rose Garden Palace has elegant, soundproofed rooms in a restored historic building, and is a short walk from the gardens of the Villa Borghese.