Frequently asked questions here at The Awaiting Table Cookery School in Lecce, Italy.
NB. (Nota Bene-“note well”) We’ve created this page for two reasons: 1) to show you how it easy it is to arrive in and depart from Lecce. 2) to earn your trust that we know what we are talking about with regards to travel in Southern Italy.
The reality is that once booked you’ll be given access to our Student Services, the membership-based part of our site only for those that have already booked. In short, please read below to get a sense of how easy it is to arrive. But once you book, you’ll have access to a great deal more, including where to go before and after your course, what to bring, what to drink before coming to Lecce, and on and on.
This page is the fruit of 13 years of receiving a myriad of students from 46 different nations, all around the globe. And while it’s true we’re all as different as God’s little snowflakes, when it comes to arriving, staying, studying, departing and making the most of your time in Lecce, Italy, our needs are pretty much all the same.
Many, first-time travellers to The South of Italy imagine the journey more arduous than it really is. For most, it’s as easy as hopping on a train, or about as time-consuming, difficult and expensive as getting from Roma to Venezia, something you have probably already done without even thinking about it.
(1) Arriving from outside of Western Europe
A: Most international destinations fly into Rome. In our thirteen years of experience, flying into Roma is by far the easiest way to arrive eventually in Lecce. Getting to Lecce from Rome is as easy as jumping on the high speed trains from Rome ’s primary train terminal (Termini station). The new, high-tech Freccia trains depart from Roma Termini for Lecce several times a day. Flying into local airports has been problematic in the past, mostly for delayed arrival of luggage. As always, you’re free to arrive however you like and this information is only here to alert you of our past experiences over the last 13 years, rather than our particular preferences (of which we don’t have any, except, of course, your happiness).
Taking the train from Roma to Lecce is an easy, afternoon ride that cuts through Campania , and then down the gorgeous Adriatic coast, passing the sprawling grain fields of Northern Puglia into the olive oil country of the South. For many, the scenery is a highpoint of the trip. The train ride from Rome to Lecce is only about 5 ½ hours and it’s direct.
Q: When should I arrive in Rome then?
A: In our Student Services we’ll give you lots of travel suggestions for Puglia, both before and after your time with us. Our suggestion is to spend the day in Roma first, and we suggest as the antidote for those in the past that have tried to fly into Italy, take the train down the same, only to arrive exhausted and jet lagged, minutes before the course begins. We don’t suggest you do this to your body: it’s not the best way to experience the place you’ve travelled so far to see.
Q: How do I get from the Rome Airport to the Rome Train Station?
A: We recommend that you take the train from the Rome airport to Termini. You can buy the train tickets anywhere and the clerks almost always speak English better than you do. Ask for tickets to “Termini”. Cabs are more expensive but easier, as always.
Q: Is it necessary to book my train ticket and hotels in advance?
A: Not really, but understand that there is always a small risk of things being sold out, so it depends on how risk adverse you are. (In life as in travel, there is always the calculated equilibrium between ‘Risk’ and ‘Freedom’). If you value certainty, book in advance. If you value flexibility, don’t.
(2) Arriving from London or other destinations in Western Europe.
A: Depending upon the flights available from your point of origin, you might consider flying into Brindisi or Bari as opposed to Rome. This is particularly true if you are coming from London. Brindisi is a popular hub for many European airlines and is a 30 minute cab or shuttle ride away from Lecce. Flights from Stansted fly directly into Bari and Brindisi, although the days of the week vary with the seasons. Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, France and Spain all now arrive and depart from Bari or Brindisi.
You’ll need to arrange the extra night at the B and B as well take the shuttle (13 Euro) or a cab (around 60) into Lecce. One last word on low-cost airlines: Don’t assume that all airlines are alike, or more importantly, confuse them with higher-priced airlines in your home countries.
READ THEIR SITES IN DETAIL!
Most low-cost airlines of extraordinarily strict baggage restrictions and many passengers end up missing flights while waiting to pay fines for being overweight in sometimes, distant lines on the other side of the airport. Consider these as secondary revenue streams for the airlines, both the fees for being overweight and the cancellation and thus rebooking of new flights.
The only true victims of low-cost airlines are those that assume that all airlines are the same and that they function the same as those in your home country. Should you choose to fly low-cost, spend a moment on their sites.
Q: We fly into Brindisi . Is it difficult to connect?
A:). You can either take the shuttle (13 Euro) or a cab (around 60) from the line of cabs out front. The same for departure from Brindisi.
Q: When do I need to arrive in Lecce?
A: Our week-long classes for the school in Lecce begin Monday evenings at 7pm. Our courses at the castle meet in Lecce on Monday morning at 12 noon at Porta Napoli. All of this is well-spelled out in our Student Services.
In order to accommodate the additional travel to the castle, our castle courses begin earlier in the day. We suggest that all arrive in Lecce sometime on Sunday and spend the day around the city. If staying in a family-owned B & B, alert them to your arrival time. Arrive at Porta Napoli with your luggage. We’ll send it ahead and then go to la casa di Silvestro for an open house for a light lunch before heading down to the castle.
Q: How and when do we meet?
A: For our Lecce courses, we meet under the statue of Sant’ Oronzo at 7 pm, Monday night. We have maps in our Student Services, but it’s the city’s most obvious point.
For our castle courses, we meet at 12 noon at Porta Napoli, with our luggage, . We’ll load it into the luggage van and then visit the Lecce school for an openhouse, with local food and wines (a light lunch before Monday’s night’s welcoming feast at the castle). In either case, it’s on us.
Q: Do we need to hire a car? Can we arrive by car?
A: Hiring cars (rental cars) is ALWAYS complicated. If you plan to arrive by car, please be aware that we can not hold up or cancel a class to help you with any aspects of returning it.
Our advice? Arrive in Lecce on Friday, return the car to a LECCE destination (Europcar is not in Lecce), and while dropping it off, ask them to call you a taxi to your hotel or B & B. If you pack light, and depending on from which company you hire (rent), you might be able to walk into the historical centre. Few companies are open after 12:30 on Saturday, until Monday morning, 8:30 am.
Q: Where will we be staying?
A: You’ll be given access to out Inner Sanctum, which lays out all of your options, and in Lecce, there are hundreds. We have email addresses, websites and portraits of trusted hoteliers and even suggestions of where to eat and drink before your course begins.
If booking a castle course, we’ll be staying at the castle, 40 minutes south of Lecce. For our castle courses, there are no alternative venues. We stay at the castle.
Q: How do I book/pay?
A: Simply send us an email and we’ll do the rest. You can pay online using PayPal. It is fast, easy, secure and it allows you to pay in your local currency, which is why it is our preferred method of payment. You may also pay for others in your party, but since Paypal links are not forwardable, we must have the proper email address of anyone that intends to pay for him or herself.
Should you like to sidestep opening a Paypal account, you can use your credit card as a ‘virtual terminal’ option. Details available on your country’s version of Paypal.
Q: When is the best time of year to come?
A: The days of visiting Europe only in the summer months have passed, which is not a bad thing. The truth is, is the best vegetables and citrus are in the winter months. And probably too, when the red wines of Puglia make the most sense. Stone fruit is best in the warmer months, but most fish are not at their best during the summer, due to their reproductive cycles.
In short, we suggest the shoulders seasons for the temperature, the winter for the vegetables and red wine, the summer months for the fruit. When is right for you? Most likely, when your boss says it’s OK to go, in which case, none of this matters. All things being equal, we’d suggest the shifting months, March, April, June, October and November. And the Christmas season is not to be forgotten either.
Q: My spouse will be coming with me but doesn’t want to participate. What to do?
A: Ideally we’d be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for those that are traveling with someone that feels otherwise, we offer a few possibilities. 1) Have your spouse rent a car and meet up with you at the end of the week, 2) remarry, 3) pay 750 Euro and he or she can join us only for meals and outings. We lovingly call these folks ‘fannullone’, or ‘slackers’.
Q: Do I need to be at certain cooking level to attend your classes?
A: Absolutely not. The only thing important is desire. For example, we don’t have anything called ‘Knife Handling 101’, but should you need some help with how to use a knife, to improve your technique, or to keep from cutting yourself, we will take all the time you need. It’s not unusual for us to have both culinary graduates and those that are afraid to heat water, the same week. Our intimate teaching style gives both the attention that you deserve.
Q: Why would I attend a cooking school when I have no interest in ever working in a restaurant?
A: It’s a popular misconception that really good home cooks could and should become chefs (we’re fond of explaining it this way: It’s one thing to be a good lover, something else entirely to do it for a living). As in cooking, the two pursuits rarely, if ever, overlap. Home cooking is our focus and our greatest passion, the only second fiddles we play is to our grandmothers. You can acquire any chef’s food for the price listed on the menu, but real home cooking can’t be had for any amount. You only make it for those you love.
Q: Is your school right for me?
A: It depends. We are an alternative to passive tourism, which is a massive industry for a very good reason: Not everyone wants to learn, or even stray to far from his or her own comfort zone while on holiday. On the other hand, those that are looking to leave the crowds behind and actually extend themselves in exchange for a real, rewarding experience find us a perfect match. That is not to say that everyone comes for the same reason. A young bachelor might come for no other reason that he’s tired of spending his holiday sitting on a different beach each year, and wants to learn a few dishes to impress his lady suitors. For others, it’s the life-long dream of food shopping in a small town market, cooking in a real, honest kitchen, and they find our hands-on approach more worthwhile than the stand-around-with-your-hands-in-your-pockets model of most other schools.
Having said that, Lecce is not for everyone, nor does it try to be. Those that judge the quality of a destination by its ability to robotically offer five-egg-white omelets, bacon and fresh guava juice each morning, will find Lecce challenging. (Nothing wrong with eating like that at home, but it’s excruciatingly limiting to demand that all foreign destinations know or even desire to offer that as well.) As will those that require five hours a day for shopping, only to find the shop keeper’s English lacking. Lecce is real Italy, as opposed to tourist’s Italy, and those that come to find the first will be delighted to have sidestepped the second.
Q: If Lecce is such a nice city, how come I’ve never heard of it?
A: For all of Italy’s international fame, few foreigners really know that much about the nation, even those that tend to visit Italy every year. It seems strange, but it’s true. Take Tuscany, a region that everyone knows, but how many can list the regions that border it? How many of us could find the region of Molise on an unlabeled map. Or have ever been to Abruzzo, an enormous and stunningly-beautiful, central Italian region, just a few hours from Siena? Or even, historically, which regions ate pasta? Or how many indigenous languages are spoken inside of the borders? Italy has always been a virtually blank map in the minds of most foreigners, with just a few cities receiving the millions of visitors a year. Things are slowly starting to change.
Q: I’d be coming alone, will I feel comfortable?
A: To date, about half of our students come alone, either because they are single or because their spouses choose not to visit. We find that coming alone is often an asset, if only because the person that you’re most likely to fight with is also the same person with whom you happened to be married.
Q: Is the food all red sauce, Chianti and veal Parmesan?
A: Far and away, the overwhelming majority of the time, what you think of as the food of the South of Italy, isn’t at all. We don’t serve veal at the school, in any form, mostly because beef has been historically absent in most of the south until very, very recently (MTV has been here longer). Nor do we offer Chianti, if only because the local wine is so good, and well, so local. The most adored pasta sauce in the Salento is green, and it does not contain any basil. Luckily the ‘uneducation’ process is delicious, painless and much, much more fascinating than the fiction.
Q: How real of a threat is the Mafia?
A: Organized crime almost exclusively affects the lives of those that deal in specialized fields, nearly all of them highly illegal, just like it does in your town. Bid under the table for a cement contract in Sicily, buy stolen lottery tickets or try to score a kilo of heroin in the street at 3 a.m. and you may in fact encounter elements. Statistically, it’s safer here than in your home country.
Q: Is Lecce on the sea?
A: Lecce is 11 kilometres from the Adriatic, 26 from the Ionian. We include seaside components to all weeks, whether or not that includes actually entering the water. While Lecce is not ON the sea, or seas, their presence is always felt, if only that most of the fish that you’ll eat has never been refrigerated. There aren’t many parts of the world so wonderfully located, where you can choose which sea based on whether you want to watch the sun set over the sea or over the Mediterranean-lapped shore.
Q: What should we bring?
A: Pack light. Place everything you intend to take on a bed. Pack half of that into two suitcases and take only one of them. Nearly everyone clothes shops during the week. We can loan you a hair dryer. We have a wireless at the school, in the main piazza and very likely in your hotel as well. In our experience, those that pack light have a much better travel experience, both arriving and departing. It’s also much more difficult to leave it all behind if you bring it all with you.
Q: How typical is a ‘typical week’?
A: We offer a schedule of a typical week even though it often comes back to bite us, if only because, standardization is always the opposite of fresh, local and seasonal. While most of our weeks have something of a template type feel (to us anyway, you’ll experience the sensation only on a return visit) we ride along with the seasons and local events rather than fight against them. Should there be an open air baroque concert in front of Santa Croce, we will attend that, rather than go for our midnight walk. If there is a cold snap in October, we’ll reconsider ‘Beach time’. Celebrating your birthday will usually overtake a traditional dessert. The overwhelming majority of our guests love this approach: it’s what helps keep us something small and special.