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la festa di san martino
the celebration of saint martin

All cultures have autumnal festivals that celebrate the end of the harvests: Here in Puglia, ours last a week and the local bubbly flows!

San Martino Weeklong Cooking Course Lecce Italy

The Celebration of Saint Martin's Day

Here it’s called la Festa di San Martino and it’s easily the region’s favourite holiday of the year.

The release of the new wine is timed to coincide with it, adding yet another festive element to the date, making everyone here giddy in anticipation.

We drain cases of wine and conversation around the table goes late.

Yes, you’ll master eight local pasta shapes, learn about the history of the Mediterranean and pick up enough new recipes to impressive everyone you know but it’s likely the time spent laughing in the kitchen and around the table in Italy that you remember for the rest of your days.

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Where: In the historic centre of Lecce

When: The second week of November each year. 

Where you sleep: Anywhere you like in the city of Lecce. We have recommendations in Student Services.

Course Cost: 1995 Euro.

Taught in: English.

Best way to arrive, depart, maximise your time with us: Everything is spelled out in our Student Services. You’ll be given access about booking.

Book now with an email!

San Martino in the historic centre of Lecce

The actual holiday is November 11th and it’s celebrated in various, isolated pockets around Europe.

Here in Puglia, it just might be the most cherished holiday, large and loud and celebratory, not unlike North American versions of Thanksgiving (sociologist will point out the agrarian origins of both, of that sweet time in the year when farmers historically moved from working hard to being able to begin to enjoy the preserved fruits of summer sweat). 

The order of the days will change based on which day falls the holiday. We take the single holiday and turn it into a celebratory week. 

What follows is not a fixed schedule of your week with us per se, but rather a typical sample week. If there is a wine festival going on, we might move around the days to best take advantage of being in the historic centre and go out together after class. Or we might move things to better suit the changing weather.

What makes your week special will always yield to regimented plans. You’ll have everything that follows, even if the order might change a bit. This spontaneity is part of what makes Italy, Italy.

We also can’t publish our menù as it is always embracing the seasons but we will tell you this: expect that most meals to be focused on vegetables, pulses, grains and greens, with meat, fish and cheese used sparingly (think ‘adoration of vegetables’, versus the ‘avoidance of animal products’ and you’ll be ahead in understanding The Mediterranean Diet).

Expect to never repeat a wine during any of our meals together and that all of them will be sourced less than fifteen kilometres from the Lecce school. And that all our organic waste will be composted, glass and plastic bottles recycled and left over food given away in the community.

While our school is deeply entrenched in the local culture and economy, our students are international and with the exception of the month of August- most come from abroad (59 countries and counting).

All Lecce courses are held in our owner’s private home, using his antique ceramics, personal copper pot collection and taking full advantage of what is likely the largest Southern Italy’s largest bilingual cookery book library. And of course you are free to borrow books during your time here. (If you have a secondary copy of any cookbook bring it with you and contribute to our ever-growing library)

Before the course

Weekend before

Book a room in Lecce for 6 nights or longer, but at least from Sunday night to Saturday morning. See Student Services after book your course for our list of trusted partners.

Arrive in Lecce whenever you like but plan on being here the Sunday evening before your course.

Lunedi

Monday

You’ll meet Silvestro at 10 am in Lecce’s main square- Piazza Sant’ Oronzo– under the column that used to mark the end of Via Appia (‘the Appian way’, the superhighway that connected Ancient Rome to Ancient Greece).

You’ll learn what makes Lecce and the Salento special— and decidedly geologically apart from the rest of Puglia. We’ll head to the city’s oldest market, meet the vendors and purveyors for the week and buy today’s produce. Walking back to the Lecce school you’ll meet your artistic guide, who will give you a tour of the city from an historical, artistic and architecturally perspective, before you’re dropped off in front of the Lecce school, just in time for lunch.

After a two hour lunch, you’ll be walked back to the main piazza and given a three hour break to rest, nap, walk off the lunch wine and in general, just build back your appetite, returning hungry for more.

We’ll meet at 18:00 (6pm) under the column in Piazza Sant Oronzo and head to the Lecce school to make fresh pasta from scratch (easily Italy’s healthiest pasta).

We’ll make a different, local shape every meal so that by the end of your course you’ll have mastered ten different pastas, all local, all healthy and all southern Pugliese.

You’ll have a lesson in the kitchen about tonight’s dinner, then go about cooking the entire meal, applying what you just learned. We’ll move to the dinning room to have a guided wine tasting, followed by the engaging talk, God Smiled on Us: An Introduction to an Italy that You May Not know.

One of you will return to the kitchen to finish and assemble each course, guided by our staff, and then take turns presenting the dishes to your peers. (This is a deceptively effective learning tool, hearing first an explanation of a dish by our staff, then one by of your fellow students and then repeating it aloud when it’s your turn to finish and present one).

Dinner will run a few hours, the wine will flow like a mighty river and we’ll walk you back to the main piazza around 23:00 or even midnight.

Martedi

Tuesday

We’ll meet under the column in Lecce’s main piazza (always, always, each day in the same meeting place). We’ll discuss the themes of the day, answer any questions and then head for the city’s oldest vegetable market, focused on sourcing for the day but also making you a better, more engaged consumer of Italy, for the rest of your life. You’ll meet Cesare, Alessandro, Gianluca and Stefano, our longtime vendors, trusted relationships that are Italy’s informal currency, equal in importance to the Euro.

We’ll walk back through the historic centre to Lecce school, working in short stops that feature the impressive architecture that makes Lecce a part of a classical education in Italy (you’ll likely see several groups of visiting school children, all ‘tagged’ to their teacher/handlers by little coloured caps).

We’ll make a new fresh pasta shape from scratch, which will segue into a lesson in the kitchen. Then we’ll prepare lunch together (always, one antipasto, one pasta course, one secondo, four side courses and a dolce).

(Each meal all week will follow this format with the exception of our Thursday lunch at the seaside).

You’ll have a lesson in the kitchen about tonight’s dinner, then go about cooking the entire meal, applying what you just learned. We’ll move to the dinning room to have a guided wine tasting, followed by the engaging talk, Pasta, Polenta, Risotto and Old Bread: The First Courses of the Italian Peninsula.

One of you will return to the kitchen to finish and assemble each course, guided by our staff, and then take turns presenting the dishes to your peers.

Lunch will run a few hours and then you’ll be given a three hour break to regain your appetite as you see fit (walk the historic centre, shop, sleep or speed time alone or with your partner). 

You’re welcome to use this free time as you like but if there is any tendency during our 20 year history, it’s that most people start off overly-ambitious with planning the free time during the break, only eventually settling into using the pause to recharge. Same with eating between meals: in contrast with Spain’s constant snacking, you’re rewarded here in Italy from sitting down hungry twice a day.

We’ll meet again at 18:00 (6 pm) and visit a wine store to talk about Italian wine labelling, the DOC structure and why the choice of bottle shape is so telling of what the producers’ desire to communicate.

(You do not need to carry your wallet or purse the entire week, as everything -with the possible exception of souvenirs— is included in your tuition).

We’ll head back to Lecce school for a lesson in the kitchen, then prepare a complete dinner (we always serve everything family-style, allowing you to take as much as you like, so as to never need stand up from the meal feeling overly-feed, unless you want that).

We’ll have the talk, Kaveh to Coffee to Cafè: The Little Bean that Conquered the World. You’ll learn about the history of coffee, Italy’s contribution to it and how to order it in Italian, and like we do here. This talk will transform into a guided wine tasting and dinner will run a few hours- you and your peers explaining each dish as you bring it from the kitchen,. This is important to foster Italian table culture, the wine flowing and the stimulating, international conversation running late. 

We’ll walk you back to the main piazza around midnight.

Mercoledi

Wednesday

We’ll meet under the column but quickly head to a local espresso bar so that you can use your new coffee ordering skills (Silvestro will just be ‘dad’, ignored until it’s time to pay). We’ll head through the city’s sculpture garden (that celebrates one of Lecce’s most famous artists) on the way to the fish market. You’ll learn how to cook most of the world’s fish using only four, simple techniques. You’ll meet Salvatore and Spartico, our trusted fish mongers that source from the nearby Ionian Sea. You’ll learn about the lunar pull on the Mediterraneans seas and how that alters shellfish prices in Italy.

We’ll head to the vegetable market and source our vegetables before heading to the Lecce school to make fresh pasta from scratch. 

We’ll have two lesson in the kitchen, the first on kitchen gear— pots, pans, knives and glassware, acquisition and maintenance-  the second on what we are going to prepare for today’s lunch. We’ll move into the dinning room and have a guided tasting of the wine, followed by our fish-based lunch, as finished and explained by you and your peers.

A break and we’ll meet under the column at 18:00. We’ll visit a local dispensary and talk about the importance of grain and pulses in The Mediterranean Diet. You’ll learn how to source, maximise and improve your health by your choices. (Hint: the smaller and darker the legume, the healthier it is).

Back at the school you’ll prepare dinner, move to the table for our wine tasting and learn about, 1493: The History of Italian Vegetables. You’ll learn how much that we think of as Italian arrived late to the party, and how long most of it took to be accepted.

Dinner with yet another new wine, with each course explained by your fellow students. Plan on over- indulging. We’ll stumble back to Lecce’s main piazza around midnight.

Giovedi

Thursday

We’ll load up the picnic baskets and head to Otranto, a gorgeous Greek city on the Adriatic coast famous for both its historic centre protected by UNESCO, and the largest mosaic in all of Europe. We’ll discuss Dante’s contribution to the national culture and language but how a Greek monk did even a better job of giving the information back to the illiterate. And two hundred years before him.

We’ll have giant sandwiches (that you make) on the Roman-era stone pier (with wine and those little fried things that none of us should be eating) and you’ll hear, Many Seas: A Brief History of The Mediterranean while dangling your feet into one of them. Assuming good behaviour all around, we’ll also visit one of Italy’s oldest gelateria, discussing the differences in the production process, flavour and texture of both ice cream and gelato.

Back to Lecce with Antonio our driver (and one of Italy’s most muscular taxi-drivers) and a few hour break.

We’ll run Thursday evening’s class as a sort of Italian dinner party, inviting locals and composing a meal that is high in pleasure, low in preparation. We’ll talk about the great changes in the history of Italian wine, with Da Mieru a Vino: How Italian Wine Become Modern. But Thursday night is for pleasure, perhaps the sun exposure earlier in the day or a week of flowing wine but the meal is a little friendlier, a little less structured.

Back to the main piazza after dinner. Many head for local wine bars.

Venerdi

Friday

Italy is usually fish on Friday and with us it’s no exception. We’ll head to different fish market and you’ll learn a little about each fish on Mimmo’s marble slab. We’ll discuss tactics and techniques and before lunch is over, buying, cleaning, preparing and eating fish will be forever demystified.

We’ll discuss why the Salento is so famous here in Italy for its rose wines and how exactly they are made. (Hint: there are three ways of making pink wine, one of which is highly illegal here in Italy). We’ll discuss tonight’s menu and then you back to the main piazza for a break.

We’ll meet at 18:00 and have a student-prepared, but nonetheless surprise dinner that will run late. We often open special, larger format bottles and after dinner we have gifts.

You’ll leave a message on the school’s chalkboard to the next class, suggesting to them how to get the best out of their time with us.

We’ll walk you back to the main piazza or we’ll visit a local wine bar for one last glass.

About a week after your course we’ll send you a password to all of our recipes online and include all the email address of the others on your course. Many if not most make life-long friendships while here. They send us many happy pictures of wine-soaked reunions, held all over the world.

Il novello is a carbonic macerated wine, Italy’s version of Beaujolais nouveau. By law it cannot be realised until the days right before San Martino. Many producers also use the date to release their whites and pinks, linking the holiday with wine for generations. 

The castle is the epicentre of a small Italian town, four kilometers from the Adriatic sea. The castle grounds have hundreds of fruit trees, a private chapel, underground olive oil mills and enough prunings of olive and orange trees to fuel all of our grilling in the Baron’s stone fireplace. 

Castle courses tend to feel like food festivals, with each meal a loud and gregarious affair with lots of cooking, great food and rivers of wine. 

Searching for a small, intimate class, take a Lecce course. If you want to learn our food, study our wine, celebrate and rub elbows in the kitchen and around the table with people from all over the world, consider this course.

Or any other at the castle. 

 

Q: I’m very active and don’t like to rest during the breaks. What else is there to do at the castle?

A:  The castle has bicycles that you can borrow. And you can stroll in any of the olive groves that begin at the periphery of town. There is also the Baron’s multi-language library with books you may borrow. Or go give your Italian a workout at the local caffè.

In general, most people overestimate how much extra energy they will have during the week. Might just be all the wine. 

Q: I prefer smaller, more intimate groups. Will I be happy at the castle?

A: It doesn’t sound like it. We have 13 different courses for good reason. In our 20 year history, our biggest failures to please have been with those that have signed up for the wrong course. ‘I know this is a fish course but can I have mine with chicken’, or ‘I didn’t realise that we’d be bicycling every day’, on our bicycle course.

If you want an intimate, small group, choose a Lecce course. If you want to come together with people from all over the world united by a love of Italian food and wine, consider a castle course. 

Q: My spouse wants to bicycle but I want to attend San Martino (which doesn’t contain any bicycling). What to do?

A: Take different courses.  Plus, remember that there are only two real aphrodisiacs in life: 1) The right partner, 2) His or her absence.