To celebrate the opening of the summer 2012 season, Orient-Express’ iconic properties in Venice, Portofino, Ravello, Taormina and Florence have created authentic ‘off the beaten track’ experiences for their guests, to help them discover the unique locations in which the hotels are located.
The British have their pubs, the Americans have their bars and Venetians have their bacari. It is to these social watering holes that Venetians retreat for an ombra (drink) or cicchetto (snack) and a gossip. In Venice guests of Hotel Cipriani can board a ‘topo di chioggia’, a traditional vintage flat-bottomed wooden boat, that will navigate them through the waterways on a secret bacaro tour of the city, stopping off at some of the most authentic and oldest bacari along the way. Guests will have the opportunity to mix with locals and meet some of the vivacious characters that run the bacari whilst sampling fine wines and traditional Venetian cuisine. Departing at 6pm, the Hotel Cipriani Bacari Tour lasts approximately three hours and starts from 250 Euro (approx £204) per couple, including ombra and cicchetti.
The picturesque bay of Portofino lends itself to whiling away the days basking in the Italian sun, and sipping on a glass of limoncello. However, thrill seekers who want a little more adventure on their holiday can take the plunge in the Underwater Photography course at Hotel Splendido, ideal for both the experienced diver and the novice. Guests will be kitted out with scuba gear and taken through the fundamentals of underwater photography by Adriano Penco, a professional underwater photographer with years of experience taking snaps for the Italian Ministry of Culture as well as a whole host of international publications. Students are then taken out to the warm waters of Portofino Bay for a dive where they can explore and take snaps of the vast marine wonderland. Lessons and the dive last three hours in total and start from 260 Euro (approx £213) per person, or 100 Euro (approx £82) per person when booking a group of three.
One of the most adventurous ways to discover a location is by car, exploring the nooks and crannies of a place at your own pace, making pit stops to take in the scenes along the way. Guests of Grand Hotel Timeo and Villa Sant’Andrea in Taormina can do just this in their own vintage Fiat 500. Armed with a map tourists can take the top down of their vintage ride to feel the sun on their face and wind through their hair as they discover Sicily’s varied landscape. Both hotels offer a variety of pre-organised routes, including one that will guide drivers along the narrow streets of Taormina and down to the foot of Mount Etna where ancient Sicilian villages lie. This route takes guests past hills, terraces, farms, baroque churches and stately mansions where there will be an opportunity to learn about the wines of the area and take part in a Sicilian wine tasting at a local winery. Alternatively, tours can be arranged along the Ionian coast, where guests can stop off for picnics on one of the many long beaches or small fishing villages. For avid film fans, the ancient towns of Savoca and Forza d’Argo where Francis Ford Copolloa filmed scenes from The Godfather, are also just a short scenic drive away. The Fiat 500 tours last approximately five hours and start from 270 Euro (approx £221).
For those seeking to return from their holiday with a new skill under their belt, Villa San Michele’s world renowned cookery school in Florence is the best place to do just that. Brand new for the 2012 season is the Wine and Food Pairing masterclass which will take students through the essentials of pairing fine Italian wines with the mouth-watering cuisine. The hotel’s sommelier will share the well honed skills he uses to pair the delicious wines with culinary highlights served at the hotel’s Loggia restaurant. Following the tutorial, students are treated to lunch in the hotel’s restaurant, where they can put to practice their new found skills.
The San Miniato hills, located just one hour from Villa San Michele, are home to some of the richest truffle regions in Europe and now for the first time ever, guests of the hotel can carry out their own hunt for this delicate ingredient which graces the tables of some of the finest restaurants in the world. Escorted by an expert and his truffle seeking dog, guests can learn all about how the legendary aphrodisiac is grown and cultivated, and will be taught the age old skills used to hunt for them. Once guests return to the hotel, they will be treated to a truffle tasting session. Lasting a half day and priced from 75 Euro (approx £61) per person, it is truly a memorable way to discover the beauty of the Tuscan countryside.
The Amalfi Coast is considered to be on of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy. A former 11th century palace, Hotel Caruso, is nestled on the cliffs of Amalfi, boasting 360º views of the Mediterranean Sea where some of the tastiest and freshest fish is caught. The hotel has put together a sea faring experience with a difference for its guests, designed to totally immerse them in the culture of Amalfi. For a day, guests can take to the seas on a typical fishing boat with Amalfi fishermen who will sail out along the coast and drop anchor in a good fishing spot. Guests will then be taken through the basics of fly fishing and can go on the prowl for amberjacks, tuna and hake as well as pull out crab and prawns from the sea too. After they have tried their hand at successfully reeling in their bait, guests can leave the professionals to do their work, as they sit back and sip on a glass of wine whilst the catch of the day is prepared for lunch. The ‘Fish Your Dish’ is a full day excursion and is priced from 850 Euro (approx £695) for a group of four people. Food and beverages are included in this price.