I came upon it by chance: Villa Pane, a lovely hillside villa of eleven rooms, perched high on the hillside overlooking Sorrento and the Bay of Naples where proprietor Anna Maria offers accommodation, a small restaurant and Italian cooking lessons. Together, Anna Maria and her son Gianluigi have created a very special place that easily becomes my own Italian home, kitchen and garden, complete with colourful Italian tiles, terrace dining, olive trees, local bougainvillea spilling a bounty of colour and a majestic view.
The large garden plumb-full of tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini provides most of the main ingredients of Anna Maria’s cooking. Seven hundred olive trees provide her with a rich supply of the Italian liquid gold.
The secrets of creating Italian breads, cakes, pastas, main courses and desserts are unveiled and shared, while I bask in Italian friendship and good fun.
Classes begin with a glass of chilled Prosecco. By the time we are kneading the dough, we are into our second glass of an exquisite red wine, produced by Anna Maria’s up-the-hill neighbour.
“You must have warm hands for the dough,” she advises. “It’s your baby. You must love the baby,” and she demonstrates her technique for caressing the elastic ball into a living, rising, beautiful Italian bread.
Anna Maria’s cooking skills and recipes are generations old, handed down from her grandmother. Her kitchen is compact with shining stainless work counters and a near-fifty year collection of beautiful hanging copper pots and utensils.
“I began collecting when I was nineteen,” she tells me. “I love my copper pots,” and I see her admiring gaze go skyward to her shining metal collection.
What is cooked in the afternoon class is served for dinner to the villa guests. A big family table is set and all participating cooks gather round for generous eating, camaraderie, much laughter and more of the beautiful red wine.
First an appetizer, followed by a course of our fresh made pasta, hand rolled and glazed with sauce, then a second course of fresh fish, eggplant or chicken.
Dessert is a given, accompanied by a toast made with Anna Maria’s own homemade Limoncello. This spirited alcohol base, heavily infused with Sorrento’s famous lemons, fast becomes my favourite drink to sip, ever so slowly, savouring every acidic bite of the colourful citrus.
As day retires to night, and I retire to my Villa Pane room, I savour the day’s memories from my private veranda, while watching the stars shine over Napoli. I am around the corner from the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Naples, in a picture perfect place, with Sorrento’s medieval streets, culture, shopping and stunning views spread out below me.
Could it be any better?
Peggy Wright, CTC, CITM, CATS is ‘The Travel Agent Next Door.’