A jet-set lifestyle doesn’t have to be all private planes and decadent digs. In our Jet-Set Bohemian series, we blend the best of high and low for just the right balance … enticing everyone from backpackers to luxury boutique hotel lovers to come along for the ride.
Walking down into the wine cellar, the faint sound of Billie Holiday’s distinctive crooning filtered through the room just loud enough to make out the melodies without competing with the conversations taking place. I edged through groups gathered in corners of the cavernous cellar, each with a wine glass in hand, wondering whether I should pick up my own and join the party, thinking this was what my host had in mind when he said to meet for a wine tasting. When I finally reached the bar at the far end, a man dressed in a traditional Loden woven wool vest and trousers—a more elegant version of what you’d see at Munich’s Oktoberfest—smiled and said, “Let’s come back later for fondue. We have wine waiting upstairs.”
The larch wood-lined cellar is stocked with over 24,000 bottles of wine, 80 percent of which are Italian, organized by region and marked in a style resembling toe tags at a morgue. I could only imagine what the scene upstairs would hold.
The intimate Wine Bar Siriola was the opposite of the cellar. Bartenders poured flutes of Prosecco and mixed Negronis for a low-key crowd of businessmen, while waiters prepared lavish aperitivo spreads of delicately rolled speck ham, cured onsite in a room just a few feet away. “So, do you like wine?” Jan, the man in uniform, asked.
The third generation to work at the family run hotel Ciasa Salares in Val Badia at the foot of UNESCO World Natural Heritage site Fanes Park, Jan Clemens decided that his contribution to the family business would be wine. At 22, he’s one of the youngest sommeliers in the country and has helped curate the largest collection of biodynamic wine in Italy, something his father started over 20 years ago before organic wine was deemed cool.
Each member of the family not only helps run the 50-room alpine hotel built by his grandfather, Paoli, in 1964, they all manage an element of Ciasa Salares’ cuisine. Grandma Ilda makes the jam served at breakfast (which is one of 140 different products lining the buffet) and tends to the herb garden while wearing her signature Ferragamo loafers. Stefan, Jan’s father, visits winemakers and vineyards around the country to continually add to the rotating collection in the cellar, in addition to acting as maître d’ at the one Michelin star restaurant, La Siriola.
For the Weiser family, their restaurants are more based on the products than the chefs, with a philosophy that quality ingredients don’t have geographical borders, since this part of the Italian Dolomites isn’t exactly known for locally grown fare. Instead of relying on the limited resources in the region, they source from the best farms and producers across the country. It also doesn’t hurt that the chef behind the starred cuisine is Matteo Metullio, the youngest in Italy to earn a Michelin star.
With five onsite restaurants, including cheese and chocolate rooms, this food-focused hotel was born out of a combination of Grandma Emma’s legendary cooking classes and Grandma Teresa’s hotelier background running two other spots in the valley.
Ciasa Salares is just one example of how hotels are making food just as important as the destination itself, revolving around cooking schools or restaurants that are worth the trek to even the most remote of locales. Take Don Alfonso 1890 in the Italian town of Sant’Agata, overlooking the Gulf of Naples. While it’s not far from its more famous neighbors Positano and Sorrento, the town is not exactly a tourist destination like the ones you’d find on the Amalfi Coast. Started over a century ago by two young couples, the family run business has grown into a culinary favorite thanks to the Iaccarino family’s philosophy, “For the love of land.” This love of land transcends Italian tradition, selling the family home to buy an abandoned hillside facing the island of Capri with a vision of turning the unkempt land into a 17-acre organic farm, cow and all. This is where the two Michelin star restaurant’s signature sweet San Marzano tomatoes—a staple in its pasta sauces—are grown.
Those looking to stay the night can take their pick of eight antique-filled bedrooms scattered throughout the 19th century home that once belonged to poet Salvatore Di Giacomo. Guests can also take part in a rotating roster of cooking courses held in the hand painted tile-lined school, with themes ranging from modern and traditional Neapolitan confectionary to homemade pasta prepared with wheat from the nearby towns of Gragnano and Torre Annunziata. Then there’s the option to visit the farm itself, Le Peracciole, in Termini on one of the most rugged parts of the Sorrentine Peninsula, where you’ll find the lemons later transformed into Don Alfonso’s infamous liqueur.
In Marrakech, meanwhile, 26-room La Maison Arabe is home to two firsts: the first restaurant in the medina, or old town, and the country’s first cooking school, which opened in 2001. Traditional Moroccan cooks, or dadas, lead the way during the half-day course, teaching participants the same techniques they use in the hotel’s kitchen to craft Le Restaurant’s fine dining Moroccan cuisine. The cooking school has also adopted the farm-to-table trend transforming its private organic gardens into a fully equipped cooking school complete with 16 stations; a wood-fired bread oven for baking tanourt (Moroccan flat bread); and an underground oven designed for méchoui, a Moroccan version of barbecue where whole lambs are pit-roasted. A 15-minute drive from the hotel, the school offers a more hands-on approach to Moroccan cuisine as guests pick the herbs and vegetables that’ll later become ingredients in their lamb and chicken tagines, served alongside a sampling of Moroccan wines.
Of course after playing chef for the day you get to reap the rewards, sitting down to sample your creations. But if you’d like to indulge in the full culinary experience without having to do all the cooking, book a seat in the restaurant’s ornate dining room with its zouaké, or hand-painted, ceiling inspired by the style of Iranian mosques, leaving all the hard work to the pros.
Lane Nieset is Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.