Quick Trip for Slow Food with Silversea

| Tuesday, 31 Jan. 2012

Pre-and-post-cruise land programs typically steer guests to major sites near embarkation and debarkation ports. Like Petra. Or the Great Wall of China. So it's news when a cruise line creates a land program exclusively devoted to food. Slow Food, at that.

Silversea Cruises' new "Slow Food Adventures in Tuscany" debuts on three Mediterranean voyages in 2012.

What is Slow Food? And why does something "slow" seem oxymoron-like paired with the word "adventure?" Fear not. This is an adventure. Of gastronomy. My favorite kind.

Slow Food is actually a grassroots worldwide movement, a lifestyle celebrating food made from sustainable, locally grown ingredients. The opposite of "fast food." It's about paying attention to what's on your plate and what its creation does for the planet. Slow Food advocates number in the thousands, with devotees in more than 150 countries. While not a card-carrying member, I thoroughly embrace the idea.

Silversea Cruises, in collaboration with Slow Food Italy, has designed a three-night program immersing guests into the culinary and cultural traditions of Tuscany. One or more members of the luxury line's culinary team will serve as guides – fitting for a food-minded land program. According to Silversea, their company may be the first to do so on such a pre-or-post-cruise program.

This trip unfolds with a scenic drive into the heart of Brunello, Tuscany's fabled wine region known for its "super Tuscans" (Italy's most coveted wines, made without following government rules dictating aging and blending).

Guests stay at Castello Banfi winery's exclusive Il Borgo hotel, nestled amidst vineyards and olive groves. Condé Nast Traveler named Il Borgo one of the hottest new hotels in the world in 2008. This elite hideaway has but 14 rooms and suites. Each is decorated differently. The rooms are lovely, more comfy and cozy than frou-frou. Flat-screen TVs, towel warmers and body lotion made from estate-grown Sangiovese grapes up the considerable luxury ante.

There's a modest fitness room and a swimming pool on a hillside overlooking the vineyards and surrounding hills. The pool setting is so spectacular, it looks like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be here if they weren't in Mustique. (And it wasn't winter.)

Look at the web site and see for yourself. All the Castello Banfi estate photos are breathtaking. The grounds include a medieval castle, towering above lush forests and rolling vineyards. The castle was meticulously restored into a hospitality center, and includes a museum, taverna (casual restaurant) and wine bar.

The family-owned winery counts 7,100 acres; one-third is cultivated with vines. Some of the acreage is forest, filled with deer, pheasants, wild boar, mushrooms and truffles. Fruit trees and wheat fields also abound, making the estate nearly self-sufficient.

Castello Banfi has the highest levels of social and environmental responsibility. They hand-harvest grapes and have planted enough cypress trees over 25 years to shade the 50-mile route between Siena and Florence. They are devoted to biodiversity, including raising a herd of Amiata donkeys, a local breed that risked extinction. Water conservation and erosion control are other big winery commitments.

That's all wonderful, but what about the wines? Castello Banfi produces many notable bottles, including their high-scoring Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Poggio all'Oro, a Brunello reserve, aged five years before release.

One full day of this Silversea land program is devoted to exploring Slow Food Italy-recommended vineyards, olive groves, farms and artisan food producers – ones that normally eschew visitors. Count on great wine tastings, and cooking classes to learn the art of true Tuscan cuisine, prepared with ingredients grown at the winery or nearby. Both the estate's professional staff and Silversea culinary experts instruct.

This three-night foodie fantasy is priced from $3,599 per guest (based on double occupancy). Prices include all transportation, transfers, guided sightseeing and some meals. That's pretty much everything - except for those super Tuscan bottles you want to bring home.

This land program is a pre-cruise option on Silver Wind's April 30 voyage (#2212) and Silver Spirit's October 22 sail (#5233). It's post-cruise on Silver Wind's April 17 voyage (#2210). (silversea.com has all the details.)

I wonder if other luxury cruise lines will begin offering food-and-wine land programs. With culinary shore excursions and onboard guest chef programs so hot on ships right now, my bet is that pre-and-post-cruise land programs for foodies are the new frontier.

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