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Announcing 2020 Workshops and Retreats: run don’t walk to sign up!

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Run don’t walk to sign up for 2020 La Fortezza Workshops and Retreats. I feel like this year we have hit the sweet spot with our selections. Photography and styling are, as always, center stage, but we also have a great selection of workshops that highlight the unique part of Italy we call home. You’re going to love it.

Check the selection. I am sure there is something for you with us in Italy.

Click here to see the full descriptions. Keep in mind we have limited spaces, and private rooms are first-come, first-serve. I am so excited to head back to La Fortezza in May to prepare for these amazing experiences.

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions, in the meantime, have a look below and grab a spot! See you in Italy x

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Arrivederci Italia 2019

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It’s always hard to say arrivederci, but his year, in particular, was bittersweet because it was such a wonderful season. Our La Fortezza Workshops started off with a bang: 2 styling workshops in June kicked off the season. We had 3 talented instructors and 4 lovely attendees. Joanna and Maren and Sarah, had a lively group and did some really fun projects with their guests. The second styling session was with moi, the Strictly Styling Workshop. I had my BFF Barbara, a stylist from Modena, join me to teach styling. She brought all sorts of foodstuffs from Modena. It was epic.

This workshop also marked the yearly return of PR maven Liz Lapidus she brought her mega bloggerlious friend, Alexandra Darling in the City¬†(although unfortunately she never wrote about her experience at La Fortezza on her blog? ūüôĀ¬† But she did write about neighboring towns lol)¬†NOTE* bloggers do not bother to contact me about a free workshop and that you’ll post about it. No comping anymore…live and learn…). I digress…

During that workshop I met one of my favorite guests (there’s always an upside to all negative experiences) of the season, the super talented photographer and stylist Alicia, The Chic Shot. You can see some of her amazing shots of La Fortezza on this post. Thank you, Alicia, for sharing your amazing talent. I LOVED working with you, and thank you for all the beautiful photos of your experience here. We hosted the fantastic podcast host Heidi Rew, her podcast featured me and Philip and Barbara, and the ladies from our first workshop in June. Listen to it here. It’s a great look into what we do.

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We also had our first ever intern in June and July from Wellesley College, Adri. She was a wonder and delight. She speaks perfect Italian and was energetic and eager to learn. We loved having her help us with guests and chores around the fortress. We loved her so much that we are bringing another intern from the same Wellesley Italian Studies program back next spring. Let’s just say whoever she is, she has big shoes to fill.¬† Plus Adri learned to drive a stick shift during her 8 week stay – pretty impressive!

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In July we hosted our first-ever Artist in Residence with abstract painter, Steven McKenzie for the month. It was a stroke of genius on my part, if I do say so myself. Steve was a delightful addition to the La Fortezza Workshop roster, and he brought the sunshine everyday in the studio. Because of Steve’s curiosity, I visited places and experienced things I never would have. Like visiting the antique book archives at our local library in Fivizzano and caving in Equi Terme. Some I loved more than others. (Caving not my thing, go figure) He made jam from our plum trees and filled the studio with his beautiful art inspired by the region. Even during his opening party when we had a torrential downpour, he never lost his bright smile and positive attitude. The Opening Party was amazing, sometimes when the best-laid plans are dashed, and the skies open up, it turns out to be just as great. At his opening, we had visitors from London, Paris, Greece, and the US and of course all of our friends from all over Italy. It was a great July. We had a fun visit with Rue Magazine Editor and Chief Kelli Lamb, and her lovely artist hubby Timmy, Kelli made an amazing video series about La Fortezza.

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In August our son visited with 3 friends; we cooked and toured and ate plenty. Then I visited Pulglia, a place the had been on my list for a while. I experienced the Messors Workshop, which was interesting. read about it here.

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September was filled with great cooking by Chef Philip. There were cooking lessons and artisan food visits with our Slow Food Experience group. We had the lovely photographer Kate Blohm visit again, she was part of a workshop with Angie Mosier in 2018. This year she was our BTS photographer; she’s amazing and will be joining us every year in the fall to document the Slow Food Workshops, something that is close to my heart.

September is the time of year we do our grape harvest, although this year the harvest was a month late, we still had an amazing time with our incredible group. One of our guests were a married couple, PR team Valerie and Garrett, a powerhouse PR team in Atlanta specializing in Chefs and Food, from Via Failla PR and Events¬† They will be part of the La Fortezza PR team helping to promote La Fortezza Workshops in 2020. I can’t wait to see what they have in store. We also hosted a shopping workshop with Lisa Burnett a whirlwind tour with shop til you drop attendees that left me breathless.

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October was the month of photography with 2 of my favorite photographers joining us. Bill Abranowicz and Ros Atkinson of Her Dark Materials on Instagram. I am honored to call them friends and I am excited to announce they will be back with us in fall 2020. The workshops were not only informative but really fun. We got so many beautiful shots!

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These incredible workshops have proved to be even more wonderful than I had imagined. People gathered around the table, like-minded with so much passion to add to the discussion. Being surrounded by creativity from all creators, from what Philip creates and places on the table, to the interesting creatives from all over the world, (this year we had our first attendee from India) they have so much to offer. It is my idea of heaven.

Although our surroundings are gorgeous, I must say without the people that come to visit, it would be much less beautiful. Thank you to all the support people in our village that take great care of me, and to Chef Philip who is gracious and talented and helpful always with a smile on his face he goes above and beyond. Thanks Philip for all the amazing Pizza Parties!

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To the guests that grace our doors, grazie mille. I look forward to welcoming new faces in 2020. Please check the website November 9th for our new workshops to post. We have limited spots, first come first serve with private rooms. So grab your spot in 2020 La Fortezza Workshops and Retreats.

x

Photo Credit: The Chic Shot, Kate Blohm, Nandi Shaw, Ros Atkinson, William Abranowicz

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Slow Food Cheese Event in Bra Italy 2019

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Ciao Tutti! As you may have seen from the complete coverage on my instagram feed, Philip Meeker our chef, and Rachel Ritchie our guest liaison, and I headed to the region of the Piedmont, known for delicious wines like Barolo and Barbaresco. Our destination was Bra, Italy, the Slow Food capital of the world. We wanted a little R&R and lots of cheese, wine and truffles.

As a girl from Wisconsin, you can imagine my pure joy. I was excited to share cheese with the team and few truffles as well. We stayed in Alba, the truffle capital of the world, so with all the food groups covered, we relaxed and treated ourselves to endless aisles of cheese, cheese talks and local makers’ booths. We stayed in an Agriturismo by a local wine maker who had a few rooms to rent on the top floor. In truth, the entire foyer smelled of wine-no complaints from me. The location was great and staying at a working winery was kind of fun.

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We got in around 5 pm in time to do a little aperitivo, but not before stopping at my favorite truffle store, Tartufi Ponzio, to load up on Truffle potato chips. Yes, really, truffle potato chips. They are truly the crack of the potato chip family. You can’t eat just one. The owner was there Gianfranco, a very energetic, and enthusiastic man, especially about truffles. He’s a hoot! He’s taken over the family business, and from what I can see, he has brought it into the 21st century with the utmost care.

There will be a documentary coming out on truffle hunting early next year, so keep your eyes peeled for “The Hunt” and look out for Gianfranco. It will be shown for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival 2020.

Gianfranco showed us all his new products, improved both inside and out. We bought a few more staples to bring back to La Fortezza to share with our guests. As I always do, I asked him where he liked to eat. He immediately told us and picked up the phone to make us a reservation for that night. All set, we said our goodbyes, and told him we hoped he would stop by after closing the store and join us for dessert. The meal was impeccable, more truffles and butter than you could imagine. Divine. GF, as we call him, stopped by for dessert and told us a few stories about truffles and hunting and his family business. All in all, he was quite amusing. Great food, great stories and a great night.

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The next day, we headed to see and eat more cheese than we could have imagined. The festival was huge and would take days to see. We tried cheese from all over the world, all kinds, to the point that we could not eat anymore. Our bellies were full and our feet were hurting which surely means we had an amazing day.

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I will say, most people would say you can’t have enough cheese. Oh but you can. I still cannot think about eating cheese. Vegetables? Yes. Although I never get my fill of truffles. We ate, we drank and we walked and walked all weekend. It was a great little break and mini vaca with the team, but now it’s time to get back to the business of taking care of our workshop attendees. Of course, there will be cheese and there will be truffles, as we love to share.

I highly recommend the slow food cheese festival! It’s in one of my favorite regions in Italy. Piedmont is not to be missed. Tutto il Formaggio. (all the cheese)

xx Annette

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Preserving Italy Workshop:: the slow food experience

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We just wrapped up the Slow Food Experience workshop, and I must say it was a wonderful experience not only for our attendees but for me too. We visited food artisans in the area and sampled local food like panigacci and chestnut fritters, and with the help of my foodie friends, I think we represented the region of the Lunigiana proudly.

There are so many interesting and different local foods here. It’s so different, in fcct, that I am writing my next cookbook about it (keep your eyes peeled for the La Fortezza Cookbook, due out in 2021). It is a region rich in history and food history with many kitchens born out of need and lack of funds; the “poor kitchen,” or as they call it, “cucina povere” was creative and inspired.

We made pasta with Chef Philip using jarred tomato sauce, (passata) from our kitchen garden tomatoes. We made grape jam with my friend and slow food ambassador, Giovanna, and sampled bread from the local bread maker Fabio

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We enjoyed chestnut fritters with chestnut honey and dined on all the products from around the area breakfast lunch and dinner, and of course many aperitivos…

This workshop will be available next year. All workshops for 2020 will post in November. We would love for you to join us and sample all the local food products and meet all the lovely people that work so hard to preserve the traditions of this beautiful region.

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Thanks to all the attended and we really loved meeting your eating with all of you. See you next year.x

Some imagery is from our team photographer Kate Blohm

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My vacation in Puglia

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As some of you might know, I take August off and plan a vacation to explore a new region in Italy. Last year was Sicily. This year I decided to head to Messors Shepherds and Food Culture Workshop in Puglia I view these trips as my personal photo safari and with camera in hand, I love to have the luxury of just photographing everything.

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Tonio and his wife Jennifer

I made my way out to the Puglian countryside, to the Messors Shepherds and Food Culture Workshop location to meet Messors Workshop hosts, Tonio and Jennifer Creanza. All the attendees and most of the staff are hosted at a friend’s large home near Matera. What once was a hunting lodge, now serves as a working masseria (farm).

Tonio Creanza leads the workshop along with his wife Jennifer. Jennifer has tireless energy; she is no doubt the driving force and support system for the 6-day workshop with a wide range of activities. All meals served at the house and all over the countryside are produced by her and a staff of close family and volunteers from all over the world. Truth is, I was surprised to meet her since there is no mention of her in the collateral about the workshop. But she’s truly the star of the show and the glue that holds their workshops together.¬†Jennifer is originally from Vancouver (where the family resides in the winter months). She met Tonio at one of his restoration workshops. As she tells it, he courted her by serenading to her with his guitar under the stars.

They also include their charming 10-year-old son, August. I had the pleasure of sitting with him during dinner, and I must say he’s one of the most interesting 10-year-olds I have ever met. Normally I am not a fan of having kids at workshops. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, I just like it better when I am on vacation to have adults around. But August proved that I was wrong, and he was one of the most delightful parts of the workshop.

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August with his Nonno (Grandfather)

Tonio is a restoration expert and currently has several projects resorting cave paintings in the Matera area. As part of the restoration project, Tonio and Jennifer have purchased a property, a primitive shepherd’s house, which has several caves on the property with amazing paintings. The caves include crypts and churches and dwellings. Tonio, along with a rotating team of restorers, plans to restore them to their former glory. The shepherd house is where the cheese demonstration took place, followed by lunch and then Tonio’s afternoon lecture in the caves on the property.

Shepherd's House

Shepherd’s House

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lecture in the caves

lecture in the caves

Tonio is deeply committed to restoring these beautiful cave paintings. He speaks passionately about his commitment to these projects. He views himself as an educator and throughout the workshop, there are many lectures about cave dwellings and paintings. He speaks about his connection to the land to the shepherds and the farmers and makers and to the caves. His core message is a good one. History should be respected, preserved and cherished, and ancient food traditions and preparations should be passed down through the generations and not forgotten, and I could not agree more. It’s a noble cause he’s chosen to share.

Breakfast was served outdoors, where sometimes Tonio drags his beloved chalk board to do a lecture about his feelings about food and food conservation in Italy. He has strong opinions which he shares by punctuating his points while drawing a map of Italy and writing all over his beloved chalkboard.

The night we all arrived, he even tried to teach a bit of Italian to the attendees. Which I found quite funny since many glasses of wine had been consumed. He even wrote Italian words on his chalkboard in the the darkness. He played the guitar, sang and whistled to us all. It was quite sweet.

Although Tonio did the brunt of the touring and talking, I was most impressed with the enormous effort that Jennifer put into dragging tables and chairs, dishes and flatware, wine and water and food all over the countryside. Since I do workshops, I am keenly aware of the monumental task she managed to pull off every day all with a lovely smile on her face. It is a mammoth effort on her part and the part of her hardworking team. So a big thank you to all of them.

Although there were some interesting attendees, the most interesting person was a volunteer helper, Allen, one of my favorites, an older gentleman from Canada, an ex soccer ref who has found the practice of meditation and yoga in his golden years. He was our driver, although he never knew where we were going, he was always funny and resourceful.

I loved talking to Melissa, a restoration student from Canada, trying to figure out her next moves. She was lovely and helpful and always so cheerful. I loved my conversations with them all.

Joe, employed by the homeowner, was a delightful young man from Ghana. He has immigrated to Italy and is trying to make a go of it. His story was poignant, and we had a few quiet conversations mainly about how he felt isolated and lonely. I took some photos of him to send home to his Mom. He was so grateful and happy.

Allen

Allen

Melissa- restoration intern

Melissa- restoration intern

Joe

Joe

cheese maker

cheese maker

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We visited one of the oldest bakeries in Altamura, known for its soft semolina bread. I think some of my best images are from here, as it was shaded, and we got an earlier start.

Altamura Breadmaker

Altamura Breadmaker

We did visit the Shepherd in the field, although full disclosure, I was disappointed that we got there too late to see the sheep close up and in good light. By the time we were trekking out into the vast fields it was 11:00 am, over 100 degrees and way too bright to get any good imagery. But with 15 people in tow, it’s hard to get everyone out the door by 7:30 am when the light is the best.

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Shepherd

I think the biggest takeaway for me on this vacation was that group trips for a personal photo safari is probably not the best idea. The best bet is to travel alone or go to a photography-focused workshop.¬† In fact, one of the attendees at lunch asked me, “Why are you taking so many pictures?” which made me giggle. I explained that I loved photography, that this is my passion, and that I loved to photograph. It was my vacation. Further proof that photography workshops are probably the best bet if you want great photos and want to be with like-minded people.

My impressions:¬†Since I am in the business, I feel it’s important that I am honest with you.

It was an interesting trip, and I think Messors is a good choice if you want to have a no fuss, no muss experience. One Note* All the rooms are shared rooms, but I lucked out at getting my own private room, for which I was most grateful. Since it’s a working farm, be aware that it is not a luxury experience. Something that I was not fully prepared for. So always read about the location amenities if air conditioning and your own bathroom is important to you, this is probably not the location for you. If this sounds like it is for you…one word of advice is that if you’re sharing a room, and you snore let them know….but just in case your roommate snores or noise keeps you awake, make sure you bring noise canceling headphones for a better night’s sleep. I brought mine and it saved me, I slept like a log.

Now that I have experienced Puglia, and will definitely go back with Frank and get those photos I missed. x

Check out this documentary from 2015 about Tonio’s cave project.

 

 

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