I am a regular visitor to Italy, but it’s been a source of embarrassment for some years that I have no Italian at all. I love Italian culture, Italian food, Italian weather. (The coffee is a bit strong for me though!).

I had some time in September so did some searching on the web to find a course that could combine language lessons with cooking .. I fancy myself as a decent cook, but there is always something to learn both in general and in particular when it comes to the specific dishes of a region. And the region? For me it had to be the south, I’ve travelled all around northern Italy from Liguria to Veneto, north to Bolzano, and south as far as Rome and Naples, but something about southern culture has always intrigued me.

A discussion with an Italian friend in London who had a trip to Puglia earlier this year with her sister, who lives in Rome, sold me on Puglia. The history, the architecture, and the food of course, seemed exactly what I wanted. And so it was that I found myself spending early September with Michela at her school, L’Acanto, in Mesagne.

Mesagne, about 10km inland from Brindisi, is a gem of a place, a historic small town with sites going back before the Romans to the Greek period, nestling amid the olive plantations and vineyards that make Puglia so well known for its produce. Michela was very patient as I found out that my pronunciation (based on memories of 40 year old schoolboy Latin) needed quite a bit of adjustment. Her teaching pace was ideal and we went out to cafes in the square nearby to practice. I have much homework to do before I come back for my next set of lessons, but it was a great start.

Cooking with Pierangela was something very special – access not just to recipes, weights and timings, but to a philosophy of cooking and eating, as much a discussion about how to live as on cooking technique. Fascinating to hear Pierangela and Michela discuss subtle differences in how their respective families cooked traditional dishes. I also found out why southern Italians sleep in the afternoon … hard to do anything else after such wonderful meals.

Evening excursions were fascinating, to Brindisi and Lecce, other local villages and to local wine producers, and of course some time was spent in Mesagne itself. I chose not to hire a car and this was sensible as my schedule was pretty packed. (Plus I was free to enjoy the local Negroamaro and Primitivo wines – a case of which I ordered during my trip and which I’m slowly enjoying).

All in all a fantastic trip and I am very much looking forward to returning to Mesagne. It seems it’s quite common for people who study with Michela to fall in love with the place – we bumped into several on our travels who had studied and stayed in Mesagne, or at least who return regularly on holiday. After my wonderful visit, this was no surprise – it’s a special place. Thanks for such a wonderful time.

Tom. K., UK,