By Tracy Shevlin | Photos by Rob Jinks
Haymarket residents George and Linda Meyers combine travel, beauty and history into a food lover’s destination vacation with their Cook in Tuscany business. As transplants to the Haymarket area, they spend approximately six months at home and six months in Tuscany. George is a retired Air Force pilot, and Linda is a former kindergarten teacher for Prince William County schools. Together they enjoy being host and hostess and sharing their love of Tuscany with any who would like to visit.
USA Today rated their business, Cook in Tuscany, as one of the “top 15 Foodie Destinations.” Prince William Living spoke to George to find out more about their unique business.
PWL: How did your love of travel turn into the Cook in Tuscany destination vacation?
George: Linda and I found this location on one of our many vacations in Europe. We have always enjoyed finding restaurants and sites that were away from typical tourist locations. Over the past 10 years, Linda and I visited as often as we could. Slowly family and friends began to join us, and we enjoyed showing them around. We wanted to eat and shop like the locals, and as we brought family and friends to visit, we began to share these experiences with them. Now we share the experience with clients who become life-long friends.
PWL: Can you tell us more about the program?
George: We offer a seven day/six night, all-inclusive vacation experience that includes traditional Italian cooking lessons, accommodations and all the food, wine, and tours. Unlike [the hosts of]other all-inclusive vacations, we spend much of our time with our guests. Like family, we cook, drink wine and go on excursions together. We visit wineries and cheese makers and see historic sites.
Each morning guests learn to cook traditional Italian foods from local women who follow the same recipes that their grandmothers, or Nonnas, have used for generations. Folks don’t have to be chefs to enjoy the experience. Cooking lessons are filled with laughter and fun, and we eat for lunch whatever we make that day.
Our guests stay at Hotel La Costa, a medieval farm in the village of Montefollonico. The village is roughly two football fields long and still has 13th-century walls, castle gates and cobblestone streets. Hotel La Costa has been fully renovated and luxuriously appointed with modern conveniences like Wi-Fi, air conditioning and a wonderful restaurant. The hotel is a family run and owned business. Paolo Masini is the owner and chef along with his wife and brother. His mother-in-law, Isa, teaches some of our classes.
There are nine guest rooms in the hotel, and we reserve and fill them for 13 weeks each year.
PWL: Which seasons are best to visit Tuscany?
Linda: Spring and fall are the best times to visit Tuscany, and we plan our programs during those times. We host guests during May and June and then again in September and October.
PWL: How far in advance do clients need to make their reservations?
George: We are currently booking for 2018. It seems far away, but many clients don’t mind the waiting period because they can plan for their trips for 18-24 months in advance. This is a bucket list sort of trip for many people. People pay a $500 deposit when they make their reservations with final payment not due until 90 days before their trip.
PWL: What has been most important as you’ve grown your business?
George: Our relationships are the key to our success. We have strong relationships with the hotel owners and our cooking instructors. We know all of our cooks and enjoy visiting with them when we aren’t working. These are people that we know and trust to make our guests’ visits as comfortable as possible. We take our guests to places we love!
PWL: Do you get tired of entertaining?
Linda: No! Sharing in the joy of our guests is very rewarding. Their joy makes each experience new for us, and we develop new friendships with our clients from around the world. When you love what you do, it isn’t work and I get to do it with George!
PWL: What do you and Linda do in the off-season?
George: Normally, our off-seasons at home are filled with family and friends, but this year we are exploring the possibility of a Cook in Mexico destination vacation. We chose San Miguel in the high desert plains of Mexico as it is another food related destination. It’s very safe with a large population of expatriates. We hope to bring Cook in Mexico to life by February 2017. We will put links up on our website as soon as we have the details worked out.
To view pictures of Montefollonico or for additional information on Cook in Tuscany, please visit cookintuscany.com/home.
Tracy Shevlin ([email protected]) is a native Virginian and long-time Manassas area resident. She is a graduate of George Mason University where she is also an office manager. Follow her on twitter @nvalady1.