From gladiators to pasta: Top Roman courses to take

When in Rome, do as the Romans do from wine, language and cooking, to gladiatorial combat.

Italy’s super-charged capital boasts one of the world’s most inspiring cityscapes. Take the landscape as your cue: Rome is the ideal place to realise your creative talents and a holiday course is a great way of tapping into them. Whether you want to cook like an Italian, buff up on wine or fight like a gladiator, there is a school ready to teach you how. Here is a look at the best courses available.

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Italy’s love affair with food is no secret. Romans, like most Italians, are knowledgeable about food and like nothing better than to show off their culinary skills. Ironically, though, the doyen of Roman cookery teachers is English writer Diane Seed, author of The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces. She runs one-, two- and three-day courses out of her Roman Kitchen in the magnificent Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. Lessons are hands-on, informal, and highly praised by the international crowd who take them. When you’ve doffed your apron, take time to check out the palazzo’s fabulous art collection. Italian-speakers can choose from a range of courses at Cittá del Gusto, a veritable temple to food run by Gambero Rosso, Italy’s premier food organisation. Group courses can be arranged in English although you will need to contact the school well in advance.  

Wine tasting
Wine is an integral part of the Italian way of life. It is served at family meals and in wine bars, it is revered by experts and drunk by priests. It is also big business, generating millions of dollars in foreign sales. Get an introduction at the International Wine Academy of Roma, which offers a range of courses, tastings and wine-based tours, catering to everyone from beginners to seasoned aficionados. If time is tight, go for one of the 90-minute courses which include lunch or dinner at the Academy’s luxurious rooftop restaurant. Guided tastings are held on Thursday and Saturday evenings. For those on a tighter budget, the private tourist office Enjoy Rome organises reasonably priced food and wine tasting tours. Alternatively, break out on your own and head up to Frascati, a 20-minute train ride from Stazione Termini, where you will find any number of cantine (cellars) serving local white wine straight from the barrel.  

Gladiatorial combat
Ever fantasised about starring in your own sword-and-sandal epic? The Scuola Gladiatori Roma, run by the Gruppo Storico Romano cultural association, can make your dreams come true. It is tucked away off Via Appia Antica, the ancient road where 6,000 of Spartacus’ slave army were crucified in 71 BC. Of the various courses on offer, the most practical is the two-hour introduction to gladiatorial combat. This provides an insight into the techniques used by gladiators as well as the chance to slip into a tunic and swing a sword in the school’s sandy arena. “We get all sorts here, including up to 9,000 foreigners a year,” explained Nerone, the school’s senior magister (instructor). “We’ve even had a policeman from LA and the director of an American hospital. The managers like to come as a form of anti-stress because here they can do things that they just can’t do in the office.” Once you have sated your inner killer, head into town to see where the pros fought – the Colosseum, scene of Russell Crowe’s finest hour.

The art of mosaic-making has deep roots in Rome. As far back as the 1st Century BC, wealthy urbanites were laying their villa floors with made-to-measure mosaics. Later, as Christianity swept through the Empire, mosaics began to appear in churches across the city. To try your hand at this ancient art, sign up for a course at the Art Studio Café. Here, maestra Maria Teresa Vacchini teaches techniques honed over the centuries – you will learn how to cut and glaze enamel tesserae (tiles), how to mix colours and how best to mount your composition. Courses are typically spread over two months but if you do not have that long, there is an intensive course which covers the same ground in five days. To see mosaics in situ, make for the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Chiesa di Santa Pudenziana, Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and the Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

Language and culture
To talk like an Italian is an art, and while the slick combination of word and gesture, the quick wit and innate sense of drama can not be taught, the language can. Among the most reputable schools are the Centro Linguistico Italiano Dante Alighieri, Italiaidea and Torre di Babele Centro di Lingua e Cultura Italiana. Costs vary depending on the length of the course and whether you want individual or group lessons. These three schools also organise seminars and courses on Italian culture, covering subjects such as art, architecture, literature, history and cinema.

The article ‘From gladiators to pasta: Top Roman courses to take’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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