Thought world tours were off the agenda? Think again.
I discovered the joys of visiting countries around the world via incredible online Airbnb experiences.
I Zoomed off to Italy to make pasta with a grandma, listened to a monk chanting in Japan, took a leopard safari in Sri Lanka, toured Paris and made chocolate with a chocolate-maker in Jamaica. Read on to lap-up my laptop adventures…
Creating handmade pasta with an Italian grandma
Nonna Nerina Tamanti (left) and her granddaughter, Chiara Nicolanti (right), host an online pasta-making class
If you want to learn how to make pasta by hand, then turn to the ultimate teachers – Italian grandmas.
Handily, a few are willing to pass on their culinary wisdom via Airbnb experience ‘Pasta with the Grandmas’.
Four years ago mother, model and actress Chiara Nicolanti set up a pasta-making Airbnb experience with her grandma, Nonna Nerina Tamanti [Nonna is Italian for grandma], who’d been making pasta for decades.
It was a huge hit, with people coming from far and wide to Nonna Nerina’s home in the village of Palombara Sabina, just north of Rome, hungry to learn how to turn eggs and flour into the likes of gourmet fettuccine, spaghetti and ravioli.
The pandemic-friendly online version, which sees bookings distributed between Nonna Nerina and a handful of other grandmas in the village, is also extremely popular and, I can reveal, great fun, very satisfying and impressively staged, with multiple camera angles.
On the left are Ted’s eggs and flour at the beginning of Nonna’s pasta-making class. Pictured right is the finished dish
The sessions are filmed in the basement of Nonna Nerina’s house, which used to be a public winepress room and where, said Chiara, ‘the community used to meet, share stories, bring food, and recover during the bombardment in the Second World War… and the grandmas can still remember it’.
Our session was hosted by Chiara, 33, and Nonna Nerina, 84, herself. Chirpy Chiara translated Nonna’s pointers and occasionally made her wear silly wigs – and the pair constantly cheerled our efforts.
And the result? Eye-opening. I’m a hopeless cook, genuinely, yet after 90 minutes with this octogenarian oracle and her effervescent offspring, I managed to conjure up fresh pasta that wasn’t just edible, but actually quite delicious.
‘Pasta with the Grandmas’ costs £31pp. Visit www.airbnb.co.uk/experiences/1610894.
En-chanting Zoom call with a monk and a cellist
Airbnb’s ‘Healing Concert Cellist & Japanese Monk’ experience is hosted by Kuniatsu Suzuki in Osaka (left) and cellist Dorette Roos (right) in Cape Town
There can be few more en-chanting ways to start the day than by listening to a Japanese monk reciting mantras accompanied by beautiful solo cello playing.
I booked the Airbnb ‘Healing Concert Cellist & Japanese Monk’ experience and opted for a 7am Saturday slot, hoping it would soothe a mind that whirs frantically from dad duties to work duties and back again without much respite.
It was definitely effective, even dampening the buzz two cups of strong Peruvian coffee had given me.
The session is hosted by Kuniatsu Suzuki in Osaka and the cello playing is courtesy of the supremely talented Dorette Roos, a former Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra member who joins the session from her Cape Town home.
A screenshot of Ted’s session with Kuniatsu, who at this point was describing an ancient piece of Buddhist scripture
The ever-joyful Kuniatsu encouraged the group, which included participants in San Francisco, Seattle and the Philippines, to chant along with him. But I, along with others, opted to just let the melodious chants and music wash over me.
If you do book it try not to fall asleep, because Kuniatsu, pen and notepad at the ready, asks each participant in turn for their reaction afterwards.
Healing Concert Cellist & Japanese Monk costs £5pp. Visit www.airbnb.co.uk/experiences/2038668.
The ‘Fabulous day in Paris with a Parisian’ session is run by actual street-tour guides
Zoom into the City of Lights
An Airbnb experience called ‘A fabulous day in Paris with a Parisian’ you’d think might be setting itself up for a fall.
After all, how can a Zoom call recreate being in the City of Lights, with its crazy traffic; beguiling architecture; buzzy bars and bistros; vibrant markets and aromas of coffee, baguettes and cheese.
Obviously, it can’t – but it does offer up an entertaining and interesting taster of the city for those who’ve never been and a reminder of what makes it so great for those who are missing it. Which is most of us.
The experience is run by a group of actual Parisian tour guides who cleverly deploy short videos and photos they’ve taken to help with their fun-filled on-screen jaunts to some of Paris’s most enticing sights.
Where the Zoom group goes is decided by a vote during the session.
With our guide, Antonio Montani, we ascended the Eiffel Tower, swung by the Palais-Royal and had a nose around an open market, learning interesting nuggets of information as we went. Tres bon!
A fabulous day in Paris with a Parisian costs £12pp. Visit www.airbnb.co.uk/experiences/1657932.
Former BBC correspondent Nick Davis, pictured, is now an artisanal chocolate-maker in Jamaica
A sweet life in Jamaica
The penultimate stop on my ‘world tour’ was Jamaica, for a mouthwatering experience with artisanal chocolate-maker Nick Davis.
He’s a former BBC correspondent who now runs Jamaican gourmet chocolate firm One One Cacao, and he was a wonderfully witty and energetic host.
Derby-born Nick hosts his session – ‘Chocolate Origins & Create with a Maker’ – from his cottage on the edge of the Blue Mountains, overlooking the capital, Kingston.
He makes his chocolate at a small sea-front factory, a mile down the road from Ian Fleming’s GoldenEye villa.
Nick gave us a brief history of Jamaica before we tackled the practical part of the experience – transforming a bar of chocolate into our own creation by melting it down and ‘tempering it’.
This involved freezing it with an extra ingredient to personalise it – we chose salted Spanish almonds.
Nick said: ‘When it comes out of the fridge or freezer it’s like the chocolate was just made, we’ve in essence “reanimated it”.’
He was spot-on, our bar had been transformed from very good to heavenly.
The final part was a quick photo tour of the One One Cacao plantation during which we learned how chocolate is produced, including the vital part the local midges play in the process.
Nick said: ‘Our industry is tiny, but the unique genetics found here in Jamaica are some of the best in the world. We have 3,000 farmers, we’ve entered the prestigious Academy of Chocolate Awards using beans from three of them and won twice. It’s that special. ‘
‘Chocolate Origins & Create with a Maker’ costs £11pp. Visit www.airbnb.co.uk/experiences/1701766.
Leopard safari guide Dhanula Jayasinghe
A spot-on leopard safari
It’s impossible not to be wildly enthusiastic about the ‘Go On a Leopard Safari in Sri Lanka’ Airbnb experience.
Within seconds I was energised by host Dhanula Jayasinghe’s infectious enthusiasm for his subject matter, namely the leopards that roam the Yala and Wilpattu national parks, where he works as a safari guide for luxury tented camp company Leopard Trails.
Dhanula, who has a degree in zoology, trained us to tell the difference between leopards, jaguars and cheetahs, showed us some quite remarkable photos and video footage he and his colleagues had taken of leopards fighting buffalo, wild pigs – and each other – and taught us the art of distinguishing one leopard from another.
And to round it off came some intriguing leopard stories. It was a bit like being in an interactive wildlife documentary. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Go On a Leopard Safari in Sri Lanka costs £11pp. Visit www.airbnb.co.uk/experiences/1707300.