Learning Italian in Tuscany: A Review of Il Sasso

Montepulciano

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I have a love affair with Italy.

If you quickly peruse through my blog, you’ll see I have an entire section dedicated to Italy. The food, the people, the scenery – Italy has a simple yet complex beauty that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. There’s a word in Italian for this: sprezzatura.

Sprezzatura: studied carelessness, nonchalance, the art of making something complex appear without effort.

The Italian language is no different. I love how Italian lilts and dances – it’s a beautiful language. I first fell in love with Italian after visiting Tuscany for the first time in 2014 but never wanted to learn Italian because it didn’t seem overly practical. Why study Italian when Spanish is so much more useful?

Well, I decided to study Spanish on Duolingo after a trip to Mexico in 2015 and I pretty quickly completed the tree and mastered all that Duolingo had to offer. Looking for a new challenge, I opted to begin the Italian course.

Duolingo is a perfectly fine way to learn a language but let’s be honest: I was looking for an excuse to visit Italy. What better excuse to travel than to learn Italian in Italy?

A quick Google search revealed about a dozen Italian language schools in Italy. After my recent trip to Umbria, I knew I was looking for a small-town school in the Italian countryside. Bonus points for wine country!

I quickly settled on learning Italian in Tuscany – wine country, rolling hills, and proximity to some wonderful cities. The obvious choice for studying Italian in Tuscany is Il Sasso. Il Sasso is located in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano, a lovely hilltop town surrounded by world-class vineyards, rolling hills, and fewer tourists than the bigger neighboring cities. Perfect!

Overview of Il Sasso

Il Sasso is situated in Montepulciano in the province of Siena in Tuscany. Just about two hours from Rome, it’s a relatively quick drive from the nearest major airport.

Courses begin every Monday and they offer levels ranging from absolute beginner to near-fluent speaker. Those who speak some Italian may start every Monday but beginner speakers must pay attention to their beginning class schedule (more on that later).

Il Sasso offers group classes, private classes, & cultural classes. They also have afternoon excursions!

Morning classes are from about 9a – 1p Monday through Friday and students can study anywhere from one week to multiple months. Private classes are offered in the afternoons and optional excursions are offered in the late afternoon most days of the week.

The Sunday evening welcome drink

Il Sasso invites their students to meet incoming students every Sunday at the school. Wine & light hors d’oeuvres are offered and, after some time to mingle, the lead instructor introduces herself & the school… entirely in Italian!

The Sunday evening welcome drink was really pleasant. It was nice to meet some fellow students and at least recognize a few people on the first day. It was a bit intimidating, however – the introduction entirely in Italian made me nervous for what classes would be like! (spoiler, they were perfectly fine :))

Il Sasso’s placement test

I’m kind of embarrassed admitting this now but I thought I was decent at Italian before attending Il Sasso. Speaking and listening were a struggle but I could read just about any present tense work that I found and comprehend about 80% of it. Not bad, right?

Well, the placement test was intense. I could answer maybe half of the first page (out of something like 8 pages). Honestly, the placement test felt like the exams I took in AP French.

Despite having studied Italian on Duolingo for about a year, I was placed in the absolute beginner class. So that’s something important to note: if your Italian is limited to present tense, plan to go when they offer beginner classes! I got lucky and was at the school during one of their beginner weeks. I didn’t think I was a beginner, so I didn’t plan for that.

Classrooms at Il Sasso

Il Sasso doesn’t look large from the outside but there are at least 6 classrooms that I could find. Il Sasso takes up multiple levels and has classrooms of varying sizes that branch off of the hallways.

The classrooms are simple but perfectly fine. A group will sit around a table which makes class very interactive. I found the seats pretty comfortable, which was nice.

Multiple levels will be running at once but they are all in separate classrooms, so you won’t be mixed with other levels.

I studied Italian at Il Sasso in May and it was uniquely rainy and chilly during this time. I sometimes get cold during class but a jacket fixed that quickly. I don’t think they have air conditioning (it’s not a common luxury in Europe), so you may find yourself hot in the hottest days of summer.

Class time & instruction at Il Sasso

Class takes place Monday – Friday from 9:00a – 1:15p with two breaks allowed. The first break is typically from 10:15 – 10:45 and the second break is typically around noon for about 15 minutes.

In the absolute beginner class most of the instruction was in Italian. The instructors would revert to English to explain something more complex but, generally speaking, I would guess ~75% of class time was in Italian.

We followed along with worksheet that originated from a workbook. The workbook is not included in the price so be prepared to pay more if you want to write in it and keep it. I chose to purchase mine because I’m hoping to continue studying Italian and make it to a higher-level class next time.

My class time experience is based on the instructors I had so your experience may be different. Il Sasso provides 1-2 instructors per class and my instructors were Sara & Eleonora and they were absolutely wonderful!

Both Sara & Eleonora spoke slowly and with intention. They would repeat phrases and watch the class to see if we were understanding what they were saying. They drew pictures on the whiteboard to help with understanding, too. I was worried it would be like a language class in high school: conjugation tables, repeating phrases back and forth, memorization drills… thankfully, Il Sasso was nothing like that. It felt very organic and I found myself picking up Italian very quickly and very naturally.

Classmates

My classmates were wonderful! The best part of my entire experience was my classmates.

During my week studying Italian, there were students from the US, Australia, Germany, and Denmark that I became close with. Most students were retirees but there were some mid-career students and some college-aged students as well.

During the 10:15-10:45 break the entire school wanders over to the nearby cafe and chats over cappuccinos and croissants. We would make lunch plans together and organize after-class drinks or figure out who was going on an excursion. It was fun being able to practice ordering coffee in Italian every day – a skill I learned at Il Sasso!

Coffee in Montepulciano

I was able to find a group for anything I wanted to do. I easily made almost a dozen friends here.

I think my favorite evening was when most of the school went to E Lucevan le Stelle to drink wine and aperitifs. We all hung out for hours, laughing and sharing stories while the sun set over Montepulciano.

I think Il Sasso was the perfect place to visit as a solo traveler and the perfect place to study Italian in Italy. I was able to meet so many people and I’m not sure I would’ve made so many friends if I had attended Il Sasso with another person.

Afternoon excursions

There was a variety of afternoon excursions or activities offered almost every day of the week. While I attended Il Sasso I participated in a wine tasting and a cooking class. They had an Italian movie night but I opted not to attend because it was downpouring and I didn’t want to walk to the school. 🙂 It sounds like their offerings may also include walks in the countryside, pizza making classes, and farm visits depending on the week.

The wine tasting was fantastic. We toured Cantina Crociani and the tour guide was awesome. It was all in Italian but they made it accessible to even beginners. You know how Italians usually talk really fast and energetically? The guide spoke slowly and with intention, much like the instructors, and made sure we understood what was going on.

After the cellar tour, we participated in a wine tasting. The tasting included about a handful of samples and Tuscan bread. The wine was delicious… I ordered 6 bottles to get shipped back home!

I also took a cooking class at Cantina Gattavecchi. We were able to drink wine before the class while the Chef set up the kitchen. Much like the wine tasting, the entire cooking class was in Italian. It was the coolest thing… as the class progressed, I could feel myself no longer needing to translate Italian. Rather, I would hear a sentence and just understand it. It helps that a few ingredients are Italian staples so those words kept getting repeated. But it was the closest to fluency I’ve ever felt!

We made some fantastic beef dishes, pesto gnocchi, some wonderful onions, and a zucchini appetizer. Easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had – and I got to help prepare it!

The best part was eating in the restaurant’s dining area with the Chef’s friends and family. She shared what we made with her guests and they complimented our food, especially the gnocchi. It was just a really special experience.

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Final thoughts about Il Sasso

I didn’t know what to expect when I booked Il Sasso. I was a little nervous about flying to Tuscany just to learn Italian. Was I going to regret being in Italy but being stuck in a classroom? Would I make friends? Was I even going to like Montepulciano?

Il Sasso and Montepulciano far exceeded all of my expectations. I know I can study Italian in Houston but there’s something about learning Italian in Italy. I loved learning the language while being enmeshed in the culture. I loved being able to walk out of the school and being able to use what I learned immediately. I loved my classmates, the instructors, and the methods of instruction. I loved Montepulciano and how it’s less touristy so you can still get that sense of la dolce vita.

If you want to learn Italian in Tuscany, I cannot recommend Il Sasso enough. The experience is everything I wanted and more, and I plan to return sooner rather than later.


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Learning Italian in Tuscany: A Review of Il Sasso

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