Watercolor, Wine and Walking in Tuscany

DATES: 06/15/2019 - 06/22/2019
LOCATION: Tuscany, San Fedele
PRICE: $2,800.00

Julia Cairns, artist and illustrator, currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she teaches regular workshops in her studio and at the local Community College.  She teaches with passion and humor and loves to share her vast knowledge and experience with others.  The beautiful light of the South West has re-ignited Julia’s love for landscape painting and she enjoys the contrast that plein air painting affords to being in the more imaginative space of the studio.

Julia’s work can be found in private collections around the world. To learn more about Julia and her work, please visit her web site www.juliacairns.com

I have been to many watercolor workshops; nothing compared to this. You gave me direction and I am grateful.  – Karin, Albuquerque

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In Oxfordshire, where she grew up, Julia would venture out on her motorbike as a young girl to paint the misty landscapes of Britain.  Her adventurous spirit took her to many foreign lands, but it was Africa that stole her heart and where she lived and painted for ten years.  Primarily Julia lived in the Okavango Delta of Botswana where the landscapes, bird life and animals provided ample inspiration. Whilst in Botswana she was asked to paint a portrait of the President, Dr Quett Masire, and illustrate many postal stamps for the Botswana Post Office.

Julia moved to the U.S after marrying a wildlife biologist, Dr. John Bulger, in 1992. Here she had to re-invent herself and began painting the Africa she remembered in a more whimsical, animated way. This led to her work with childrens’ book illustration.  She has now illustrated 11 books for children, many of which have garnered awards and been translated into over 20 languages. Her work has also been licensed on many products from calendars to fabric.

Julia continues to travel, and has visited many countries in the past decade (including Italy) that inspire new paintings. Wherever she travels she creates in her work a ‘sense of place’ capturing the essence of the people, landscapes and culture in her singularly colorful, whimsical style.

Julia Cairns will be returning to San Fedele in the summer of 2019 for week at this beautifully restored Monastery in the Chianti region of Tuscany.

Julia is an artist and children’s book illustrator who has been painting all her life. During this week she will guide you through her many watercolor techniques; you will learn how to capture the essence of a scene and use the backdrop of Italy to create from your imagination. Her teaching style is relaxed and warm yet clear and informative. Julia puts fun into the process of painting, along with enthusiasm and new techniques, in an atmosphere that makes the intermediate and advanced painter feel welcome.

Tuscan Hill Town, watercolor by Julia Cairns

Each day I will also guide you through some of my techniques and strategies for bringing watercolor to life. You will be free to paint plein air or spend time in the studio. I also enjoy working from my imagination and like to share my enthusiasm for whimsy and use of bright, bold color. So whether you like to paint directly from life or want to use this stunning landscape as your muse for more imaginative work, I will be there to assist you and work with you individually.  We will also have the opportunity to go on excursions to hill towns for more painting opportunities throughout the week. – Julia Cairns

All abilities are welcome on this course, from beginner to advanced.

Julia will always be available to help students individually, which she believes is the best way to teach painting, addressing each stumbling block and offering resolutions to any difficulties that may arise.

Each evening we will gather to enjoy a glass of Chianti wine together and share the day’s adventures. By the end of the week you will come away with a deeper knowledge of painting and the confidence to paint what you see, and what is in your heart.

Lunch is a new experience each day during our excursions.  You might choose a pizza in Radda, a picnic at medieval Monteriggioni after visiting the outdoor market, or just a bagged snack in the field so you don’t have to interrupt your painting.

After lunch you are free to paint again, hike in the hills around Radda, or relax by the pool. Every minute will not be organized so take this time to do what you would like.

If you enjoy cooking there are opportunities to join the San Fedele Chef, Andrea, in the kitchen and learn to prepare authentic Tuscan cuisine with fresh, local ingredients.


Feel like walking off all the wonderful food you will be enjoying? There are many hiking trails in and around San Fedele. A guide can be arranged or you may embark on self-guided walks ranging from an hour or two, or for the whole day! The scenery is stunning and walking through this special part of Italy is greatly encouraged. You will also be able to scope out new vistas that you might want to paint later.

The Pool at San Fedele, a perfect place to cool off after a warm, sunny day in Tuscany.


This is a relaxing time at the end of each day to share a meal at a leisurely tempo.  Chef Andrea will emerge from the kitchen and introduce each course he has created for us that day.  Varied by season, you can be sure the dishes will be genuine Tuscan cuisine.  Plenty of Chianti wine and conversation flows as we share our day with each other and members of the concurrent class.

Wine tasting lunch at the Terra Bianca vineyard next door.

Our San Fedele home base and our excursions to nearby vineyards, Radda, and other hill towns in Toscana were inspiring sites for plein air painting and Julia’s highly individualized, patient, upbeat and supportive watercolor instruction. Although I’d seen her work and recognized what an accomplished artist she is, I didn’t know until I participated in this Il Chiostro program how well she could teach me. I highly recommend Julia for watercolor workshops—as well as her humor, open mindedness, and traveling acumen.  – S.Reed

This summer I was lucky enough to take a weeklong watercolor class with Julia in Tuscany. It was an experience I will never forget!  As a beginner painter, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with everyone else, but Julia did a great job of putting me at ease. She worked with us individually and was always patient and encouraging. The day we spent painting the Tuscan hillside near a small ancient chapel was particularly special for me, because I actually felt like an artist! Not only is Julia a talented painter, she is also a genuinely nice person. I couldn’t recommend her or this trip more highly. – T.Taylor

Price: $2,800* p/p based on double occupancy

*Early Bird discount of $100 if registered by December 31, 2018

Optional Supplements:

  • $550 for single room-limited availability
  • $250 p/p for Jr. Suite


  • Shared double room in restored monastery (singles available at a supplement, see above)
  • Daily traditional breakfast and dinner, including wine
  • Daily painting classes plus gentle hikes to get us up close to sense the beautiful Tuscan landscape
  • Excursion to Siena
  • ½ day painting excursions to nearby plein air settings and hilltowns (Monteriggioni, Radda, Volpaia…)
  • Pick up from Florence train station at 3:30pm on arrival Saturday
  • Transfer to bus/train station in Siena on final day

Does Not Include:

  • Airfare
  • Lunch (lite lunch will be available for purchase at San Fedele on days we are not out on excursion)
  • Art supplies
  • Independent meals and sight-seeing
  • Gratuities

To Register:  just click on the Sign Up Now button.  A non-refundable deposit of $500 is required to secure your spot in the workshop.  Payment can be made on line with a credit card, or you can follow the instructions to send in your registration and payment by mail.  Once we receive your deposit we will send you a formal Registration Confirmation with further information about the program.  You will receive 2-3 other correspondences by email prior to the workshop with information about Italy, a supplies list and an electronic invoice for the balance.  Final Balance is due by April 15th.  Any time prior to your arrival, if you have questions about anything regarding the trip or the program, you can contact us by email or phone and we’ll be happy to assist you.

Contact us for more information:  info@ilchiostro.com or speak to us live at 800-990-3506.

Borgo San Fedele

— San Fedele is a restored 12th century monastery floating in the Chianti hills —

©Lester Lefkowitz 7003-001Il Chiostro at San Fedele is the combined skills of Linda and Michael of Il Chiostro joining together with Nicolo and Renata of San Fedele to produce a unique and inspiring environment rooted in the traditional Tuscan values of beauty, great food, an appreciation for nature and the value of community.  The monastery, dating back to the 12th century, was meticulously restored using traditional building methods and all original materials. Today, the monastery remains true to its original spirit, rich architectural detail. The 16 rooms and suites where participants are housed have lovely modern bathrooms, screened windows, air conditioning, period furniture, wi-fi internet service, satellite television and minibar, all designed to perfectly compliment the medieval surroundings.

The original soaring chapel is now used as a large art studio or workshop space. The monks’ refectory, where a lost 16th century fresco was uncovered during renovation, is now the dining room connected to a state-of-the-art kitchen and the old stone cantinas where they stored their wine have been transformed into studio and classroom space.

For information about the history of this monastery, Click here to go to San Fedele’s web site…


Rather than  hotel, San Fedele is classified as a historic residence in Italy.  That means that it is an intimate setting, preserved along strict historical guidelines to preserve the spirit of the setting.  The owners are on site to oversee this unique combination of historic landmark and modern day comfort.

Accommodations are spacious shared double rooms or junior suites. Each room, because it was converted from the original structure of the monastery without altering the building, is unique in shape. Furnishings and decor were selected to coordinate with the historic, subdued feeling of the monastery, but in a comfortable, modern style. All rooms have two beds that can be separated into twins or combined into one large matrimonial. There is a sitting area, refrigerator, DSL wi-fi, television, air-conditioning, heating, modern private bathroom with shower and hair dryers.

lester-lefkowitz-room3 lester-lefkowitz-room2

There are a limited number of single rooms available at a supplement of $550.

2 Jr. Suites for a minimum of 2 people are available for a supplement of $250 per person.

Night shot piazza©Lester Lefkowitz 7003-010© Lester Lefkowitz 7184-022Archway from rose garden and breakfast buffet in the refectory (photos by Lester Lefkowitz)

Terrace-MJossThe back of San Fedele is surrounded by a large al fresco dining terrace with the original terra cotta tile designs reproduced down to the smallest details. The terrace overlooks the same organic vegetable and flower garden tended by the monks for centuries. Beyond are the rolling Chianti vineyards that make this part of Tuscany so breathtaking.

Other common spaces include a large classroom carved into the rock of the ancient wine cellar, an expansive private piazza, a 16 x 7 meter swimming pool and sprawling landscaped grounds on a rolling hillside.

To San Fedele-LMFlorence will be our meeting point on the first day of the workshop. A van will pick up the group at the train station at about 3:30 pm on Saturday afternoon.

We recommend that you fly into either Florence, Pisa or Rome (Milan is a bit too far away). Florence is closer but it doesn`t have an intercontinental airport, so there are no direct flights from the US. You would have to change planes in a larger European city. From the Florence airport you must take a shuttle bus (Volainbus) into the center (20 minutes).

There are more scheduled flights from the US to Rome, many of them direct. From Rome, you will need to take a train to Florence (about 2 1/2 hours).
Important! In making your return flight arrangements, if you are flying home on Saturday after the workshop, try not to book a flight too early. From our location allow 1 ½ hours to get to the Florence airport or 3 ½ hours to get to the Rome airport.

For suggestions about getting to Rome or Florence, accommodations or other logistics, please consult ourTraveling to Italy link. Renting a car from all the major rental agencies is possible if you prefer to be more independent during the week.

Fall vineyards

Fall vineyards


Borgo San Fedele sits conveniently on a country road connecting the charming medieval walled town of Radda and the village of Vagliagli. Other nearby hilltowns include Castellina-in-Chianti, Monteriggioni and Volpaia. It is about 45 minutes from San Gimignano and Volterra. Many of these towns have roots in the earlier Etruscan civilization that permeated this area prior to the Romans.

San Fedele is located about 12 km northeast of Siena and 45 km south of Florence.

The Food

For us at Il Chiostro, helping our guests to experience the traditional food in one of the earth`s richest, most sensual areas is our pleasure. The Chianti region of Tuscany is Italy’s famous wine and olive oil producing region. Here we want to expose you to the wonders of simple Italian cooking known in the area as cucina povera. Our chef is a Tuscan native who uses recipes from her mother and grandmother to bring the tradition of not only Tuscany, but specifically the Chianti region, to the table each evening.  We use seasonal, organic products, locally produced by small farms and family shops. Our chef searches for the best of Tuscany to serve you. Tuscan cuisine is a simple art that has been refined over the centuries to surprise our palates while the red chianti wine comforts our souls. Come explore what food can really be all about.

© Lester Lefkowitz 7184-057Candle Light Dinner2-CharlesAnderson
About Your Il Chiostro Hosts
Linda and Michael, and their program managers will host your program in Tuscany. They have been organizing workshops in Italy since 1995 and each person brings a special talent to the program. You can read more about them by following the About Il Chiostro link. At the Tuscan Renaissance Center, the owners of San Fedele, Nicolo and Renata, live on site. They will be available throughout the program to talk about the history of the monastery, the renovation and this area of Tuscany they call home.

In addition to your workshop
Optional activities offered with this program will focus on the cultural, gastronomic, historical and artistic heritage of Tuscany. This area has been an inspiration to countless people for centuries. What Tuscany offers its visitors is truly astounding:

Bell tower-smallArt – San Fedele is located conveniently between the cities of Medieval Siena and Renaissance Florence packed with some of the most famous masterpieces in the world.

Wine -You are in the heart of the Chianti region, synonomous with the most famous wine that Italy produces. But the innovative Tuscan vintners are also producing Super Tuscans, red varietals that are quickly ascending the ranks of world-class wine.

History – this area was settled by the Etruscans centuries before the Romans were a civilized society. Their necropoli dot the fields throughout the area. Nearby towns like Radda, Vagliagli and Castellina date from the early Middle Ages. Florence was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. San Fedele witnessed most of this from its panoramic perch atop the hillside.

Foodcucina povera is the typical Tuscan cuisine that has become popular around the world. The recipes are simple, emphasizing local and seasonal products: porcini mushrooms, salumi, legumes, vegetables, pasta, bread and game meats. Visiting an outdoor food market, you will understand the wisdom of this very healthy cuisine.

Crafts – perhaps the harmony of the landscape has been the inspiration for many local craftsmen. Exquisite hand-painted ceramics are the prime example, closely followed by mosaics, leather, woodworking, and textiles.