Lake Como . . . not off the beaten path but still beautiful.

View of Lake Como from Varenna

View of Lake Como from Varenna

 Quel ramo del lago di Como, che volge a mezzogiorno, tra due catene non interrotte di monti, tutto a seni e golfi, a seconda dello sporgere e del rientrare di quelli, vien, quasi a un tratto, a ristringersi, e a prender corso e figura di fiume, tra un promontorio a destra, e un’ampia costiera dall’altra parte; e il ponte, che ivi congiunge le due rive, par che renda ancor più sensibile all’occhio questa trasformazione, e segni il punto in cui il lago cessa, e l’Adda rincomincia, per ripigliar poi nome di lago dove le rive, allontanandosi di nuovo, lascian l’acqua distendersi e rallentarsi in nuovi golfi e in nuovi seni… ” (Alessandro Manzoni, from I Promessi Sposi) – translation at the bottom –

How could I have forgotten how beautiful Lake Como is! Perhaps it’s because last time I was there I went to purchase seta (silk) for my wedding dress. I guess my mind was too preoccupied occupied to pay much attention to the beauty of my surroundings. Are you wondering why I was in Lake Como to buy silk? The city of Como, sitting on the edge of the lake, began the art of silk weaving back in 1510. Como, still nowadays is regarded as the “City of silk”. An educational museum dedicated to the silk has been instituted in Como in 1985.

Lake Como is lake of glacial origin located in the region of Lombardia. It‘s the third largest lake in Italy, it’s shaped as an upside-down “Y” where the two arms are surrounded by the pre-Alps. Already a popular destination for aristocrats since Roman times,  in the last twenty years it has become a very popular tourist destination. I have always been looking for spots “off the beaten path” , so I had not returned to Lake Como until this past September. Our destination on Lake Como was Bellagio, which we reached driving along the East branch of the lake from Lecco. Unlike the West branch which is dotted with many beautiful villas, palaces, and gardens, here the landscape is dominated by mountain ranges and rocks. Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy that day and I could not take good pictures (and the ones I did take, I did from the moving car’s window); however, the scenery was fascinating and I was happy to have returned to Lake Como.

Lake Como East branchLake Como East branchLake Como East branch

In Bellagio, my husband and I were guests of the Hotel Belvedere . . . just beautiful!

Hotel Belvedere

The Hotel Belvedere

The hotel sits up on the hill overlooking the lake, it is away from the summer crowd yet, it is at walking distance from the town center and the lake boardwalk. The Hotel Belvedere has a long history, it was established in 1880 when it was called “La Vignetta” and it was managed by the owner’s daughter Maria Gilardoni, who later took the reins of the property. Signora Maria transformed the small “locanda” into a comfortable hotel that was renamed ” Belvedere“. The Hotel has since gone through several restoration, enlargement and modernization projects and today it is a beautiful hotel with 59 rooms and 5 suites. The hotel has two restaurants, one inside and one outside on the terrace, both offer amazing views of the lake. I would have loved enjoying one of my meals outside, but unfortunately the weather had other plans for me . . . rainy and cold. The hotel also offers a pool surrounded by garden terraces, an infinity Jacuzzi pool, a SPA, and a library/media room.

The view from the restaurantThe terrace restaurantThe restaurant

The barThe lounge

Most importantly, the hotel is today at its fifth generation of beautiful and tenacious women who have been running this family business

While the weather was gloomy and cold, my husband and I received the warmest welcome by  Signora Chiara Mauri and Hotel manager Signora Laura Molinari, who were both stylish, professional, cordial, and proud of their establishment. Mrs. Molinari was sincerely apologetic about the fact that all lakefront rooms were booked and kindly invited us to be guests of the hotel restaurant for dinner. The hotel decor offers the right combination of classic and contemporary where pastel colors and bold greens and red coexist in perfect harmony. The atmosphere is relaxing and warm. Our room was comfortable and tastefully furnished and decorated, fresh cookies and a small book with a personal welcome note by Mrs. Molinari were awaiting on the desk and I could have not been happier with the side view of the lake from our balcony . . .perfect!

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The views from the hotel ground were magnificent and even in the mist, rain, and wind Bellagio looked beautiful as my husband and I walked along the lake and under the “portico” dotted with nice shops, bars and café. Yes, it’s true Bellagio it’s touristy, but nonetheless charming.

porticoporticostreetsViewviewstreetthe laketerraceview

And it’s true that George Clooney may be bothered by the paparazzi, but it is also true that the locals are not at all trilled with the hype either. A shop’s owner expressed her discontent to the fact that most tourists ask about Clooney’s address rather than advises on the true beautiful places to visit such as Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, Villa Melzi‘s Garden in Bellagio or Villa del Balbianello in Lenno. How many know that in Bellagio, Villa Serbelloni hosts the Rockfeller Foundation Bellagio Center, which operates a conference center and a residency program for scholars, artists, scientists, writers, musicians, and policymakers from around the world?

Villa SerbelloniRockefeller Bellagio Center

When our umbrella could not handle any more rain and wind, we headed back to the hotel were I treated myself to a relaxing pedicure while my husband enjoyed an aperitivo doing some work in the comfy library.

Library

The library and media room

We were delighted to accepted Mrs. Molinari’s invitation for dinner. The experience was lovely; the atmosphere was relaxing, the service  impeccable, and the food was very good and nicely presented. My beef filet was juice and flavorful while the Langhe hazelnut crème brulè was a perfect ending to the day. Our waitress was knowledgeable and suggested a regional wine – Prugnolo DOC 2006 from the Rainoldi winery based in the Valtellina area-  that we were not familiar with . . . it turned out to be an excellent choice. I later learned that the wine is named after a stone fruit – native of the vineyard area – bearing blackthorn.

beef filetwine

The next morning we were blessed with mild temperature and the sun was soon to come out. While enjoying the spectacular view, we had a plentiful breakfast from the widespread buffet which included freshly baked croissants and fruit tart along with savory options.

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After breakfast, taking advantage of the weather, we enjoyed the hotel outdoor space and visited the SPA facility which was quite impressive, especially the view from the relaxation room.

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The poolChromotherapy showers

The SPA relaxation room!

The SPA relaxation room

Another stroll throughout Bellagio and some shopping (shoes, of course) were a must prior to boarding the ferry to Varenna, a small picturesque town set between the lake and the mountains.

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The ferry ride to Varenna is only 15 minutes and you enjoy beautiful views of the mountains and the coastline.

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Once in Varenna, a coastline walk takes you from the dock to the town center, the lake beach, and then uphill to the Church of San Giorgio.

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We walked up and down narrow alleys, climbed many steps and shopped at a charming handmade pottery souvenirs shop.

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Finally we had lunch at the restaurant Vecchia Varenna. The restaurant is housed into a 1400s building which was originally a laboratory of black marble of Varenna. We ate on the restaurant covered terrace right on the lake and it was amazing . . . both the setting and the food. My husband and I shared an antipasto of Marinated Agone filet (a fresh water fish), a Risotto al Prosecco and scimudin (a soft cheese from the Valtellina area), and a Zabaglione (sabayon) . . . everything was divine but I especially liked the Risotto.

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Time to ride the ferry back to Bellagio, to take in some more beautiful views and to say thank you and good bye to Signora Mauri and Signora Molinari and the Hotel Belvedere for a memorable stay . . . we can’t wait to be back!

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Time to head to our next destination: Civita di Bagnoregio . . . stay tuned!

° Translation:  ” That branch of the lake of Como which extends southwards between two unbroken chains of mountains, and is all gulfs and bays as the mountains advance and recede, narrows down at one point, between a promontory on one side and a wide shore on the other, into the form of a river; and the bridge which links the two banks seems to emphasize this transformation even more, and to mark the point at which the lake ends and the Adda begins, only to become a lake once more where the banks draw farther apart again, letting the water broaden out and expand into new creeks and bays…” (Alessando Manzoni, from The Betrothed)

 

My two weeks in Italy: Two Nights in Venice

I was 17 years old the first time I visited Venice; I was spending a month with my uncle in nearby Treviso so I would often ride the train to Venice to explore the calle, museums, and churches. I already knew I wanted to be an architect and I was fascinated by this city however, I remember thinking that July was not the perfect time to fully appreciate it and the misty days of November would have added so much more to the atmosphere. I returned, in November, with my boyfriend (today my husband) and indeed I loved it.

I have returned to Venice time and time again, with my husband and my children. My children have then returned with their girlfriends. I have never, however, spent a night in Venice! Never until this past trip to Venice. September is still tourist’s season and also the cruise ships are still in sight, I needed to find a place where I could feel in the heart of Venice but far from the tourist hustle . . . I found the perfect place: The Bauer Palladio Hotel and SPA.

Set on Venice’s Giudecca Island, the hotel is a jewel under many aspects. First of all the hotel is discreet, just a small plaque on the outside and a slightly larger one as you pass the entrance.

Architecturally, it is housed in a historic palace originally designed by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio – hence the hotel’s name. Historically, Casa delle Zitelle – as it was originally referred to – was a charity established by women in the 16th century to prevent young women falling into prostitution. From the hotel you enjoy sweeping views of the lagoon, Punta della Dogana on the left, San Marco and the Ducal Palace just across, and the Island of San Giorgio just one stop ahead.

The hotel went through a complete restoration and it reopened in 2006 thanks to the vision of Mrs. Francesca Bortolotto Possati, granddaughter of Arnaldo Bennati, whom bought the first Bauer hotel, on the Grand Canal, back in 1930 (Today divided into two: Il Palazzo and the Bauer Hotel).

The Palladio provided the experience that I was looking for, be part of Venice but away from the crowd. It’s easily reachable from the train station with a Vaporetto (we got a 3 days pass) and from the Airport with the Alilaguna. Both stop at “Zitelle” only few steps away from the hotel. The hotel also has a free shuttle which runs every 30 minutes (until midnight). The shuttle stops at the sister hotel, The Palazzo, which is a short 5 minute walk to Piazza San Marco.

Having arrived early, our room was not ready so we were offered a glass of Prosecco to ease our wait. We took the opportunity to visit the bar and wander through the outdoor space. Walking through the Palladio‘s quiet garden you feel relaxed and at peace, almost at home. The narrow paths, the secular olive tree, the grapevines, the large patio, the intimate cloister, perfect to enjoy an afternoon Spritz, the secluded benches, the brick walls . . . all make it for a true retreat.

It is striking how the Palladio, while offering all the modern amenities that you would expect from a 5 star hotel, has been restored in complete respect of the original 16th century convent. I must say that I am not surprised by that, especially after having the pleasure to meet Mrs. Francesca Possato, the Bauers owner and CEO. A native Venetian, pleasant and energetic, Mrs. Possato was not afraid to show her passion to preserve the culture and history of her hometown.

Model of the original palace

My husband and I had a beautiful two-story suite, which we loved. Unlike the rest of the hotel furnished with antiques and adorned with trelliswork stencils, our suite had a more contemporary style, it was simple and luxurious at the same time; fresh flower, fresh fruit and inspiring good night notes made it even more special.

I also loved that the bathroom was furnished with “Santa Maria degli Angeli” products made with natural and organic herbs from the local botanical garden of the 1400 ancient convent of ” Le Convertite“. The cosmetics are then created by the female inmates housed into the jail near the botanical gardens. The same products are used at the Palladio SPA, which I did not have the opportunity to test; I did however visit the facility which boasts an impressive relaxation room overlooking the Grand Canal.

After a quick lunch of cicchetti and Prosecco at a nearby cafè and after visiting the glass work exhibition ” Carlo Scarpa – Venini” on San Giorgio Island, my husband and I took the 5 minutes shuttle ride across the canal.

San Marco Square was just as my last time there, a lot of people, the pigeons, the Florian . . . and the scaffolding.

My trip to Venice this time did not include visits to museums, churches or palaces. I was there to enjoy the city, to get lost, to discover new corners, to wander, to eat and to have a good time. As we headed to the Mercerie the sky got dark and it was quickly pouring. We did not despair; we found shelter by a church, we purchased a 5 euros umbrella, we stopped at a bar for yet another Prosecco (my third for the day), we got wet, but at the end, we were rewarded with the magnificent views of Venice after the rain . . .

My husband and I kept wandering through the calle until dinner time. We went to ” Trattoria Alla Vedova“, a historic trattoria founded in 1891. Located in the vicinity of Ca’ d’Oro, the restaurant featured a simple Venetian menu, exactly what I was expecting. We shared an antipasto of mixed fish which included local sarde and baccalà mantecato (Venetian style cod-fish – like a spread), I had cuttlefish in black ink served with polenta, my husband had bigoli (sort of tick spaghetti) in typical salsa and we also shared a plate of veal’s calf in Venetian style. We drank the wine of the house and we ended with biscotti dipped in sweet wine . . . other than for the bigoli which I think were replaced with spaghetti, everything was delicious. Before leaving we also stopped to chat with the owner who graciously offered a local grappa.

After a short walk we rode the Vaporetto through the Grand Canal and to Fondamenta Zattere where I was hoping to end my evening with a gelato at Nico, however, we were late and the gelateria was already close. Time to get back to the Palladio for a good night sleep and to recharge for the full day ahead.

We started our second day in Venice with a plentiful breakfast at the Palladio. The spread of food was awesome, from freshly baked bread to homemade pastry, from fresh fruit to local cheese and charcuterie.

The plan for the day included a trip to the islands of Burano and Torcello but, first I wanted to make few stops.

We walked through empty streets and calle, enjoyed the quiet morning hours and of course took many pictures.

Our first stop was the “scala” (stair) of Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. How many places can you go in Venice and say that you were the only one there? This is the place . . . my husband kept asking me: ” Are you the only one to know about this?” I guess that’s one advantage of marrying an architect!

Our next stop was the Mercato di Rialto (Rialto open market). On our way we walked by the Scuola Grande San Teodoro, whose Main Hall, was the setting of the evening Concert of Baroque and Opera performed in XVIII century costumes. I purchased two tickets for the evening performance. To many this might sound like a tourist attraction, however I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the performance, especially the atmosphere, the closeness to the artists and the beauty of the Hall.

Back to my morning and my stop to Rialto Market. What can I say about it that my pictures could not? Look at the vibrant colors of the fresh produce and the fish so fresh that you could smell the sea.

We finally reached the Fondamenta Nuove and we were in route to the island of Burano from there we would have later reached Torcello. Both islands are so beautiful that they deserve their own post, so please come back in the next few days to enjoy a very colorful slide show!

We spent most of the day on the two islands and came back right in time to make a quick stop to Ca’ del Sol. Ca’ del Sol is a laboratory and shop specialized in hand-made masks. The craftsmen produce masks and carnival costumes for the public but also for the theaters. If you are looking for something more than a souvenir you should definitely stop here and take one their beautiful mask home . . . I purchased an awesome Arlecchino (the one in the picture getting one last touch up)!

Time to run to the concert . . . of course got lost again but we made it! After the concert it was another first for us: we sat at the Florian in Piazza San Marco! Late at night, with only few guests and with no crowd, the live music and the gelato seemed so much better . . . despite the steep check, it was the perfect ending to a perfect day and to wonderful stay in Venice!

Buona notte da Venezia!

Related posts:

My two weeks in Italy – A day in Barolo

My two weeks in Italy: Windows and Balconies

My two weeks in Italy. A day in BAROLO

Coming back from two weeks in Italy I have been overwhelmed with housekeeping duties, Italian language classes, my son’s ENGAGMENT (super exciting!!!!), and a nasty cold. I am finally feeling better, I am almost back to my regular schedule and I am looking forward to share highlights of my wonderful trip.

There were two main reasons for this trip: to celebrate my 50th birthday with my family and to celebrate my mother in law 90th birthday!

Both celebrations were terrific and it was wonderful to share such special occasions with the people I love.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to discover new destinations to share on my blog and with my clients.

My travel journal will be published in several parts, I will give an introduction to each post but I will mostly let my pictures speak . . . it’s the least I can do since I have taken probably 2000 pictures! Do you know how difficult it is to sort through them all and narrow down to a manageable number to publish? Very hard!!!

I hope you will enjoy this virtual journey almost as much I enjoyed the real thing!

My first stop is BAROLO, a small community perched on a hill of the Langhe area, in the Italian region of Piemonte.

From Novara – where my trip started and where my brothers live – heading to Barolo, the landscape dramatically changes from plains of rice fields to hills and valleys where lush and ordered vineyards separate each hilltop communities.

It is indeed from these vineyards that some of the best Italian vini (wines) are produced. The charming community of Barolo shares its name with one of these wines, which also happens to be my favorite Italian vino rosso (red wine).

The town of Barolo has two castelli (castles): in the town center, the Castello Falletti  and on the ridge the Castello della Volta.

The Falletti family originally owned them both, however, the Castello della Volta is currently owned by a private winery and the Castello Falletti is owned by the city of Barolo. The Castello Falletti today houses the Wine Museum and the Regional Enoteca of Barolo. The Enoteca (wine house) is divided into three sections:  an exhibit of Barolo wines produced by the wineries of the 11 municipalities in area of origin of the wine, a tasting area, and a selling area.

While the expansive views from the third floor terrace of the Castello Falletti are worth the museum fee (7 euro), I did not personally enjoyed the museum.

The multimedia exhibits seemed meaningless and infantile, the static scenes with thousands of words to read were not very informative. There were no real information on the winemaking history of the region and some displays were so absurd that make my husband and me laugh. My advise is to go to the museum only if you are traveling with children, they might enjoy this “theme park” museum.

Just outside the museum is the Museo dei cavatappi (corkscrew museum), which I think I would have enjoyed better.

One of the purposes of my trip to Barolo was to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo.

Although the community of Barolo houses around 38 wine makers, I decided to visit the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo because of their ancient history and tradition.

The history of this winery dates back to the 1806 when the Marchese Falletti di Barolo married Juliette Colbert .  The Marchesa’ s main interest was charity, however, she also showed a great interest and dedication to the vineyard and its territory. It was in fact the joined efforts of the Marchesa and the Count Camillo Benso, along with the technical advice of a French winemaker, Count Oudart, that created the first wine Barolo (the name was given by the Marchesa to honor the town). With the death of Marchesa Juliette in 1864, the line of succession became extinct and the property was left to the benevolent foundation of the Opera Pia Barolo. In the late 19th century, Pietro Abbona acquired the vineyards bringing the Barolo wine to today’s fame. Today the Cantine Marchesi di Barolo is run by the fifth generation of the Abbona family.

The winery of Marchesi di Barolo controls 110 hectares of vineyards from which it produces around 1,500,000 bottles of wine. The winery produces Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba, Roero Arneis, Gavi, Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.

Knowing that I would have been in the area during the time of the Vendemmia (harvesting and wine making), I had contacted the winery to arrange for a private tour and to assist to the wine making process. My 40 years old memories of the vendemmia in my sister in law’s small vineyard were very different from the efficient and mechanized processed that I  witnessed in Barolo. Less folklorist maybe, but non-the less fascinating.

At the winery, Ms. Cristina welcomed my husband and me. Cristina would then spend the following hour and a half giving us a very informative and interesting tour. Entering the facility we found ourselves into a vast roofed courtyard   We walked into the courtyard just in time to witness the first step of wine making: in the center of the courtyard  is a very large steel tub; into this tub, the freshly harvested grapes are unloaded from the truck. The grapes are still harvested by hand; the first grapes to be harvested are usually the one for Moscato wine and Asti spumante (sparkling wine). The last one is usually the Nebbiolo, whose harvesting often coincide with the first “nebbia” (fog) of the season hence the name Nebbiolo. 

A duct, connected to the tub, transports the grapes from the courtyard level to the lower level cellars. There the grapes go directly into a pigiatrice (crusher) where the raspi (stems) are removed and the acini (grapes) are crashed to obtain mosto (grape juice).

The juice travels to the outdoor fermentini (steel ferments vats) for the first fermentation.

Fermentini

Cristina explained that all red wines go through a second fermentation, which takes place into concrete barrels. Also into this barrels the Dolcetto wine is kept until bottling. This type of wine in fact doesn’t require aging and goes to the market in the spring following the harvest.

Following Cristina’s lead we walked through the cellars were we first passed by a row of enormous Slovenian oak barrels.

In these barrels, the Barolo, after the second fermentation, is affinato (aged) for 3 years prior to its affinamento (aging) in bottles for 2 years. These barrels hold 24,666.66 liters of wine . . . that’s a lot of wine! Cristina explained that originally the barrels held 18,500 liters, but since every 10-15 years the barrels go through a cleaning/restoration process, during which 1-4 millimeters are scrubbed off, the barrels have overtime increased their capacity.

While walking through the cellar Cristina familiarized us with the different type of wines, the variety of screw, the geographical location of the vines, and the CRU. Do you know what is a CRU? I didn’t. Now I know that the CRU indicates that a wine is produced with the grapes coming only from one geographical vine, therefore more valuable. Connubbi, Sarmassa, and Coste di Rose are the three Barolo CRUS produced by the winery.

We then walked by rows of stainless steel barrels, these are for the Moscato d’Asti. The Moscato d’Asti is a white, sweet sparkling wine low in alcohol (5 %) To preserve the low alcoholic grade, the temperature in the barrels is kept at 0 degrees celsius (32 F) to prevent fermentation. The temperature is raised just before bottling and going to the market. I found very funny that on the wine catalog the Moscato is described as “ thirst-quenching wine at any time of the day, especially after sport activities”  . . . I guess I would hit the gym more often if I could have a glass of Moscato d’Asti afterwards! Now I understand why the waitress at the winery’s restaurant told us that the owners refer to this Moscato as “our mineral water”, but the staff refers to it is as “our Gatorade” !

Back to our tour, the next stop was in the Historic cellars, dating back to the 1820. Here is where the most important wines, from Barbaresco to Barolo, age.

Here is also where the “Botti della Marchesa” are located. They are 5 historic barrels, 150 years old; it was into these barrels that, under the Marchesa Juliette supervision, the first Barolo was born.

Botti della Marchesa

In 2003 these barrels went through an extensive restoration process, which brought them back to the old glory. Click here if you would like to see pictures of the restoration process.

These historic barrels unlike the new one, present an exterior frame to support the pressure from the wine.

In the new barrels, the concave shape of the front provides the support to the pressure from the wine.

The Brenta, the historic basket used to transport approximately 53 kg. of grapes from the vineyard to the cellar.

Interesting fact about this winery is that the bottling takes place in a nearby cellar; 800 meters of underground pipes transport the wine from the cellar to the bottling location.

Back to the courtyard, Cristina took us to the Barriques cellar.

Barriques is a term to indicate small barrels (225 liters) used for aging particular wines (Estates) and to enhance distillates such as grappa.

The Barriques are made from French oak, medium toasted. The lifecycle of the Barriques is only 3-4 years, which is when they stop releasing their aroma.

Our last stop is into the private collection and the “enoteca storica” (historic enoteca or wine library).

The enoteca houses about 35.000 bottles including a bottle of Barolo “Connubbio” 1859, the first bottled Barolo.

Our tour with Cristina was wonderful and to top the day a lunch tasting menu with wine pairing was expecting us! The winery’s restaurant, Foresteria, has two rooms, both elegant and finely furnished. Our table, tastefully prepared and adorned with grissini Torinesi, was set across the large window overlooking the Barbera vineyard.

We had the full attention of our waitress, Celina, who was delightful and knowledgeable of both the dishes and the wine.  The menu featured typical dishes from the region (Piemonte). Each one tasted as amazing as it looked and it was perfectly paired with some of the best wines I have tasted. Just a wonderful experience!

MENU

Antipasto (apetizer):

Girello di Fassone scottato sotto sale e servito con salsa tonnata vecchia maniera (Fassone is a cattle breed native of the Piemonte region – served with traditional tuna sauce)
&
Flan di carote (Carrots Flan)

Wine: Madonna di Como – Dolcetto d’Alba

Primo Piatto ( First Course):

Agnolottini del Plin ai tre arrosti conditi con burro di malga e salvia.

Wine: Paigal – Barbera d’Alba

Secondo Piatto (Second course):

Brasato al Barolo con contorno di stagione

Wine: Cannubbi – Barolo

Dolce (Dessert)

Panna cotta – Salame dolce – Pera cotta al Moscato

Wine: Zagara – Moscato d’Alba

Time for caffè and schiaccia-caffè (expression used to refer to digestive coming after coffee), the house digestivo (digestive), Barolo Chinato that is produced from a base of Barolo wine aged at least 4 years and the maceration of aromatics including quinine bark (in Italian, china).

The aromatics for the production of Barolo Chinato

After lunch we took some time to visit the wine shop where Ms. Ivana offered us a bicchierino (shot) of grappa di Barolo . . . of course my husband couldn’t refuse!

The wine tasting room is also located here where friendly and knowledgeable staff will make sure you truly enjoy your experience. Along with the wine, the shop also sells local specialties like canned vegetables, fruit jams, cookies and chocolates.

Of course I could not leave without bringing home a bottle of Barolo and Ms. Ivana, kindly, also gifted me with a bottle of Moscato d’Alba.

Waiting now for the perfect occasion to enjoy them both. Uhm . . .  I guess my son’s engagement party would be a perfect occasion!

Many thanks to the staff at the Cantine dei Marchesi di Barolo for a wonderful day!

CIAO DA BAROLO!!!

Remember that if you visit Barolo in October will also enjoy the superb Tartufo bianco d’Alba (white truffle)!

Which one is your favorite Italian wine?

Bagnaia . . . A peaceful corner on the Island of Elba

THE BEACH OF BAGNAIA

You have probably heard about Isola d’Elba – the Island of Elba – the third largest island of Italy and the largest of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is covered with lush vegetation and it is considered to be the greenest island of the Mediterranean. Rich in history, the island was most notably Napoleon’s place of exile. Today, the island is a coveted tourist destination, lined with a beautiful coastline and lively towns.

My post today, however, is about a small seaside village located between the towns of Portoferraio and Rio Elba. It’s the village of Bagnaia, a little gem, away from the crowd and traffic.

ISOLA D’ELBA

Located on the North Coast of the Island, Bagnaia lays at the feet of the Monte Volterraio, on a bay across from Portoferraio that is visible from Bagnaia’s picturesque pebble beach. From the beach you can also spot the island of Capraia and the French Island of Corsica.

Portoferraio – on the hill Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini

BAGNAIA and MONTE VOLTERRAIO

Most importantly, while sipping your aperitivo at the beachside bar you will be mesmerized by one the most beautiful sunsets. The red sky with the sun setting between the Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini and the small island of Scoglietto are simply breathtaking. Have your camera ready, as you will want to take many, many pictures!

The protected bay of Bagnaia offers a public beach, a private beach with bathhouse – Lo Scoglietto – two small piers, and a sailing school.

Even in August, renown in Italy as mese delle ferie (month of summer holidays), Bagnaia holds true to its family style profile. Filled with children splashing in the pristine water, proud grandparents spoiling their young grandkids, and games of Burraco (a popular Italian card game) being played under the ombrelloni (beach umbrellas), it is evident that Bagnaia is a destination for families.

The beach from the water

A midday snack is readily available right on the beach at the bar/restaurant Il Faro, or just off the beach, where the Snack Bar Villa Maria, the Bar – Ristorante La Rustica, and the Mini-Market (small grocery/deli store) would be happy to prepare you a delicious panino con prosciutto e mozzarella.

But if you are craving for cecina or pizza, simply hop on the “taxi boat” and in 10 minutes you will reach Portoferraio. Off the boat, head to Pizzeria il Castagnaccio, in Via del Mercato Vecchio. Here, Vincenzo sforna (take out of the oven) hot cecina, pizza, and castagnaccio for carry out or dine in.

Wood burning oven at Il Castagnaccio

Pizza at Il Castagnaccio

At lunch time the beach of Bagnaia is almost deserted as the families head home for pranzo (lunch) and a riposino (after lunch nap) – which makes sense since in Italy every mother will tell her children to wait three hours after eating before swimming.

Photo courtesy of my son’s friend Teresa

The afternoon is the perfect time to rent a kayak and explore the coastline. Or, with a boat or a gommone (zodiac) you can reach the nearby beaches of the Secche, Ottonella and Ottone.

But, if you are in search of a pristine swimming adventure, take the short boat ride directly across from Bagnaia to the Scoglietto di Portoferraio. Swim with a myriad of fish in the crystal clear water- thanks to a fishing restriction in place at this protected island- or, climb the rocks to reach the faro (lighthouse) on the island summit.

The lighthouse of the Scoglietto

Fish . . . a lot of them!

Once a week, on Saturday, in the square of Bagnaia there is the mercatino (open market) where the stands of fresh fruit and vegetables alternate with tables selling clothes, bathing suits, and cover –ups (did I mention that in Italy women change their bathing suit 4 times a day?!). You can practice your bargaining ability here; however, I don’t think anyone would have beaten my mom’s skills in this area (she even bargained with an American Indian at Niagara Falls . . . remember, my mom did not speak English!). The highlight of the mercatino is the food truck of “Pollo allo Spiedo e Patatine Fritte” (roasted chicken and French fries). Even if you place your order early in the morning – which is a must- you will still need to elbow your way to the front to pick-up your coveted brown bag.

While Bagnaia offers a wonderful beach getaway, it is not a place for those seeking exciting nightlife. The evenings are quiet; villeggianti (vacationers) stroll through the small piazza to enjoy gelato, after dinner drinks and caffè. Friendships are formed between families who vacation here year after year, and as such, large group dinners are had. Following dinner, many vacationers enjoy the live performances that take place in the piazzetta a few times a week. The nearby Pizzeria-Ristorante Bounty (also a Bed & Breakfast), once a week offers a theme evening with culinary highlights. Last year our group of 40 attended the “Alla brace “ (on the fire spit) where various meats were grilled in a wood fire oven and on a giant grill to be served with a variety of homemade side dishes and freshly baked bread.

Nearby towns such as Capoliveri, Porto Azzurro and Portoferraio, which offer a more active nightlife and trendy shops, are easily reachable by car.

Capoliveri

Porto Azzurro

Although two Alberghi/Bed & Breakfast are located in the square, I would suggest to stay at the Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio. Within the Residenza are the Apartments Sant’Anna and the Hotel Locanda del Volterraio. My brother has been a guest of the Residenza for the past 17 years, and he has rented the same apartment every year. I have been personally a guest of both the Locanda and the Residenza several times. Last year my brother and his wife hosted me for three weeks at the Residenza . . . how lucky am I?

Residenza Sant’ Anna del Volterraio

Entrance to the Residenza –
Photo courtesy of Teresa

Although it is only a 10 minute walk from the beach of Bagnaia, The Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio is part of the municipality of Rio Elba. The Monte del Volterraio, with its homonymous medieval castle, overlooks the Valley below where in an area of 3 hectares lays this complex surrounded by beautiful gardens. Secular olive trees dot the landscape, the pink stone structures covered with vines blend seamlessly with the lush green vegetation, which is softened by the colorful oleanders. The complex also offers 2 tennis courts, one beautiful adult pool, one children’s pool, a solarium, and a wellness center. The original Napoleonic Villa Sant’Anna houses a bar, a TV room, a sauna, shower and dressing rooms.

Volterraio and red oleander – view from the apartment

Olive trees and Villa Sant’Anna

Blending with nature

Within an orange and lemon orchard lays the restaurant, Il Giardino degli Aranci. I must admit that I have not experienced the restaurant’s cuisine; my son, however, tells me that he has enjoyed a tasty dinner while visiting his uncle. The restaurant also hosts – in its giardino (garden) – evening events for kids and families.

The restaurant Giardino degli Aranci

The complex is completely car-free, however, covered parking is provided.

There are 6 apartment types, ranging from 2 to 8 beds, but they all have an independent entrance and a patio. The apartments are spacious, simply furnished, but functional and comfortable. I shall say that they start showing their age and some renovations are due. The apartments do not have air conditioning, but fans are provided. Also no Wi-Fi connection is provided. In the evening it is particularly pleasant to sit outside on the patio (furnished with table and chairs) under the summer starry sky.

The Hotel Locanda del Volterraio is composed of 18 double rooms, all with independent entrances and balconies. Unlike the apartments, the hotel rooms have air-conditioning and Wi-Fi Internet (from the lobby). They also boast nice new furnishing. From the balcony you will enjoy great views of the hills and of Monte del Volterraio.

The nightly rate at the hotel includes breakfast, which offers a very diverse spread of food: fresh baked croissant and brioche, fruit tart or torta, cereals and granola are also available. You can also enjoy toast with the assortment of jams, honey, butter or NUTELLA that adorn each table. They also offer a large selection of fresh fruit, however, it appears that your choices are limited if you don’t show up early. Orders for espresso, cappuccino, latte and also American coffee are taken at the table.

I asked my son’s friend, who along with her sister, joined him and his girlfriend at Elba and lodged at the Locanda, to share her opinion about her experience; she used one word: AWESOME! She also noted, confirming my opinion, that the staff was kind and attentive.

The 10 minute walk from the Residenza to the beach is pleasant; the scent of oregano and wild fennel accompanies you along the way. Blackberry bushes border the path and you can also attempt – like my brother – to pick up prickly pears along the way.

Lastly, if you are in the mood for hiking, Bagnaia offers some good trails. From the piazzetta you can follow the uphill road toward Nisporto. You will enjoy some beautiful views of the coastline from up above.

VIEWS FROM MY MORNING WALKS

View of Residenza Sant’Anna from the hill across

Last year every morning I went a little farther. On one particular morning I woke up at 6:30 and as I started my walk I decided to reach Nisporto, 5 miles away on an uphill terrain. I went all the way up above Nisporto, then I decided to go down to sea level. While the beach at Nisporto was enjoyable to reach, the trek back up the hill to reach Bagnaia was anything but that.

THE YELLOW PATH OF MY WALK TO NISPORTO – BELOW IS THE ELEVATION PROFILE!

Thankfully, I made it all the way back and to reward myself I stopped at the Bounty for a custard cream stuffed brioche!!!

Ciao from Elba!

Have you ever been to the Island of Elba?

Where is your favorite little gem in the world?