We are preparing for a new trip. We have house/cat sitters arriving on Sunday. We are meeting up with my sister and her husband for another small ship cruise. Again on the Windstar line. This ship holds 300 people. We will fly to Amsterdam and depart from there and sail down the coast to Bordeaux. Then fly home. I will, of course do a trip report. Right now many preparations are being made. Getting the apartment ready for our sitters is the prime importance. And also, of course packing for ourselves. We are almost ready. Still just need to make up a second guest room since our sitters are two women who want separate bedrooms.
Last night I finally tried the outside wood BBQ. I made a garlic, yogurt marinated chicken thigh recipe. It came out well but I needed either more oil on the grill or not skinless thighs. They tended to stick. They tasted good though. I will use this grill more now.
Stay tuned for my upcoming Trip Report. Buon fine settimana a tutti!
It has been since last September since we have gone anywhere mostly due to the move. I wanted to concentrate on that for the last months and had no desire to go anywhere.
Now we are moved and things mostly livable we decided we needed to go somewhere for a short get-away. The problem was, we had no cat sitter anymore. Paul, our friend and cat carer was farther away and also leaving Umbertide for their move after selling their house. What to do?
We have a new housekeeper named Linda. She is from Albania, I think. I have known her husband for a while. She picks up jobs doing different things from home health care to cleaning houses. She cared for a friends husband during his last months in his home, and another good friend who is house-bound. So I felt she was reliable. After she had cleaned for me a couple times and I learned she has 3 indoor cats I thought maybe she would want to help us out with ours. She doesn’t live far away so I thought it wouldn’t be too hard for her to sit for them. She seemed happy to do so and earn some money. So this trip was essentially a test to see how it all worked out.
We went for three nights. We decided on Cremona in the Lombardia region, and Parma in the Emilia Romagna region. Cremona is the home of the most famous violins. There has been very bad flooding in the Emilia Romagna region in the past week. 15 people have died and tens of thousands are homeless. It is a horrible disaster. The bad flooding was at the mouths of the rivers in the coastal towns. Rimini, Ravenna, Cesena, Forlì and many more smaller towns are badly damaged. We knew our hotel was just near the big Po river so asked if all was ok before we left. It was, they said, ok.
After a longer drive than necessary due to traffic we arrived at our hotel, Antica Corte Pallavicina. Well, we sort of arrived. We drove down a dead end road and were at a building with many signs. Pointing many directions. After driving on this tiny muddy roads we finally went in the building there and it turned out to be the hotel. It is pretty soggy here after the rains.
Amazing building built in the 1300s just next to the River Po. It is a working farm. They have a lot of white cattle in the fields around the house (Eden😉). They also sell the famous DOC controlled ham called Culatello. They grow the vegetables in the gardens that are served in the restaurants (there are two, a Hosteria del Maiale, and a fancy place, same name as the hotel – a Michelin one star) They grow the wheat with which they make the delicious bread. The bread here is nothing like Umbrian or Tuscan bread, which has no salt and is tasteless. This is yeasty and salty. Yummy.
The room was not what I expected. We were in one of the two towers of the original building. There is a big living room with armoire, table, two chairs and a sofa. And a bathroom with shower. Then, up a very scary set of stairs is the bedroom, situated in the tower. It has itty bitty windows around the room. About the size of a 3×5 index card. I suppose for keeping a lookout? Shooting arrows? (They’re also windows like these on the bottom floor). But the whole idea of having to go up and down those stairs in the middle of the night to the bathroom was not to my liking to say the least. I guess what do you expect from a 14th century castle?
We had a nice glass of wine on the terrace. There is a peacock here. He is extremely loud and displays often. I haven’t seen any peahens yet. There is also a kind of a pond which is full of frogs all in a high state of sexual arousal calling (or should I say croaking out?) for love. Then there are the cats. Very very pretty cats. Some with long hair. A real menagerie.
Dinner was disappointing. I loved the place. The ancient building. The look of it. And there was a shop selling the famous ham called Culatello. The Hosteria is a stop gap for the night the fancy restaurant is closed. Our starters were good but the secondi were definitely not good. But it was OK. We took our bottle of red wine onto the terrace where Luther could smoke his cigar. There was a group of four motorcyclists also there. Two from Germany and two spoke English, so English was the common language. There was another couple here as well.
~~~~~~~~ Tuesday May 23
We headed out to breakfast in the same building as the dinner last night, where we were ignored. Place is strange. The breakfast was serve yourself from a buffet. We ordered a bottle of water which never came. There were no plates so I had to ask for them. The good thing was I liked the cheese a lot. Very unusual. During my 3 breakfasts the man never asked if we wanted coffee. Got cereal once. No spoons. The bread was horribly stale. And as a teaser there were fresh loaves being sliced right on the counter opposite. Oh well, we ended up fed.
After breakfast, off we went to Cremona. The day was absolutely glorious. The Giallo Angelo with the top down for the first time this year. It took around 30 minutes of winding around the local highways to get into town. This part of Italy, all up and down the Po river, is extremely industrial. So it is unattractive. But once we got into Cremona we enjoyed it a lot.
The city was a real surprise. It is a city of 71,000 so it is not terribly big, and the traffic was light and polite. We parked and walked into the center. Lots of shopping. Pedestrian streets and cafes and bars everywhere. And extremely quiet. Sometimes we could see nor hear anyone. I don’t know if I have said, but I like less frenetic and crazy-busy cities. Smaller mid-sized towns are for me. Cremona fit that bill just right. Bikes are the preferred way to travel.
Our goal was the Museum of Violins. Cremona is the city of art and music. The great luthiers all lived and worked there. Also many great composers. The Museum was great. It took you through the process of making a fine violin and then there was a room that kind of took your breath away. Full of the finest violins from the 1500s onward. Incredibly beautiful and delicate. Made by the famous Luthiers Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri. The last room was a small theater where they were showing videos of artists playing the fine old instruments we had just seen in glass cases. We assumed the instruments benefit from playing. And the music was ethereal. Good violin music always makes me cry.
After this we walked over to the cathedral. Amazing piazza surrounded by old buildings and the 11th century cathedral and the tower 112 meters / 369 feet tall. Hard to take it all in, in photographs. Needless to say the cathedral is nothing like the original having been added to and changed throughout the centuries. The interior was ginormous. Just an immense space. No stained glass, which surprised me. Many highly ornate altars etc.
Now, ready for a light lunch, we went right across the street to a cafe. Nothing makes me happier than to sit on an ancient piazza in the outside air of a gorgeous perfect day with some vino and watch the people. And the lunch of salads was just right.
We walked back to the car and headed back to the hotel. All along the road were signs for cherries for sale. I think cherries are my favorite spring fruit. They are also having a cherry festival nearby.
Back at the hotel the peacock yelled at us as we walked past to kick back for a couple of hours before dinner.
Dinner was a disappointment considering it was a Michelin One Star restaurant. Pretty room. The people were way too serious. They had several big tasting menus. They explained them to to us. Neither of us felt up to a big long dinner so we decided to order a la carte. Two courses each. It was as though they kind of lost interest in us at this point.
After our two courses we left, didn’t even give them time to ask if we wanted dessert. Outside it was lovely. We enjoyed the moon and Venus setting in the sky.
Wednesday May 24 Off we went after another breakfast where we were ignored. It was amusing at this point. Today, it was Parma. About a forty minute drive on smallish roads with lots of trucks.
The city has 175,000 people, so it was quite a bit bigger than Cremona. We found parking and walked into town to visit the Palazzo della Pilota which has the Teatro Farnese within its complex. The Teatro Farnese, in Parma, was the court theater of the Dukes of Parma and Piacenza. It was built starting from 1618 to celebrate the stay in Parma of the grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II, on his way to Milan. It was finished that year but not inaugurated until 1628 because of an illness that caused Cosimo to cancel his pilgrimage. It was finally inaugurated for the occasion of the wedding of Odoardo, Ranuccio’s son, with Margherita di’ Medici, Cosimo’s daughter. The theater was only used eight more times due to the complexity and cost of it’s use.
We left the theater because a woman said we couldn’t go back the way we came. So we ended up entering a door to the gallery of art and going backwards through the exhibits. Didn’t really matter much. Here are a few pictures.
Off we went to see the cathedral. We used our google maps to navigate but we could hear the big bell tolling for midday and could follow it’s sound. It was a really big bell. Deep and and slow. Many more than 12 times. I love bells. Bad news is that it closed at noon. We arrived at 12:15. Oh well. We decided to have a pre-lunch glass of wine.
Look at this place! I would love to know who lives here. High in the sky above the cathedral piazza.
Our lunch destination was Osteria del 36. A very old (since the 1880s), very traditional restaurant. Just what the doctor ordered. The cameriere was super nice and friendly. We had some very delicious food. I started with the tortellini in brodo, Luther had a gnocci dish topped with smoky scarmorza cheese. I got the duck breast which was prepared just right IMO. The gelato crema was too good to pass up but it was a big bowl. It was very soft, like soft custard cones in the US, and had chocolate sauce. Best gelato ever.
On the way back to the car we stopped into a prosciutto shop. They also had other local specialties, wines, parmigiana reggiano .
Thursday morning we checked out and headed back home to our boyz. Rocky and Simba. Here is a picture of the cantina under the building full of Parmigiana reggiano being aged.
We got home in 3.5 hours. Along the route there was ample evidence of the flooding in the coastal areas. But the worst was in the mountains through which we must go to get to Umbria. The rains caused many landslides and the evidence of the normally small river rampaging through the valley was significant. The good news is our boyz were fine with their new caretaker. So this will allow us to travel in the future for shorter trips.
I want to explain the mystery of the inexplicable fine from my last post. Turns out, it was taxes due. Plus a fine. I could ask my Commercialista why, but it’s not that much money and I’m not going to bother. Anyway, mystery solved.
We have been very busy getting ready for our trip. We got our health cards extended so we would have coverage on our trip. We have had several people come and look at the apartment. I got my hair cut. We have met some good friends for some nice lunches. Yesterday we finally received our taxes from our Commercialista for the first part of the year. This payment is for half of last year, and we also pay ”in anticipo” for estimated tax for the first half of this year. This is the second document required by the Questura for our application for the EU long term Permesso di Soggiorno. Unfortunately we got it yesterday. Too late for us to get it in to them before we leave. So it will be first on our to-do list when we return.
We attended an art exhibit featuring three Umbrian artists last evening in a small village called Lugnano. Very nice show in Palazzo Luna and our friend was one of the artists. The town is miniscule.
I am madly packing and getting ready for our House/cat sitters arrival tomorrow. We will pick them up at the train station. I want to make them some special pasta dishes. I went to the local Saturday Mercato this morning. We are drowning in cherries now! Look at the varied colors. I didn’t realize there were so many. From almost black, to deep red, to cherry red!
My next post will most likely be about our trip. Travel is so fraught with uncertainty nowadays. I just hope all is uneventful. Ciao for now!
This is another Trip Report so skip if you’re not interested!
Wednesday May 11 We decided to go to another city in Italy that we had never visited. Verona, city of lovers. Romeo and Juliet and all that…Shakespeare wrote plays based in Verona but he never visited.
We decided to drive mainly because it’s hard to reach by train. It would take six hours so we decided to drive. This presented its own set of problems because we wanted to be in the old city and parking is hard to find. I found a property with only 5 rooms but it had its own parking garage. It is an old Palazzo right in the Centro Storico.
The drive was about 4 hours. Almost all on superstrade – the big highways with tolls. That is, once we got out of Umbria 🙂 Boring drive. We drove north up the Tiber valley into Tuscany and to the head of the valley where the mountains start. The highway is a real feat of engineering. It is raised on pilings the whole way. Under it, or to the sides, runs the old Roman route, still used for local travel. The mountains are very rocky, old and eroded with barren cliffs. Lots of evidence of past seismic activity. I am sure it is still active. There are also Terme – or thermal spring towns along the way. Old Roman baths and spas are still in use. I wish I knew more about geology and rocks.
We popped out of the mountains and we were in Emilia Romagna, said to be the best food in Italy. Home of Balsamic vinegar, Parma ham, Parmesan cheese etc. It is flat, flat, flat and quite industrial but also has acres of fruit trees. Bologna is the biggest and best known city.
We got into the Veneto next, home of Venice. Passing through Padova/Padua and finally we arrived in Verona. By now the landscape had changed into hills and small mountains, Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy is just nearby. And there were grapevines as far as you could see. Valpolicella comes from here, Soave, Prosecco, and one more Lugana.
The city of Verona has a lot of not so pretty suburbs, normal for Italian towns. They do have a good number of parks and green spaces. The Adige river flows through the town and there are numerous bridges. Our GPS took us into the old town, lots of people everywhere, and narrow streets. We found the hotel with only one wrong turn.
Palazzo Monga is beautiful. We were met by Jakub. It is a boutique hotel so there is no front desk always manned by people. We had to give them an arrival time so we would be met. Jakub wore a nice black suit, white shirt, tie, and bright white tennis shoes. His hair, dark, his smile, welcoming and his stubbled chin, perfect. The suite is large with a living room with dining space, big bedroom, large bath and large dressing room. The room has the biggest chandelier in the universe. I can’t figure out how they clean that thing! The ceilings are probably 18-20 feet high. Quite the place. Jakub brought us welcoming Prosecco’s and we left it to him to stow the Giallo Angelo in the car park. We headed out for a walk and look-see. Pretty city. Great shopping. We stopped for a spritz. On our way home we found our restaurant for the first night, Trattoria Pompiere just a few blocks from our hotel.
After showers we headed to dinner which was really fun. The trattoria has been around a long time since the early 1900s. It is known for its meats and cheeses and traditional Veronese dishes. I was looking forward to the asparagus dishes. This is asparagus season and the region grows the famous white asparagus. I have loved what I call Spargel ever since we lived in Germany, many years ago. So I was over the moon with happiness. The white asparagus does not get south of the region.
My appetizer was white asparagus with ham wrapped hard boiled eggs. Quite yummy. And I ordered the Pappardelle with beans. Special to the region beans called Bala Rossa. Luther got the Pappardelle and then Stinco di Maiale. We had a bottle of really nice Valpolicella. I got a scoop of pistacchio gelato and Luther got a grappa, which they told us were on the house. A fun dinner.
Thursday May 12 We sprang for the breakfast this morning. It is ordered a la carte, delivered at the time you specify and you can order as much as you want for the price. Of course we ordered more than we could eat😁 so we have plenty left over for tomorrow. It will work out well.
We headed out for our walking tour of Verona. Luther was our tour guide. We started by going to Piazza Erbe. It was originally a Roman forum. The name erbe means herbs and it was known for various aromatic spices, herbs, coffees etc. imported from Venice where they had come from all over the world. There are many notable buildings and an impressive bell tower. The buildings span varied architecture, Romanesque, Neoclassical and Baroque. I will try to put in the captions below the pictures what they are (If I can remember!)
Behind Piazza Erba was Piazza dei Signori, or Lords Square. This square has a strong connection with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It was the setting where Bartolomeo della Scala banished Romeo to exile. Just past this piazza was Arche Scaligeri and the Scaligeri Tombs. Very impressive. I loved the horse and rider atop the church.
Of course we had to see Juiliet’s balcony. It can be a madhouse full of tourists with long lines to get into the small piazza. We lucked out and it wasn’t too bad. Of course, it isn’t really Juliet’s balcony it was only addd in the 20th century for tourists, but thousands come every year to see it.
We walked on down to the main shopping street. along the way was this beautiful bougainvillea on a balcony.
On the shopping street I snapped this door handle on a dress shop.
Next we visited Piazza Bra. The biggest Piazza I’ve ever seen. It is home of the famous Arena di Verona. The arena still has opera and concerts of all types. It holds 15,000 about half of what it held during Roman times. I was a little disappointed that only one part of it is actually from the Roman era. We sat down for a glass of wine and for some good people watching. There were scads of school groups EVERYWHERE today. It is the season for field trips.
Next we crossed the Adige river, clear and fast moving and shallow. There were many what looked to be River Trout easily spotted. We used a medieval bridge called Ponte di Castelvecchio. Pedestrian and made of bricks. Once across we followed a pleasant walking path along the river. There were some very beautiful apartment buildings with pretty apartments with amazing river and old town views. Bet they’d set you back a bit. Crossing back over the river we were just near our hotel.
We went looking for a place for lunch, which was harder than I had anticipated but we found, on a small side street, Osteria “Le Vecete”. It was perfect. We sat outside and had a light lunch with wine. I had Spaghetti with pomodorini, buratta and basil. Luther had the octopus salad with olives, tomatoes and potatoes. Both were very good.
Dinner at L’Oste Scura. All seafood. We decided on trying three oysters on the half shell each. I had some misgivings about ordering them since the last three times I did I got sick. Then we had the mixed seafood crudo and I had Scallops and Luther had Amberjack. The place was lovely. We sat outside and it was warm and low-lit. The service was great.
After dinner we walked back to our street. We passed the below restaurant, super old fashioned looking but very cool. It was completely empty save for a lone waiter. We went to a small bar with tables outside so Luther could smoke a small cigar he bought. A fun evening.
Friday May 13 All good things sometimes come to a premature end. And they did for this trip. I did indeed get sick again during the night. I must have developed an allergy to Oysters. So sad as I did/do love them. They just don’t love me.
In the morning I didn’t feel I was up to sight seeing so we decided to head home early. I am very sorry not to finish our visit in Verona. We had planned to see the churches and then a Roman amphitheater with views of the town and then maybe the modern art museum. But we saw a lot and if you only have one day then our walking tour was perfect. ~~~~~~ I had to take photos of the coolest bidet I have ever seen. It was in our hotel bathroom. Such a good space saving idea. Bathrooms are required to have a bidet in Italy. In your home you must have at least one bidet, in one bathroom.
I did buy myself a souvenir yesterday but you all will have to wait until my next post to see what it is. 🙂
If you don’t like Trip Reports you can skip this one. WARNING: this post includes a LOT of food pictures 😁 ~~~~~~~~ We left home Tuesday morning at 9:30 to catch a train from the Terontola/Cortona station. This is around a 30-40 minute drive from our house. It is on the main Rome Florence line and has free parking.
The local train from Terontola to Florence was 15 minutes late. Our transfer time in Florence from our train to the Frecciarossa to Milano was….15 minutes! 😳 We went as fast as possible. The train was a little late so we managed to get on. Whew. I adore the Frecciarossa trains. They reach speeds of 300 kph and have four classes of seats. We always go in the Area Silenzio. The quiet car. Business class. Super comfy seats.
We arrived in Milano and grabbed a taxi. All of the taxis we took here had very garrulous drivers. We got to our hotel, the Spadari al Duomo which is really nice. We stayed here on our one and only other visit to Milano. It is very close to the Duomo. Our room was nice with a balcony and a bathtub, which Luther loves. The only odd thing was our artwork in the room. A bit unsettling. Slug women. 😳
We immediately set out for a giro around the neighborhood. We found and visited the famous Galleria Vitoria Emanuele II. A shopping *mall* under high glass domes. Very fancy. I took a bunch of photos of the fancy wares…and some not-so-fancy wares.
The hat below. It looks like a hat I’d wear fishing. Prada. €460.00. Uh huh, right.
Surprisingly I didn’t buy anything. But Luther bought a book and some Cuban cigars. Afterwards, on the advice of one of the nice folks who read this journal and leave comments, we went to Aperol Terrazza. It is up on the 3rd floor and has outside space just next to the famous Duomo. They are known for the ubiquitous drink, the Aperol Spritz. I chose something different but we sat outside and it was a fun thing to do. They had nice heaters that keep people warm-ish.
Walking through the enormous space in front of the Duomo we noticed some young men. I was taken by the outfit of one of them!
We returned to check out the shop next to our hotel. It is like a very, very upscale gourmet market. It has a big basement area with wines. Upstairs there is a produce area, candy area, all kinds of prepared foods, veggies, meats, seafoods, salads, the biggest cheese selection I’ve ever seen, bread and some cured meats. Cool place where you can drop big bucks.
Back in our room and while waiting for dinner we ordered a bottle of wine and had a glass before we took a taxi to our restaurant which was chosen by Luther, the Ristorante Niko Romito in the Hotel Bulgari.
Just before we arrived we came to a gate. No one is getting in if they are not expected or a taxi. I realized this was a super high roller enclave. Then we went down a short street which dead ended into a botanical garden. The hotel was secluded and quiet. There was a circle in front of the hotel and all around they had crammed in cars. Parking is scarce in Milano and there aren’t many hotels which offer it. And let me tell you, these were not your everyday Chevy. There was a gorgeous Lamborghini next to a Bentley. And a very odd car which was a two seater with a huge whale tail and air scoops you could put a small child into. It was right hand drive with British plates.
Anyway, I digress. Inside the people were friendly. The restaurant was beautiful. And the service perfect. It was a very good dinner. One of the best I’ve had. Here are pictures of the dining room. The wine we had and the gifts from the chef. Lots of good breads and a good strong olive oil. Bread sticks and crackers. They brought a bowl of broth they were very proud of. The list of what went into it was long and interesting. The actual product tasted a lot like Swanson chicken broth…🙂 Sorry Niko! My antipasto was a raw shrimp dish under shaved citrusy lettuce. The sauce was sublime. Then a sea bass which also was wonderful. Finally I had the marscapone ice cream with sour cherries. Perfect ending. Pictures! (Captions at the bottom)
Wednesday March 16 Today we had many plans and reservations for tours. We skipped breakfast and headed out for our appointment to see the Duomo. We had ordered an audio tour. Things did not go as planned. We went into the cathedral, which I must say was pretty darned magnificent. The columns supporting the roof and separating the nave were like looking through a forest of giant redwoods. They are each 50 yards tall. Half a football field! We realized we couldn’t get the audio tour inside and each had to go out to get it. The guard would only let one of us go at a time. I went first, managed to get the guide and return but then the *outside* guard didn’t want to let me back in. After a long argument he let me in. Then Luther got his and returned. By that time a funeral had begun and all the interesting parts of the Duomo were closed off. Bad luck. But we used the audio tour the best we could and explored inside and out.
Afterward we headed to Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa, a church with an ossuary of hundreds of bones. Interesting to see.
Then we circled back and tried to visit another church but it was closed. We bought some sandwiches for lunch because we wanted to save ourselves for dinner.
At 3:45 we had reservations at Santa Maria delle Grazie to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper. We have all seen prints of the fresco of course, but to see it in person — it was pretty amazing.
On our way back I passed a store with beautiful jewelry. All hand made, one-of-a-kind pieces. I decided to buy a pendant. I love it!
Dinner at a Michelin one star Restaurant – IYO. The only one star Michelin Japanese restaurant in Italy. My choice and we decided to both go for the nine course “let them just feed us” menu. We really aren’t terribly savvy at Japanese food. Except Sushi.
OK, here come the food pictures…they are works of art really. I can remember the taste of every one of them when I look at these. I hope you enjoy looking at them if only for the artistry!
By this time I was stuffed even though the courses were small. We tried a bottle of Saki which was not much to my liking. It wasn’t very robust in flavor, rather kind of bland. I read that out of the three beverages – beer, wine, saki – it has the highest alcohol content. Odd.
It was an incredibly amazing dinner. It was great to try new things.
Thursday March 17 I wonder if they celebrate St Pats today 🙂 🍀 It dawned gray and dreary today. A bit chilly. This hotel has an excellent breakfast. About anything you could wish for. We had ours and headed out to see two churches.
First was Chiesa di San Mauricio Al Monastero Maggiore known for its frescoes. It did not disappoint.
And next was Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio. Rather austere. It was very old dating to Roman times and it was just next to the Roman city that Milan was back then. There are a lot of archeological relics that have been dug up in the area which are now in the Basilica.
We walked back to our hotel so I could change clothes for our lunch. Today, we decided to have lunch instead of dinner. We went to another Japanese place called Wicky’s. Also excellent food. We had two starters which we split – Sashimi and Mare Spicy. Raw seafood but the Spicy had a lot of different spices and herbs. The we split the Angus Spicy, and the Magica which is Sea bass.
Friday March 18 We bought a few things in Milan, it was hard not to! There are amazing amounts of luxury goods on offer every time you turn your head. Little shops that specialize in one or two things. Like the glove and sock shop. Or the sea sponges and back scrubbers shop. Tailors and shoemakers who will make anything to order — just for you. There were the most beautiful linens, sumptuous bedding. I saw a shop that only sold pajamas. For an example of the style here…this is an upholstery and bespoke clothing shop. Isn’t this amazing?
When we checked out of our very nice hotel, the very friendly and enthusiastic front desk clerk asked the perennial and every popular “perché Umbertide?!” I cannot tell you how many people have asked us that since we moved here.
We took the Frecciarossa fast train to Florence. It arrived around 15 minutes late. Late enough that we missed our connection. Oh well. There is a train every hour so not terrible.
It was an excellent trip. The weather was not bad, it was just gray and chilly. I don’t think Milano gets alot of sun. We loved our hotel and the location, and we loved the food. The people were all very nice. I don’t think I will go back because there are many more places still to see. But it wouldn’t be because I didn’t enjoy my stay there.
We were so happy to welcome Luther’s brother Mike and his wife Anne. Along with their daughter Rachel and her husband Alex. They had not managed to visit since we’ve been here so it was great to show them around. Their trip was only for five nights here so a whirlwind visit. They brought gifts! Hominy in cans for me and some beautiful spices. And a couple of boxes of cigars which Luther sent to his brother before they came.
Our normal strategy with guests is to do a mix of things but lunch is always the focus and the big meal of the day. We try to choose from our favourite restaurants to give a variety of foods from basic Umbrian cuisine to more adventurous chefs. We were blessed with pretty much perfect weather almost the entire time.
WARNING: there are a LOT of food pictures on this post .
As always, travel is fraught with uncertainty. They were booked to fly from Washington DC to Montreal to connect with a direct flight to Rome. They missed the flight to Montreal so were re-booked through Paris. This put their arrival around six hours later than planned. But still they managed to get here in time for our pizza night dinner at Calagrana. Always fun and the pizza is the best. We headed back home to put them to bed. Speaking of that, we have three bedrooms but it felt a bit crowded so we rented an apartment at Borgo Fratta, a new vacation apartment property here in Umbertide, walking distance from us. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Mike and Anne were very comfortable in their own space and we had Rachel and Alex with us.
Monday. Our first day and we had an appointment at a winery in the Montefalco area. Cimate, a winery new to us but they could give us a tasting and tour so we went with that. It turned out to be an excellent choice. Paolo is the owner and he took us around. At the end we had a tasting and a lovely plate of cheeses and meats that complemented the wines.
The winery had beautiful views.
Here are our tour and tasting pictures. This was the first winery who “raisins” their grapes, or part of them, prior to making the wine. This increases the sugars and reduces the juice. The sugars become the alcohol in the wines so this doesn’t mean the wines will be sweet. The first three pictures are the racks and the grapes drying.
We headed to explore the small town of Montefalco and had lunch there at l’Alchemista. It is situated in the unique piazza which is in the hill top and a round, rather than square space, with all the streets radiating like a wagon wheel. It was sunny and warm and wonderful. This happens to be the time of year for Sedano Nero, or the black celery only grown in Trevi, a nearby hill town. It is a Big Deal here. l’Alchemista always has menus featuring these local ingredients. This top picture is of my Sedano Nero appetizer. Very reminiscent of lasagna but with celery instead of pasta. Nice and light.
I made a Stuzziccheria for us for dinner. It was meats, cheeses, and fruit. Then we had a big surprise for dessert – Luther noticed they had just brought in Panetone Christmas cakes, the very first of the season, at our wine store, so he brought home a caffe and cream one. Yum.
Tuesday. We planned to go to Assisi today. Always a treat. I never tire of this town.
We visited the Basilica di San Francesco. They seem to be forever changing how you can visit. This time we entered the lower church, visited the crypt and then ascended to the upper church. It was empty. There were not the throngs of the past.
Then we wandered up the shopping street and settled in at Osteria Piazetta della Erbe, one of my all time favs. It was shady under our tree once we switched with a group of women. This restaurant has a “traditional” and a “fusion” menu. Both so good. But for me it is fusion all the way!
After Assisi and lunch we headed to Deruta for ceramic buying. Everyone found things they liked. This night we had Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce at home for dinner.
Wednesday was a designated “down” day. No long car drives. First, cappuccini at Bar Mary, and people watching in the piazza. The big market was in Umbertide this day, so we explored the market. We picked up some Porchetta pannini and explored a little of our town. Rachel and Alex bought a plaque from our local Deruta ceramics shop, for their front door with their house number. It will be sent to them when it’s completed.
We then drove to Montone. It is just ten minutes away and a lovely little hill town. We took in the views of the mountains and fields and wandered the small streets. Then we went to Antica Osteria for lunch.
During our lunch there was a funeral right in the piazza. Here, when someone dies, they lay in state in their home and all their friends and family come and pay their respects. Then they transfer the body to a casket and they remove it to a hearse. During this time the funeral bells ring and the onlookers watch respectfully.
We stopped for gelato for dessert after our dinner. We got chocolate, pistachio, and cherry. Tonight I made pasta e fagioli. We practiced at playing Briscola, the Italian card game. Interesting.
Thursday. Today it was off to Gubbio. An excellent medieval city not far from us.
After visiting the church at the top of the town we headed back down, and winded our way to the Funivia. A method of transport to the top of the mountain to visit the church of Saint Ubaldo, patron saint of Gubbio. This method of transport is a lift composed of individual cages holding two standing people. It is a bit scary for most so only Rachel and Anne went up.
Then we had lunch at Il Lepre (the rabbit). It was pretty good. Mike really loved his pork.
After lunch we tried to visit our local Frantoio, or olive mill to show them the process. Alas, it was closed. There just are no olives around here this year. Then we drove to the Chiesa di Monte Corona, an ancient church near Umbertide. It has a crypt built in the 1000s and an upper church consecrated in the 1100s. It is to me a place of calm, but also power. There is a monastery up on top of the mountain with monks who tend the church. this night we had Pici con Ragu di Cinghiale. Pasta with wild boar ragu which I had made prior to their visit.
Every night we had all watched L’eredita, a game show which we’ve been watching for years on our own visits here. It is helpful for learning Italian. Lots of words. It is funny how people get into this game even if they can’t speak Italian. We’ve initiated many, many of our friends and guests to this show and it is always a hit. It comes on RAI1 every night at 6:45. If you want to watch it you can stream it on RAI on your computer from anywhere. Do the time conversion. It is good to help learn Italian too!
Friday. This was their last day with us, and the day they head back to Rome for their early flight on Saturday. We decided to caravan down to Orvieto to visit the town and famous cathedral and then have a farewell lunch and launch them on their way home. We ate at Trattoria la Palomba, a very traditional place with great food. It was a short visit that flew by but we all had fun, I think.
All good things come to an end. At the moment I write this they are near to landing back in the US. I sincerely hope they can come back soon. Next time we will go somewhere together as a group and rent a villa. Maybe in Puglia. It will be fun! Thanks for coming to beautiful Umbria and we will see you soon! 💕
I am so happy to have had this return to normalcy and I hope this continues. My niece Rachel, a nurse, spent a long year working the Covid wards at John’s Hopkins. A very hard thing to do. She is our hero!
Since my friend, Jennifer and I visited the bell foundry in Molise I have been thinking about bells a lot. I’ve always liked them…been fascinated by them. When we lived in Germany, in the small villages they were always evident, telling the time so no need of a watch…as a matter of fact, until 50 years ago, most people didn’t own a watch so the bells served an important purpose. When we returned home to the US I really missed hearing them.
Before we moved here, and after our return from Germany, we lived in Alexandria, VA, outside of Washington DC. It was founded in the 1600s. There are still many of the original churches in town and they all have their bells. Usually just the one to call to service.
In Arlington, near the Iwo Jima memorial, there is the Netherlands Carillon with it’s 53 bells. A gift, in thanks, from the Netherlands to the US for the liberation of their country from the Nazis. It rings the Westminster Quarter everyday and visiting musicians play it as well. It is played like an organ, with pedals and keyboard.
Then there is the National Cathedral in Washington. It has a full 53 bell carillon too. But to me the best thing is that it has a full set of Peal Bells. I have always been fascinated by this tradition. The Cathedral has ten peal bells. These are rung by a group of Ringers by pulling ropes. Each person has a rope attached to one bell. They are rung in mathematical sequence and are not melodic. This is because each bell can only be rung once every two seconds due to the swing of the bell, the hit of the clapper, and the return of the bell to a position to be pulled again. I won’t go into all the interesting things about “change ringing” it is quite the feat, and art. You can google it if you’re interested, and the National Cathedral site has a nice write up. The tradition originated in the cathedrals in England. So, there are some bells in the US, but not the really personal village church bells like in Europe.
I know you are all wondering what this has to do with Italy, right? Well, in our town we have, so far as I know, three active Catholic Churches, all of whom have bells. [The town seems to have at least eight Catholic churches when I googled but I’m not sure they are active with congregations etc.] We are between two of these churches so we are treated to the bells many times a day. I’ve been here seven years and I still don’t understand all of the ringings and why they are rung when they are rung.
One of the most historic buildings in Umbertide is the bell tower on the edge of the piazza which is all that’s left of San Giovanni Batista (Collegiata), an old church which was hit by bombs in 1944. It has four beautiful bells that now ring for the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’, the town’s main church, which is associated with the Chiesa San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco. Construction of the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’ began in 1559 and it is a unique round building. The four bells in the tower of San Giovanni ring simultaneously for Sunday Mass at 11 a.m. and for High holy days and Saints days. They make an amazing, and to me, joyous cacophony. One of these bells also rings the hours of the day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. …for those who forgot their watches. 😁 I tried to video the bells ringing but as usual, I was flummoxed by them. One never seems to know the schedules and they change for no apparent reason.
The church behind us is called Chiesa Parrocchiale del Convento di Santa Maria della Pietà built in 1481. It also has four bells. Unfortunately the note that one of them has is very flat. To make it worse they play “tunes” on them. At noon and at six p.m. every day they “sing”. They also ring a different tune for masses etc.
This church also rings the bells for funerals. Each of the four bells, starting from the highest (and flat) one, toll slowly one after another. Then pause and begin again. Over and over. It is mournful and sad. Someone told me they ring them longer, the older the person was, who died. I looked it up and did see this could be true… “ traditional ringing calls for the funeral bell to ring six times (twice three times) for a woman. The bell would toll nine times (three times three) for a man. Then, the bell would ring one time for each year of the deceased’s life.”
The church behind us also rings a bell precisely at 7:30 a.m. every day. For the last year or two, it has been one bell ringing 33 times, then pausing and ringing 33 more times. Yes, I counted. I’m usually still in bed at 7:30 🙂. No one could tell me why they rung this way. I did figure it could have been Jesus’ age. But why twice? On Saturday, October 3, the bell changed! It still rang at 7:30 but only 30 times, and only once. Please tell me why!?
I guess you all can see I am fascinated by the bells. I freely admit it and it is an ongoing fascination. There is much I don’t know, and much to learn.
This is a video I found while researching. It is of the bells in the church behind us.
This is a trip report, so you can skip if you’re not interested.
Monday, September 20
A sunny Monday morning. A road trip to Molise with my friend Jen, to break in her new Patente, Italian drivers license. This license is required after one year residency in Italy. An American cannot exchange his/her license because there is no reciprocal agreement. One must study hours, and take the practice tests again and again online. There are 7000 possible questions. The test draws from this pool. The test is given only in Italian and it is one of the biggest hurdles an American must overcome to live in Italy. Once you’ve passed you must drive a low power car for a year, and adhere to other limitations. So you see why this was such a celebratory trip!
Jen is an Italian citizen. Her ancestors are from Molise. Once it was part of the Abruzzo region but in 1970 it split, becoming Italy’s newest region. But it is old and full of history. It can only be explored by car. So off we went. The trip there was not especially eventful. We drove through some exceptionally beautiful scenery. Our destination was Termoli, a seaside town. We arrived at 5:15. So it took seven hours. Mostly because Jen is strictly adhering to the laws. She does not want a ticket as a new driver. We experienced poor driving by Italians the entire trip, they are exceptionally aggressive and don’t pay any attention to the speed limits. They make their displeasure known by tailgating and even by blowing their horns to try to get you to speed up. I guess they just can’t accept a person trying to mind the limits. It was a bit stressful.
After checking into Cairoly Rooms, a quirky hotel right in the old town we rested a bit. Then we showered and went out looking for dinner. We didn’t have reservations and it turned out that was important. At a certain point we gave up and just decided to eat anywhere that looked OK. We chose Mari e Monti. They fitted us into an outside table. We had a wonderful time. It was not expected but was very much appreciated. We shared an order of peppered mussels. The mussels were tiny and sweet and clean as a whistle. So delicious. Then I had a spaghetti with a half lobster in a red sauce. and Jen had a smoked fish. They brought a dome and covered the fish. They put a pipe in it and lit a small fire in a pipe which blew the smoke into the dome, smoking the fish. Really different. We also had a bottle of Molise white wine with dinner which was exceptional.
Tuesday September 21
Next morning we paid a visit to the local fish market which also had produce. Just a half a block from our hotel. Beautiful food.
Since this is Jen’s home of origin I wanted her to make the plans. I am happy to just go along and enjoy. Today Jen was a lot more relaxed in her driving. We went about an hour and 20 minutes inland to a town called Agnone. It was way up on a mountaintop. The trip to get there was beautiful. Agnone is home to the oldest bell foundary in the world. No lie. Founded in 1339 and continuously operating ever since. By. The. Same. Family! 😳 Incredible. It is the Marinelli family. We didn’t want to take the Italian tour. A nice man named Ivo offered to show us the foundary. Not an in-depth tour but a basic little tour. The facts are incredible. They make primarily bells. Bells for churches all around the world. Each bell is a work of art. I learned the bell has exactly the same circumference at the base of the bell as the height. The top of the bell is half the circumference. The thickness at the bottom is 1/14th the diameter. They showed us how they make the molds, and the wax, and then how they finally pour the molten bronze into the molds which are buried in earth to keep them from melting or collapsing. There were many bells and they are all tuned to specific notes. Every major and minor note on a piano is possible. It is pretty incredible. No photos allowed inside the foundary. I got all mine outside.
Then we went in search of a small lunch. No good choice we got a little snack and drove over to the Centro Storico where we did some exploring. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and it began to rain. We did get some pictures but the lack of sun and light was a disappointment.
After arriving back in Termoli we decided to return to our restaurant from the previous evening. We treated ourselves to a feast. We had brodetto di pesce, which was a seafood soup speciality served to two people. The funny part was, because it was chilly, we were eating inside and we were the only table with people inside. We had an order of the peppered mussels, which take awhile to eat. The lady from the kitchen kept peeking at us to see when to bring the soup. They did bring it when we were done and it was a bubbling, steaming dish full of seafood to include two whole fish, shrimps with heads, mussels, and a lobster-like crustacean. There was bread soaking up the broth and then…then, they brought home made pasta to put into the broth. Oh what a feast it was. We ate and ate. The cook kept checking to see if we liked it. At one point I groaned with delight at the broth…which was the star of the show. So rich and pure. Essence of seafood. And that pasta in there? O my god. So good. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. I commend the kitchen for producing such a beautiful dish.
Wednesday September 22
Today was much cooler. We had decided to visit a town called Bagnoli del Trigno. A town built in and around a rock. A big rock. And it was a really sweet town too. Attractive big square. Easy parking. Pretty trees and painted houses. The piazza had big trees with benches. Pretty scalloped design cobbles. And a bar called Bizzarro. I kid you not.
We parked and walked up the big hill to get to the castle. It was not open but there was a nice lady who took us to a private museum which really was her Nonna’s house. Preserved with wood stove and no electricity.
There were ample photo opportunities in and around the town. Jennifer talks to anyone and she made many friends. After our walk we went back to Bar Bizzarro for refreshments. I ordered vino bianco…they didn’t have any. A bar with no white wine. How bizarre!
I had made a reservation for our dinner this night and the restaurant called me to say they had mechanical difficulties and we couldn’t dine there. So, for this reason, we thought eating a bigger lunch and no dinner was a good idea. We found there was a restaurant outside of town. We headed to Calice Rosso. It was part of a hotel and a big place. Nice people and food was good. It was the first place I had needed to show my Green Pass (Covid vaccine proof). I had a baccala salad which turned out to be enormous and I ate about half of it. And we both got the speciality dish – risotto con fonduta di caciocavallo e lamelle di tartufo nero Molisano. See how they draped thin cheese slices under the risotto? Very rich. Neither of us could finish it but it was really good.
We decided to visit Pietrabbondante, a town with an ancient amphitheater (Teatro). It took about 40 minutes to get there even though it was only twenty miles. In Molise, the terrain is rough and the roads small and twisty.
We easily found the site of the Teatro. We purchased our tickets and walked down the hill to the site. This Teatro was built by the Samnites around 400 BC. They were an ancient civilization in what is now south central Italy. The site is large with several temple remains and several walls with beautiful hexagonal stones. Very well preserved and snowy white. The amphitheater is nearly complete with comfortable seating complete with back supports. There is a lot still left to discover at this site.
We returned to Termoli and had a heck of a time finding parking. Until now it’s been pretty easy to find parking but today the streets were jammed. Maybe it was just rush hour but we weren’t sure. We found a space and hope it is a good and legal spot. Then we walked Jen’s two sweet dogs, Cricket and Eddie. They are quite happy to remain in the hotel while we explore.
Then we wandered into the town and had spritzes and snacks. It had gotten pretty chilly and the town was very different from our first night when it was warm out.
Thursday September 23
Chilly out today. We headed to the three villages that were founded by people from the Dalmatian coast – what is now Croatia. They are said to speak Italian and Serbo-Croatian.
Our first town was called Acquaviva Collecroce. Also named KruĆ. It was small and easily walkable but very hilly. Many signs were in two languages. There were lots of the typical men hanging around. We wandered and took lots of pictures. Then we stopped for a cappuccino at the No Problem bar. No problem!
We decided to have a Cappuccino at the local Bar No Problem. No problem!
The second city, which was also a Croatian town, was called San Felice del Molise. It was a larger town on a hill top. We only saw one reference to the Croatians and that was on the church. No street signs. No nothing. So different from the obvious pride the other town took in their origins.
We headed home to Termoli, and on our way we took so pictures of the spectacular sea. Beautiful beaches and real surf!
We found a good parking spot and we took a little break before going out to tour the oldest part of town which is enclosed in a wall and surrounded by the sea. Beautiful sea views and a semi-trabocco, the old fishing platforms from this region. There was very little to see on the quasi island. Few shops. Few restaurants (all closed), few bars. We did help a little lady to find a street. She was so lost.
Here are some pictures from the old city.
We went back up the corso and stopped in a bar for drinks. And people watching. Always fun and entertaining. We did some (mostly) window shopping and searched for a wine shop with no luck. I headed back to rest a bit before dinner and Jen kept shopping.
After a break, we headed back to the old city and our restaurant Svevia. I highly rated place. They were a little disorganized upon our arrival. The man opened the reservation book to the 21st and nodded and took us to our table. Only thing was…today was the 23rd! 🤦🏻♀️. Then someone came and asked what name the reservation was in. I told him Nancy. We got our bottle of wine and had ordered and they came AGAIN to ask the name. Each time acting as though Nancy was a totally expected name. I have to think whoever wrote my name down misspelled it or something. Mattered not since by this time we had our wine and couldn’t be kicked out!
We ordered and our first course was brought. I had ordered a sublime puréed fave bean and chicory with shrimp wrapped in lardo. Jen had gnocchi with shrimp. Mine was small so I finished first. They took my plate while Jen was still eating…VERY. BAD. FORM. Then they tried to take HER plate before she was finished. Unexpected in a Michelin rated restaurant. My secondi was gamberi Catalan-style. Very good big crustaceans with a diced veggie sauce. Served cold. With tools to crack the legs and a pick for the meat. I happily sat and disassembled my gamberi. Very yummy. Dessert was a ricotta whipped with chocolate sauce. And cookies. Very yummy.
Friday September 24
Homeward bound. Up an at ‘em and on our way by 9:30. Took five hours on the Autostrada Adriatico. It runs from Bologna to Bari. Good road. Quite a bit of traffic. Except for the frequent construction zones it moved along OK. ~~~~~~~~ So, on our trip we learned a few things. How to pump our gas. How to park and not get towed away. How to pay tolls. All good.
My personal observations: Best restaurant: Mari e Monti Best dish: brodetto di pesce Best site: Teatro in Pietrabbondante Best town: tie between Agnone and Bagnoli del Trigno.
I bet most of my readers don’t know Molise. It is very much the forgotten sister. Their Tag Line in their tourist brochures is “Molise, non-esiste” or, “Molise doesn’t exist”. I am here to say it does exist, and I think it is worth a visit. It is also one of the regions with the 7% tax scheme for those who are contemplating a move to italia.
In case you thought we never did anything…today we did a little day trip to explore a town we drove past last month. Cagli, in the Marche region, our next door neighbor. We are actually very close to both Le Marche and Tuscany here in the Upper Tiber Valley. We went the scenic route. It was a beautiful day. Perfect for the top down. Here are a few pictures I snapped along the way. I was very surprised to see a lot of the trees were changing their colors already. And even more surprised to see mostly orange. It is not a common color here. More yellows. Very few reds.
But then…a thunderstorm! Funny. I’m no meteorologist but I’m interested in things like how the big Apennine mountains affect the weather patterns. On the west side of them all was clear and no rain in sight. But once into the mountains I suppose the weather gets disrupted by the mountain ranges? I dunno. And I’m even more interested in the weather on the eastern slopes and the Adriatic. Anyway, we had a bit of a downpour just when we arrived into Cagli. We had to take cover in a coffee shop.
We had reservations in La Gioconda Ristorante. When the rain let up we found it and decided to eat inside since it was still sprinkling and cool. They did not ask for our Green Cards. The place was nice. The food good enough but not special. The service perfect. And they had a few nice touches like gifts from the chef, house made bread, and separate truffle and porcini menus. I went with the porcini, one of my favs.
After lunch, we walked around the Centro Storico.
There is always something to love in an Italian town. No matter how far off of the beaten track. We had a lot of fun, and a lovely day.
This is a Trip Report, so skip if you’re not interested ~~~~~~~
We decided to do a trip while the window of opportunity is open for us. Who knows how long it will last. One of the last three regions we haven’t yet visited, Sardinia, or Sardegna as the Italians call the island. It is north of Sicily and just south of Corsica in the Mediterranean. Things are not too good covid-wise in Sardegna. 2.3% RT. And they are having big wildfires on the west side of the island. Devastating the farmers. Sadly we read these fires are arson. The people who set them are firefighters who will be hired at €100 a day to fight the fires. Despite these issues we decided to go through with the planned trip.
We opted to fly. You can drive to the west coast of Italy and take a ferry. That way you’ve got your car. But we decided to fly. We could fly out of Perugia to the southern end of the island and drive three hours to our chosen destination. Or we could drive 2 hours to Ancona on the Adriatic and fly into the airport in the northern part. We decided on this one. We had not flown out of Ancona before. It’s chock full of the so-called low cost airlines. WizAir, RyanAir, Volotea and Vueling. It was a pretty easy drive except for construction zones. We had arranged to park off airport and that all worked well. We got checked in with all the hordes going to either Olbia (our destination) or Catania in Sicily. Lots of young people flying. The plane left on time and arrived 15 minutes early. We picked up the rental car and headed north to the Costa Smeralda. Emerald coast.
Really interesting terrain. Rough, rocky and reminiscent to me of the US southwest. Susan said it reminded her of Baja. There were enormous, wind sculpted rock domes thrusting up dramatically. And in the distance serrated ridges shot high into the sky in jagged peaks. There were houses and hotels all hidden out in this desert-like landscape. The ones I could see were much like the adobe houses in New Mexico with clay exteriors painted in pastel earth tones. With flat terracotta tiled roofs.
Our hotel is called Grand Relais dei Nuraghi. It is a small boutique hotel with only about 30 rooms. Many of the rooms are in separate cottages or duplex cottages. We checked in and got unpacked. Went to the pool for a glass of wine and later we had dinner reservations.
The food was good without being notable. They do half pension so many of the guests eat there every night. It’s not open to the public. I had a very nice shrimp appetizer, a carrot soup and then the “catch of the day”.
~~~~~~~ Wednesday July 28
Above was the breakfast buffet. I thought it had gone the way of the dinosaur since Covid but it’s obviously back.
Today we went to explore “Billionaire” coast. The town of Porto Cervo. This town didn’t exist until the Aga Khan fell in love with the coast in the 1950s and decided to create a playground for the rich. He did accomplish that! He purchased the land from the poor inhabitants for a pittance in the 60s. They didn’t value coastal land, they were, in fact, frightened of the water from whence all invaders came. For these people being in the mountainous interior felt safe. The Port was built in the 80s and it is the best in the Mediterranean with 700 slips. The real estate here is THE most expensive in Europe. An eye popping $300,000 a square meter (!)
We had a lunch reservation at the only Michelin One Star restaurant in the area. Ristorante ConFusion. As the name implies, it is a fusion between Sardegnian food and Asian food.
We arrived and parked in an underground lot. We walked around the shopping area which was pretty and unusual and completely unlike anyplace I’ve been in Italy. It’s like being in Palm Springs or Boca Raton.
Towering over everything were the mega-yachts in the harbor. You could walk in and gape. Which we did! We looked up the names of some of the yachts. One is owned by a Saudi. One of the biggest was owned by a Walton daughter of the Walmart empire. These yachts cost millions of dollars.
After some refreshments out of the hot sun we walked to our restaurant. Pretty place that felt comfortable and not pretentious…except for the fact that they bring a selection of glasses so you can pick your shape! That was a first. Chef Italo Bassi was very friendly and accessible. There were only two other tables so he had time to chat. We decided on a la carte for two of us and the Chef specialty 3 course menu for the other two. Prices were breathtaking, but the food was too.
Here are some of the dishes.
After our return and naps we went poolside and had drinks. It was very lovely. They bring a nice plate of food to enjoy with the wine so that was plenty. We didn’t really need to eat dinner after the mega-lunch.
~~~~~~~~ Thursday, July 29
This was the day we decided to go on a catamaran to the Maddalena archipelago. This is supposed to be the prettiest island group. There are some roads on the main island and you can ferry over with your car. There are a few towns as well. But the most popular way to see the islands is by boat. And BOY is it popular!
We left the hotel at 8:30 for the 40 minute drive to Porto Sardegna. We got there no problem on itty bitty roads to the very tip of the mainland. There we found a yacht club. A very cute yacht club. With cottages built into the rocks and hobbit bathrooms. At the bottom, a cafe. We hung around and finally boarded around ten. There were 18 of us plus three crew. It wasn’t crowded. It was mostly younger people. Plus one middle aged couple. The oddest group was a foursome of two boys and two girls from Calabria. They spoke a Calabrian dialect mixed with German. Really. Very odd.
We all boarded and were briefed about the boat, and how to use the bathroom. Then we took off. It was a nice boat called Alice. I know most of you won’t know this, but it is not the woman’s name…but the word for anchovy in Italian. Pronounced al-ee-chay. The boat was named Anchovy, because it skips over the waves Captain Alessandro said. There were two more crew, Ely and Sandro. Our first stop was Spiaggia Rosa. A pretty spot with amazingly blue water. We went swimming.
While here we had antipasto with bruschetta, olives, cheeses, salumi, and bread. Our next stop was Calla Vergine. This was so popular there were literally hundreds of boats of all sizes. Amazing. The water was lovely, calm and blue-blue.
I took this video to try to show just how many boats there were. Note: videos don’t usually play in the email version of this blog. To see it you want to go to NancyGoesToItaly.com
It was lunchtime and our Chef crew member Sandro, made a nice pasta lunch with rigatoni and lots of tuna. Served with beer, wine and cold drinks. It was delicious. Then we had fresh fruit, cookies, and Mirto, a potent drink made around here from myrtle.
There was one more stop. The famous pink sand beaches. I was the only person who opted out. It was REALLY hot and it was a ride on the rubber tender to the beach, then a hike over the hill and down, but you couldn’t go on the beach. The beach is protected by a full time caretaker because people were stealing the sand. No joke! One guy was caught with 3 pounds of sand and they fined him €3,000. Anyway, I decided to skip it. The rest reported I was smart not to go. I got to see the less than impressive pictures. While they were gone I went for another swim. The water is nice and cool and so salty it’s impossible to sink.
We returned at 5:45. It was really fun. I’m glad we did it. It is a thing everyone should see. The Maddalena islands are spectacular. But boy were we all whipped. It really makes you tired being in the sun and wind and sea all day. When we got back we all just opted for showers and room service. I slept very well!
~~~~~~~ Friday July 30
Supposed to be 102 degrees this day. That is HOT. And the humidity is quite high. After our breakfast we had reservations to visit a winery called Carichera. It is one of the best and biggest producers.
We were greeted by Anna. She told us about the history of the vineyard and the family as well as the types of wines they produce. The family name is Capichera.
Next we were transported by golf cart through the vineyard to a brand new tasting facility. The entire vineyard has drip irrigation. Still, some of the vines were suffering.
Along the way she showed us some of the indigenous plants to include the myrtle, from which they make the Mirto liquor. Then the pretty strawberry bush which flowers in November and fruits in summer. The honey is said to be very healthful. It is also rare since bees often do not pollinate that late in the year so they produce little honey. Anna said the people of Sardegna are some of the most long lived in the world. This is because until recently the people only ate what they produced which is very healthy. Little was brought in. There was no globalization. Until only 60 years ago they still mostly lived in stone huts with no running water or electricity.
We arrived at the tasting room which was blessedly air conditioned. The big windows had nice views of the patchwork vineyards.
We decided to do two tastings and share. Luther and I got two Vermantino white wines, and two red. They only use the Vermantino grape in Sardinia to produce the white wine. The red was a Syrah and a Syrah blend. Very unusual grape in Sardinia.
The placemats had the names of the wines so you could place your glasses in the right spots. Look at the names of the wines above. Most are in Sardegnian dialect. It is a very strange language. When I got back, I looked up lingua Sarda. Turns out there are three Sardinian dialects. Then the top part of the island speaks a Corsican dialect because Corsica is very close. Then a small town, and area to the west speaks a Catalan dialect. Very interesting. So the wine names we’re in the Logudorese Sardinian dialect.
We had lunch reservations at Li Neuli. It’s the restaurant at a country club. It was nice. Air conditioned and a pretty room. Interesting menus with much fresh seafood served crudo — raw. To include sashimi, an octopus carpaccio and fresh tuna. I picked the octopus and a nice scampi dish. Just the right amount.
This is the Sardinian, cracker-like bread served everywhere. They even use it as a plate, putting it under cheese, fruit and salumi.
A good day. We finished off with drinks by the pool with our bartender friend Luca. ~~~~~~~~~ Saturday July 31
We didn’t have much planned beyond lunch today. We breakfasted lightly because we had decided to return to ConFusion because we all liked it so much. I took some more pictures of the pretty buildings.
The lunch was wonderful as the last time. I only got an antipasto and a secondo. That way I would have room for dessert.
This is Filippo. One of Chef Bassi’s chihuahuas. He was cute.
An excellent lunch. It’s probably good that this guy is not closer to where we live!
Later, when we went for our customary glass of wine at the bar beside the pool at seven, we had to say goodbye to the sweet bar keepers. Luca and Gabriele. Two young men, small in stature and dark with beards. Quite handsome. They had to dress in the hotel dark pants with shirt and dark vest with a tie. Sometimes I felt really sorry for them because it was damn hot in the sun in those hot clothes. But they were both very nice and seem genuinely to like us. Sometimes you wonder with these employees. They have to be friendly but these two seemed to be really happy to know us. Anyway, sorry to say goodbye. I wish them well in the coming times. Which could be difficult.
~~~~~~~~~ Sunday, August 1 Thanks to Susan we got late checkout. Our flight is at 9:20PM. We can keep our room until six. A big thank you to our hotel. So we have this air conditioned space to share until we go to the airport.
We had hours to do things so we decided to go to the other big wine producer, Surrau. They had a three wine tasting with a nice plate of local cheeses, three meats, grapes, wine jelly and apple. Very nice. It was a big facility and very reminiscent of the California tasting rooms. Again that similarity to California.
Then we drove up into the mountains to a small town called San Pantaleo. It has the only piazza in our part of Sardinia. It also has attracted artists. Cute place. We visited the piazza and the church.
The town is full of little stone buildings. These are the typical houses that the people lived in before globalization.
The town nestles up against these massive, wind sculpted granite mountains.
We decided to have lunch here in a place called Zara Cafe. Cute family owned place. Dad is the cook, Mom and son run the front. We had fresh grilled fish. So good.
We returned to the hotel and stayed until five. Then for the horrors of travel nowadays. If we didn’t catch Covid here, we never will. Crowds of young, and, I’m sure, unvaccinated people. No social distancing possible. Everyone was good about wearing the mask at least. But it was horrible.
The flight was fine. It only takes 45 minutes. We landed at 10:40PM. Got our car just fine and decided to drive home. Only an hour and a half and it was fine. It was great to be home with our poor cats. The temperatures have been in the 100s and the house was very hot. I threw open the windows and hopefully it will cool off tonight. ~~~~~~ Now for my best and worst… Our hotel.Grand Relais dei Nuraghi. There were some glitches but they work hard to fix things. And they let us stay eight hours after checkout for free. 👍 The two bar tenders, Luca and Gabriele, need special thanks for their always cheerful care. Best food — ConFusion Best outing — Catamaran to the Maddalena archipelago. Best thing — those brilliant, cool, clear, electric blue waters! Worst thing — Olbia airport. All in all a fun trip. Would I go back? Probably not. It was not the “real” Italy. It felt like the US in many ways. The landscape and architecture looked like the US desert southwest. Because of this really big difference from what we are used to, it was a great get-away if only because we felt far away from home, in an exotic place for six days. I’m glad we went. I know we missed the interior for the most part and the south. So I can’t speak to those parts. Of the two islands, Sicily and Sardinia, I’d pick Sicily.
In five days we will know if we got Covid. We were hyper aware of the threat. The rate of transmission in Sardinia is the highest in Italy. And there were hordes of young people, most likely to not be vaccinated…or to follow the rules. We were in very crowded inside venues. The young people from Calabria on our catamaran tour were unlikely to be vaccinated and no one wore masks. I will report back!