On May 4, 2013 a tornado touched down in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. A path of chaos was carved throughout the area best known for a city that inspired a processed meat in the US nowhere near an authentic representation of it’s namesake – Bologna.
One day prior, a different type of tornado touched down in the Lombardia region just north of Emilia-Romagna. Our friends, Nathan and Danielle landed in Milan and a whirlwind of food, fun, wine was about to begin – our own path of chaos would be carved throughout northern Italy.
Our very good friends, Nathan and Danielle
I picked them up at the airport while Jen stayed home to prepare a proper welcome – an Italian pranzo (lunch) done right. We greeted them with an aperitivo (an alcoholic beverage used to stimulate the appetite) and then began stuffing them with salami, prosciutto, lardo (cured meat – basically just pork fat thinly sliced), cheese and olives. Then it was on to the pasta course, with a simple red sauce before our secondo, veal Milanese. Next of course were the salads and then dessert – fresh fruit and pastries we bought that morning. Plenty of wine flowed throughout the meal and we finished with grappa. The only problem… our large lunch had an effect opposite of our intention to keep them awake and perky in order to stave off jet-lag. They were both crying out for a nap, but we were merciless with our plans. We whisked them to downtown Como, where we walked off lunch and eventually made our way to a bar for happy hour outdoors under the sun.
Our next day (and pretty much every day following) was even more action packed than the first. We woke up early and headed to Como to catch the “fast-ferry” to Bellagio. The hydro-foil was going to bring us half-way up Lake Como to one of our favorite towns. Bellagio is often referred to as the Pearl of Lake Como, a very fitting nickname. The beauty of the town inspired the grand casino and resort in Las Vegas that shares the same name. We arrived at the pier a few minutes too late and watched as the faster hydro-foil departed without us. We booked tickets for the next ferry, the slower boat that would take two hours to reach our destination. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we positioned ourselves in the open bow of the boat (we later learned the faster boat was entirely enclosed) and spent a full two hours marveling at the beauty of the lake. It also helped pass the time that we drank individual portions of boxed wine (imagine a juice box with wine as opposed to juice… “don’t take mommy’s juice-boxes, little Johnny”).
Nate and Danielle on the boat
Danielle gave Julia her first piece of gum (which she swallowed in seconds)
The whole crew
Some towns we saw along the lake – love the light coming through the clouds
Isola Comacina (an island in Lake Como)
Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo
The town of Tremezzo
Julia having fun with Danielle onboard
We arrived at Bellagio cheerful and ready to explore. But the internal Italian clock had already set in with our guests and it was just past noon – nearly time for lunch (without exception). We headed to Aperitivio et Al, where we had already made reservations. We ordered antipasto and then moved on to our main dishes. We ordered an extra dish for the table to share, a local specialty called pizzoccheri. Jen and I have enjoyed this unique local pasta many times over the years and they prepared the dish quite well here.
Bellagio from the opposite side of the lake
A baby in a stroller is no match for two strong guys!
Selection of cheeses
Danielle served our grappa
One of my favorite streets in Bellagio – right where ate
The girls having fun
The flowers in Bellagio are stunning – even Julia was taken aback
After lunch we set out to explore a bit before heading to Villa Serbelloni – a beautiful resort that sits directly on the lake. We commandeered a perfect spot in the corner of their terrace and ordered a round of the popular Italian afternoon drink, Aperol Sprtiz. As we finished our drinks, Nathan and I mulled over our next order of business when Danielle came back in true “Sweet D” fashion – two Cuban cigars in hand and two waiters in tow, carrying a bottle of champagne (for the girls) and two beers (for the guys). I guess we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, which was just fine with us. Eventually we departed in time to catch the ferry (this time we made it to the fast boat) and headed back home for a late dinner.
A view from one of the hotel’s terraces
Nathan became giddy at the view
This is what he was looking at
Julia soaking it all up
The gang’s all here
Having fun with Daddy
The girls with their sprtiz’s
The aftermath of our afternoon
Another view from the hotel
Sunday (day three) was a continuation of the first two. I had prearranged a wine tasting in the Piemonte region – an area in the northwest of the country that produces some of the world’s best wines. Several weeks back, my father-in-law sent me an email about a three day event that was divided between six venues (mostly private villas and castles), spread among four villages and serving hundreds of the best Barolo’s, Barbaresco’s and Diano d’Alba’s (to name a few). The only problem – it was reserved for professionals in the wine industry. I was dismayed to learn that I may be prevented from attending a seemingly perfect day of free wine tasting. I viewed the registration form anyways and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to let them know I was a wine importer and therefore worthy of a badge (along with my three “co-workers”). It isn’t that far-fetched of a tale, as I would love to get into the trade and figured I could do some networking in between sips. The ruse worked and we had a day planned to experience some of the best wine in Italy.
Grandi Langhe DOCG Wine Event
The three hour drive to the Langhe province flew by and we were welcomed with warm weather and bright blue skies. Our anticipation built as we passed rolling hills and fields of vines dotting the landscape in perfect lines like ants on their way to a picnic. We arrived in the town of Monforte d’ Alba and teetered our way down the small cobblestone street toward the location of our first tasting, Palazzo Martinengo. The venue was wonderful and I was amazed to see how many local producers were in attendance, eager to showcase their wine and talk about their grapes’ unique prowess. I had a blast chatting in a combination of English and Italian, evaluating how the local terroir affects the flavor of each wine. It was no small coincidence that I chose this particular day of the three to attend the tasting – the first venue was featuring only Barolo’s (the most sought-after of all the wines in the region). We enjoyed a lunch on the terrace – steak tartare, pasta (of course) and some other goodies before moving onto the next venue.
Monforte d’ Alba
Inside the event
Lunch was served on the terrace
Badges and glasses ready
Danielle goes in for a taste
These guys must be big time wine importers – I mean, look at those pink shirts!
Stepping out for a bit
What a day!
As we piled into the shuttle we noticed some dark clouds moving in. By the time we arrived at Tenuta Abbene, a heavy rain had broken through the clouds. I was particularly bummed, because this venue was stunning – a private villa set back behind a long driveway. Situated behind many hectares of grape fields and atop a hill that produced a view of the entire valley. The event had planned this portion of the tasting to be outside – a plan that was wasted because everyone was crowded inside a small space to avoid the blistering cold rain. Eventually we decided the rain wasn’t letting up and opted to drive home, but not after stopping at one of our favorite restaurants, Antique Sapore for Como’s best pizza.
The villa – shot from the safety of cover
More of the outdoor space we weren’t able to enjoy
Danielle fashioned a couture raincoat out of a garbage bag
Monday, we needed a break before our next big trip (we were leaving for Venice the next morning) and so we enjoyed a slow morning before headed to our absolute favorite dining establishment… Franco and Claudia’s home, just upstairs. She prepared a wonderful lunch which we all thoroughly enjoyed (I even caught her in a picture… a rare feat indeed).
Everyone for lunch – Franco… SMILE like you like us!
Preparing the food in the kitchen
Afterward we took a nice long drive, winding our way up the lake past some more of our favorite towns and ended up in Menaggio.
Walking around Menaggio
Walking along the lake
I was helping Julia attract the ducks so she could “pet them”
River that leads to the lake
Soaking up the scenery
Can you believe that we just happened to be sitting like this?!
Just like Nathan and Danielle’s visit, we have a lot packed into this post and so I will conclude this first part and resume again next with our exciting trip to Venice. Ciao for now…