Visit to Val Curone: La Costa to Galbusera Nera

Val Curone, a regional park about 20 minutes from the villa, is a delightful place to spend a few hours walking, painting, dining or wine tasting.

One of our favorite things to do there is to walk from La Costa Agristurismo to Galbusera Nera, both of which are picturesque and offer wondering painting or photography opportunities.

We typically park near the old farmhouse and walk (or paint) from there. The hill just above the farmhouse has lovely views of the grapevine-covered hills and view back to the farmhouse itself.

 

The interior of the old farmhouse is quite charming.

 

From the farmhouse, views of La Costa Agriturismo, with five apartments and four double rooms, is quite picturesque.

 

 

The Agriturismo La Costa is a lovely and quiet spot from which to explore the Val Curone.

 

The walk down to Galbusera Nera, where one can have a lovely lunch or a casual wine-tasting,  is not long and passes through a heavy forest before opening up near the donkey farm and on to the restaurant and winery.

 

At Galbusera Nera, one can enjoy a lovely al fresco lunch or wine tasting when it’s nice outside, or dine indoors. Either way, the food and wine are tasty and the service is friendly and professional. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

Day in Valtellina: Castel Grumello

The steep slopes on the north side of the beautiful Valtellina valley are covered with vineyards growing mostly nebbiolo grapes, which are made into some lovely wine. In fact, the wine was our reason for going to Valtellina in the first place. We had made the drive up and down the valley many times to have a wine tasting at Aldo Rainoldi and lunch at Fracia Ristorante, then stop in for the local meats and cheeses at Fratelli Ciapponi or La Fiorida before returning to the villa. We did notice the castle up there on the outcropping, though, and finally drove up to check it out and have been back many times since. The castle itself, Castel Grumello, was really interesting but the nice surprise was the amazing views up and down the valley, too.

 

Because of its strategic location between Italy and Central Europe, Valtellina was once home to numerous castles. The Castel Grumello, a “twin castle” with a military and a residential area, was begun in the 13th century and destroyed in 1526 by the Gray League (which also destroyed many of the other castles in the area).

 

 

 

 

We’ve visited the castle on sunny and rainy days, before lunch and after lunch and it’s always a treat.

 

It’s a great spot to take group pics!

 

One of the paths down from the castle passes through a little “restoro” with grapes hanging above the patio, and then by a private home with a balcony and a stunning view to the east.

 

Day in Valtellina: Ristorante Fracia

Ristorante Fracia, which we visited on our first day trip to Valtellina from Poggio Verde, remains our favorite. Its location is superb, nestled as it is among the Nino Negri vineyards, and its outdoor dining area is unforgettable. In the spring the purple wisteria hangs down from the pergola and in the fall the seed pods provide the interest. The indoor dining room is also very pleasant. Chef Luca Cantoni prepares reliable and tasty local food and our server, Fabrizio, is professional and friendly and we are always so glad to see them both.

 

The chef, Luca Cantoni, and his assistant in the kitchen turn out wonderful local food, beautifully and simply presented.

 

As Fracia is owned by Nino Negri, the excellent wines served there come from the vines surrounding the restaurant. We typically treat it as a sort of second wine tasting (in the morning we often visit Aldo Rainoldi, which we love).

 

When there’s time, and the group is so inclined, we take a post-prandial walk a few minutes up the hill to an overlook to take in the views. On a recent trip, we noticed that one of our group had walked on past the overlook and when he didn’t reappear immediately we went to find him and see what he was up to. He had come across a grape harvesting crew, quite a wonderful surprise! The crew foreman told us in broken English about the grapes and gave us some to taste and to take back to the villa.

 

We have also thoroughly enjoyed the Michelin-starred La Presef at the Fiorida complex west of Morbegno, and can certainly recommend it, but we do love Fracia for its location, the warm welcome we always receive, and the well-prepared, simple local food.

 

 

Day in Valtellina: Winemaker Aldo Rainoldi

Eric Asimov, the wine writer for the New York Times, wrote an article a few years ago about a lesser-known wine area in Northern Italy called Valtellina. We decided to check it out with one of our food and wine groups (“Taste of Northern Italy“) and have had the pleasure of returning many times since. It’s a bit longer drive from the villa than most of our day trips, almost 1.5 hours, but well worth it, not only for the wine but also for the beauty of the valley, the medieval castle ruins overlooking the valley, the 19th century grocery store and the restaurants we’ve come to know and love there, especially Ristorante Fracia.

 

Valtellina

The beautiful Valtellina looking west from the overlook above Ristorante Fracia in May. Photo by Austin Mann.

Valtellina shares its northern border with Switzerland, and it looks it. How grapes came to be grown, and wine made, in such rugged territory is quite a mystery. The work involved in terracing the steep hillsides to grow grapes is mind-boggling, but wine has been made here since before the Romans arrived (for over 2000 years). Leonardo da Vinci mentioned Valtellina in his Codex Atlanticus, describing the mountains as “fearsome” and the wines made there as “powerful.” Both are still true!

Valtellina

Walking up from Ristorante Fracia in Teglio toward the overlook

The very steep terraces grow excellent grapes, primarily the same grape used for the famous Piemonte wines (Barolo, Barbaresco, etc.). In Valtellina the grape is called “chiavannasca” and in Piemonte it’s known as “nebbiolo.” We’ve visited several producers, including Nino Negri, Sandro Fay, Ar.Pe.Pe and Aldo Rainoldi, but the one we tend to visit for tours (and for purchasing cases to take home or back to the villa for future enjoying) is Aldo Rainoldi. We have come to know the young current owners, who enthusiastically welcome our groups and many other guests we’ve encouraged to visit. We begin with a tour of the cellars…

 

…and continue with a tasting of four or five of the wines. Most of the Rainoldi wines are made with the chiavennasca grape but they do also make a couple of very nice whites and a lovely sparkling wine and then a visit to the boutique to make our selections to ship home or take back with us to the villa.

 

When we return to the villa, we unload the cases to enjoy during the week or to take to the cantina for aging and sharing with future villa guests.

Rainoldi Poggio Verde

 

Albergo Silvio Restaurant (Bellagio)

One of our “Taste of Northern Italy” groups happened to try Albergo Silvio restaurant in the fall of 2018 and we are so delighted we did! The location is a perfect for lunch. It’s situated overlooking Lake Como and is just a 10-minute walk or so down a pretty path to the south entrance of the Giardini Melzi. The after-lunch stroll to the gardens, and then along the lake into Bellagio, is perfect! (See our recent post on the Giardini Melzi).

The dining rooms are lovely and provide a beautiful setting for a leisurely lunch of local specialties at any time of year.

 

The patio is also beautiful!

 

The food is very tasty (and pretty!), the wine list offers plenty of nice options…

 

…and the service is excellent; professional and friendly.

 

Cheers to discovering Silvio with this lovely group and to enjoying this place and this day and this trip with friends and family!

 

Join us on one of our next “Taste” (or other) trips or contact us for this day’s itinerary to do on your own.

Giardini Melzi – Lake Como

The Giardini Melzi, a few minutes’ walk south of the justifiably famous little town of Bellagio, is a perennial favorite of our guests at Poggio Verde Country Villa.

Our “Bellagio Day,” which includes Giardini Melzi, usually begins mid-morning and includes about a 45-minute drive up the western side of Lake Lecco (the other leg of Lake Como) and over the bump into Bellagio, arriving in time for an early lunch.

We’ve enjoyed lunch at several places in Bellagio but one of our current favorites is Albergo Silvio, which is perched above the Melzi garden. The menu offers a very nice selection of local fish, including the traditional lake fish and rice, and has a very decent wine list. An outdoor patio overlooks the lake and the dining room is perfect – all glass! 

 

After lunch we often take an interesting little path on the north side of the restaurant that leads right down to the south entrance of the garden. Don’t forget to look down as well as up as there are always little surprises (see the snail?).

 

We go out under the arch to the little street and turn right toward the entrance of the Giardini (and pass some other nice arches along the way).

 

We pick up our tickets at the entrance and walk south toward the villa. When we have time we take a peak into the tiny little chapel.

 

The villa comes into view. Villa Melzi d’Eril is one of the most important historical landmarks on the shore of Lake Como. It was built between 1808 and 1810 by Francesco Melzi d’Eril, duke of Lodi and vice president of the Italian Republic under Napoleon, who was also a personal friend. The most important architects and artists of the day were involved in the project. The villa’s architect (Canonica) and botanist (Villoresi) also designed the Villa Reale in Monza.

 

The former Orangerie (greenhouse) of the villa is now a museum. (The villa itself is not open to the public). It contains a few historical artifacts from the Napoleonic period and Renaissance frescoes.

 

The terraced gardens allow stunning views of Lake Como from three levels. The gardens are thoroughly enjoyable in all four seasons and in all weather and at all times of day but if you happen to be there on a somewhat cloudy day in the late afternoon you’re in for a special treat.

Photo: Austin Mann

 

The Moorish Pavilion in the garden has lovely views across the lake and four beautiful sculptures, including one of Lodovico Melzi d’Eril. Outside the pavilion is a memorial to the Italian writer Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) and his beloved Beatrice.

 

From the gardens it’s a beautiful ten-minute walk along the lake into Bellagio for some wandering and surprisingly good shopping for such a small place. From there it’s about a 15-20 minute taxi boat ride to Villa Balbianello.

 

A Visit to San Vigilio (Bergamo)

We’ve been taking our Poggio Verde Country Villa groups to Bergamo, a beautiful (very) old hilltop city about an hour from the villa for several years. We have been hearing from our wonderful Bergamo guide, Elena Marchesi, and again recently from another friend, that we should visit Castello San Vigilio, which is a walk or funicular ride on up the hill from the Cittá Alta of Bergamo.

So the last couple times we’ve been there we’ve been trying to figure out a way to squeeze it in, with no luck. This time, though, we were quite determined to go so we adjusted a few things and found a new lunch spot in Bergamo, which turned out to be an outstanding restaurant right next to the funicular going up to San Vigilio. (More about that restaurant in another post…) Most of the group was up for an adventure after lunch so we hopped on the funicular and went up.

 

As we departed the funicular and headed toward the exit, we checked out the views to the left, which were wonderful, and then looked around for signs for the Castello, which we easily found. We turned right, following the sign, walked a few minutes up the cobblestone path and rounded the corner to see the walls of the medieval castle. (The first mention of the castle is actually in the 6th century but it’s undergone changes through the centuries, of course.) Our favorite memory of that trip up, though, was when Frank left the main path and disappeared into a doorway in the rock… and didn’t come out. We all followed, maybe to make sure he was okay, maybe not to miss what he was getting to see/do. We found ourselves in a narrow tower with winding stone steps and started up, hoping to find Frank and hoping there was an exit somewhere… and wondering how many more steps there were.

 

Eventually we found ourselves on a gorgeous plateau with views ALL around the countryside (and we found Frank!). Stupendous! 


Exploring and discovering is just the best! We’ve added San Vigilio to our Bergamo itinerary going forward, that’s for sure. 🙂

Rainy Day on Lake Como

All of our guests LOVE to visit Lake Como, even on a rainy day. We typically take our trusty Cazzaniga bus to Bellagio (about 45 minutes) and toodle around there a bit, checking out the shops along the little main piazza or up and down the steps, then head to the magnificent Villa Balbianello across the lake to the west, either on a ferry to Lenno or a private taxi boat.

 

Arriving at Villa Balbianello:

 

We typically walk the grounds of Villa Balbianello then head back to Bellagio but on this trip we also took the tour inside the villa, which afforded some nice views.

 

The grounds of Villa Balbianello are so beautiful, and the colors are only intensified in the rain!

 

Arriving or leaving Villa Balbianello is beautiful!

 

If there is time and inclination, we definitely encourage guests to wander in the Giardini Melzi along the lake, just to the south of Bellagio. It’s about a ten- to fifteen-minute walk through the gardens and provides a really pleasant stroll, even in the rain.

Day Trip: Bergamo, May 2016

The day was nice and sunny as we drove the hour or so from Poggio Verde Country Villa to Bergamo, a beautiful hilltop town east of Poggio Verde. We crossed the Adda River, along which one of the group had cycled the previous day (and reported there was a nice path that could be good for a group cycle at some point). We parked in the Piazza Liberta parking area in Bergamo (taking care to avoid driving in the “Zone C” area, which can result in hefty fines) and walked the seven blocks or so to the funicular station, bought our tickets and hopped on for the five-minute ride to the Bergamo Alta Citta (high city).

 

As we left the funicular and walked up the Via Gombito about 2-3 blocks toward the main piazza, we passed a former marketplace, currently a restaurant, with beautiful vaulted arches. We arrived into the main piazza and were met with an architectural feast for the eyes. We walked up the staircase next to the Palazzo della Ragione and had a look at the view down into the piazza on one side and at the churches and chapels on the other and at the beautiful hills off in the distance.

 

We had a look (and tried to figure out) the fascinating sundial under the Palazzo della Ragione then walked on to the incredibly beautiful Cappella Colleoni and the Santa Maria Maggiore. We poked our heads into the church, deciding to come back after we found our friends, who were joining us shortly, but we should’ve read the sign… it closes from 12:30-2:30, which is not atypical of monuments in Italy. Something to come back for! We continued to the right, passing the south entrance to the church, and around the corner toward the Tempietto di Santa Croce and the sublime Curia della Auria.

 

We had not researched Bergamo much, knowing we would be there such a short time, essentially to meet friends coming into Orio al Serio airport (a few minutes from Bergamo), take a quick peek at the piazza and head to lunch in nearby Alme (as “research” for the Food/Wine trips coming in the fall of 2016). So all we knew was to park at Piazza Liberta, follow the signs to the funicular up to the Alta Citta (high city) and get to the main piazza. We certainly didn’t know about going around to the back and enjoying and appreciating the little tempietto – one of our party happened to see a sign and investigate. And we were quite taken aback when we passed through a little door that said “Aula della Curia…”

 

Leaving the Aula di Curia by a different door we made sure to document how to return next time, also from the main piazza (to the right of the Cappella Colleoni). It was such an unforgettable experience we probably didn’t need the documentation, though…  We walked back through the Piazza Vecchia, back down the funicular and to the parking garage, passing some beautiful villas on the way.

 

From there we drove to nearby Almé where there had been a choice of two Michelin-starred restaurants. Our first choice for price and sense (Frosio) was closed that day so we found the elegant Osteria della Brughiera. We were quite late by that time but the staff were remarkably kind and helpful. There was a 40-euro menu which we all took advantage of and we were served some very, very flavorful food in innovative presentations by excellent staff.

 

After lunch we drove in the direction of the villa and stopped at the lovely little hilltop village of Montevecchia with the magnificent views and excellent artisanal ice cream shop. It’s about a 12-minute drive from the villa so we enjoy going here more than once on a trip if the opportunity presents itself.

 

Back at the villa we had another lovely dinner and conversation with the new guests who had arrived that day with many stories of their travels and of living a fascinating life in Bucharest, Romania. Then it was time for a stroll on the grounds at sunset, always an irresistible activity with great rewards!

Be Charmed: Milan

It was with a decided mixture of sadness and delight that the group greeted the last day of Be Charmed, 2015. After another nice Italian continental breakfast around that lovely table, it was time to board the bus for Milan.

 

The driver dropped the group off near the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, where they met their guide for the day, Francesca. She told us about the masterpiece we were about to see, the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. It is a remarkable work of art and it is a miracle that is has survived (roughly since the time Columbus sailed to America!). Photos are not allowed to be taken inside, so see the link for some photos and fascinating history, including of the original technique used to paint the fresco, the many restorations attempted over the centuries and the astonishing survival of the fresco after the bombing of the church and convent during World War II.

 

After the allotted 15 minutes visiting the sublime fresco (be sure to walk to the back of the room for the best perspective!), the group walked around to see the inside of the church and then the beautiful cloister.

 

From the church they walked along a street toward the Piazza Duomo that has some of the oldest archaeological sites in Milan.

 

There was a  stop at the surprising little San Satiro church with the marvelous trompe l’oeil choir by Brunelleschi (he only had a depth of 3 feet to work with)…

 

… and then the group continued on to the Ristorante Arengario at the top of the Novecento Museum (museum of 20th century art) on the Piazza Duomo, where some typical Italian dishes were thoroughly enjoyed in a dining room with an extraordinary view, including of the truffle being shaved at the next table!

 

The ladies left the Museo Novecento and crossed the Piazza Duomo in front of the magnificent Duomo (cathedral) of Milan, walked through the Galleria (one of the world’s first and most beautiful covered shopping centers). They continued to the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, a former palazzo that houses a private collection of art, and then on to the famous Montenapoleone shopping street for some window-shopping.

 

The bus picked up the ladies near the Piazza della Scala and took them to the brand new Piazza Gae Aulenti near the Porto Garibaldi train station to see the once-in-a-lifetime 360-degree, 16-screen video of the extraordinary beauty of Italy from its geography to the arts and design, and even its cuisine, over the millennia. The video link we’ve provided is not official but it’s the best example we found of what it was like to stand in the room and watch and listen to the 15-minute presentation. It was a profoundly beautiful and moving experience. The group then walked up the block or two to the pedestrian walking street, Corso di Como, and popped into Number 10, an eclectic small mix of shops and restaurant. Just before boarding the bus back to the villa, the group got to observe a photoshoot in process!