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!

 

On arrival at the villa, the ladies went up to pack and take a pause before celebrating a wonderful last evening. They began with a celebratory bubbly (Franciacorta, of course!) and hors d’oeuvres, and a toast to the wonderful Riza whose cooking and general assistance and very sweet spirit they had enjoyed all week. Gretchen and Luigi, the villa hosts and owners were also toasted, then the group adjourned to the dining room for their final dinner together. Favorite moments from the week were shared, questions about the villa and its history were asked and answered, and general merriment ensued, extending the evening as long as possible.


The next morning, the early risers came down for their final cup of Italian coffee and Fumagalli pastries and everyone boarded the bus for Malpensa Airport. As of this writing, two of the ladies are returning for a Be Charmed trip in October of 2016 and other groups are in the planning stages. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly during this week and look forward to hosting guests for Be Charmed, Painters Retreat, Golf/Gourmet, Food/Wine, Italian Gourmet Cooking or other custom-designed trips.

Be Charmed: Monza

The group boarded the Cazzaniga bus for the 30-minute ride to Monza on a beautiful October day. The group walked through the town square to the cathedral, which houses the iron crown of Lombardy, made in the early middle ages and said to include a nail from the cross of Jesus. Among the many emperors crowned with it over the years was Napoleon, in 1805.

 

The visit continued at the 18th century Royal Villa of Monza (the Palazzo Reale), originally built for King Ferdinand of Austria when that part of Italy, Lombardy, was part of the Austrian Empire.

 

There was a fascinating exhibit of Italian high fashion from 1945 through 1968 in one of the exhibition halls of the villa.

 

The group then visited some other parts of the villa, including an exhibition of Italian design in the “attic.” The workmanship through is quite magnificent.

 

Upon return to the villa, various members of the group walked around in the beautiful late afternoon sun and captured a few lovely photos on the grounds.

 

Cocktails (usually the classic Italian Negroni) go very nicely with a game of bocce and it has become a bit of a tradition for visitors to enjoy bocce and a Negroni at some point during the week.

 

The south terrace outside the kitchen is an ideal spot for gathering and for group photos.

 

Most dinners during the week are in the beautiful dining room of the villa but the group did venture out to the nearby Giovanna Passeri to enjoy local food prepared beautifully with ingredients from her own garden.

Be Charmed: Lago Maggiore

What a glorious day!! The beautiful blue sky and balmy October weather couldn’t have been better for the day trip to Lago Maggiore and two of its beautiful little islands, Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori.


Upon arrival in Stresa, a private boat was engaged for the day, beginning with the 5-10 minute ride to Isola Bella (aptly named: “beautiful island”), home of the magnificent Palazzo Borromeo.


The tour through the palace was very interesting…


…and afforded stunning views of Lago Maggiore and/or the park and gardens around the palazzo.


The lower level of the palazzo (the grotto) was fascinating and beautiful. Cobblestone and shells made for a cool place for the family to retreat to in hot weather.


The grounds on the east side of the palazzo were very…  interesting. Quite decorative. Edith Wharton devoted an entire chapter in her 1904 book on Italian villas to the palace and its unique gardens.


From there the group walked back to the waiting boat for the five-minute ride to little Isola Pescatori (fisherman’s island).


A lovely lunch was enjoyed on the terrace of the Ristorante Unione Superiore.


From there the boatman made a circle the long way around Isola Bella for a good look at the island and the Palazzo, then it was back to Stresa, where the coach was waiting for the drive back to the villa.


The group arrived home in time to enjoy some lovely late afternoon sun before another wonderful dinner at the villa.

 

 

 

Be Charmed: Mantero, Como, Brunate

Our delightful driver arrived after breakfast to take the group on yet another wonderful adventure.


First stop was Mantero, a silk outlet outside of Como. On first glance the shop looked small but the longer the group was there, the more they realized there was to choose from. In addition to the wide variety of scarves, there were some lovely ties. The ladies made many circles, picking things up and trying them on and eventually settling on a few things. On the way out the group noticed there were workers inside touching up some of the beautiful fabrics by hand.


From there it was a short drive to the restaurant for a nice lunch. After lunch the driver delivered the group to a spot where they could walk through a beautiful old square and along the lake to the funicular. The ride up the side of the mountain provides a beautiful view over Como and the Lake and ends at Brunate, a surprisingly pretty little village above Lake Como.


Brunate turned out to be a lovely little village and on a nice day or with a bit more time it would be worth spending more time exploring the area. It appears there are a number of excellent hikes from there (with stunning views, no doubt). After walking around a bit and visiting the lovely little church, the group decided to stop for a cup of hot cocoa or tea and was happy to find an outdoor cafe with blankets for the customers.


After a funicular ride back down (before which a certain 82-year-old female was observed jumping back over the turnstyle when she realized she’d gone through too early, and which happened so fast and so unexpectedly it was not be captured on camera), the group walked back along the lake and reconnected with the bus. A quick decision was made to visit Villa Olmo for a few minutes since it was so close. Despite the cloudy day it was beautiful.


Luigi, whose family has owned the Poggio Verde villa for several generations, had arrived from Milan and he graciously fielded many questions over cocktails and then a lovely dinner of typical Northern Italian specialties.

 

Be Charmed: Foxtown, Villa d’Este, Wine Tasting

The driver came to collect the group and they drove the hour or so to the Foxtown outlet shops, just over the border in Switzerland. After a couple of hours checking out the lovely merchandise at shops like Armani, Ferragamo, Loro Piano, etc., it was time for a bite of lunch.

 

After lunch the group made a stop at the beautiful Villa d’Este hotel in Cernobbio.


On arriving back at the villa, the ladies disembarked with their purchases in a fine mood. The day had been lovely but was not yet over… next up was the wine tasting.

 

Representatives of the Penati Wine Shop in Oggiono, a few minutes north of Barzanò came and provided a tasting of four Italian wines from different regions along with appropriate “affinati” (charcuterie or meat/cheese plate). At the end, the group voted on their favorites and a few bottles were kept to enjoy the rest of the week.

Be Charmed: Bergamo and Franciacorta

After breakfast, the group boarded the bus for the hour or so drive to Bergamo, one of the lovely hilltop towns in Lombardy. The group met up with the wonderful tour guide, Elena, and the tour began in the main piazza.

 

The beautiful Bergamo Cathedral was next.


After the cathedral visit it was time for lunch. On the way, the group passed some witches filming a vacuum commercial and a couple of interesting shop windows.


Lunch included such taste treats as polenta with rabbit, ravioli stuffed with bacon and ricotta, pasta with mushrooms, risotto and finished with an introduction to the excellent “affogato” or ice cream with espresso coffee poured over the top.


The group passed a particularly nice-looking pasticceria (bakery) and one of the ladies purchased some lovely meringues to take home for dessert later that evening.

The ladies left Bergamo and were driven the 40 minutes or so to Franciacorta, with the beautiful view of the foothills of the Alps in the distance. There had been rain in Bergamo but it cleared up as Castelveder Winery came within sight. The adorable Camilla (who runs the winery with her brother and her grandmother) provided an excellent tour of the winery and the classical methods used there to produce a particularly high quality sparkling wine. The grandmother came by to say hello, which was a lovely treat for the group. The favorite of the day was the Satin, and several bottles were procured to enjoy at the villa the rest of the week.


After the tour and tasting, there was time to walk in the stunning vineyards and see the pinot nero and chardonnay grapes that are grown there. There’s a cycling path in Franciacorta and perhaps someday it would lovely to try that… 


Dinner that night at the villa was preceded by a sip of the Casteveder rose and included veal meatballs and artichokes and a salad, and, of course, the meringues.