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: Arrival Day, Montevecchia

As the group of women exited the arrivals hall at Milan’s Malpensa Airport, the driver was there to greet them and take them to the bus for the ride to Poggio Verde Country Villa. When later asked what they thought as they drove through the villa gate and up the drive, the immediate response was “we gasped.”

After unpacking and having their suitcases removed for storage for the week (the better to feel “at home”), the ladies took a short walk around the villa park. Despite the gray, overcast day, the villa and grounds made for some very nice photos.

The first outing was to Dac a Trá for lunch, a wonderful restaurant with a Michelin star about ten minutes from the villa. A menu had been selected ahead of time and the group enjoyed a pre-lunch glass of rose and an amuse-bouche before their pumpkin risotto and crescenza (creamy local cheese) arrived. The dish was received very enthusiastically. The main course was a very tasty fish and the dessert, raspberry sorbet with a crispy cookie. The ladies commented on how beautifully presented everything was, mentioning that it was served on Wedgwood china.


After lunch the bus took the group on the 20-minute ride up to the beautiful little hilltop town of Montevecchia. It just so happened that the villa in the center of town was open, which is not often the case. An impromptu tour of the first floor of the villa was enjoyed by all (the second floor is occupied by the family and is not open for visitors). Most of the ladies then climbed the stairs to the church at the very top, which has a lovely view of the protected park surrounding the town (Parco Curone) and the hills of Brianza (the name of the area around Poggio Verde).

 

Upon leaving Montevecchia, the driver continued on up the ridge in the direction of the tiny cheese shop at the farmhouse up the road. A few cheeses were purchased to enjoy during the week.

 

Dinner at the villa was homemade tagliatelle pasta with fresh veggies and herbs, accompanied by some nice Italian wines. It was followed by a salad and a dessert from Fumagalli, the excellent local pastry shop. Then it was time to go to bed and rest up for the next day’s adventure to Bergamo and Franciacorta.

Chattanooga in Poggio Verde

IMG_1478In a country villa up a hillside from little Barzanò, Italy, less than an hour north of Milan, final preparations are underway to receive visitors for a week of exploring the beauty of northern Italy. Rooms are being given a final cleaning, the refrigerator is being stocked, the grounds are being tended to and windows are being shined so nothing obstructs the gorgeous views.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, eight women are finishing up their packing, taking care of last minute details and saying their good-byes before heading to the airport to catch their flight for Milan, arriving Saturday morning.

Things may change due to weather, but their itinerary is as follows:

DAY 1: Saturday, 3 October 2015. Arrival, Organic Luncheon and Montevecchia. Exiting Malpensa airport’s baggage area, look for our driver who will be holding a large POGGIO VERDE sign. He will accompany you to the Villa where you will have time to unpack, make yourself comfortable and take a relaxed walk in the park. We will have lunch at the organic farm,”Galbusera Bianca” followed by a short walk in scenic Montevecchia Alto with its quaint church and stations of the cross. The day ends with a delicious meal at the Villa with home-made tagliolini pasta and fresh vegetables and herbs, followed by Italian cheeses and a dolce.

turismo-enogastronomico-strada-vino-franciacorta-wineDAY 2: Sunday, 4 October. Bergamo Alto and Franciacorta. After breakfast, our driver will take us the lovely hill town of Bergamo. We’ll take the funicular to Bergamo “Alta”, one of the most beautiful hill towns in Italy. After wandering around the medieval town we will take the funicular back to the lower city and our driver will take us to lunch at a nearby vineyard to taste the delicious sparkling wine of the region and then back to Poggio Verde. We’ll have dinner at the Villa prepared by Cicchi (pronounced Cheeky), a great chef and friend.

mendrisioDAY 3: Monday, 5 October. Switzerland, Outlet shopping, Wine Tasting. After breakfast, put your passport in your purse because we’re heading up to Switzerland! Our driver will take us for a short visit to the house museum Vincenzo Vela in Ligornetto and we will have lunch at the nearby family restaurant “Grotto Balduna” featuring Ticinese local cuisine. After lunch we will visit Foxtown for outlet shopping. Return to Poggio Verde and relax until our wine tasting session with the sommelier Penati of Oggiono and delicious home-cooked meal of Northern Italian specialties.

IMG_3452DAY 4: Tuesday, 6 October. Como, Silk outlet, painting exhibit, Tea at Villa d’Este. After breakfast, our driver will take us to Como, where we will enjoy a bit of the Old Town and visit Mantero, a luscious Italian silk outlet. We will have lunch at a sweet Osteria featuring local specialties, then visit a painting exhibit at Villa Olmo in Como followed by tea at the Villa d’Este, one of the most beautiful romantic and neoclassical villas in Italy. Our driver will return us to Poggio Verde in time for dinner prepared for us at the Villa.

isola bellaDAY 5: Wednesday, 7 October. Lago Maggiore, Stresa, Isola Bella, Linens outlet. After breakfast our driver will take us to the charming town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore. We will take a walk along the lakefront and then take a boat from Stresa to the magnificent Isola Bella, the most lavish of the three Borromean Islands. Here we’ll have lunch in a charming restaurant and we will visit the princely Borromeo Palace and its grandiose baroque Italian Gardens built on ten terraces. We return to Stresa by boat where our driver awaits us to accompany us to the linens outlet Bellora and then back to the Villa for a delicious meal at Poggio Verde. (Rain alternative: Go to Milan and visit EXPO! The world exhibition has been receiving excellent reviews and exhibits from 70 countries are said to be amazing.)

Duomo PicDAY 6: Thursday, 8 October. Milano: The Last Supper, Duomo, La Scala, Via Montenapoleone. After breakfast, our driver will take us to Milan where we will begin with a guided tour that includes Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Lunch will be in a restaurant overlooking the roof of the Duomo. From the restaurant we will walk through the Galleria to the La Scala opera house for a behind-the-scenes visit, followed by shopping and strolling down Via Montenapoleone and Via Spiga. Our driver returns us to the Villa for a short rest and then we will dine at the nearby “Giovanna Passeri” Agriturismo with its refined and fresh Brianzola specialties.

DAY 7: Friday, 912174253054_ca094e3b17_n October. Royal Monza After breakfast our driver will accompany us to the royal city of Monza we will visit one of the most beautiful Romanesque cathedrals in Northern Italy, the Duomo of Monza, for a look at the famed “Iron crown” – said to have been made with the melted-down nails of the Cross and the crown which Napoleon crowned himself in 1805. After a stroll around the old center of this pretty town, we’ll have lunch at a delightful Osteria featuring local specialties. Then we’ll visit the newly renovated Royal   Villa of Monza, a truly spectacular visit. That evening we will celebrate a scrumptious good-bye dinner prepared by Cicchi at what has become by now your new Italian “home.”

DAY 8: Saturday 10 October Departure. After breakfast at the Villa our driver will take you (and your packages and your great memories!) to the airport.

Hike to San Pietro al Monte

On a beautiful September day, a group drove from Poggio Verde Country Villa to Civate, about 20 minutes from the villa, parked along a street and began walking, following the signs for San Pietro al Monte, an 11th century church and oratorio on the site of what used to be a monastery complex believed to have been founded in about 700 AD.

The walk to the beginning of the path gained a few hundred feet in altitude and passed a newly-built “rifugio” that is very likely filled with visitors enjoying picnics and a nice view on weekends and during the summer. It would be a good spot to fill up a water bottle, too. As the group continued on up, they passed a very likely-looking restaurant that might be worth checking into on the way back down, which might be right around lunchtime.


The beginning of the path was paved with stones and and fairly flat but it wasn’t long until the it began to climb at a greater angle and became bumpier. (Hiking boots or tennis shoes with good support are a good idea.) After about an hour of hiking, much of which essentially began to feel like stair-climbing, the gate to the complex came into view and then the Oratorio of St. Benedict. A few steps later and the view opens up over lakes and across to the Grigna, and the beautiful San Pietro al Monte comes into view. Up the steps to the entrance of the church provide an even better vantage point for the magnificent view.


The group found the doors to the church locked but thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful “porch” area and its stone arches just outside the door. After taking in the views from that vantage point, the group walked back down the steps and found a spot on the lawn for a little rest before heading back down the path.


One of the group went to find a restroom (they are on the back side of the church, to the right of the steps down some stairs) and as he passed by he noticed that the doors to the church had been opened so the group went up to have a look. The main level of the church has some beautiful old frescoes and some stairs lead down to a crypt, which is also beautiful.


It was indeed lunchtime when the group reached the bottom so a table was chosen on the outdoor patio where they had a simple but very good lunch with housemade pasta and locally-grown or produced ingredients. It would be worth planning a hike around, either at the beginning or end.


As an aside, one of the Fitbit-wearing members of the group noted that the hike was recorded as 135 sets of stairs and about 16,000 steps. 🙂

Day Trip: Lake Como Greenway, Villa Balbianello

What a wonderful day full of new discoveries, stunning scenery and good food!

After much investigation on google maps, it was decided to drive toward the Como Greenway, visit Villa Balbianello and maybe Villa Carlotta, then cross to Lugano and return home, perhaps with a stop in the lovely Cernobbio near the famous Villa d’Este hotel if time allows. (This post is about the first half of that trip, which would under normal circumstances make an excellent day trip if Villa Balbianello had been open. For the second half of this day, see the next post).

Soon after breakfast, the group drove northeast in the direction of Como, then north from Como to Tremezzina (the address that was found on a Villa Balbianello site). Some of the GPS devices couldn’t pick up Tremezzina but we later found that Lenno is a better choice. After a couple of wrong turns (and highly amusing attempts to turn two cars around on a very-narrow road) parking was located on the right side of the main road near the little hotel La Provincia. The lake was easily found down a sidewalk between buildings and stunning vista opened up.

It was getting to be lunch time and the consensus was to find a pizzeria for a casual lunch. The restaurant near the parking spot (L’Osteria #1) advertised pizza but it turns out the ovens are not fired up at lunch. The proprietor insisted he had a far superior kitchen to what could be found on the water, though. There was some discussion among the group whether to dine by the water (with the incredible view) or at the little trattoria with the young and enthusiastic proprietor. He offered to set up a table under a pergola and a return time of 1:00 was set.

The group walked toward the water and found that they were right on the Como Greenway. To the right was the peninsula on which the Villa Balbianello was perched, so the group ambled that way, taking in the extraordinary views of the lake and mountains. The entrance gates to the villa were located and found to be locked. Closed on Mondays. There was a bit of disappointment, of course, but everyone now had a good excuse to return to Lake Como another time.

 

Upon return to the lunch spot the group found a table set under the pergola/arbor. The proprietor popped right out and struck up a conversation in heavily-accented English, contributing to the experience. Pasta, fish and other dishes were ordered, along with a decent table wine, and lunch proved to be just delightful, and the food very good. 

After lunch, the group continued north to Menaggio and turned west on SS340 toward Lake Lugano, visited Monte Bré, then Cernobbio (where they had a lovely dinner) and then drove back to Poggio Verde Country Villa. It made for a long day but a wonderful tour for an ambitious group. That part of the day will be posted soon.

 

 

Half-Day Trip to Piani d’Erna

It was a particularly clear morning and the views toward Milan to the south and Monte Rosa to the northwest were quite something. A quick run was made to Rex Market for picnic provisions (the prosciutto cotto, prosciutto crudo and bresaola from the cured meats section are particularly excellent). Cheese, fruit and wine selections at Rex are also perfect for picnics.


The 20-minute drive straight north on SS36 goes by Lake Oggiono and Lecco, then it’s helpful to carefully watch for the sign to Piani d’Erna upon exiting the second tunnel after Lecco  as it’s easy to miss the exit. The funicular (cable car) takes visitors up several thousand feet in short order and the views over Lake Lecco toward the Grigna mountains are quite beautiful.

It’s a beautiful little walk from the Funicular to the overlook. Brave visitors can also take the walk out to the scary promontory; it drops precipitously for thousands of feet on either side. Back toward the funicular there’s a “Sentiero Natura”, or nature trail, that leads to another beautiful walk. See more photos of Piani d’Erna in a previous post.


After an hour or two at Piani d’Erna, it’s a good idea to stop in at the excellent Pasticceria Fumagalli in the little town of Barzanò for a gelato, and perhaps to pick up a dessert for dinner. Or if the timing is right for an aperitivo, that’s an excellent choice, as well. The bar snacks are particularly tasty here.

The south terrace outside the kitchen of Poggio Verde Country Villa is such a wonderful spot for gathering and chatting.

 

Working up an appetite with a few more rounds of pre-dinner bocce:

 

Another wonderful dinner was prepared and enjoyed under the lovely “Portico Coperto”.