Brunate – The balcony on the Alps

Shelter-in-place measures have been lifted! We can travel around and enjoy day trips in Italy’s mild summer weather, in one of my favorite places on Earth: Lake Como. After so much time indoors I wanted to spend a day in the open, still respecting the safety measures. So facemask on and hand sanitiser in my bag, I left for Como with the intention of a short day trip.

Sitting right on the shore of Lake Como

Sitting right on the shore of Lake Como

Not even an hour from Poggio Verde, perched on the mountains above lake Como, there’s a little town called Brunate. It is a favorite place around here. The reason why, is that people can reach it by car or by the picturesque Bru-co funicular. “Bruco” in Italian means Caterpillar, but is also a combination of the two words Brunate and Como, the two towns the funicular connects. Funnily enough, in September (when I could not have known what life was about to become) I had gone to Como and bought a ticket to visit Brunate, but due to unforeseen circumstances I couldn’t do it. The end of the lockdown seemed like a perfect occasion to take advantage of my unused ticket!

The Bruco funicular is part of the joy of this experience. The cities of Como and Brunate built it in 1894 to ease movement between the two. The cars, renovated in 2011, still bear the typical colors: lilac going up and red to come down. From the windows one can admire the beautiful landscape opening on the lake as the cars go up. 

The view from the funicular

The view from the funicular

Once we arrived we immediately stopped to take pictures from one of the many viewpoints, which make the town famous. They are so many they grant Bruante the well-deserved name of “balcony of the Alps”. The sun was bright and the Lake shined at the bottom of the valley. What a marvellous view, even though the haze made it difficult to take perfect pictures.

We stopped for a coffee at one of the cafes near the viewpoint and got ready for a short walk. We wanted to enjoy the many art nouveau villas scattered throughout the town. Brunate has more than 20 architectural beauties, varying from art nouveau to Italian eclectic style, packed in just 2 square kilometers of surface (less than 1 square mile). 

Another main attraction in Brunate, less easy to reach, is the famous Lighthouse dedicated to Alessandro Volta. He invented the electric battery, and also the reason why Volts are the unit of measure for electic power. The lighthouse sits at the very top of the town and you can reach it on foot (a 30 minutes city hike) or by bus. The view from there is simply beautiful and, when open, it is also possible to climb on top of it, to see the world 100 feet on top of the mountain. The lighthouse is lit every evening and is colored red, green and white to light the Lake nights with the colors of the Italian flag. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic it was not possible to go inside it. I will surely come back one day to climb on top and see the world from above.

After taking loads of pictures and sitting for a little while under the shade with an ice lolly, we returned to the station. There we waited for the Brucoand returned to Como.

It was almost dinner time, and what better way to end a day trip than with a good restaurant dinner? If you are in Como, we recommend Gretchen’s favourite restaurant there, L’angolo del Silenzio (the corner of silence). Here’s her comment:

The restaurant is a very low-key place, a typical “Trattoria” run by a family that has been managing this locale for more than three generations. It feels a little bit like going into someone’s home. Not terribly fancy but with food and service that makes you feel like a guest. I always enjoy going to restaurants in Italy where the other diners are not only other foreign visitors, but also “regulars“, members of the local community who return again and again. It is also a pleasure to support a restaurant like this that you know is run by several generations of people dedicated to fine Italian cuisine. In this case they are masters in specialities such as stuffed pasta, local lake fish and almond cake. I highly recommend it!”  

Pictures by: Judith Wencel and S. Bechi

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.

 

Poggio Pots and Pans – Linguine with Fava Bean Pesto

Welcome back to “Poggio Pots and Pans”, here, take a seat! We were just about to get started with a new recipe from Poggio. But first of all we would like to really thank you all for the comments, the kind words of support and the messages! Hearing from you brings us joy and a feeling of connection with our Poggio friends. 

While looking for a recipe to share, we came across some pictures from a cooking lesson with the talented chef Antonella Pavanello and Sheryl Lott’s fun group of friends from Alabama and Georgia.  

Chef Pavanello cleaning the Basil

Antonella taught us how to make Linguine with pesto made from fava beans, basil, dried tomatoes, mint and Pecorino cheese, a satisfying spring recipe to bring some color into your meal! In addition to being beautiful, this dish is packed with useful nutrients: favas and cheese are protein, pasta is a great source of carbs while fresh mint, basil and tomatoes are fibers and vegetables.

Favas are available in American food stores such as Publix and on-line.


Linguine with fava beans, dried tomatoes,  mint and pecorino pesto


Ingredients for 6 to 8 people:

  • 500 gr linguine or spaghetti

For fava bean pesto:

  • 16 ounces fresh or frozen fava beans (canned can be used in a pinch but they are not as green)
  • 2 ounces or 3 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese (you can substitute parmigiano)
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons dried tomatoes in oil (substitute halved cherry tomatoes sprinkled with salt and sugar and baked for 45 minutes at 360°F)
  • 1 bunch basil leaves (about 30 leaves)
  • A few mint leaves (about 15)
  • 1 clove garlic (if desired)
  • 1 cup or more Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Let’s get started!

  • Cook the beans in lightly salted boiling water for 4 or 5 minutes. Drain and cool them under running water and remove the outer coat (if not already peeled).
  • Clean, wash and dry the mint and basil leaves. Combine the fava beans and the other ingredients in a food processor and slowly add the oil until you obtain a homogeneous mixture. Add salt and pepper and mix again until you obtain the consistency of a liquid pesto.
  • Pour the pesto into a bowl. Cook the linguine in rapidly boiling salted water for the time indicated on the package; dilute the pesto with a spoon of cooking water. Place the colander on top of the serving dish in the sink, then drain the linguine in the colander so that your serving dish gets nice and hot. Empty the hot cooking water from the dish, add the linguini and pesto. Mix well and serve.

Let us see your Linguine with Fava beans pesto if you try making them!

Previous recipe by “Poggio Pots and Pans”

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Silver Lining Chronicles – Virtual Museums

One of the positive aspects of working at home during Italy’s lockdown (apart from the infinite availability of blankets and cozy sweaters whenever I want!) has been the leap in interest in Italian culture and art on-line. All that beauty we Italians took for granted is now temporarily out of reach, leaving us with a lot of empty time to consider everything we could have done but didn’t when we still could go out, like visiting that museum or exhibition everyone was talking about.

Yet technology makes it possible to partake, even without leaving the house. And isn’t Italy famous for its cultural heritage? Museums all over the country have been making virtual tours available for us to enjoy. It is definitely a good way to use our laptops and tablets!

And that is why, Poggio friends, we would like to share with you our Top Three virtual museums and tours.

  1. Pinacoteca di Brera. We are partial to this museum, it’s in Milan, in the beautiful Brera nieghbourhood! The online collection features high quality digital versions of the great masterpieces. They have recently implemented a virtual tour in English.

  2. Musei Vaticani. Despite being one of the richest tourable exhibitions on the planet, visitors are often scared by the long line it takes to enter and visit.  That is not a  problem anymore with a virtual tour here. Most areas of the museum are available online, even the outstanding Sistine Chapel and Raffaello’s frescos in Pope Julius II chambers!

  3. Galleria degli Uffizi. Last but not least, the Uffizi! When visiting Florence, the Uffizi is a mandatory stop. Many of the most renowned masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance are kept there for visitors to appreciate. Even though it takes a whole day to see everything in the Uffizi the museum has made available online many of their recent exhibitions which investigate the connection between ancient art and modern perception.

If after these tours, you still are hungry for art, here are some other links to European museums that can help!

 

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

 

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.

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. 🙂