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.
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.
Fresh Basil leaves
Sheryl and her friends peeling the fava beans
Let us see your Linguine with Fava beans pesto if you try making them!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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…
Erica, our wonderful tour guide (photo by Kelsey Wilson)
The barriques from France (photo by Kelsey Wilson)
The sparkling in process.
…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.
Aldo Rainoldi steps in to help set up a wine tasting
Erica explains where the grapes are grown for each of the wines
The. wines we tasted on this trip
Erica explains where the logo for Aldo Rainoldi originated (a very old carving on a rock found in the valley)
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.
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.
First glimpse of Lago Maggiore
On the road to Stresa
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.
Arranging the schedule
Sailboats on Lago Maggiore
View from near Stresa
Approaching Isola Bella and the Palazzo Borromeo
The tour through the palace was very interesting…
Ready for our tour
Armor in the entrance of the palazzo
Borromeo Coats of Arms
…and afforded stunning views of Lago Maggiore and/or the park and gardens around the palazzo.
Gardens of the Borromeo Palace
Upper and lower terraces
View from the palazzo
View of the upper terrace
View from a palace window
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.
Photogenic garden resident
Walkway in the gardens
Enjoying the gardens
East end of the gardens
From there the group walked back to the waiting boat for the five-minute ride to little Isola Pescatori (fisherman’s island).
Back onto the boat
Looking from Isola Bella to Isola Pescatori
Heading toward Isola Pescatori
Approaching Isola Pescatori
A lovely lunch was enjoyed on the terrace of the Ristorante Unione Superiore.
Serving the table’s appetizer
Waiting patiently for the food to arrive
Lunch at Isola Bella (Lake Maggiore)
Grilled veggie plate
Beautiful lunch spot
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.
West side of Isola Bella and the palazzo
The northwest corner of the Palazzo
Chatting with the captain
View of the palazzo
Gardens of the Palazzo Borromeo
Taking the boat back to Stresa (Lake Maggiore)
The group arrived home in time to enjoy some lovely late afternoon sun before another wonderful dinner at the villa.
Our delightful driver arrived after breakfast to take the group on yet another wonderful adventure.
The very comfortable Cazzaniga bus
Our view leaving the villa every morning
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.
House in Brunate
Getting our bearings
Taking a pause
Floor of the church
Interior of the church
Enjoying some cocoa
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.
At Villa Olmo on Lake Como
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.
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.
Departing the bus with a few shopping bags at the front of the villa
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.
In 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.
DAY 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.
DAY 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.
DAY 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.
DAY 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.)
DAY 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, 9 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.
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.
On the side of the rifugio
The website for more info about Civate and the area
The rifugio (with drinkable water)
The likely-looking little restaurant – Crotto dal Capraio – at the beginning (or end) of the hike
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.
Checking the map
The hike begins
The path at the beginning of the hike
The path gets a bit bumpier and steeper
A view on the way up
The Oratorio of Saint Benedict
San Pietro al Monte (the church)
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.
Fresco in the church
Just inside the front door
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.
Ravioloni with Sququerone (local cheese) and arugula and tomatoes
Tagliatelle with Porcini
Waiting to order
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. 🙂
For a day full of beautiful scenery (and a visit to Switzerland!), a drive to Lugano and up to Monte Bré proved to be an excellent choice for a group visiting Poggio Verde Country Villa.
There is a choice to make in driving to Lugano: take the fast motorway (just make sure your car has a “vignette” sticker, or purchase one at the border or a gas station near the border) or take the slow road through all the towns. The motorway is considerably faster, and is highly recommended. If Switzerland is on an agenda for a trip, the vignette can be ordered ahead online here. (Cars rented in Switzerland already have one).
One of the couples had fond memories of visiting Monte Bré many years ago with their then 2-year-old (now 33), and the group was amenable to re-visiting the spot with them. They set the Garmin (which they christened “Guida”) for Monte Bré and followed the directions to begin the long series of steep switchbacks to the top.
Up toward Monte Bré
And even higher toward Monte Bré
Since the day was so clear, the views were quite extraordinary. From the parking lot there was a set of stairs going up, up, up but the group decided to walk on the road to the left of the stairs, toward what they thought was going to be a restaurant. After 10-15 minutes or so, they arrived at an overlook with breathtaking views, where they met up with those stairs they saw earlier leading up from the parking lot. They took some time to enjoy the views and capture some photos. Then the group split up; some turned left to take the stairs further up and some turned right to take the stairs back down to Monte Bré.
The view from the… well, the public restrooms. Cemetery to the left, stairs up and road to the right.
Coffee or a glass of wine from this balcony would be awesome.
The overlook above Monte Bre
Construction on a home up from the little town of Monte Bré
View toward Monte Bré and Lake Lugano beyond
View from the overlook above Monte Bré
At the top of the stairs is a little tower (the Torretta referred to in the signs at the bottom of the stairs) and a tiny church, which also has some wonderful views. There is a restaurant nearby (with a terrace from which there are more stunning views) and just when one starts to wonder how in the world the supplies are delivered to the restaurant up all those stairs, one happens upon a funicular station! It turns out the train comes up the other side from Lugano and makes several stops on the way. This is most decidedly worth investigating on a future trip… the drive up all those switchbacks is exciting but may be a bit too exciting for some. Parking at one of the funicular stations in or just above Lugano and taking the train up sounds like an excellent way to get to the top.
View from the cafe at the top of the funicular to Monte Bre
The church next to the Torretta, at the top of Monte Bre.
Back down the stairs to the parking lot.
Above Lake Lugano
Monte Bre from the stairs to the Torretta
A map of the area posted near the parking lot in the village of Monte Bre
Driving through Como during rush hour (around 6:00) is not an enjoyable experience. The lovely little lakeside town of Cernobbio was a perfect spot to stop and pass some time until the traffic died down. A restaurant was chosen based on the wine list, the sound of the menu (especially the pizza offerings) and a pleasant outdoor dining area. Before dinner, though, the group walked around the beautiful lakeside piazza and through the very small village. There wasn’t time to visit the gorgeous Villa d’Este this time but it is a highly recommended activity for the future.
Cernobbio (Lake Como)
Beautiful and whimsical veggie garden in Cernobbio
Fountain on the piazza (Cernobbio)
Nice little playground in Cernobbio
Check out the “planters” affixed to the window!
Great pizza and other food here – on the main road in Cernobbio
Simple but excellent grilled veggies (at Laghee)!
This pizza was as tasty as it was beautiful (at Laghee)
Another excellent pizza (at Laghee)
Part of the Laghee menu
The wine shop in Cernobbio has excellent Italian wines