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.

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.

Day Trip: Lake Lugano, Monte Bré, Cernobbio

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.


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.


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.


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.

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”.

 

 

Expo 2015 is HERE!

Expo has opened!! Until October 31st this outstanding exposition on how the countries of the world are working on the issue of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” is being visited by millions of people from all over the world!

expogate

Expo 2015 is open not only in the Exposition site but also in the historic heart of Milan, through ExpoGate, both a meeting and entertainment space and an information point for citizens and tourists in Milan. This location symbolizes the role as a gateway between Milan and the Expo, in the same way as Milan has always been considered a bridge between Italy and the rest of the world.

Milan and its region, Lombardy, are proud to host such an important event and can’t wait for all the visitors to come and visit. In fact, beyond the pavilions of the fair, there are many thrilling experiences and interesting trips in the amazing surrounding region which make Milan a top destination during the Expo period, with many not-to-be-missed events. 

Indeed, expo duomothe city has undergone a process of renovation, becoming a modern European city while maintaining the ancient splendor. Even some of the main attractions of the city will change their look for the occasion. The Duomo, after a huge restructuring operation, will reopen its “Museo del Duomo”. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the historic gallery arcade completed in 1877 is the oldest shopping mall in the world, during the Expo will be exceptionally opened until late in order to host a large number of cultural and gastronomic events.

The artistic and cultural heritage of Milan is on full display, as well: among the many exhibitions and museums of the city, don’t miss The Last Supper and Leonardo in Milan (an exhibition of Leonardo’s work during his 25 years spent in Milan) and an exhibition about Caravaggio, which was planned for 2010 and will be repeated on the occasion of Expo. Moreover, others great exhibitions about the Expo’s theme are programmed at the Triennale and Pinacoteca di Brera.

Lastly, if you are interested in fashion and design, sports, music and theatre, you will certainly have plenty of special events connected with the theme of Expo as well.

Arrival, Rex Market, Montevecchia

A wonderful group of guests arrived recently from Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a five-day stay at Poggio Verde and by all accounts they enjoyed themselves thoroughly! The first couple arrived on a Friday, got settled in and took a few photos of the beautiful villa.

While waiting for the second couple to arrive, one of the guests took a walk down the road outside the gates to get a closer look at the wildflowers she had passed on the way in. They were in full bloom!

The second couple arrived and after settling in a bit, the group made a run to Rex Market for provisions. They arrived around 2:00 and discovered that Rex is closed mid-day so they made a quick little visit to Montevecchia, the lovely hilltop village about ten minutes from the market (15 from Poggio Verde). The Gelateria in the center of town turned out to be excellent!

After picking up provisions, dinner was started while it rained heavily outside. The rain stopped just in time to grill the lamb chops! After dinner it was barely drizzling so the group took a little walk around the grounds before an early bedtime to de-jetlag.