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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The path on the left leads to the lake and our restaurant was on the right
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.
A map of the Como Greenway
On the Lake Como Greenway in Lenno
Walking toward Villa Balbianello from Lenno
Little ones enjoying Lake Como
Lake Como (Lenno)
On the Como Greenway toward Villa Balbianello from Lenno
View back toward Lenno (on the Como Greenway toward Balbianello)
Closed on Mondays. A perfect excuse to return.
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.
Wonderful lunch under the pergola – near Villa Blabianello and Lake Como Greenway
The excellent La Fabbrica del Gelato is toward the lake and to the right from L’Osteria #1.
Back to the cars for more adventures
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.
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.
A stunningly clear morning (view to the south)
Cured meats at Rex Market
Monte Rosa in the distance
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.
Trail to Piani d’Erna
Explanation of the depth of area lakes
Climbers coming up another way
Wonderful hiking and picnic at Piani d’Erna above Lake Lecco
View from the Funicular exit at the top
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.
Afternoon siesta on the south terrace
Setting the table
Ready for dinner
Working up an appetite with a few more rounds of pre-dinner bocce:
Bocce and Badminton at the villa
Another wonderful dinner was prepared and enjoyed under the lovely “Portico Coperto”.
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.
Checking the kitchen garden
Ready for the chef
The second and third terraces (pool under renovation)
The south terrace of the villa
The view from the master bedroom
Gardenias on the terrace of the master bedroom
Checking the flowers on the terrace outside the master bedroom
The south terrace
Unloading in the courtyard
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!
Wildflowers in the field outside the gate
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!
The second couple arrives
Chatting on the terrace
Rex hours of operation (Mon-Fri 8:30-1:00 and 2:30-7:30; Sat all day, Sun 8:30-1:00)
Garden near the parking lot of Montevecchia
Another view of a garden in Montevecchia
Lots of options for walking trails from Montevecchia
Go that way… under the tunnel
A selfie of the first two couples
The stairs to the church. Great views!
Outside the church in Montevecchia
Excellent options at the little gelato shop in Montevecchia
Nice poster in the Gelateria
The Hannings at Montevecchia
The courtyard of the villa in Montevecchia
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.
Preparing the base for the second course
Lamb chops for a first course
Starting the potatoes
Sunset after a nice cleansing rain
Grilling the lamb chops outside the kitchen
Final prep of the lamb chops
Fish with tomatoes and fennel
View from the “Portico Coperto”
View of the south side of the villa from the Portico Coperto
Nice image from the top of the stairs to the second terrace
Last weekend Luigi and I enjoyed a day strolling through the lovely Val Curone just 20 minutes from Poggio Verde. It’s a protected valley dotted with farms and vineyards in the setting of the Italian pre-Alps: the perfect place to spend a pretty winter day.
We had lunch at Oasi di Galbusera Bianca, a charming Agriturismo located in a WWF “Oasis for Biodiversity”, surrounded by a dynamic organic farm. We enjoyed a simple but delicious meal in the cozy atmosphere, close to a welcoming fireplace. Beyond the restaurant, there’s also a country-style bar where you can taste organic snacks, cold dishes and locally made sorbets. We tasted the local wine made by the nearby vineyard La Costa, a surprisingly crisp and clean white wine called La Brigante made with the Chardonnay and Incrocio Manzoni grape varieties. We’ll be visiting the La Costa winery very soon to pick up some bottles for Poggio Verde!
The location is surrounded by the Regional Nature Reserve of Montevecchia and the Curone Valley . After lunch we took advantage of this enchanting place and had a relaxing walk amongst the vineyards along well-marked trails. There are various trails for all tastes, and we were overtaken by a mountain bike or two. Our cousins the birders (Peters 1 + 2, Susie and Connie, you know who you are!) would have gone wild with all the feathered wildlife around. Next time I hope to come with them! – Gretchen
Luigi and I visited the fascinating Klein/Fontana exhibit at the Museo del ‘900 in piazza Duomo. Klein was a ground-breaking French artist who during his short life changed perceptions about pure color and used his iconic blue pigment in striking works of performance art and minimalist art. Lucio Fontana was an important mentor and collector. The exhibit ends 15 March. http://www.museodelnovecento.org/en/le-mostre/presente-menu/581-klein-fontana.
We enjoyed the exhibit and were glad we weren’t in the long lines in front of the Palazzo Reale to see Picasso!
View from the top of Palazzo Reale lines to get into the Picasso exhibit