Packing for Italy – a guide

Visitors are coming back to Italy and we could not be more excited!

Traveling is always a great experience, but the prelude of every journey can be difficult to overcome. Is my suitcase too heavy? Or is it too small? Did I pack everything I need? Will I need sunscreen, it’s September, why would I? And an umbrella? Italy is sunny, I don’t think I’ll need it. 

Packing your suitcase will set the standard for your holiday. If you packed everything right, it will be okay, otherwise things could get problematic. 

So, that’s why we are offering you the ultimate “Packing for Northern Italy” guide.

Climate in Italy is very diverse and the weather in south Italy has almost nothing to do with weather in the center of the peninsula or in the North.

Poggio Verde is located in the area which is known as Brianza, the green lung near Milan. Brianza is very cool, figuratively speaking and literally speaking. We have creeks and rivers, high humidity, a lot of fog in Winter, breazy Spring, windy Fall and hot Summer, with a little bit more breeze in comparison to Milan or cities located in the Po plain. But, the weather here is also unpredictable. The clouds, especially in the lakes’ area, might decide they want to cover up the entire sky in a matter of minutes, and Summer storms happen from time to time.

People in Milan with umbrellas

Better bring an umbrella

Here’s what you should be packing for Northern Italy:

  1. Sunscreen and after-sun cream: Even in Spring, there is still the risk of sunburn, especially when visiting lake areas. Together with sunglasses, these two will be your best allies. If you plan to go hiking or visit some high altitude places, even a sun-protective chapstick could be necessary.
  2. Umbrella and wind jacket: In both Spring and Fall there is the chance of some good rain, and together with wind, the chances of having a rainy day during your visit, cannot be excluded. Pack a portable umbrella and a waterproof jacket to play it safe!
  3. Charger adapter: as you may have heard, Italy uses the Type L plug for most appliances, so be sure to pack an adapter for your chargers.
  4. Layers! Layerable clothes is always the best way to go when travelling, and for Italy is no exception. Be sure to bring a light scarf to protect yourself from the wind. Click here to find average monthly temperatures in nearby Lecco. 
  5. Euro cash and coins. You can change some cash at the airport upon arrival. Credit and debit cards are accepted by most stores but for small purchases, banknotes and coins are handy. One thing most foreign tourists don’t keep in mind is that euro coins are valuable: the €2 is worth $2.30!

Also be mindful of some cultural differences that not all tourists might be aware of.

  1. “Bar” is also the name we use for cafes, where you can have a snack or have breakfast
  2. Ordering a “caffé” or coffee in a bar, will result in an espresso, not a long American style coffee. You can also order a “macchiato”, espresso with milk, or a “decaffeinato”, a decaf espresso. 
  3. Tipping happens but is not an established practice. Waiters and waitresses will not expect you to be tipping, but it will not be refused in case it happens.
  4. Please stand on the right side on escalators. Milan is a hectic city, and there is the unspoken rule of standing on the right, leaving enough space on the left for people who are in a hurry.
  5. Avoid independent ATMs, such as Euronet or Cardpoint. They have ridiculously high fees and are scattered all over Milan and other major European cities. Opt for ATMs that are linked to a bank and be safe.

But the most important thing you need to bring with you on your trip to Italy is enthusiasm to enjoy our beautiful country the best way possible. 

Visit to Val Curone: La Costa to Galbusera Nera

Val Curone, a regional park about 20 minutes from the villa, is a delightful place to spend a few hours walking, painting, dining or wine tasting.

One of our favorite things to do there is to walk from La Costa Agristurismo to Galbusera Nera, both of which are picturesque and offer wondering painting or photography opportunities.

We typically park near the old farmhouse and walk (or paint) from there. The hill just above the farmhouse has lovely views of the grapevine-covered hills and view back to the farmhouse itself.

 

The interior of the old farmhouse is quite charming.

 

From the farmhouse, views of La Costa Agriturismo, with five apartments and four double rooms, is quite picturesque.

 

 

The Agriturismo La Costa is a lovely and quiet spot from which to explore the Val Curone.

 

The walk down to Galbusera Nera, where one can have a lovely lunch or a casual wine-tasting,  is not long and passes through a heavy forest before opening up near the donkey farm and on to the restaurant and winery.

 

At Galbusera Nera, one can enjoy a lovely al fresco lunch or wine tasting when it’s nice outside, or dine indoors. Either way, the food and wine are tasty and the service is friendly and professional. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

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

 

Giardini Melzi – Lake Como

The Giardini Melzi, a few minutes’ walk south of the justifiably famous little town of Bellagio, is a perennial favorite of our guests at Poggio Verde Country Villa.

Our “Bellagio Day,” which includes Giardini Melzi, usually begins mid-morning and includes about a 45-minute drive up the western side of Lake Lecco (the other leg of Lake Como) and over the bump into Bellagio, arriving in time for an early lunch.

We’ve enjoyed lunch at several places in Bellagio but one of our current favorites is Albergo Silvio, which is perched above the Melzi garden. The menu offers a very nice selection of local fish, including the traditional lake fish and rice, and has a very decent wine list. An outdoor patio overlooks the lake and the dining room is perfect – all glass! 

 

After lunch we often take an interesting little path on the north side of the restaurant that leads right down to the south entrance of the garden. Don’t forget to look down as well as up as there are always little surprises (see the snail?).

 

We go out under the arch to the little street and turn right toward the entrance of the Giardini (and pass some other nice arches along the way).

 

We pick up our tickets at the entrance and walk south toward the villa. When we have time we take a peak into the tiny little chapel.

 

The villa comes into view. Villa Melzi d’Eril is one of the most important historical landmarks on the shore of Lake Como. It was built between 1808 and 1810 by Francesco Melzi d’Eril, duke of Lodi and vice president of the Italian Republic under Napoleon, who was also a personal friend. The most important architects and artists of the day were involved in the project. The villa’s architect (Canonica) and botanist (Villoresi) also designed the Villa Reale in Monza.

 

The former Orangerie (greenhouse) of the villa is now a museum. (The villa itself is not open to the public). It contains a few historical artifacts from the Napoleonic period and Renaissance frescoes.

 

The terraced gardens allow stunning views of Lake Como from three levels. The gardens are thoroughly enjoyable in all four seasons and in all weather and at all times of day but if you happen to be there on a somewhat cloudy day in the late afternoon you’re in for a special treat.

Photo: Austin Mann

 

The Moorish Pavilion in the garden has lovely views across the lake and four beautiful sculptures, including one of Lodovico Melzi d’Eril. Outside the pavilion is a memorial to the Italian writer Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) and his beloved Beatrice.

 

From the gardens it’s a beautiful ten-minute walk along the lake into Bellagio for some wandering and surprisingly good shopping for such a small place. From there it’s about a 15-20 minute taxi boat ride to Villa Balbianello.

 

A Visit to San Vigilio (Bergamo)

We’ve been taking our Poggio Verde Country Villa groups to Bergamo, a beautiful (very) old hilltop city about an hour from the villa for several years. We have been hearing from our wonderful Bergamo guide, Elena Marchesi, and again recently from another friend, that we should visit Castello San Vigilio, which is a walk or funicular ride on up the hill from the Cittá Alta of Bergamo.

So the last couple times we’ve been there we’ve been trying to figure out a way to squeeze it in, with no luck. This time, though, we were quite determined to go so we adjusted a few things and found a new lunch spot in Bergamo, which turned out to be an outstanding restaurant right next to the funicular going up to San Vigilio. (More about that restaurant in another post…) Most of the group was up for an adventure after lunch so we hopped on the funicular and went up.

 

As we departed the funicular and headed toward the exit, we checked out the views to the left, which were wonderful, and then looked around for signs for the Castello, which we easily found. We turned right, following the sign, walked a few minutes up the cobblestone path and rounded the corner to see the walls of the medieval castle. (The first mention of the castle is actually in the 6th century but it’s undergone changes through the centuries, of course.) Our favorite memory of that trip up, though, was when Frank left the main path and disappeared into a doorway in the rock… and didn’t come out. We all followed, maybe to make sure he was okay, maybe not to miss what he was getting to see/do. We found ourselves in a narrow tower with winding stone steps and started up, hoping to find Frank and hoping there was an exit somewhere… and wondering how many more steps there were.

 

Eventually we found ourselves on a gorgeous plateau with views ALL around the countryside (and we found Frank!). Stupendous! 


Exploring and discovering is just the best! We’ve added San Vigilio to our Bergamo itinerary going forward, that’s for sure. 🙂

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.

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: 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.

Be Charmed: Arrival Day, Montevecchia

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

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

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


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

 

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

 

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