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.

Chattanooga in Poggio Verde

IMG_1478In a country villa up a hillside from little Barzanò, Italy, less than an hour north of Milan, final preparations are underway to receive visitors for a week of exploring the beauty of northern Italy. Rooms are being given a final cleaning, the refrigerator is being stocked, the grounds are being tended to and windows are being shined so nothing obstructs the gorgeous views.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, eight women are finishing up their packing, taking care of last minute details and saying their good-byes before heading to the airport to catch their flight for Milan, arriving Saturday morning.

Things may change due to weather, but their itinerary is as follows:

DAY 1: Saturday, 3 October 2015. Arrival, Organic Luncheon and Montevecchia. Exiting Malpensa airport’s baggage area, look for our driver who will be holding a large POGGIO VERDE sign. He will accompany you to the Villa where you will have time to unpack, make yourself comfortable and take a relaxed walk in the park. We will have lunch at the organic farm,”Galbusera Bianca” followed by a short walk in scenic Montevecchia Alto with its quaint church and stations of the cross. The day ends with a delicious meal at the Villa with home-made tagliolini pasta and fresh vegetables and herbs, followed by Italian cheeses and a dolce.

turismo-enogastronomico-strada-vino-franciacorta-wineDAY 2: Sunday, 4 October. Bergamo Alto and Franciacorta. After breakfast, our driver will take us the lovely hill town of Bergamo. We’ll take the funicular to Bergamo “Alta”, one of the most beautiful hill towns in Italy. After wandering around the medieval town we will take the funicular back to the lower city and our driver will take us to lunch at a nearby vineyard to taste the delicious sparkling wine of the region and then back to Poggio Verde. We’ll have dinner at the Villa prepared by Cicchi (pronounced Cheeky), a great chef and friend.

mendrisioDAY 3: Monday, 5 October. Switzerland, Outlet shopping, Wine Tasting. After breakfast, put your passport in your purse because we’re heading up to Switzerland! Our driver will take us for a short visit to the house museum Vincenzo Vela in Ligornetto and we will have lunch at the nearby family restaurant “Grotto Balduna” featuring Ticinese local cuisine. After lunch we will visit Foxtown for outlet shopping. Return to Poggio Verde and relax until our wine tasting session with the sommelier Penati of Oggiono and delicious home-cooked meal of Northern Italian specialties.

IMG_3452DAY 4: Tuesday, 6 October. Como, Silk outlet, painting exhibit, Tea at Villa d’Este. After breakfast, our driver will take us to Como, where we will enjoy a bit of the Old Town and visit Mantero, a luscious Italian silk outlet. We will have lunch at a sweet Osteria featuring local specialties, then visit a painting exhibit at Villa Olmo in Como followed by tea at the Villa d’Este, one of the most beautiful romantic and neoclassical villas in Italy. Our driver will return us to Poggio Verde in time for dinner prepared for us at the Villa.

isola bellaDAY 5: Wednesday, 7 October. Lago Maggiore, Stresa, Isola Bella, Linens outlet. After breakfast our driver will take us to the charming town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore. We will take a walk along the lakefront and then take a boat from Stresa to the magnificent Isola Bella, the most lavish of the three Borromean Islands. Here we’ll have lunch in a charming restaurant and we will visit the princely Borromeo Palace and its grandiose baroque Italian Gardens built on ten terraces. We return to Stresa by boat where our driver awaits us to accompany us to the linens outlet Bellora and then back to the Villa for a delicious meal at Poggio Verde. (Rain alternative: Go to Milan and visit EXPO! The world exhibition has been receiving excellent reviews and exhibits from 70 countries are said to be amazing.)

Duomo PicDAY 6: Thursday, 8 October. Milano: The Last Supper, Duomo, La Scala, Via Montenapoleone. After breakfast, our driver will take us to Milan where we will begin with a guided tour that includes Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Lunch will be in a restaurant overlooking the roof of the Duomo. From the restaurant we will walk through the Galleria to the La Scala opera house for a behind-the-scenes visit, followed by shopping and strolling down Via Montenapoleone and Via Spiga. Our driver returns us to the Villa for a short rest and then we will dine at the nearby “Giovanna Passeri” Agriturismo with its refined and fresh Brianzola specialties.

DAY 7: Friday, 912174253054_ca094e3b17_n October. Royal Monza After breakfast our driver will accompany us to the royal city of Monza we will visit one of the most beautiful Romanesque cathedrals in Northern Italy, the Duomo of Monza, for a look at the famed “Iron crown” – said to have been made with the melted-down nails of the Cross and the crown which Napoleon crowned himself in 1805. After a stroll around the old center of this pretty town, we’ll have lunch at a delightful Osteria featuring local specialties. Then we’ll visit the newly renovated Royal   Villa of Monza, a truly spectacular visit. That evening we will celebrate a scrumptious good-bye dinner prepared by Cicchi at what has become by now your new Italian “home.”

DAY 8: Saturday 10 October Departure. After breakfast at the Villa our driver will take you (and your packages and your great memories!) to the airport.

Hike to San Pietro al Monte

On a beautiful September day, a group drove from Poggio Verde Country Villa to Civate, about 20 minutes from the villa, parked along a street and began walking, following the signs for San Pietro al Monte, an 11th century church and oratorio on the site of what used to be a monastery complex believed to have been founded in about 700 AD.

The walk to the beginning of the path gained a few hundred feet in altitude and passed a newly-built “rifugio” that is very likely filled with visitors enjoying picnics and a nice view on weekends and during the summer. It would be a good spot to fill up a water bottle, too. As the group continued on up, they passed a very likely-looking restaurant that might be worth checking into on the way back down, which might be right around lunchtime.


The beginning of the path was paved with stones and and fairly flat but it wasn’t long until the it began to climb at a greater angle and became bumpier. (Hiking boots or tennis shoes with good support are a good idea.) After about an hour of hiking, much of which essentially began to feel like stair-climbing, the gate to the complex came into view and then the Oratorio of St. Benedict. A few steps later and the view opens up over lakes and across to the Grigna, and the beautiful San Pietro al Monte comes into view. Up the steps to the entrance of the church provide an even better vantage point for the magnificent view.


The group found the doors to the church locked but thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful “porch” area and its stone arches just outside the door. After taking in the views from that vantage point, the group walked back down the steps and found a spot on the lawn for a little rest before heading back down the path.


One of the group went to find a restroom (they are on the back side of the church, to the right of the steps down some stairs) and as he passed by he noticed that the doors to the church had been opened so the group went up to have a look. The main level of the church has some beautiful old frescoes and some stairs lead down to a crypt, which is also beautiful.


It was indeed lunchtime when the group reached the bottom so a table was chosen on the outdoor patio where they had a simple but very good lunch with housemade pasta and locally-grown or produced ingredients. It would be worth planning a hike around, either at the beginning or end.


As an aside, one of the Fitbit-wearing members of the group noted that the hike was recorded as 135 sets of stairs and about 16,000 steps. 🙂

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.