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Published: September 19th 2017
Shrimp Salad in Mango SauceItaly is a romance for the senses…. taste, smells, sounds, touch and visual…. all your senses need to be keen to truly enjoy all that Italy offers. This blog is longer than usual but so necessary. La Morra – Piedmont Region Italy’s hidden gem from our perspective
Antonio's Santa Margherita Ligure
We’re somewhere in that half sleep, half-awake state early in the morning when we hear the gong of church bells across the street. With eyes closed we are trying to focus on the number. Oh good…. its only 5am, we can continue to snuggle in our crisp fresh sheets at the UVE Wine Bar and Rooms. Just a bit later as we hear the church bells gong 7am we decided we should think about starting our day.
As we’re having a nice breakfast in our B&B we were discussing what an adorable Italian town this is and what a pleasant surprise it was as we drove in yesterday. Even though we had done a bit of research on La Morra and knew it would be scenic it far exceeded our expectations. Located high on a hill, surrounded by acres and acres of vineyards the narrow Italian roads snake their
way up the hillside toward the church. Once we settled into our accommodation and made a dinner reservation in the courtyard of our B&B for that evening, we went out to explore this quaint Italian village. After about 40 minutes of wandering the hilly cobblestoned streets we found a cute wine bar for lunch. The owner’s daughter was assisting us in selecting the right bottle of wine. This went on for some time before our decision was made because frankly, there were walls of wine to study. Our wine was opened and it had a slight vinegar taste so she ran and got her mother. She agreed our wine had gone bad and made some recommendations for a new bottle. Looks like we now have the real expert and it was a really nice bottle. As a matter of fact, after our cheese and meat tray we bought another bottle to take with us.
Our overall plan for Italy was to wander villages and churches, to sit and people watch, to talk with locals and to experience the slow-moving pace of Italian life. We’re off to a grand start. So far so good.
Our few days in La
Pizza in Italy
Along the waterfront in Vernazza
Morra turned out to be just what we envisioned. We sat in the park meeting different people as they wandered past and checked out the scenic view of the valley. The chef at our B&B was exceptional so we ate dinner their twice before moving on to other locations. This hillside town in the heart of Northern Italian wine country has loads to offer, wine, wine, wine. If your vision of a small Italian village is great food and wine…..look no further. Santa Margharita Ligure - Genoa Region Michelin Star
It wasn’t easy to leave La Morra, but we pressed on. So much more to see and experience. We only spent one night in Santa Margharita, but that was enough for us. Lovely but flooded with tourists. We wanted to see the Portofino coast. Our accommodations were high on the hill with a fairly decent view but not grand. The location was ideal for walking the city, which we enjoyed immensely.
The best thing about our stay in this lovely seaside town was our dining experience at Antonio’s which is a one-star Michelin restaurant. OMG is all we can say. We ate, we ate, we drank and
Enjoyed her work and she had spunk!
ate all recommended foods by our waiter Raimondo. We recommend you always take the advice of professionals!
From the wine to the warm seafood salad in avocado sauce, to the shrimp salad in mango sauce, to our seabass fileted at the table by an artist… and finally the coffee and desert…. Our taste buds danced and marveled with each new course and the care and splendor with which they have been cooked and presented to us to eat. OMG was chanted over and over in our minds. That all-knowing look that we gave one another as we slipped each incredible bite into our mouths, that smile of amazement and contentment. Shoot these people can cook!
Certainly, when you experience this kind of food you converse about the last great meal you had and how long ago it was that you could compare to this one. The meal at Antonio’s erased our memory for all we could do was stay in the present and enjoy each bite.
At the end of the meal all we wanted to do was get home and take off our pants and cherish the moment we decided to walk into that restaurant.
FYI: we rented a car for our first three days of this trip. The reason for this is that it was the best way to get from Bergamo to La Morra and then to Santa Margharita. Dave was happy when it was time to turn the car back in. The district of Genoa is full of hundreds of tunnels, squiggly roads and far more traffic than we had been used to in the countryside. The incredibly narrow roads in towns was no joy to navigate, even with a small vehicle. Clearly it was time to enjoy the Italian trains. Vernazza – Liguria region
Our bag-drag from the train station in Vernazza seemed to violate the beauty of this quaint medieval village. The cobble stones created a bumpy ride down the center of this pedestrian walkway. With directions to our AirBNB apartment in hand we wandered with intent. We were excited to finally get to Cinque Terre and explore the villages that we had heard of for many years from friends and family.
Vernazza is one of the five terraces of the well-known Cinque Terre. We’d seen many a photo of these cute villages hanging on to the
edge of the cliffs, but until you walk down the cobblestone streets you can’t imagine the stunning quaintness and beauty that is Cinque Terre. The smells waft in the air as you walk, the Italian chatter is distinctive and your mind wanders and admonishes you for not being multi- lingual. The Italians speak with such vigor and emotion.
After visiting each we agreed with some that we had read over the years that each village has its own unique personality.
From our perspective Monterosso is for beach lovers. It is located at the end of the train line and is one of the smaller villages. Being at sea level this town offers many waterfront hotels, restaurants and trinket shops. There are many beach lounges available for rent and many vacationers enjoying the cove of blue-green waters. After exploring the promenade and viewing a historic building or two we settle in a waterfront café for lunch and people watching. Monterosso gives a great view of Vernazza.
Vernazza is where we were located for four nights so we feel like we know it the best. It is a hub of activity during the day and sadly many tours groups
waddling after their leader’s flag while hearing the vibrant history of this area. Vernazza offers scenic churches and castles to keep visitors engaged. Waterfront restaurants, bars and shops abound. We did learn that the restaurants with the most scenic views require each person to order a drink and a meal if they are going to take up table space. Some of the waterfront cafes have a table charge in addition. Often times we will share a meal so we don’t over eat and in this town that was not the norm or allowed.
Before arriving in Vernazza our good friend Brendan had recommended a restaurant at the end of town on the right side with a green door. Unfortunately, he could not remember the name and we worried this would be a problem. A giant smile came to our faces as we found our apartment because Brendan’s green-doored restaurant was the door next to the entrance to our apartment. On his recommendation, we tried it and ending up coming back for a second meal and recommending it to others. Brendan…. It is still good!
We had been eyeing the Restaurante Belforte, which is a restaurant in a stone
tower hanging on the cliff’s edge at the end of town high on the hill which offers amazing sunset views of the coast. We had explored the menu and made a reservation for our last night in town. If you want to eat here you will need to make a reservation a couple of days in advance. We were pleased to get an email from Ren recommending this dining experience, so we were happy we had reservations. The meal did not disappoint. Once again, we took the recommendations of our waiter and enjoying amazing seafood and pasta. Oh…and don’t forget the wine. The problem with taking the waiters recommendations is that they bring too much food… all you can do is go home and take off your pants…. are you sensing a theme here, no?
The next village on the train line was Corneglia, which is the most remote and perched high atop a hill and that is saying something for this area. We had read that once you got off the train it was 382 steps straight up to the village. We made our decision to head to this town early so we could enjoy breakfast. We didn’t
Seafood Salad with Avocado Sauce
Antoinio's Santa Margherita Ligure
want big meal before heading up all the steps. After arriving we realized they had a bus to the top but we decided to go with the 33 flights of steps… we wanted to earn our breakfast and we did. Corneglia, the smallest of the villages, draws you in by it’s quaintness and scenic views. We can see the attraction of wanting to stay here as we were walking out of town we watched two local men sitting on a bench beneath the church discussing things as Italian men do…. hand gestures abound, they sounded as if they were totally engaged in their discussion. From our perspective, Italian conversations display an intensity that must be enjoyed.
We saw several interesting restaurants that could provide you variety on a longer visit along with churches and the town square. We were happy with ourselves for taking the steps back down and not taking the bus.
Manarola really grabbed our interest and this is where we would want to stay if we were not staying in Vernazza. Wind was whipping off the water as we enjoyed our gelato… oh how do they make it taste so sinful? It was a nice
balance of residential, scenic and touristy. Fortunately for us on the day we made our visit we assume the tour groups were in Vernazza because it was not overrun with visitors. Certainly we were prepared for large groups of visitors when we headed to Cinque Terre, but we secretly hoped that all of them were in other wonderful Italian locations while we were here.
As we arrived in Riomaggiore we turned left and later realized we should have turned right if we wanted the easier walk. Being fond of the road less traveled…. ha ha… Our path took us up several hundred steps and a steep incline on a small road. We got our exercise this day but the reward was finding a café at the top with magnificent views, yes magnificent, where we sipped a beverage and enjoyed talking to the ladies from Sweden. Later we wandered down the hill into the main shopping area visiting churches along the way. In our opinion, Riomaggiore is the largest of the towns and feels more residential….. maybe because we wandered to the top and saw most of the streets in this village.
Each village has its own personality that
From pig to table
Cooking class in Zibello
makes it special. If you were going to Cinque Terre this is the order we would recommend if you were looking for a place to stay. Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore, Monterosso if you are a beach person and then Corneglia. Destruction and mudslides
In October 2011 Cinque Terre received 22 inches of rain in four hours…. after a very dry summer. Mudslides occurred and devastated Monterosso and Vernazza. They were covered in nearly 3 meters of mud. Even still only two of the walking paths are open as a result. Work continues and they are predicted to open in 2019. We ended up taking the train between each of the villages. We had always imagined taking the hike from one to the next but we decided if we couldn’t do them all we weren’t going to do any of them…..see how easy it was to talk ourselves out of that. We had hoped to take the tourist boat that takes you on a 45-minute trip of the bays near each town so you can view them from the water but the seas were rough while we were there and the boats were not running. Opera in
the Vernazza chapel
We saw posters all over town promoting an operatic musical performance in the church on Wednesday and Saturday evenings at 7pm and we knew we had to go. The excellent acoustics in the small chapel above the church were phenomenal. We managed front row seats for two opera singers and an exceptional pianist. We feel the pianist never get enough attention.
After the performance was over we discovered our favorite singer was Italian and the other was from California. Why is it that we were happy the best singer was Italian? Her spunky personality showed when she sang. Her voice sent a warmness through your body and you wondered why you didn’t go to the opera more often? The American was technically talented but she didn’t look like she was enjoying herself, it looked like a chore. We ran into them after the performance while we were dining at bvchefs green-doored recommendation and enjoyed talking with them. It confirmed our views that this was a good restaurant as many locals eat here. If you go order the lobster pasta or the ravioli which we had another night.
Yes, eating our way
through northern Italy.
FYI: Our accommodations were not quite as nice as the photos so we won’t recommend this one to others. They were clean and basic which we expected but the ventilation had much to be desired and the kitchen was a real disappointment. This apartment was located next to the church near the water and was ideal. The location could not have been better. If the owners had invested a couple of dollars in some sheets that didn’t feel like sandpaper and repaired the air conditioner, this could have made all the difference- although the kitchen was a real disappointment and we only prepared breakfast at home.
Travel tip: we do travel with silk bed liners so we can have something comfortable to sleep in. Parma - Emilia-Romagna region Cooking Class, Quick Winery Stop and Cheese Making
When telling people about our plans for Italy several asked with a huge question mark….why are you going to Parma? Our answer is simple as we didn’t want to experience only the well-known tourist areas of Italy. We are always disappointed when people come to the U.S. and they only see LA, NYC
and Vegas. As wonderful as those locations are they give you a skewed image of the U.S.A. There is so much more to be experienced when you are able to get off the well-worn tourist paths. We often desire the smaller towns when we travel.
Parma was special for us as we stayed in an AirBNB location that was one of the best we’ve stayed in…. maybe ever. Our host Francesca was an amazing host. She was available to pick us up at the train station and take us to her apartment and give us a detailed orientation for our new home for the next few days and even took us back to the train station. Francesca arranged a cooking class and a tour of a cheese factory for us with an exceptional guide named Daniela.
Our apartment was in a fabulous downtown section of Parma with an easy walk to shops and restaurants. The market was a block away and her kitchen was fantastic so we enjoyed cooking at home for a couple of days. It was great not eating out for every meal.
In the city center on our second day we were fortunate enough
to catch a class on Parma ham….in English. How it is raised, processed and how it receives the high marks and meets standards to become the famous “Parma Ham”. We feel very knowledgeable now and imagine moving forward we will gladly be ham snobs. Don’t try serving us anything but the best!! These pigs are treated very well and live a good life until they are called upon to serve.
The next day was a day full of joy as we met Daniela at a working farm and B&B in Zibello to take a class from Chef Mateo. Daniela translated as Mateo had minimal English but it did not matter as he used a universal language….food. After a tour of the farm and meeting the special pigs that would assist in creating our meal we headed to the kitchen. As it turns out Daniela is extremely knowledgeable about Italian hams and meats and help to educate our palates.
The class was hands on and just what we were looking for. We made tagliatelle and ravioli….then the feast began. With our first course, we were served a prosecco that we really enjoyed as Mateo sent a procession of platters
Aging to perfection
of various Italian hams, salamis and cured meats for us to taste. Our mouths experienced an explosion of flavors and with their descriptions we began to understand the differences, the fine nuances of each of our samples
As our pasta course arrived we were served a Lambrusco which we never order because they are too sweet for us. We were surprised that this wine was delicious and not sweet. We were commenting to Mateo on how much we liked these wines and might like to buy a bottle.
Daniela said the wines were from a vineyard a couple of miles away. She then told us a wonderful story about the gentleman who owns and operates the vineyard. Giuseppe was born in this town and lived here until he was a young man when his family moved to the U.S. He grew up and became and international business lawyer spending many years in the D.C. area. As retirement grew closer he wanted to come back home and he did. After growing some grapes for his use and pleasure the vineyard grew and now he has success in another business. Daniela got on the phone and explained that we would
like to drop by. He was out but would be home within forty minutes and he invited us over. Giuseppe was gracious and gave us a private tour of his winery, talked with us about his wines, his philosphy and share some tales of wine groups visiting.
Toward the end of our visit at the winery the conversation turned as it often does to where did you live? Where did you grow up? We are both from Ohio and Giuseppe went to high school in Piqua, Ohio a couple of miles from where MJ lived for a year or so. What a small world. As a farewell present Giuseppe gave us a couple of bottles of his best wines. We offered to pay but he said, no, how often am I going to run into people from Toledo and someone who lived in Covington?
Daniela also too us to a cheese factory to watch the process of making the world-famous Parmigiano-Reggiano. We were educated from cow to processing to store. This famous cheese not only comes from a limited area of the country but the cows have a special diet and the making process is the same as
it was when the 12th century monks came up with it. Now that is history!!
OMG……What a wonderful educational day… this was an amazing experience.
****We recommend that all of you stay in this Airbnb in Parma and take this cooking class. Francesca can also arrange an all-day food tour, wine tasting and cooking classes catered to your needs.
Thank you Francesca, Danielle and Mateo for such a wonderful cooking experience. Tomasetti Family Winery
In you are heading to this area of Italy you will want to contact them and arrange a wine tasting. Bologna - Emilia-Romagna region
All too soon it was time to move on to another town in search of history and of course, cuisine. Bologna is a city of roughly ½ million people and like most Italian cities, is steeped in history. We discovered that it had one of our favorite transportation modes…the hop-on hop-off buses. For those who have not had the pleasure, we highly recommend it as the bus is open air, provides narration and allows you to take a quick
tour of a city, allowing you to get off at various stops.
We hadn’t been on a hop on hop off bus in ages. We enjoyed riding around for a couple of hours getting the overview of the city and deciding what we wanted to see and where we wanted to wander. The bus stopped near a piazza where we spent a few hours sitting at a sidewalk cafe, sipping beverages and listening to music, courtesy of a fine piano player who could also sing popular Italian tunes. Our waiter even played a few songs as well.
We were told that Bologna is the food capital of northern Italy and it most certainly did not disappoint. On a recommendation, we went to a restaurant where we had the best lasagna…..ever. They also served an osso bucco that will knock your socks off. The lasagna was so good we went back the next night and had it again!!
Although there is some lovely architecture with lovely porticoes, parks and of course, churches, Bologna is a bigger place than other towns we’d been in lately and lacked that certain charm we’d grown accustomed to…..and they had a graffiti problem….it
Snacks a plenty
They brought us this while we studied the menu and decided what to order.
was almost everywhere. We do not understand this medium, but it looks bad most of the time and takes away from a city’s beauty.
We also got to see a demonstration while there that was against the fascists, who were having a music-filled gathering in the city square. Theirs was more a music fest rather than a demonstration, but the anti-fascists were revved up and heading down the street towards them as we were headed back to our hotel. The police had a big presence, so it would appear that they were used to this sort of activity and were not going to let things get out of hand. They were making quite a lot of noise on their approach. Places we stayed:
UVE rooms and Wine Bar – La Morra – Loved this place!! highly recommend
La Vela Hotel – Santa Margherita Ligure – it was fine
Borgo del Canale, 6 – Parma – Fantasic!! – one of best Airbnb experiences - highly recommend
Marriott AC Hotel Bologna – nothing special – we were using some points for a free stay Restaurants we highly recommend:
UVE Wine Bar and Restaurant –
Rinsing the cheese curds
Cheese master watching carefully
Antonio’s Ristorante – Santa Margherita Ligure
Ristorante Belforte – Vernazza
Trattoria del Biassanot – Bologna Wine Tasting:
Tomasetti Family Winery - If you are heading to this area of Italy you will want to contact them and arrange a wine tasting.
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