Tag Archives: Italian

Varenna on Lake Como: The Little Village We Love

Varenna on Lake Como, Italy

(Click on image for a larger view)

We sat under an umbrella, our table decorated with two glasses of wine and a plate of bruschetta. It was 2005, and this was my first visit to Italy … my first journey anywhere in Europe. We had arrived in Milan that morning, boarded a train, and immediately made our way north to Lake Como and a little village Rick Steves had gushed about named Varenna.

On the brick-lined shore before us, a father was teaching his two daughters how to skip stones. The warm, hazy sun gave the colorful village the appearance of a melted watercolor, and one of us — I can’t remember who — said to the other “Varenna would be a nice name for a little girl, wouldn’t it?”

Almost five years later, Varenna Autumn Day was born. Now almost 3, she has a lightness, a sense of humor, and a sweet innocence that illuminates my every day. And despite the times people ask how to spell her name, or mix it up and pronounce it Ver-EE-na, or confuse it with Verona or Ravenna, we still feel like we knocked it out of the park with her name. This town — with its vivid colors, wizard hat campanile, hilltop castle and compact lakeside location where the buildings seem to hug one another — is officially on the highest pedestal of any place I’ve ever been. Continue reading

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Morning in La Morra, Italy

La Morra, Italy

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Fresh off sunrise in the magnificent Langhe Hills, we arrived among the familiar hills of La Morra. Now that the sun was shining and we had genuine baby-blue skies to photograph, there was no question where I wanted to go for a do-over. Il Cedro del Libano.

Cedar tree and La Morra, Italy

Standing 50-feet tall atop a vine-covered mound, the Cedar of Lebanon had become the icon of La Morra for us. You see it immediately as you approach from Alba. Its stateliness demands attention; its manicured perfection belongs in a massive picture frame hung on a large wall.   Continue reading

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Morning in the Langhe Hills, Piedmont, Italy

Rodello, Piedmont, Italy

(Click on image for a larger view.)

October 16, 2012. The final of seven full days in Italy. The next day, we would be off on an early morning flight home from Malpensa Airport, back to the joys of parenthood, the travails of work, the slow and creeping descent into winter. Back to reality.

And yet both of us woke up extra sick. Sore throat, congestion … the antithesis of romance in one of the most romantic landscapes we’ve ever visited. Oh well. We couldn’t complain, because the overnight rain had done something quite remarkable: it killed the fog. Continue reading

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And Then, There Is Barbaresco

Wine in Barbaresco, Italy

Italy is flush with rivalries. There’s rivalries of the football sort — Roma vs. Lazio, Inter vs. AC Milan — and there are rivalries of ancient carnage and political power — think Florence vs. Siena, and in this corner of Piedmont, Asti vs. Alba.

Then there are rivalries of wine, where battle lines aren’t drawn between winemakers as much as they are drawn by wine enthusiasts.

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The Good Life in Barolo, Italy

winemaking, Barolo, Italy

From Alba, we cruised through the golden fog to a cleft in the hills, seeking out the road to Barolo. Adam was growing more instinctual with his driving. His command of routes, landmarks and signage had rendered the GPS-navigation system moot. A wry smile was cracking on his face every time he got behind the wheel.

With each bend in the road, we would unwrap new views of new vineyards, new estates, new possibilities. The color palate was consistent — radiant emerald greens, light golds, and lots of umber-brown. The sky was always pale, its blueness diluted by the area’s famous veil of fog.

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Obsession in Alba, Italy: White Truffles & Wine

white truffles from Alba, Italy

The white truffle. As Jeremy Clarkson called it. “Looks like a mummified testicle.”

The morning after binging at Ristorante Bovio, I started slowly, as any good hungover traveler would. I nursed a cappuccino quietly, and contemplated a nap in the muddy rows of vines at Villa Carita. But then, as a group, we mustered the energy to pack into our car and descend the hill of La Morra for a jaunt to Alba, the region’s focal-point city.

I was feeling a bit thrashed by the previous night’s experience: extreme sensory delight followed by a karmic resurgence of a nasty cough. But if we were to make the most of this October Saturday, we were to spend it at Alba’s International White Truffle Fair. Held on weekends in October, it is as much a showcase of the revered fungi as it is a profile of human obsession. Continue reading

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Dining in Alba and Barolo Wine Country

La Libera restaurant, Alba, Italy

Planning a vacation with friends can be a study in contrasts. In the build-up to our trip to Piedmont, Adam contacted a friend of his father’s, a wine buyer who knows the area well. What he responded with was a list of wines to look for, and a roster of restaurants to fill nearly two whole weeks of eating.

beef tongue, tajarin al ragu, italy

We both quickly identified our top two choices, the one’s we ought to make reservations for in advance, and they each revealed a bit about our character. Adam was fired up about Ristorante Bovio in La Morra, a white-linen bastion of class and elegance. I was keen on La Libera in Alba, a place that emphasized a modern and creative approach to traditional Piedmontese cuisine.

Now, Adam enjoys wearing a jacket and tie. I prefer to leave my shirt untucked.

Yin and yang.

Bovio Friday night. La Libera Saturday night.

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Staying at Villa Carita, La Morra, Italy

woman walking through vineyard, Barolo, La Morra, Italy

How important are accommodations? Depends on who you ask, but what’s not up for debate is this: when you’ve come across the perfect place, suddenly, the rest of the trip falls into place. The perfect location, an endless view, the little luxuries … they’re all facilitators of taking a vacation and turning it up a notch.

When we rolled into the gravel parking lot of Villa Carita, a four-bedroom inn perched on a hillside just outside La Morra, Italy, I was in a state of disbelief. The Langhe Hills stretched out for 270-degrees below the inn’s terrace. Beneath the terrace, two rooms enjoyed private in-the-vineyard gardens. “God, I hope those are our two rooms,” I said out loud to anyone listening. Continue reading

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To Barolo Wine Country – La Morra, Piedmont, Italy

La Morra, as seen from the vineyards of Villa Carita, Italy

From Orta San Giulio, we headed south the next morning, destined for the town of La Morra in the Barolo wine country. For all four of us, this was the reason for our trip: seeing this legendary land of undulating vineyards, robust wine and extraordinary food. We’d read Matt Kramer’s cookbook, A Passion for Piedmont, cover to cover, and Adam had intensively researched the area’s wine. The more I learned, the more I began to wonder why this region wasn’t more competitive with Tuscany from a traveler’s standpoint.

The whole trip came about in an unusual way — a reverse engineering of sorts. Continue reading

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Sacro Monte + Villa Crespi, Orta San Giulio

Adam Huggins ascends into heaven, Orta San Giulio

From Piazza Motta, a cobbled street leads uphill to a sunflower-hued church. Rising from the church’s apex is a statue of Christ, who is flanked by two angels. His arms are open, his head is back, and he is facing the lake. Below him is a faded fresco so in need of restoration that it accurately depicts nothingness.

This is clearly a corner of Italy that has yet to benefit from the restoration industry that decorates much of the country’s skylines with cranes. In the basilica on the island, it was depressing to see how many frescos were etched with the initials and graffiti of assholes. It was art desecration. Vandalism. And it had been done most likely by tourists, judging by the volume and off-the-cuff, hurried nature of each scribe. Someone’s initials here, profanities there. You’d expect this sort of thing on a big oak in a city park. But on a 14th century masterpiece? What possesses people? Continue reading

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