Monday, November 7, 2011

Italian Adventure 2011, Part I

           As some of you know my laptop was stolen in the early days of my vacation to Italy. Consequently there have been no blog postings as I had planned. It was the trip of my life and looking back I realize there are no words to describe what we experienced in Italy, however, now that I am back at my computer I will try.
I had been planning this trip for nine months to celebrate my husband, Mark’s, 60th birthday. I like to get the most out of each of my vacation days, so I research travel websites, study maps, and plan every detail I possibly can in advance. When the day came to head to the airport, I was prepared and ready. There is no easy way for west coasters to get to Europe, so you grin and bare what ends up being a very long ordeal. We left home about 6 am, flew to Atlanta for a 2 hour layover, and arrived in Milan at midnight our time. There is a 9-hour time difference, so the local time was 9 am. That is the hard part. The good news is our host for the next 7 days was waiting to greet us with a warm smile and welcoming attitude.
I had gone out on a limb for this first week and booked us into the 5 Chimneys B&B in an off the beaten path area of Piedmont somewhere between Milan and Turin. The package included accommodations, breakfast and dinner prepared by Patrizia, our hostess, and private tours of the area by Giorgio, our host. With no car or any idea what was in store for us, we were totally in their hands. Giorgio was friendly and informative on the 50-minute drive to the villa and when we arrived Patrizia was at the gate to greet us.

 This charming, English speaking Italian couple welcomed us into their home, a 17th century villa that they have restored in its original style, in the tiny village of Pozzenga. The village is in the middle of the Monferrato wine growing area. Our room on the 2nd floor had views of the snow-capped Alps, vineyard covered hillsides, and the village below. Stunning! That afternoon Giorgio took us to the La Pavesa Winery, where he is part owner, and toured the vineyards with his partner, Franco, the winemaker. After the tour we tried all the amazing wines with local cheeses and meats, and we knew we had made a great choice in coming here. 

            We began each morning with Giorgio’s perfect cappuccinos and Patrizia’s delicious breakfast with something freshly baked each day. Then we headed off to explore Piedmont with Giorgio. We toured hilltop castles, the Barolo (wine of the kings) wine growing area, the historic city of Turin, and Lake Orta at the base of the Alps. The lack of tourists in this area is what made this such a memorable experience. We were able to live the actual lifestyle of the area, meet the locals and eat what they traditionally eat, everything fresh from the land. Wonderful!
            This area is known for black and the rare white truffles, so prized by chefs around the world. One morning we were picked up by a local truffle hunter and his highly trained dog and headed into the woods in search of the elusive truffle. I told you we were living the local lifestyle. The hunt was successful with 4 black truffles and 1 small white truffle. We turned them over to Patrizia who used them in sauces and on salads, which were out of this world. 

            On another afternoon our hosts invited us to join them at their church for the annual village concert. Of course we agreed and all walked up to the top of the hill. All the villagers were there and we met the local dignitaries including the priest and the mayor. We were not prepared when the sophisticated and accomplished musicians entered and took their seats. For such a small village we expected a more local experience. When the music began in this centuries old stone church with massive arched ceilings and amazing acoustics, we were hypnotized. We agreed later that we both felt like we had been transported back in time, or to another world. This was not a tourist attraction and we lost ourselves in the realness of it.

            The icing on the cake – the cake that was this week in Piedmont - was returning every evening to the B&B and being served a 5-star, gourmet, 4-course meal, prepared lovingly by Patrizia. She is an amazing cook using all fresh, local ingredients to make the traditional meals of the area. Giorgio chose the wine from his wine cellar, and we were wowed every night.
            As the week came to an end, we worried that the rest of our vacation would be a disappointment after the amazing week at 5 Chimneys. However nothing could be further from the truth. Check back in a few days for more about our Italian vacation.

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