Saturday October 13:
We began the day with espresso of course! We explored the neighborhood this morning, found mom and dad’s B&B, took the bus to the train station, then the shuttle to the airport and waited for their arrival. They were tired and happy to see us! We whisked them away on the shuttle to the train station, then a bus to Piazza Bra. Our stop had a great view of the arena and we walked around it to take it in. We guided them down a busy pedestrian street filled with high end shops and gazed in the windows at the Italian high fashion. Through the touristy Piazza Erbe straight on to gelato and espresso! They were quite happy to have this be our first stop. We showed the how to get to our apartment and then how to get to their B&B, which was really nice! They were quite happy with it, so quiet, very clean and lovely with a nice breakfast and a great soaking tub.
We left them to get settled in for an hour and met for drinks at a central wine bar where we enjoyed the regional ‘spritz’: sparkling water and aperol or campari. I love them both, though no one else enjoyed the campari as much as I did, as it is quite bitter. We walked around and explored more of the area, then made our way to Taverna via Stella for a fantastic dinner. Just as we were being seated they put a sign out that told newcomers the place was full. I looked up and in walked Shannon and Jerry Childs, 2 of our group that will be meeting in Cortona! I had emailed Shannon to let her know where we were dining in case they could join us and here they were! It was great fun to see them and our waiters quickly adapted and changed us to a table of 6. We had a fabulous time with great company, wonderful food and wine, too. Dinner stretched out to about 3 hours and we all walked away too full and very happy. No gelato that night, we fell into bed and zonked out.
Sunday October 14
We were up and out to pick up the rental car as early as possible and on the road to the Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) area. This is Italy’s largest lake and it is full of tourists from all over, and there is even ‘Gardaland’, a themepark complete with seaworld, rides, and more. We did NOT go to that part. Thank goodness for GPS, which Mark and I had never really utlized before, not like this, and it was great to have it. We were headed for Malcesine, at the north end of the lake, to ride a cable car up the mountain and see what there was to see. That was also where my friend Jill’s marathon was to end, so we didn’t know what we would find when we got there. As we drove along the lakeshore there were lots of little towns and shops and cafes, just as you would expect for any resort area. Soon we came to a road block and told the police where we were going, and he let us through. He did NOT tell us that we would never find parking, and we would be unable to leave until the race was over. It began to rain. I mean really rain. It poured. We tried so hard! driving from the cable car down every possible road and they all ended in road blocks. Back and forth, over and over we kept driving that road looking for signs of something we had missed; we never found it. Finally we decided to stop at an agriturismo and see if we could at least get lunch. Normally you would need to have reservations or be a guest of the inn, but we had to try. We walked in and I asked if they were open for lunch and luckily they said yes! They were full, so they brought a table in for us from out on the covered patio where it was too chilly to sit. We had a nice lunch that was worth the drive, and it helped us feel ready to try it again. We drove back to the main road block and it was still there, so we decided to try the mountain road that our waitress had suggested. Holy crap, this was a steep, steep, very narrow, extremely windy road. Great views, in spite of the rain and clouds, and really really lovely. And sure enough, after a very long drive, we did get off that mountain and away from that lake.
We wound our way (again, thank goodness for gps) to our next destination: the church of Madonna delle Corona. And no, it is not a church of beer. Check this out, because it is amazing, to say the least. Big hikes down to it and beyond, then again back up. We found out later that there were buses taking folks down to the site and back again! That explained all the particularly elderly foks there, which did not make sense for this very steep hike. This 16th century church is so completely amazing! It is unimaginable how they got up there to do this… we spent awhile appreciating all that hard work.
We moved on then, and gps got us to Valpolicella, where we visited the winery of Guiseppe Lonardi and his daugher Silvia. Guiseppe was not able to join us but Silvia gave us a tour of her lovely winery. The vineyards are about a mile away from the winery and it was getting dark so we were unable to see them, though we had seen many vineyards along the way. Visiting Valpolicella was a big deal for me, I love the wines from this region so much! And Lonardi’s winery is one of our very favorite so we were very honored that Silvia was able to take the time to show us around herself. They have begun the harvest and separation of grapes and even crushed some for their Valpolicello classico. The best grapes are separated out for Amarone and there were stacks upon stacks of them beginning their 3 month drying process. We saw the barriques and learned about the process of ripasso as well. There is a lovely tasting room, though we waited for dinner to do our tasting. As Silvia was closing everything up I was getting pretty excited to get up to the trattoria because I had a feeling Jill was waiting there for us. We walked back over to the 100 year old restaurant and sure enough, she was there! BIG HUGS! It was so great to see her and be able to celebrate her marathon finish with her. She moved to Sicily over a year ago and it was a wonderful treat to see her! The chef gave Jill and I a tour of their immaculate kitchen and we saw the polenta pot that they have always used over the fire.
We asked Silvia to have her aunt and their chef choose our meal, to include typical dishes of the region and their house: antipasti: mixed cured meets, sweet/sour pickled veg, a little bread, and cheese. The primi was risotto with their amarone, and pasta with beef ragu. The secondi was lamb cooked 2 ways: one braised in amarone and one grilled chop. Wine with each course and for dessert: espresso! Plus their dessert wine of recioto (which technically is a baby amarone!) and their grappa. oy vey! Molto bene! Luckily the drive back to the airport was only 20 minuti, poor Jill had to drive over an hour to get back to her place. I am so glad we got to connect! It was worth everything! For those of you who know her, she looks GREAT and would probably love to hear from you, even on her blog.
The sweet recioto dessert wine has been the style historically associated with the region and can trace its origins to winemaking techniques of the ancient Greeks. The name comes from the local dialect recie meaning ears. This refers to the extending lobes of a grape cluster, that appear as “ears” at the top of the cluster. The exposed grapes on the “ears” usually receive the most direct sunlight and become the ripest grapes on the cluster. Historically these very ripe “ears” were picked separately and used to make very rich, sweet wines. Today the method for making recioto has evolved to include the use of whole grape clusters. Grapes destined for Recioto della Valpolicella are often grown in the most ideally situated hillside vineyards. The grapes are taken to special drying rooms where they are allowed to desiccate, concentrating the sugars inside the grape.