MILAN, GENOVA, IMPERIA, ITALIAN MARITIME ALPS, CUNEO
Wednesday May 9
San Francisco to Milan was an easy flight. As was our transfer from Paris to Milan. Traveling is so much easier when you make connections and planes are on time. We then hopped on the bus from Malspensa airport to downtown Milan. It was only 10 Euro and we could see everything as we were on the second level up high. The bus went directly to the Centrale Station, the most beautiful train station in Italy. Our hotel is next to the train station so connections, taxies, and walking are easy. We have stayed at this hotel before and they make the strongest Negronies, of course served with potato chips. I highly recommend starting your vacation this way.
The wine was lovely, the balsamic was quite good, but the olive oil rancid, what a shame. The fish was fresh and well prepared. We had a lovely wine from Tuscany that was light enough to go with the fish, Mantellass Mentore. The Chefs grandfather made the Limoncello and the Noccino. Both were beautifully made and had deep flavors, the lemon was lemony and green. I shall try to duplicate the depth of these flavors when we make both liquor at home this spring.
Thursday May 10
Today we are on the train to Genova to meet Elisabeth and attend Slow Fish. Each town on the way is lovely with town centers or piazzas and my favorite spots perfect secret gardens next to the railway. A good night’s sleep and a nap on the train dispel the effects of time changes.
Genoa May 10
A wonderful port city. Home of Christopher Columbus and where Marco Polo was imprisoned. Beautiful entry archways to each part of both the new and the old town. The Porto Antica is where Slow Fish is being held. We are at the Hotel Bristol Palace near the central piazza. Great hotel very good location. Historic place with the most beautiful oval stairway ending in a stain glass ceiling.
Slow Fish is dedicated to sustainable fishing and protection of the overfished Mediterranean. As of today the Mediterranean Sea is severely overfished, some say almost dead. Dead because of overfishing and pollution. Hard to believe because it is so beautiful but very little fish left. We had dinner at the Sicilian pavilion and heard a presentation on sustainable support of the sea. It was in Italian, but between our limited Italian and a lovely Italian lady who sat with us, we got the key concepts.
Conserve fish and make it last for the future. They served fish with eggplant and mozzarella cheese in a gratin, use some fish but pair it with vegetables. The main course was two sardine fillets, one stuffed with bread crumbs and herbs and the other with anancia, oranges and herbs. Dessert was of course Limoncello sorbet and Limoncello liqueur, from Sicilian lemons. A very loving way to present food typical of Sicily and sustainable.
All the lectures were given in Italian so that limited our ability to truly participate but we listened to all the students of the school and their discussions were very lively.
Thursday May 16
The next day we met with producers of all foods throughout Italy. Each pavilion was from a different area and each vendor displayed their products. We tasted salt cod, bottarga (salted roe), preserved fish in olive oil, dried fish, and many things that accompany fish.
Cheese was in abundance, as were preserves of every fruit you can imagine. There was a pavilion of hundreds of different wines from all over Italy. Pay your 2, 3, or 4 euros and you could sample your way from top to bottom of Italy. A really amazing selection of spectacular wines and vintages. Stuffed mussels and seafood pasta to help you enjoy the wines and still stand upright.
It was great fun comparing wines with the students of the University of Gastronomic Science from Slow Food in Bra. They are young very smart and definitely opinionated from good experience and study. It is a joy to meet such personable and smart individuals.
Sunday May 12
On Mother’s Day, Festa del la Momma, we took a ferry from the Port of Genova down the coast to the beautiful and often pictured town of Portofino. Absolutely beautiful weather, clear skies, calm seas, rugged coast, with a castle on every mountain top. We docked in Porto Fino which is just a small cove inside a bigger bay. We docked next to a huge private ship of British origin, probably 100 feet long and gleaming in the sun, four decks above water level, and four domes for communication.
We walked around, upstairs, around small walkways and found a lovely restaurant with creamy yellow table cloths and superb service. We had one of the best meals of the trip with a bright mineraly Vermintino wine.
The restaurant has two fishing boats that go out every day. The catch they bring back is selected by the Chef for presentation that day, hence the menu changes depending on the catch of the day. The waiter told me when he runs out they are done for the day. We also had the best basil pasta in an area known for basil pasta.
The Chef is very careful with the catch as he said he is aware of the depletion of the fish in the sea. We finished the meal and coffee and ran to the boat and jumped on with one minute to spare. On the way back to Genova I saw a huge school of jelly fish and a shark skimming the waters. I recognized the straight fin and the sharp tail, skimming alone in 200 feet of water even the captain of the boat slowed down to protect him.
Back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap then we walked to the wharf for dinner. We ate pizza in sight of a modern French frigate destroyer. Very interesting, very grey and very enclosed. Home via a gelato shop, this time, cocoa and crema.
I would go back to Genova. It is a welcoming city with lots to see and do. We did not have time to go to the aquarium or the maritime museum. The boat used in Pirates of the Caribbean starring Johnny Depp was docked at the port. All the children loved crawling all over the decks. It looked real but probably was not very seaworthy.
We rented a small car, Fiat Punto, and after a short tutorial started down the Italian Riviera. Leaving Genova was fairly easy just following route 10 on the coast heading toward Monaco. The highways are very well built and the drive was easy, with glimpses of the Mediterranean on one side and terraced olives and grapes on the other. It took us only one hour to reach Imperia.
This is an amazing town, old, seaside village with historic churches, and a very large port for private yachts. Some of the yachts are well over 200 feet long with crews of 10. All just sitting and waiting, being shined and polished and kept in pristine condition. So much money just sitting and from all over the world. These are similar to some of the yachts in the harbor of Genova, but even larger.
The ocean is so blue and the wind mild and soft. We walked along the breakwater for over a mile. No wonder everyone loves the Italian Rivera. For an afternoon treat we had another gelato, I had violetta, perfectly scented with violets an amazing flavor, lightly colored violet and scent of my favorite flowers. Mark had cioccolata, deep and rich. Then home for a long nap. Delightful way to spend the day. I am thinking I like vacations.
Tonight we went to the restaurant l’Osteria dai Peppi. I had the gnocchi with ricotta, four pillows of soft light dough and cheese in a light cream sauce, mark had lasagna con spinache. We then shared rabbit with potatoes, olive oil and olives and a seafood salad with octopus. For dessert we had pistachio Brule, and a chocolate cake that was decadent.
The wine was an Aglianico del Taburno from around Naples, full bodied that was delicious, but fresh and paired well with our meals. Then another long walk down to the wharf, the wind is still and the water beautiful. I could spend a few more days here, or a month!
Tomorrow we go to the Olive Oil Museum in Imperia to learn some history about what we are doing.
Tuesday May 14
A sweet breakfast in a darling open room with greats pots of coffee. Then a short walk up the hill to the Cathedral in Imperia. The piazza is large with the police station on one side, a children’s hospital on the other and a grand church high upon the hill overlooking the port. Extravagant inside, completely covered with gold decorations and paintings and sculptures. Pictures and sculptures by Brunini. High domes with stained glass to let in all colors of light. We were very glad to take that walk up the hill. On the top near the Rectory for the Cathedral is a lovely pruned olive tree in the shape of a “O”, or a halo. I prefer to believe the latter.
Now to the Olive oil museum in Imperia. Named as one of the best museums in Italy in 2012, they charted the course of oil from the Greeks and Romans. Great dioramas with miniature working olive mills, demonstrating the history of “pressing” olives with rush mats.
The collection of oil vases and oil lamps are of Greek and Roman origin and are treasures. The displays of amphora were very accurate and gave a clear description of the way oil was transported by ship. Some of the more recent oil lamps and vases are from the Venetian glass blowers. All delicate, all beautiful, and all hand made. Pure oil or extra virgin was used for food, second level or virgin was used for cosmetics, and lampante, was used for lights.
We signed the guest book left our card from IL Fiorello and bought a copy of their museum book and sat outside in the sun for a few minutes before continuing our trip. The Mediterranean sun is perfect today.
Most of the oil in Liguria is a variety called Taggiascca. They harvest late in November and the resulting oil is buttery, mild and luscious. We plan to harvest our Taggiascca earlier to add some bitterness for better balance and also to make it last longer. Except for the restaurant in Milan all the oil served is made in Liguria and has been wonderful.
We then hopped into the car and drove toward Monaco, heading to Cuneo. We decided not to stop in Monaco as lunch may have been too expensive. At Ventimiglio we turned north and headed to our next city, Cuneo. We did not truly realize the size of the mountains that we were to drive through. The Italian Maritime Alps were magnificent. We followed a river of blue glacial water almost the entire way. Steep cliffs, rock cut to form the road and a small railroad also. Very small towns, part Italian and part French. Signs in French then Italian, then French again guided our way. We traveled through France for quite a distance, up, up into the mountains. French Swiss architecture surrounding each bend in the road. Very long tunnels sometimes thankfully with one way traffic.
Leaving France entering Italy again the summits were still covered in snow. The ski areas were deserted and the hotels and apartments were boarded up until summer season or perhaps till next ski season. Coming down from this extraordinary drive we entered the area of Cuneo. Again following rivers we drove past tiny towns, Albergos at the very side of the road, and fields of grapes, kiwis, hay, and tiny gardens just now being planted. The clear blue skies and warm weather is not to last but we are loving it now.
The GPS guides us into the center of Cuneo the capital of this region known for cheese, chocolate, and wine. We run smack dab into the huge Tuesday market and have a heck of a time getting to the hotel. I run through the market spying gifts ideas, on to the hotel for directions to their parking. Sometimes in Italy it is hard to believe that very tiny streets are actually streets. Parking both ways on both sides of the street makes it difficult to understand which way to go. Oh yes and be careful of the true one way streets. We negotiated our way around the market, via tiny streets and dove into the steepest underground parking spot. We had just come through huge mountains and this parking entrance made us both hold our breath. Checking in was easy and our room looks out to an old church, of course with bells every hour, during the day. Off to the market to buy gifts for friends, it is so fun to watch market day. We ate at the hotel that night and had what they call a “local” dinner sourced from 36 k surrounding Cuneo. I had herb ravioli with sage and olive oil, Mark had steak tartar, followed by a boiled dinner of different meats with three local sauces from the area, pesto, pepper, and eggplant. Very interesting dinner. Ending with local cheese, we went for another walk and then fell in bed.
I dreamed about redoing the olive fields at our farm with terraces that I had seen all day, so I woke up tired from digging the terraces. We had a light breakfast at the hotel and then off for a long walk around the old city of Cuneo.
We stopped in every church, there are many, but my favorite was completed with an interior of green marble. Green dome and a center dome surrounded with glass. It gave the interior a deep rich green color that was unusual and quite amazing. We walked around for over two hours just looking in windows of dark chocolates, beautiful cakes, and perfect cookies with cream frostings. The butcher shops had all sorts of meats, from prosciutto, to sliced meats, to a special shop for just chicken and ducks. Another shop with beautiful mushrooms. The duck shop had hand carved chickens and ducks in the window. It smelled fantastic. In another patisserie, we bought two sandwiches, one with ham and mozzarella, and the other with Parma and lardo. Lardo is ham fat that is cured and very thinly sliced, a melt in your mouth treat. We added a chocolate croissant and lunch was solved.