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Trip Report Northern Italy 16 Day Trip Report

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Northern Italy 16 Day Trip Report

I finally have time to write our trip report from our 16 day trip to Northern Italy from September/October 2012. Thanks to all Fodorites for your valuable input that helped make this a great vacation. My husband and I have been to Italy many times but never to the northern part. Each of the four locations were very diverse and unique, especially the Dolomites. We felt we were in Germany not Italy. I’ll write about what we did and best of all, what we ate. For those of you who don’t want to read about our meals, just skip it. I like write what we ate so we can remember years to come.

Here is our 16 day itinerary:

Part 1 - Bologna - 4 nights (4 full days to sightsee - no car)
Hotel Porta San Mamolo

Rent Car Day 5 - drive to Ortisei

Part 2 - Ortisei/Dolomites - 3 nights (1 day travel - 2 full days to sightsee)
Hotel Grones

Day 8 - Drive to Alba/Piemonte Region

Part 3 - Alba/Piedmont Region - 4 nights (1 day travel - 3 full days to sightsee)
Villa la Favorita

Day 12 - Drive to Bellagio

Part 4 - Bellagio/The Lakes Region - 4 nights (1 day travel - 3 full days to sightsee)
Hotel Metropole

Day 16 - Drive to Malpensa
First Hotel - 1 night

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    Part 1 Bologna - 4 nights (4 full days to sightsee - no car)
    Hotel Porta San Mamolo

    We loved Porta San Mamolo. Our room, 204, was the only room with a large balcony, had an old world charm. Location was great, about a 10 minute walk to Piazza Maggiore. Great restaurants in the area as well. The breakfast room and courtyard was lovely, complete with Matese the Cat, “Hunter of Birds“.

    First night dinner was at Osteria la Traviata (recommended by the hotel) and block or two away. Quaint local place with homemade food. The owner was very helpful and helped us choose our meal. We started with a salad of Artichokes, Mushrooms, Parmesan and Celery. Then Fried Zucchini Flowers with Cheese and little sticks of Fried Zucchini. We had a homemade pasta of White and Green Tortellini with a Meat Ragu. They were so soft and light. Also had Tagilatelle with Prosciutto and Orange Colored Wild Mushrooms. Delicious. We shared a wonderful Roasted Baby Pork with Cracklings and Roasted Potatoes. The owner brought us a complementary Mascarpone Dessert and Limonchello.

    Our first day we walked everywhere. Weather was perfect. Piazza Maggiore was hopping as it was a Saturday. They had a cool event going where kids drawings were all over the ground of the piazza. We took the red tourist bus which was a great way to see the city. I loved when it went up the hillside to a wealthy residential area so you could look down on Bologna. We had lunch at Tamberini, an experience we’ll never forget. This is a big gourmet shop with prepared foods and a cafeteria style line where locals get the food and scramble to find a seat. We had huge Meat and Cheese Tortelloni Plate and a Sliced Salami, Prosciutto and Cheese Platter with a couple of big birra (beers). Crazy fun.

    Dinner tonight was at Trattoria Gianni downtown and recommended by Fodorites. This is family run and filled with locals. Bologna is all about Tortelloni and we planned to eat it everyday. We started with Ricotta Tortelloni with Sage Butter (local classic) and a Pasta Ragu (pork sauce, no beef is the tradition). For dinner we shared Grill Lamb Ribs with Potatoes and a delicious Roasted Rabbit (huge). Lots of vino and laughs. On the way home there was a loud rock concert going on with all of the college students attending. Fun!

    Our next day Sunday, we had planned to walk up to the Basilica di San Luca. We made the mistake of walking there from our hotel (longer than we excepted but not to far) and got lost trying to find the mini bus that would take us up the hill. We weren’t up for a two plus hour hike up. We finally found the mini bus, #58, before the Porta Saragozza and the sweet man took us up the hill. Glad we didn’t walk. For those of you who did, congratulations. The covered walk has 60 porticos and is 3,796 meters, the largest in the world. The Basilica is very simple devoid of decorations yet the profile is lovely. There was Sunday Mass going on so we couldn’t look around. Don’t plan on eating up here. There isn’t much. We took the mini bus back down and then the #20 bus into town. We had a small lunch at Café Mercato of Spinach Pie, a Grilled Prosciutto and Cheese and Sausage Sandwich at a little takeout place down on the main foodie lane off of Piazza Maggiore. Just right. Time for a siesta. Then cocktails on our perfect balcony.

    We ate at Al Sangiovese (Trip Advisor) which is on the corner of the street our hotel was on. A very nice lady was over the top helpful. We started with the Chefs Pie with Spinach, Carrots, Leeks, Zucchini and Egg. I’d love to get the recipe. Two Pastas next. One was Gnocchi with Radicchio, a bit bitter but very unique and the other was Gremelli Pasta with Pancetta in a White Sauce. After we had a Sliced Steak and Lamb Chops. Great. A wonderful Cake with Crema finished our meal. It was a good experience.

    Monday was our Italian Food Days Tour with the effervescent Alessandro. The tour was the highlight of our 2 weeks in Italy. The cost is 145 euros per person. Not cheap, but you will never forget this experience. Look up the reviews on Trip Advisor, all great. Alessandro picked us up at 6:45 am. The tour starts at a Parmesan Reggiano factory. I was in the imported cheese business and had been on many a cheese factory tour, but never a Reggiano factory. This is extremely interesting and amazing the work and effort that goes into producing this King of Cheeses. From there, we visited a Balsamic Vinegar producer in Modena (the only town that produces). Here you will learn that the bottle of Balsamic Vinegar you have in your pantry is not the real deal. The real deal only has one ingredient, grapes. The aging is called a Solera, in which the balsamic is moved from a large barrel and into smaller and smaller barrels for a minimum of 12 years. The family had one barrel that was 116 years old. This is a labor of love. A small bottle cost 60 euros. The third and final stop was a Prosciutto di Modena (same regulations as Prosciutto di Parma). Wow, the warehouse had over 23,000 hams in different stages of curing. Lots of good sampling too.

    Lunch (what Alessandro calls a light lunch) was anything but. There were 12 of us (two buses) that went to a lovely family run Tratorria called Casa Caitatorre (the Hunter) where the 88 year old Nonna does the cooking. The rolling hills and scenery was spectacular. Pasta upon pasta kept coming out. We had Tortellini with Meat and Cheese Sauce, Awesome Raviolis, Tri-angle stuffed Pasta with Porcinis, Crepe like Pasta with Spinach and four Cheeses, an Omelet type thing. We were stuffed but out came Wild Boar and Roasted Rabbit. Oh and bottles upon bottles of wine. We had a great group form Canada, Massachusetts, Seattle and Singapore. We laughed so much it hurt. We got home around 4:00 ish and took a much deserved nap.

    That night we weren’t very hungry, but who can past up a meal in Italy. Across from the hotel was Le Mura, a Sicilian Seafood Restaurant. What a secret gem. We had a Mixed Cold Platter with Salmon and Prawns in a Mayo Peach Sauce. Then Linguine with Anchovies and Zucchini. Our main course a Mixed Fish Platter with a Fillet of Fish, Swordfish, Squid and Grilled Prawns. We also had a Grilled Octopus that was huge. So much for a light meal. If you’re full of typical Bolognese food, this is a great place for something different.

    Tuesday we said Chow to Bologna. If you like food, come to this charming often overlooked town. Off to Europcar to get our rental for the remaining of our trip.

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    Part 2 - Ortisei/Dolomites - 3 nights (1 day travel - 2 full days to sightsee)
    Hotel Grones (Thanks to Bob the Nav. This was an excellent choice, hotel and location)

    The 3 ½ hour ride to Ortisei was great. The Autostrade was easy. The scenery exciting. Once off the Autostrade, the road following a winding river. The town of Ortisei is drop dead gorgeous. It’s like an Alpine Village complete with all of the lovely Chalets covered with flower boxes full of geraniums. My husband exclaimed, we can’t still be in Italy. We hit a little road block, actual a big road block. The road to the Grones Hotel was closed with a giant digger truck in the road. Fortunately the worker was kind enough to move the truck so we could squeeze by. Didn’t know we could have looped around and come in from the other side. We found the underground (free) parking lot.

    The Grones Hotel is out of a designer magazine. Stunning view, beautifully decorated lobby, dining room and a fabulous sauna and in-door swimming pool. The delightful owners speak little English, as German is their main language. Our room, a sleek contemporary Euro room, was so clean with a great bed, with a big fluffy duvet. The balcony view looking down over the lush valley and town was probably one of our top 5 views from many years of travels. We were memorized watching the chair lift climb up to the mountain peak and listening to the faint sound of the river running below. Breakfast and dinner is included (you can get half board). This is something we never do, but it turned out to be outstanding. Plus it was nice each night, not to have to drive to town after our long days of touring around the Dolomites.

    The owners Son-in-Law is the Chef. The family all present were dressed in typical Austrian garb adding to the charm. The dinner menu is given to you at breakfast with a few choices to make. The food was gourmet, local cuisine and beautifully presented. Our first dinner started with a Roast Beef Salad with Little Onions (sounds strange, but it was terrific). We shared the two pasta, one Tortelloni in a Fresh Green Pea Sauce and the other Penette with Olivida and Feta Cheese. For our main course we shared the local Angler Fish and Pork Loin wrapped in Speck (a Smoked Prosciutto). That night there was a dessert buffet that was indescribably amazing. We made a couple of plates and took them to our room. Crème Brulee, Raspberry Tiramisu, Pear Strudel and Apple Cake. Crazy good.

    We woke up and it was drizzling. Boo Hoo! Breakfast was a lovely buffet and they will cook you eggs or omelets by request. We’re off to drive the Great Dolomite Road. Many thanks to Fodorite PJ1 - Paul, for his day drive suggestion. Here is his post to me:

    (From Ortisei drive through St. Christina and Selva to the Gardena Pass. Take this to Colfosco/Corvara (Alta Badia). Don't take the Sella Pass turnoff). At Corvara, take the Campolongo Pass to Arabba. From Arraba take the Pordoi Pass towards Canazei. Before you get to Canazei, take the Sella Pass. From the Sella Pass get back on the Gardena Pass back to Ortisei. There's a cafe/restaurant/rest stop at the "top" of the Gardena and Sella Passes. You'll also notice a few small places to park along the passes to get out and walk among the Dolomite peaks).

    The Dolomites were hidden in the rain clouds, but half way through our trip, the sun started to peak out. The road was a drivers dream, twisty turns through the monolith mountains, quaint towns and hunting huts along the way. Stunning. Oh it was chilly at the top of the Sella Pass, since us two crazies were in shorts. The hikers were all clad in what I called Moon Gear from head to toe. The ride took about 3 hours, taking our time.

    Back to the Hotel, we took the picture perfect walking trail below the hotel into town. Ortisei is magical. Most of the downtown is pedestrian only. We found a busy little restaurant and had a couple of unusual Toasted Bread Pizzas and of course a couple of big Hefeweizen Beers. We wandered around and then took the escalator from town back up the hill toward our hotel. How convenient. It was around 5:00 pm so we put on our plush bathrobes supplied by the hotel and went to the pool and flopped in the Jacuzzi. Life is good!

    We have gotten to know our servers, Stephanie and Angelo. They are so funny together. Dinner tonight started with Fresh Tomatoes with a Crisp Crepe and Fresh Cheese. Also there was a huge Salad Bar. The pasta courses were Meat Raviolis and one of the best Lasagna ever with Spinach and Cheese. We both ordered the local Haunch of Deer with a Pear Rosemary Sauce (didn’t want to share this time). It was cooked medium rare and unbelievable. Dessert was a Cream Filled Millefeuille with Homemade Berry Ice Cream. Yikes this was so good! After dinner we enjoyed a lighting and thunderstorm on our pouch while a huge moon appeared.

    Today was supposed to be rainy, but we woke to a surreal sunny day. Can’t get enough of the view from our room. This time we head east towards Castelrotto. What a pretty drive, still a little scary for me, the passenger, twisty turns, up and down valleys past little towns and beautiful churches. We passed Castelrotto towards an entrance to the Alps de Swiss. The road is closed during the day and only used by hikers. Back to Castelrotto, a cute little town for lunch. Most places were closed since it was late afternoon, so we saw a Pizza place that seems busy. Surprise, they served German food. We both got a large platter of Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and Potatoes. Certainly doesn’t feel like Italy.

    Back towards Ortisei, my husband who is terrified of heights, built up the courage to take the Cable Car to the top of the Alps de Swiss. We had our own Gondola both up and down. Hubbies hands were all sweat, but he managed. What a surprise when we got to the top. For some reason, I just thought the view would be looking back at Ortisei, but no. The view of the other side of the mountains and valley below was spectacular. Being late afternoon the sun turned everything a beautiful pink and purple color. Other than skiing in the winter, this place is a haven for hikers. There were hikers everywhere with their walking sticks. There is a nice restaurant at the top with a great outside dining balcony. Had we not have had lunch this appeared to be a lovely place to eat and enjoy the stunning view. Back to The Grones to enjoy the Jacuzzi and Pool with the beautiful view.

    Our last dinner was great again. The Salad Bar was set up again. Then we had a Salad of Smoked Venison and Horseradish. We skipped pasta tonight and had Porcini Broth with Porcini Quenelle (dumplings). Our main course was Veal with Haricot Vert Beans and Potatoes. Dessert was a Moltana Chocolate Cake with Pear Ice Cream. Back on the balcony a full moon shone brightly. Time to say Auf Wiedersehen to charming Ortisei and our courteous hosts, the Grones Family.

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    Part 3 - Alba/Piedmont Region - 4 nights (1 day travel - 3 full days to sightsee)
    Villa la Favorita

    Off to Alba, the famous Truffle City in the Piedmont Wine Region. This was our longest travel day, about 5 hours. Driving in Italy is easy, however be prepared for major tolls. We stopped in town before checking in to Villa Favorita. Outside Alba is very industrial (home to yummy Nutella and the sweet chewy Toronne). The Old City is charming, with a long pedestrian alley straight through its center. Unlike most Italian cities, Alba was hopping mid-day with tourists galore. It was Friday and the weekend was Wine Festival weekend. The following weekend is the Truffle Festival, complete with a Donkey Palio (first Sunday in October). A beer and a light snack was in order after our long drive.

    Off to find Villa Favorita. Head up the hill from the circle with the statue of a boy holding a ball (?) and it’s on your left. Wish we knew that ahead of time because we were lost for awhile. I found Villa Favorita on Trip Advisor (also recommend by Bob the Nav. Thanks again!). So, we never do Bed and Breakfasts, always 3 or 4 star hotels. My concern was my husband would hate it. We pull in and it’s a beautiful large villa with vineyards and fruit trees covering the hill behind. The most lovely Roberta was there to greet us. She showed us around. Outside seating areas were so quaint and out of a movie scene. The inside of the house was comfortable and clean, including a kitchen with a refrigerator you could use. She showed us a downstairs bathroom and said there was one upstairs as well, meaning our room. Husband misunderstood and thought I had brought him to a place were he would have to share the bathrooms. Boy did I get the look, and not a good one. The initial Oh Sh*t, what have I done, was all for nothing. Villa Favorita turned out to be one of our favorite (no pun intended), places ever to stay. Not a big fancy hotel, but the real deal, like staying with locals. Love it! Our room, #7, was I believe, the largest and was on two levels with a seating area, day bed and TV downstairs. Then a bit rickety metal staircase took you to the loft bedroom and large bathroom with a very clean shower stall. So do not request this room if you can’t climb stairs. The best feature of the room was the huge windows that let in the fresh evening air. AC was off for the season, but we were very comfortable. The hotel also has an outdoor Jacuzzi. We didn’t have time to utilize, plus it was a bit on the cooler side for our four nights. My favorite part of this entire experience was Sally the Golden Retriever and her ball. I love dogs. Once settled, we made some ice for our evening pop and enjoyed sitting outside cracking and eating hazelnuts. This was surreal and something you’d never experience at a hotel.

    The trip into town for dinner was easy. We had no trouble parking since the city is surrounded by parking lots. Dinner was at La Libera (Trip Advisor). This upscale restaurant was hopping. We started with a tasty Mushroom Tart and Squid with Mushrooms. Hey, it’s mushroom season after all. We shared a Pasta with Octopus and then a Giant Steak (Florentine Style) for two. Italians love their steaks rare, so order to taste. It was so tender it melted in our mouths. Silly side story, a man and his date had left almost a whole bottle of Barolo Wine on their table. Hubby asked the server if we could have it. Waste not want not. Great service, great food and for an upscale place it was only 100 euros.

    Breakfast is famous at Villa Favorita. Giovanna creates lovely morning experience. Each morning something different will appear, with nods to local produce and fruit. We started with Yogurt and Pears from the garden and Bread with Homemade Jams. A Spinach Tart was next with a plate of Prosciutto and Cheese. Finishing with a Peach Tart that was incredible. It was drizzling a bit. I had a couple of day rides around the region, but wanted to save the nicer ones for better weather. We drove to Saluzzo. The drive was mostly flat but interesting through agricultural regions. It was interesting to see fruit tree growing in rows almost like large grape vines. We saw a lot of Pomegranates. It was Market Day in Saluzzo and the sun came out the minute we arrived. I love Italian outdoor markets, lots of photo opportunities. This was a portable market with big trucks whose sides opened up to display everything from cheeses, salamis and fish, plus lots of colorful produce. We also visited Savigliano and Bra which were uneventful since mid-day everything was closed. All in all, it was a good first day. However our next two day drives were much more scenic and exciting. Stopped in Alba for a light lunch. This town is great. We loved how the Truffles were displayed with price tags, almost like jewelry. I suppose they are Little Gems!

    After enjoying our adult beverages in the courtyard at Villa Favorite we were off to dinner at Il Vicolette. This is a unique little restaurant run by a Ex Michelin Starred Chef and his wife. There’s a little deli in the front and tables in the back. Nothing fancy, full of locals and great food. We had Carpaccio and expected sliced raw meat, but got a plate of what looks and seems like raw hamburger. It’s called “Carne Cruda” like steak tartar, and is classic Piedmont cuisine. It was delicious. Then we shared two pastas, one was little tiny Stuffed Raviolis with Zucchini Blossoms and Cheese (also traditional) and the other was Pasta with Fungi. For dinner we shared a Braised Veal (like a Pot Roast) with rich Veggie Sauce and Rabbit (we love Rabbit). We finished with a lovely Nut Cake. After dinner we were delighted to see the opening festivities for the Truffle Festival. Very regal and lots of flag throwing.

    Sunday was Wine Festival Day. Breakfast was Yogurt and Fresh Fruit, a Ham and Artichoke Savory Cake with Hazelnuts. Off to Nieve, considered one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. It was lovely. Then to Barbaresco, famous for wine, Castiglone and finally Canelli where they were having an Antique Market (actually a lot of crap). It was a lovely ride through vineyards and high hill top towns. Back to Alba where the hoards were all walking around with wine glasses around there necks. We decided not to imbibe, because it would mean bedtime might arrive before dinner. We had a lovely lunch at Bar Brasilera near the Carousal. We shared a large Nicoise Salad and a Salami and Cheese Platter and watched everyone dance and be merry.

    Dinner was at Osteria dei Sognatori. We had stopped in the day before to check it out and the owner explained they don’t take reservations and there is no menu. So if you don’t want to wait, line up before they open. There is a bar next door, same owner, that you could have a drink and a free piece of pizza while waiting. We got there at 8:30 and didn’t get seated until 9:30. As mentioned, no menu, they just bring you food. Antipasti was Carne Cruda with a mayo sauce, Cheese with Cauliflower and Salami with Cabbage. Pasta was the little Zucchini Stuffed Raviolis and Polenta with Tomato and Mushrooms. Dinner was Veal Braised in Vino Barolo and Rabbit (again!). Dessert was a mixed platter with Orange Cake, Tiramisu and a Peach and Chocolate Fudge Cake. So much food with a 1 ½ carafes of house wine came to 70 euros. Wow!

    Monday morning and the sun is shining. Breakfast was an Egg with Haricot Vert wrapped in Prosciutto and a Peach/Pear Crusty Pastry. Told you this isn’t your average B&B. Today’s drive was our favorite. We started in Grinzane Cavour where there is a cool castle. Then to Serralunga d’Alba, to Castigilone Falletto, to Barolo and it’s famous castle. We had a great lunch at Ristorante La Cantinetta. The owner suggested the Mixed Antipasti platter for 2. We thought it was 22 euros, but turned out to be 22 euros per person, which was fine, because he kept bring us food. Here’s what we ate, Carne Cruda with Mayo, Chopped Eggs with can’t remember, Roasted Peppers with Parsley Sauce and Quail Eggs, Salami, Duck and Rabbit Liver Pate with Red Onion Jam, and Uova da Ravioli (Ravioli with an Egg Inside) a masterpiece. While we ate a film crew was filming two foodie chat. We finish our day tour through La Morra and Veduno. From each town you can see the next town, usually with a caste, high on the hilltops surround with vineyards. Postcard Perfect Day!

    Tonight, our last dinner in Alba was at Osteria Della Arc, who’s owner started the “Slow Food Movement” in Bra. We started with Salt Cod, Potatoes and Black Truffles (complementary), Agnolotti with meat in a broth sauce and Tagilatelle with lots of Wild Mushrooms. Dinner was Loin of Lamb Chops and Braised Veal in Barolo (no Rabbit tonight). We indulged with two bottles of vino and a serious Stinky Cheese Platter. What a great end to our visit to Alba.

    Breakfast again was terrific, Yogurt with Apricots, a Spinach Tort, Prosciutto and a Pastry Stuffed with Pears and Chocolate on Top. Goodbye to Giovanna and Sally the Dog. Roberta was out, but left us a nice note. Truly a charming lovely visit.

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    Part 4 - Bellagio/The Lakes Region - 4 nights (1 day travel - 3 full days to sightsee)
    Hotel Metropole

    Off to Lake Como and Bellagio. We left at 11:00 am and arrived at 3:00 pm. The ride north was uneventful until we hit crazy Como. Not having GPS and just Via Michelin (which wanted us to go the long way) was a nightmare. The signage to Bellagio was tiny and minimal. We weaved our way through town and finally ended up on the east-side road of the lake. Now, we’ve driven all over Europe (Almafi Coast etc.) but this road was a killer, even for my brave husband. It hugged the cliff and dropped off with houses somehow clinging to the side of the lake. It was very curvy with many blind corners. The worse part was that it was a two way road with barely enough room for 1 ½ cars, let alone the giant trucks and buses that zoomed towards us at crazy speed. We survived. For you drivers, it was an experience not to be forgot, but doable. However, I came up with a brilliant idea for when we left, to take the car ferry over to Cadenabbia and drive down the much easier West Side of the Lago and prettier road down near the water.

    Hotel Metrople (Trip Advisor) was a perfect 3 star hotel, and inexpensive for being right on the lake (153 euros for a lake view room). You drive through the restricted area to drop off your luggage. Above town is free parking where we left the car for 4 nights. There is pay parking near the hotel, used mostly for day trippers. The hotels location is ideal for walking to restaurants and shops. They have a huge roof top terrace for lounging in the sun or drinking wine or both. They have a beautiful lake-side dinning patio complete with a pair of Swans swimming around. They offer 10% off dining, but we only had lunch. Lunch was a couple of decent Panini, Bresola with Brie and Mushrooms and Prosciutto with Mozzarella and Tomatoes.

    I requested and received room #454 (suggested on TA). It was a corner room lake front and corner view toward the Alps. It was on the opposite side of the car ferry, which other reviews mentioned was noisy. It was not very big, but we spent most of our time either sleeping or on the porch. The shower was great. We had a small balcony facing the lake that had stunning views. There was a second side window French doors in the bedroom and one in the bathroom. Nice to sit on the toilet and watch the sun set over the Alps. The best part of our balcony was the action on the lake. The Car Ferry was to the left and passenger ferry to the right, plus the boats for hire.

    Our first evening meal was at Ristorante Bilacus. We sat outside on the lovely, romantic, vine covered terrace. We started with a mixed Smoked Fish Platter, Whitefish, Redfish, Salmon, Capers, Onions and Little Toasts. Followed by Spaghetti with Clams in a Red Sauce. The serving was huge, plenty for two to share. For Dinner we shared the house special Salmon Trout “Bilacus” which had a Tomato, Mushroom, Clam and Shrimp Sauce. Amazing! The second fish was Grill Branzano with Fresh Herbs and Potatoes, Carrots and Broccoli. Hubby ordered a side dish of Cannelloni Beans that we didn’t need but were delicious. We had 1 ½ liter of white wine. Dinner came to 75 euros, very inexpensive for the quality of the food and the intimate setting.

    Wednesday we were up for breakfast which was a nice European Buffet. They will make Omelets upon request. Off to tour Lago Como. After October 1st, they ferry schedule is cut in half. A very nice man helped us figure out the timetables. We purchased a day pass. You can take either the passenger ferry or car ferry. The car ferries were more frequent so that is what we took. Being on Lago Como is stunning and surreal. The beauty is indescribable. Our first stop was Verenna, a lovely town perched on the side of the eastside of the lake. We had time before the next ferry to walk around. Our next stop was Menaggio on the west side of the lake, which is a very nice bigger town. Then we ferried to Tremezzo, also west side, and walked about 5 minutes to Villa Carlotta. You could also walk to the Villa from Cadenabbia. Villa Carlotta is a huge botanic garden, supposedly very beautiful in spring, but lovely in October too. The gardens are all over the hillside and can be quite a trek up hill. We spent over an hour wandering around. So peaceful. We took the ferry back to Bellagio from Cadenabbia after a long day. We stopped at a little gourmet/grocery market in Bellagio and the nice lady made us up a couple of Mortadella and Cheese Sandwiches which we took back to the Hotel Metrople and ate on the large roof top terrace. Heaven on Earth.

    After cocktails on our perfect little balcony we went to dinner at Terrazza Barchetta. We called the chef “Chef Boyardee” because of his tall chef’s hat. He commanded the room. We had a beautiful table next to an open window. We started with a Mixed Shellfish in a White Wine Sauce, It had Clams, Mussel and Octopus. Then we had some yummy Gnocchi with Octopus. For our main courses we had a Lamb Shank in a tasty sauce and Suckling Piggy Chops (little baby chops) in a Raspberry Vinegar Sauce. This was our most expensive meal of the trip at 105 euros, but so worth it. The same meal would have cost double back in the States.

    Thursday was a little cloudy. We usually travel to Europe in September to avoid October. October will get cool with showers. We decided to chill out after breakfast and actually fell back to sleep until 2:00 pm. Vacations are exhausting! We wandered around Bellagio, the prettiest town in our opinion. We walked to Villa Balbainello, about a 10 minute walk south of town. This is a very lovely Villa and beautifully landscaped. The grounds are open for a small fee, but the Villa itself is not open to the public. We practically had the place to ourselves and the sun came out. After, we returned to our favorite little food shop and bought Salami, Cheese, Octopus Salad and Ciabatta which we enjoyed our the terrace with a bottle of Lambusco that we bought for 2 euros on our Italian Food Days Tour in Bologna.

    Tonight we tried to get into the highly rated Trattoria San Giacomo, which has limited seating and no reservations. They were full for the evening. The owner said to arrive before they open at 7:00 pm in order to get a table. That’s cutting in to our cocktail hour on the balcony. It was late so we went back to Ristoranti Bilacus. Usually we never eat some place twice, but it was so good the other night. We were greeted like family. We wanted to eat light. Ha! Remembering how generous the pasta serving were, we ordered Raviolis with Meat and Mushroom. For dinner we both ordered Lamb Chops. We expected them to be grilled, however they were coated with bread crumbs and pounded out like a Veal Milanese. I was treated to Cherry Gelato by the car ferry. I’d never had Cherry before. It sort of tasted like cough syrup, but after a few bites, it was delicious.

    Friday we skipped breakfast because we were still full from out “light” dinner. We took the ferry to Villa Baldianello. The Villa is rated the top attraction for Lago Como on Trip Advisor. The ferry stop is Lenno. From Bellagio we took the 11:40 am ferry to Leno which arrived at 12:09 pm. The return was at 3:10 pm, arriving back in Bellagio at 3:40 pm. We bought a one stop ticket each. From here you could do the 20 minute walk up-hill to the Villa, but for some reason the walking road is closed on Thursday and Fridays. So we (about 12 of us off the ferry), waited around for the water taxi guy to show up. The taxi is 7 Euro per person and the entry with a guided tour was 12 euros per person. Villa Baldianello is absolutely amazing. It is perched on a peninsula in the center of the lake and built to enjoy all aspects of Lago Como. The history is incredibly interesting, especially the last owner, a billionaire, Guido Monzino. He was an explorer and mountaineer. He lead the first Italian expedition in 1973 to climb Mount Everest. The rich collection of artifacts was overwhelming. The gardens are minimal so make sure you pay the extra for the excellent tour. We had time for lunch and had a nice Pizza with Ham, Cheese, Mushrooms and Olives (a quatro pizza that we requested all mixed up) at one of the little restaurants near the ferry stop. Long day.

    We arrive at Trattoria San Giancoma at 6:45 pm for the anticipated 7:00 pm opening. They have pillows for sitting on the steps. I thought there would be some sort of line, but no, as soon as the doors opened it was a free for all. Almost like musical chair. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen. They have a limited menu of the day. We had a Mixed Lake Fish appetizer with Smoked Trout and a Salted Salmon and a Rocket Salad with bits of something. Then Pasta with Mushrooms and their famous Chicken Cacciatore and a wonderful Osso Bucco. We’re not big dessert eater, rather enjoy extra vino, but per our servers urging, we had the Best Chocolate Cake I have ever had. We enjoyed our last night on our balcony listening to the ducks quack away in the night. Goodbye to Lago Como. George Clooney, you chose a lovely place to spend your summers.

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    The End - Drive to Malpensa
    First Hotel - 1 night

    Saturday we were up for breakfast and out for the 11:15 am car ferry to Cadenabbia. The drive to Malpensa took less than 2 hours. The ride down the west side of Lago Como was pretty and stress free. We dropped our luggage off at the First Hotel. The First Hotel recommend by Bob the Nav (I owe you a drink) was perfect. It’s more of a business type hotel. Rooms were small and a bit dark, but the bed was probably the best bed we had in our entire trip. We had time before we needed to drop the car off so the receptionist suggested we drive up to Lago Maggorie and the quaint town of Arona. There we walked around and had a nice lunch at a small café/bar. We had a large Salad of Green Beans, Olives, Onion, Tomato and Tuna and two Panini, Brescola with Brie and Rocket and Speck with Gorgonzola plus two large Birra Moretti Red Ales. So good. After we dropped our car off at Malpensa Airport and the hotel shuttle picked us up. Our Northern Italy Adventure had taken us 1,631 kilometers or 1,013 miles.

    For dinner Bob had suggested a little Trattoria next to the First Hotel, but unfortunately it was closed. Not sure if it was closed for the season or permanently. So we ate at the not so exciting Hotel dining room in the basement. We were pleasantly surprised to have a nice Italian dinner. We had 2 pastas, one with Black Spaghetti and Smoked Salmon and the other like Gemelli with Sausage and Radicchio. We both had Grilled Lamb Chops that were cooked perfectly. It was served with a Potato like Tort with Broccoli, Cauliflower, Spinach, Onion and Cheese. Topped off with a local bottle of wine from Alba.

    Sunday we were ready to go home. Our travels in Northern Italy were amazing. Thanks to all of the helpful friends on Fodor’s. As I mentioned each location was so diverse scenery wise, it was like taking four different vacations. The food from each regions was wonderful. Bologna for Tortelloni, Ortisei for Regional Game and great German Beer, Alba for Truffles, Carne Cruda and Little Zucchini Stuffed Raviolis and finally Bellagio for Seafood. Best of all were the Italian people we met. So full of life. Bella Italia!

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    Hi ekc, I love Fodor's Forum for planning trips to Europe. Everyone is so helpful. I always try to give back. Glad you're enjoying our vacation. I'm hungry just from reading the report again.

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    Great trip report, brought back so many memories of a trip a few years ago. We ate in several of the same restaurants in Bologna, stayed at Villa la Favorita outside Alba and enjoyed a few of your Alba restaurants. Now I want to go back.

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    easygoer,
    just a small correction on the names of the villas you list on your report.
    I think the villa you mention 10 minutes south of Bellagio is the Villa Melzi while the villa outside Lenno is slightly misspelt - Villa Balbianello.
    Loved your food reporting, especially as two of your choices are on my list for August!

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    What a great trip to some of my all-time favorite venues. I can tell you love to eat.
    That Hotel Grones is straight out of Disney---did you not just love it.
    I am delighted you had such a good time--thanks for sharing.

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    Bob, so happy you checked in. Your help with locations and hotels are always a starting point for me to dive in and figure what is best for us. What I love most about your advise is the pace of the trip. You’ve helped on so many occasions for us and many others on Fodor’s to enjoy “Slow Travel“. Hopefully soon, we’ll be able to do a month or more in Europe. Croatia and East Europe is next up, maybe? Thank you so much!

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    easygoer,

    Thanks for the trip report. You brought back memories of my first trip to Italy - whch was skiing in the Dolomiti! We actually skied the Sella Ronda route, the circle route. You can go clockwise or counterclockwise. We stopped for lunch at a mountaintop restaurant at Val Gardena, then continued on by riding their old single seat chairlift. What a trip it was. That was the very start of my love affair with bella Italia!

    PS - you made me very, very hungry. Oh for some truffles...

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    Thanks for all the details in your report. We've been to Lake Como so I enjoyed reliving our trip through your visit. I had to laugh at the "free for all" getting in the restaurant. We felt the same way getting on an Alitalia flight---couldn't figure out why they were lined up an hour ahead of time when everyone had a seat assignment. What a mess, took forever to load the plane. It must have been the overheads they were rushing to get.

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    Oooops! somehow it submitted before I was ready.

    Anyway, it was so interesting reading the beginning of your report to places we haven't been. The food descriptions were so good. Just makes you want to be there. thanks for posting =D>

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    Hi DRJ, below is the information requested. For a better feel for the trip go to the trip advisor link to read the great reviews. As mentioned, it's not cheap, but you could not do this on your own. Great experience. Alessandro is the man!

    Italian Days Food Experience
    (+39) 338 421 6659
    http://www.italiandays.it/

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187801-d1462652-Reviews-Italian_Days_Food_Experience-Bologna_Province_of_Bologna_Emilia_Romagna.html

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    Great trip, especially Ortisei!
    Have you ever been in Bergamo! It is a beautiful city close to milan, sorrounded by mountains and nature. There's also a nice mobile app to visit it in a smart way.
    Enjoy!

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    Hi Marti87,
    I did research Bergamo as a stop between Ortisei and Alba because it looked wonderful. However we chose to drive straight through and spend 4 nights in Alba. Now we have a reason to go back to Italy. TY.

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