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Trip Report Trip Report: Family4Travels for 3 weeks to Piedmont , Ligurian Coast, Tuscany and Rome

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We just returned from a 3 week trip to Italy. We stayed 5 nights in Piedmonte (Acqui Terme), 4 nights on the Ligurian Coast (Lerici), 5 nights in Tuscany (Castellina in Chianti) and 5 nights in Rome. This was our 2nd trip to Italy, our first was 15 months ago when we did Rome, Venice and Florence. This trip was to celebrate our 20th anniversary, although our kids came with us on the trip. Our daughter (DD) turned 14 on the trip and our son (DS) is 10 1/2. We have been to London, Paris, Rome, Venice and Florence but this was our first time to do smaller towns. I wasn’t sure what we would think as we love big cities, but we really loved the smaller towns as well.

We flew in and out of Milan (couldn’t do open jaw with these frequent flier miles). We rented a car in Milan and kept it until our arrival in Rome. This was our first experience driving in Italy (or Europe for that matter). My DH did all the driving – thank goodness, although the role of navigator, map follower is a tough one too. A few notes about driving in Italy. We drove throughout Piedmont, Liguria and Tuscany then Tuscany to Rome. We didn’t find it too difficult although we did get lost a lot, particularly Piedmont, but that may have just been because it was our first location and we got used to the driving after that. A few pointers. Get a good map. We had the Touring Club Italiano map that was very good, but keep in mind even a good map does not show the exact way from one town to another. Basically you have to follow the signs (which are good). However, not every town is always listed, so therefore it is important to know in which general direction you are going, i.e. what the name of some other towns are in the same general direction. Outside of the major cities, there are very few stop signs or stop lights but A LOT of roundabouts. Rule of thumb: if you get to a roundabout and the town name you are looking for is not there, your best chance is to go straight . Also, know the parking rules, white lines are free but there is usually a sign that tells you how long you can park there. You must use the dial on the right hand part of the front window to indicate when you arrived (we learned this the hard way with a parking ticket!!). Blue lines mean you must pay at the parcometer and put the ticket on your dash. Once you get the hang of it, it is great and the diesel engines go forever without having to fill up constantly.

Our past two trips to Europe I have planned by myself (and the helpful fodorites), however I had two big trips within 3 months of each other and I knew it would be difficult to have to do everything myself. So for this trip I found Megan McCaffrey (www.bellavitaitalia.com) on Slow Travel and she was wonderful. We planned the Rome part of the trip ourselves as we had been there but she helped us with the rest of the trip, and we also did a boat trip with her to the Cinque Terre from Lerici and a cooking class with her mother-in-law (to be) Rosella which was a highlight of our trip! More details on those later!

Piedmonte (Acqui Terme) June 10 – 15 (5 nights)

We arrived in Milan and picked up our rental car and drove about 1.5 hours to Acqui Terme and arrived at Baur B&B (www.baurbb.com) about 3pm. It was incredibly beautiful, just as the pictures on the website show. It was up a hill with an incredible view below and a beautiful terrace. Before I continue, a few words about Baur B&B. This is now our favorite place in Europe. It is run by Diana (an American), and Michael (a German) Baur. This is a small B&B with only two rooms (although they plan on adding a 3rd this winter). We rented both rooms as there were four of us so we had the whole B&B to ourselves. The rooms are very large and beautifully decorated with local treasures and some of Diana’s own pottery. The bathrooms are large tiled bathrooms with all the amenities you would need including a real hair dryer (not those things stuck to the walls in many Italian hotels). There is a great pool and beautiful area around the pool with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas. The terrace in front is where breakfast is served every morning (in the winter it is served inside). As I mentioned earlier the views are spectacular. Diana and Michael are wonderful hosts. They have not missed a beat with incredible breakfasts, wonderful beds (the best we have slept on in Europe) and just a willingness to do anything required to make your stay enjoyable. They provided us with excellent dinner recommendations, as well as recommendations for our daytrips, always making sure we had good directions. Michael always made sure DS knew when the next World Cup game was! The B&B is located about just down the hill from the town of Acqui Terme. While we never did, you could walk into town as we saw many locals doing.

So we met our hosts Diana & Michael Baur and their Labrador Max. Diana had prepared a wonderful lunch of meats, cheeses, bread, fruit, potato salad and delicious grilled zucchini. However, the most exceptional item was a hazelnut cake specially made by a friend of theirs. It was incredibly moist with a wonderful flavor. DS embarrassed us by eating tons of proscuitto and 3 pieces of hazelnut cake. That evening Diana and Michael were invited to a friend’s wine festival, and as their guests we were invited as well. I actually don’t drink wine, but DH thoroughly enjoyed tasting the wines and the kids tried some sweet wine. Everyone else at the festival was Italian.

Later we enjoyed dinner in Acqui Terme at Il Nuovo Ciarlocco (Via Don Bosco, 1 ). Michael had told us to order carne cruda, it is Piedmonte’s style of carpaccio. So we order it and it is actually raw ground veal – looks just like raw hamburger meat, but it is actually very good. After dinner we walk around the town. It is 10:00pm and the town is really hopping. Each piazza has a different type of entertainment going on. A rock band, a little circus, dance music….Everyone is out enjoyng the evening – babies in strollers, young kids, teens, parents and grandparents. We have a gelato at Visconti, then head back to our wonderful beds and sleep like rocks.

Diana will serve breakfast between 8:30am and 10:00am, you just have to let her know what time you would like it the night before. We said 9:00am. It was a bit difficult to wake up as we were tired from the travel day before and didn’t want to get out of our comfy beds, but boy was it worth it. Our breakfast was the best we have had in Europe. A stunning spread of fruit, museli, yogurt, meats, cheeses, tomatoes, fresh baked goods and two of our favorites – grilled peaches with pinenuts and made to order frittatas (omelettes). Michael goes early in the morning to the markets to get fresh pastries, cheese, fruit, etc.

Lingering over our breakfast we got a later start but headed to Torino for the afternoon. We arrived about 2:00pm on a Sunday so was fairly quiet, but we were quickly enamored by it. We parked in an underground parking garage in Piazza San Carlo Felice. We walked to the Mole and went up the elevator to see the beautiful views from the top. Next, we went through the Cinema Museum which was very interesting and stylishly done. Most displays are in Italian, but it is easy to get the gist of things.

We walked to the main square Palazzo Castello to find a bite to eat. We had nice paninis at Costa Verde off of Via Garibaldi. It is after 4pm now and the city is filling up with people going on their passagieta. It is truly amazing how many people are out, yet no stores were open as it was a Sunday. We go looking for Pepino Geletaria and have wonderful gelato there. We find a small food market going on around the corner and get fresh pear and fresh grape juice.

We went back to the car and drove around a bit to some of the Olympic sites and across the Po River. We really enjoyed our time in Torino. We found it very pedestrian friendly, charming and frankly, highly underrated.

We get back to Baur B&B, rest and freshen up. Diana has made us a reservation at Da Fausto, a restaurant just beyond Acqui Terme in the hills in a small town called Cavatore. We had one of our best meals of the trip. Wonderful raviolis, incredible roast beef and duck salad. The desserts were fantastic – semi-freddoes, meringues and an apple tart, and Fausto, the owner, is quite charming with his limited English.

One of the reasons for our trip was also to visit the small towns that DH’s family came from. One set of great-grandfather and -grandmother came from Vignole Barbera. It was less than an hour from Acqui Terme and right next to Serravalle where there is a large outlet mall. So, first we go to the Outlet Mall. The outlets are very nice and there are a lot of designers (D&G, Prada, Versace, etc.) but personally I prefer shopping in the smaller boutiques in the city centers.

We drove to Vignole Barbera, only about 10 minutes from Serravalle. It is not a large town, and much of the construction in the city is post WWII. There is a church in the Centro Storico that DH suspected is where his great grandparents were married. There is a monument in front of the church to people who fought in the wars. Several Figinis (his grandmother’s maiden name) are listed. Unfortunately, the Communale Principio was closed at 1:00pm and didn’t reopen later in the afternoon. We walked around a bit and stopped for gelato.

We got back to Baur B&B in time for DH to watch most of the US vs. Czech World Cup match. The rest of us lounged by the pool. We had another great dinner at Antica Osteria (14040 Castel Rocchero). The food was great but we ordered too much and were stuffed.

The next day was Tues.which is market day in Acqui Terme so we went to explore the town. It is full of stalls – food, clothing, shoes and people come from all the nearby towns. By 12:30 the stalls were closing down and everyone was going home for their afternoon nap. After a quick gelato stop we decided to do like everyone else, so we headed back to Baur B&B and spent a wonderful afternoon relaxing by the pool. That evening, Diana prepared a wonderful dinner and we had a glorious evening relaxing on the terrace and visiting with Diana and Michael.

The next morning we woke up to another incredible breakfast. This morning includes a spectacular apricot tart. Today we head to Alba. Our small city of Medford, Oregon is a “sister city” with Alba, Italy. We have a student foreign exchange program with them as well as other programs. A friend’s daughter who had done the student exchange program about 4 years ago told us there is a book in the Communale Municipale that only visitors of Medford can sign. We decided this was something we should do. We go to the Communale Municipale to ask, but no one seemed to speak English. Someone kindly calls another person who does speak some English. She told us she doesn’t know anything about a book, but they do have a “Twin City” room where they have a display from Medford as well as 2-3 other twins(sister) cities they have throughout the world. Medford has a whole wall dedicated to it with many pictures of local dignitaries and pictures of Medford. Then another woman came in (speaks no English) but explained that yes there is a book you can sign, and pulled it out from a drawer in a credenza. We all signed the Alba – Medford Twin City book and thanked our two helpful patrons.

We walked through the Piazza Duomo and down the main street of Vittorio Emmanuel. It was a very nice street with lots of shopping. We had lunch at LaLiberia (Via Elvio Pertinace, 24), a very modern sleek resetuarnat with good food. Despite the fact that now everything was closed we decided to walk around the city a bit more. Unfortunately, my shoe broke - (bummer!) it was impossible to walk and of course, all the shops are closed. DH broought the car to us and we decided to do the scenic drive back that Diana and Michael recommended. We drove through Barolo, Monteforte d’Alba and many other beautiful parts of Piedmonte.

When we returned, DS stayed with Michael to watch a World Cup game while DH took DD and I to Acqui to do some shopping. Dinner later was at La Curia in Acqui Terme (Via Alla Bollente, 72 ). For appetizers we had asparagus con funghi porcini and millefiore melezane which are both excellent. DS and I shared vitelleto (veal) and DH and DD both had ravioli. We all enjoyed another wonderful dinner.

The next day was our last morning at Baur B&B and the delicious breakfast. Hugs & kisses all around as we said goodbye to our new friends Diana, Michael and Max. Our next stop was Lerici on the Ligurian coast. However, on our way was our second “family heritage” stop. DH’s grandfather was from Favale di Malvaro, up in the mountains just east of Genoa. It is a small village up in the mountains with old terraced gardens. We tried to find a place for lunch but nobody had sandwiches (there are only 2 places) so we settle for some snacks. There is a statue in one of the small squares (okay it’s actually a parking lot) that commerates those who left Favale to emigrate to America. Apparently, they also have a festival honoring this in late June. We walked up a hill to the church and found the cemetery. There were many Boitanos (DH’s mother’s maiden name). Despite the early hour at home (5:45am), DH called his Mom to ask what her grandfather’s first name was and confirm roughly when he died. We found his gravestone – Boitano G. Batiste. This was pretty neat.

Just want to say that we absolutely loved Piedmonte. Of course, our stay at Baur B&B was a big part of that, but in addition, Piedmonte is very quiet and relaxing and not filled with tourists. We saw some German tourists but never saw another American tourist our whole time in Piedmonte (except once at lunch in Alba). Very few Italians there speak English, most menus do not have English translations. We thoroughly enjoyed this authentic Italian experience and can’t wait to return to this beautiful region.

Next up Lerici on the Ligurian Coast.

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