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Off to France and Italy and a taste of Switzerland

Off to France and Italy and a taste of Switzerland

Old Sep 20th, 2018, 11:42 AM
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Off to France and Italy and a taste of Switzerland

After much research here, on TripAdviser, and elsewhere, we (Sam and Nancy and a couple we've traveled with before) leave Sunday for our 3-week trip to France and Italy and a day of Switzerland. We fly to CDG, hop an Air France flight to Lyon, pick up a car, and drive to Annecy for one night. Then 3 nights in Talloires, with day trips to Annecy (if we need to), all around Lake Annecy, Chamonix and Mt. Blanc. Then a TGV to Milan where we'll be picked up for a transfer to our hotel in Varenna for 4 nights. In addition to a cooking class (from a chef we've "cheffed" with before) and ferrying around Lake Como, we're planning on a day trip by train to Tirano to take the Bernina Express up to St. Moritz and a regional train back to Tirano and then back to Varenna. We follow this with 3 nights in Milan, where we'll "do" the Duomo, tour Teatro alla Scala, and eat and drink; we've had the Last Supper experience, but our friends have not. After Milan, we'll pick up a rental car and spend our final week in Alba - in time for the donkey Palio, the early part of the truffle festival, a truffle hunt, and lots of wine exploring. Finally, we'll return our car in Milan while our friends spend a couple of more days in Switzerland then catch a cruise from Barcelona.

We hope to have great fun and lots of adventures. Surely there won't be any mishaps. Nah - there are always mishaps. But our mishaps are really a first-world problem, and we'll survive.

Happy travels to everyone!

knoxvillecouple is offline  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 11:58 AM
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"Surely there won't be any mishaps..."

Except for maybe a collision with us in Piemente. Stay safe...and eat those truffles!!

maitaitom is online now  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 11:58 AM
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You are flying to CDG, certainly some layover time, then flight to Lyon, then get a rental car and drive? Suggest you just stay in Lyon that night and pick up the car early the next day, after some sleep.
Sassafrass is offline  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 01:02 PM
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Maitaitom - mishaps are our middle name when we travel. If you don’t have a good sense of humor, you shouldn’t travel!
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 01:06 PM
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Sassafrass - the couple we’re traveling with will have been in Paris for 3 days, and they are doing all the driving from Lyon. Steve drove us all around Queensland, on the “wrong” side of the road without any issues, so I think we’re good. But thanks for your concern.
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 01:36 PM
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so did you book official Bernina Express or gonna wing it - recall discussion on that!
PalenQ is offline  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 01:49 PM
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OK. All good then. Your driver will be rested.
Sassafrass is offline  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 03:17 PM
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If can chose seat on BEX sit on west side for most of awesome views. Regular trains you can move from side to side as scenery dictates - BEX too if not full.
PalenQ is offline  
Old Sep 20th, 2018, 03:35 PM
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Sounds like a nice trip! Enjoy!

You could have saved on travel time by meeting your friends in Annecy. You could have flown into Geneva and taken the airport bus to Annecy.
joannyc is online now  
Old Sep 21st, 2018, 09:06 AM
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I suppose you know that the ride by bus from St. Moritz via Maloja Pass to Chiavenna and by connecting train from Chaiavenna to Colico - Varenna is shorter than backtracking via Bernina.
So you rent your car at Lyon and drop it off at Chambery; right?
neckervd is offline  
Old Sep 21st, 2018, 09:39 AM
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Talloires is nice but small. I would have opted for more time in Chamonix. No matter, you'll have an excuse to go back to that beautiful part of the world. Have an excellent trip.
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Old Sep 21st, 2018, 10:12 AM
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Welcome knoxvillecouple. Looking forward to reading about your trip when you return.

When you get a chance, do read some of maitaitom's trip reports---no worries about humor!
TDudette is online now  
Old Sep 22nd, 2018, 09:33 AM
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Originally Posted by TDudette View Post
Welcome knoxvillecouple. Looking forward to reading about your trip when you return.

When you get a chance, do read some of maitaitom's trip reports---no worries about humor!
I've read MANY of Maitaitom's trip reports, including the gasoline vs. diesel trip report. In fact, I believe that we'll be in the same neighborhood as Maitaitom in Piemonte - just hope he doesn't run into us in a bad way!

Hope to write a trip report, but being retired, I don't treat it as an urgent matter!
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2018, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by neckervd View Post
I suppose you know that the ride by bus from St. Moritz via Maloja Pass to Chiavenna and by connecting train from Chaiavenna to Colico - Varenna is shorter than backtracking via Bernina.
So you rent your car at Lyon and drop it off at Chambery; right?
Thanks for the advice - will consider it. Yes, we are renting in Lyon and dropping off in Chambery. A bit of a drop-off fee, but saves us a fair amount of time on the day we travel to Milan/Varenna.
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Old Dec 10th, 2018, 05:02 PM
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Hopefully a trip report is coming soon! Following you and Maitaitom as you both have exciting adventures combined wine and food experiences.
plufmud is offline  
Old Dec 11th, 2018, 11:17 AM
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Yes trip report would be nice.
PalenQ is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2019, 10:13 AM
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Finally - a trip report

Some of you asked for it. You got it. Be forewarned - it's long (verbose?), meandering (that's why we travel), and devoid of photographs (I took some but clueless about how to attach them and don't have a travel blog). If MaitaiTom's reports are the gold standard, mine doesn't even amount to a base metal!

We (DW Nancy and I) began our adventure with a drive to Atlanta to stay the night before our Delta flight to Paris. Once before, when we were to fly to Rome from our home in Knoxville, TN, a delayed flight out of Knoxville made us miss our connection in Atlanta, so now we eat the cost of a pre-transatlantic flight hotel stay the night before our overseas flight and the nominal cost of leaving our car parked at the hotel. Lesson learned.


The next day (September 24), we got a shuttle to the Atlanta airport, boarded our flight to Paris, and a mere 8 hours later arrived that next morning. Little sleep, but that’s our norm. We were to catch a flight to Lyon from CDG, so we collected our bags (separate ticket, and all that), went through passport control, met our friends (who arrived a couple of days earlier), and made our way (after a 5 hour layover) to our flight to Lyon. The flight (on Air France) was quick and uneventful. Collected our car from Avis, and off we went for our one night in Annecy. We stayed at the Ibis Annecy Centre Vielle Ville (https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel...le/index.shtml), right on the major canal - not a great or atmospheric hotel, but convenient and just for one night. It was late afternoon by then, so after depositing our luggage in our rooms, we set off to wander around the old town. We found a spot on the canal where we thought we’d have an aperitif, and then dinner. The drinks were - wine for three of us, but Steve made the mistake of ordering a martini - more about that. When you order a martini in France, or at least in southeastern France, it is NOT an American martini. It was served in a tall glass, over ice, and it was Martini and Rossi vermouth. Steve should have realized something was amiss when the server asked if he wanted red or white - he said white. Our first misadventure!

Not being overly impressed with our location (or martini), we walked on. I’d “studied” travel websites and was intrigued with Une Autre Histoire (https://une-autre-histoire.com), on Rue Royale. No view, not near a canal, but great ratings. Using our google maps, we walked there. We were early. They didn’t start serving until 7:30. We arrived at 7:15. After entering the restaurant, we were ushered out - the staff was having their dinner. We wandered a block or two, passing time, and then returned. We were allowed in, shown to our banquette, and ordered. The food was great - too much time has passed to recall what we had, but would remember if it had been bad. The service got better the longer we were there. It went from aloof to very friendly. So a good choice.

After dinner, back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep - we (at least Nancy and I) were bushed. We had a nice breakfast the next morning, left our bags with the front desk so we could spend five or six hours wandering around the city. Annecy is a very pretty town, with a nice park. We didn’t have time to take a boat ride on the lake, but our next stop (Talloires) was right on the lake. After our walk-around we had lunch - nothing memorable. Then collected our luggage and set off for Talloires - about a 30 minute drive.


We stayed three nights at Hotel Les Grillons (Hotel Lake Annecy I Hotel Les Grillons in Talloires, France) - a fabulous find! It was American plan, and we had 2nd floor rooms with balconies overlooking Lake Annecy and the Alps. After settling in, we went downstairs and sat on their large patio (next to a pool we didn’t get to use) and ordered drinks. This time - Steve asked the server how they prepared martinis. He didn’t know and got the owner to come help us - she was also a bartender! When Steve explained his prior disappointment in Annecy, Aurelie explained the source of his error (the Martini and Rossi vermouth issue). Steve said mostly vodka (he preferred Grey Goose) and a tiny bit of dry WHITE vermouth, shaken with ice. Aurelie said that she’d make him one, with half vodka and half vermouth - NO!!! Steve went with Aurelie to the bar and taught her how to make a proper martini - 12 parts vodka to one part vermouth. Aurelie said in the future to specify a martini COCKTAIL, in order to avoid what he’d encountered before. And she was glad to know how Americans, well Steve anyway, wanted his martini prepared. Meanwhile, Nancy, Suzie and I enjoyed our wonderful red wine. When in France, maybe wine is the best route to take, instead of a martini!

After our aperitif we went to the hotel dining room, were seated at a table we had for all three nights, and were served a wonderful 4-course meal - all included in the cost of the room (but drinks/wine extra). Our first night it was marinated salmon with homemade guacamole, roast filet of beef with a bearnaise sauce, fromage frais (including the local Reblochon and Saint Marecelin marinated with thyme), and, finally dessert (raspberrys on a tea biscuit with a light rosemary mousse and a peach coulis). The other nights were equally fabulous, and helps explain the weight gain I experienced during our trip (of course two and a half weeks of pasta while in Italy didn’t help any)! We lingered over dinner, and multiple glasses of wine (one bottle per couple each night).

The next day promised good weather, so we wanted to “do” Mt. Blanc. Aurelie gave us a suggested route to Chamonix - she said it wouldn’t be the fastest but would be scenic. That was an understatement! An hour and a half later, and over mountain roads with hairpin turns, we arrived. We decided to wander around Chamonix, find a place for lunch, and take the tram up the Aiguille du Midi after lunch. Well - - - the tram didn’t go all the way to Aiguille du Midi - just to Plan de l'Aiguille at 2,317 meters. The second stage was shut down for routine maintenance. Oh well - we still had fun, particularly watching a bunch of crazy people who took off from the mountainside to paraglide to the bottom of the valley. Maybe I’d have done this thirty or forty years ago, when I was younger and probably more foolish. For now, we just enjoyed watching! After 30-40 minutes at this halfway point, we took the tram back down to Chamonix, found our car, and headed back to Talloires. Our return trip was less scenic but more direct, until we encountered “rush hour” in the outskirts of Annecy. Fortunately, Steve was doing the driving, and was, in fact our driver for the duration of our trip. Not that I couldn’t have done the driving (I had made all the autoeurope reservations), but Steve said that he really enjoyed the driving - why should I have denied him his enjoyment.

After returning to Hotel Les Grillons, we once again repaired to the terrace for wine and a martini, followed by another fabulous dinner. Burp!!!

The next day we just wanted to take it easy (a trend was developing), so Aurelie suggested we drive around the lake, stop at a local/department park for a walk/hike, and have a nice lunch at a lakeside restaurant. So after breakfast (very substantial), we set off. Following Aurelie’s suggested route, we finally found the park (Reserve naturelle bout du lac). For most of our hour there, we were the only people enjoying it. It was a gentle walk, maybe a couple of miles all in all, with great vistas once we got to the lakeside part of the walk. After our walk, back in the car to drive up the western side of Lac Annecy to look for a spot for lunch. Apparently our park sojourn took too long because each restaurant we stopped at stopped lunch service at 2:00 pm. The fast had set it, alas. When we got back to the hotel we repaired to “our” terrace (we were practically the only people there), had our wine and martini (and nibbles), and waited impatiently for our final 4-course meal at Hotel Les Grillons (the chef is Aurelie’s husband). We were amply rewarded. There was a group of elder Brits on holiday (maybe 16 or so) who concluded their stay at Hotel Les Grillons with speeches. What fun!

The next morning, after a take-away breakfast, we set off to Chambery, where we returned our rental car and took a train (a TGV) to Milan and then a car service to Varenna. Before embarking on our subsequent travel tales, I digress. This hotel is fabulous. The staff was so friendly and helpful. The hotel was begun by Aurelie’s grandfather in the late 1960s. The setting is glorious. If you happened to be in this area, I strongly encourage you to partake of their hospitality.


Our drive to Chambery from Talloires was mostly uneventful. On a major highway (A41) most of the way, when we neared the train station in Chambery we started looking for a gas station to fill the tank (and avoid outrageous Avis fuel fees). Alas, the only station we found did not accept our credit cards, and we could find no one to help us. Resigned to paying the fuel fee, we drove to the Avis drop off point, went inside to turn in the keys and pay our extra fee. The young lady helping us (the only one in the office fairly early on a Saturday morning) was incredibly kind and told us not to worry about the fuel fee. A major victory for us!

We boarded the train for a 9:45 departure. First class TGV. The only way to “fly.” We’d brought our breakfast from Hotel Les Grillons with us, and fortified that with a bottle of wine. Our 5-hour train ride took us through French and Italian Alps, very scenic. After getting past the Italian Alps, our train took us through Torino (Turin for non-Italians) and on to the Garibaldi station in Milan. Rather than transferring to Milano Centrale and then a train to Varenna, I’d arranged to have a driver take us to our hotel in Varenna. Cost more, but saved considerable aggravation and time. Our driver got us to Varenna in about an hour and a half, and took us to the Varenna-Esino train station (to purchase our tickets for our trip to Tirano, the mid-point for our subsequent Swiss train trip to St. Moritz). After getting our tickets he took us to the Hotel Olivedo (Hotel Olivedo e Villa Torretta | essere in vacanza ma sentirsi a casa) in Varenna. Nancy and I had stayed at the Hotel Metropole in Bellagio a few years before, but this time I wanted to stay in Varenna for its convenience to train travel and for its smaller and somewhat less touristy feel (although it was touristy enough!). We had rooms on the top floor, overlooking Lago Como and overlooking the ferry stop (and the ferry fumes and public address announcements). Although the fumes and noise were a bit bothersome, after a day or so, the disadvantages were not important.

After settling into our rooms, we waited for our driver to pick us up for our restaurant reservation that night at Ristorante Il Caminetto (Ristorante Il Caminetto) in Perledo, up the hill from Varenna. On our previous trip to Lago Como, Nancy and I had enjoyed a cooking lesson with Chef Moreno at his family restaurant. This time, I made reservations for dinner for our first night in Varenna, and also a cooking lesson the following Monday. We were the first diners at the restaurant that night. Nancy and I had bought a Tail of the Dragon tee shirt for Chef Moreno (he had told us on our previous trip, after finding out we were from Tennessee, that he was a huge motorcycle fanatic and dreamed about experiencing that hazardous drive) - the chef was surprised and very happy to have the shirt. Onto dinner - I decided that I really “needed” the appetizer (antipasti) platter, while Nancy, Steve, and Suzie were more circumspect. My platter just kept coming, and coming, and coming! After our antipasti, our primi (risotto all around), followed by mixed grill, served with vegetables on a sword shaped spit (for me only!). I paid for my gluttony later. All washed down with a nice barolo. Suzie had been suffering with a bad cold, so we passed on dolci, and our driver (Rosella, Chef Moreno’s wife) took us back to our hotel.

The next day was our train trip to St. Moritz. Caught a fairly early train from Varenna-Esino to Tirano, where we transferred to the Bernina Express. First class! Not really necessary, but we rationalized it by taking the regular train, on the exact same route, back to Tirano on our return. We had good weather, so incredible views all the way. Shortly after leaving Tirano, the train made its corkscrew turn on a viaduct near Brusio - very cool! Then we sat back for the rest of the trip, past Lago di Poschiavo, Pontresina, then views of glaciers and more alpine lakes all the way to St. Moritz. We only had a couple of hours in St. Moritz before getting our return train to Tirano, so we just walked around the city - very colorful - and had lunch al fresco at a restaurant (Eat well in St. Moritz - at Hotel Schweizerhof's restaurant Acla) next to/affiliated with Hotel Schweizerhof (just pizza and wine, but very nice). After wandering a bit more around the town, we walked back to the train station and caught our regional train back to Tirano. As noted, exactly the same route, but we were able to open windows by our seats for better viewing (and photographing) the spectacular sights.

One “special” moment on our train back from Tirano to Varenna was when we stopped at Morbegno. A large contingent of partiers who’d obviously enjoyed a wine tasting boarded our train. With no seats on our car left, they stood (and in one case a woman sat or slumped over on the floor), glass jugs of wine in hand, along with their wine glasses. They drank their glasses of wine, poured more glasses of wine, and sang songs. A drinking song I guess? In any case, when we left the station just before Varenna, I walked toward the exit door (Nancy, Suzy and Steve sent me on this reconnaissance mission) where one of the guys asked me if I’d been to the tasting. I think that’s what he said - that’s when I answered “no”, in English. When they heard my response they cheered (Saluti!) even though I’d said no. At this point, the young-young-ish lady sitting on the floor awoke, moved a bit, giving us room to get off the train in Varenna. Ah, Italia!

The next day we were supposed to have a repeat of Chef Moreno’s cooking class at his restaurant in Perledo. But the night before, Suzy was feeling worse, and Nancy was starting to come down with a cold, so I’d texted Chef Moreno that we’d have to cancel his cooking class. Too bad, and I think the chef was a bit put out with our cancellation - he texted back, sorry, have a nice life? He’d been so nice, I prefer to think there’s a difference in translation. So instead of a cooking class, we just wandered around Varenna, shopping, window-shopping, and finding a place for lunch. It was behind our hotel, pretty nondescript but good. After lunch, time for a rest, at least until time for another glass of wine on the terrace of the Hotel Olivedo later that afternoon. As we were resting, the rain began. Mindful of the rain, we decided to dine at our hotel - too bad. They were totally booked for the night. So … we set out looking for a spot near enough to our hotel not to get drenched. Luckily, there was one almost next door - Cavallino (Ristorante Cavallino: Cavallino). Good enough, and mainly open!

The next day was our day to ferry around the lake. After a substantial breakfast at the Hotel Olivedo (their breakfast was good every day), we set off for Bellagio, just across the lake. We purchased full-day ferry tickets so we could wander as we wanted. We disembarked in Bellagio and just started walking around (and up!) the town. We were joined by thousands of our closest friends. Oh well. So much walking, so much shopping (and window shopping), and, for my taste, more than enough time. I went in search of gelato (I had had NONE yet), I found a place on the waterfront, but so did the thousands of others. Since we were trying to catch the next ferry to Menaggio, I had to watch the time. Nancy, Suzy and Steve had left me, after agreeing to meet at an appointed time for the ferry. I finally got almost to the front of the gelato line, when several people joined a couple of school girls in front of me. What should have taken a couple of minutes more waiting took 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then, alas, I had to leave (with not a single taste of gelato) to meet for our ferry. Oh well, it’s not as if my stomach needed replenishment. Our ferry ride to Menaggio was very brief. We disembarked and walked, and walked. Menaggio was not nearly as crowded as Bellagio or Varenna. In fact, there was not much on the lakefront in Menaggio so we left. My recollection is that on our earlier trip to Lago Como, Nancy and I had spent more time in and near Menaggio. I know that we’d visited Villa Carlotta (at the Tremezzo ferry stop), but I think this trip we all decided not to spend time visiting such sites. So, back to the hotel, a glass of wine on the terrace (watching people embarking and disembarking the ferry), and a quick rest before dinner. Our last dinner in Varenna was at the hotel - very good.


The next morning we packed, had breakfast, and got a taxi to the train station. We could have walked, but with luggage and the train station being uphill, we decided to help out the taxi drivers in Varenna. The train from Varenna to Milano Centrale was uneventful. The train station itself - wow! Huge! We found our way to an exit and a taxi stand. I’d thought about using Uber, but the rest in our party were not enamored of this 21st century invention, so we got a taxi. Being the one in our party “most” conversant in Italian, I had the shotgun seat. Our driver was friendly, we spoke/gestured on our way to Hotel Spadari al Duomo (https://www.spadarihotel.com/en/hote...entre/1-0.html), past and through the Breara neighborhood. A four-star hotel just a couple of blocks from the Duomo, it was the most expensive of our accommodations, but in terms of convenience, location, comfort, and all the rest, it was great. The front desk staff was very helpful, the rooms were great (not sure it was worth the extra cost for a view, since all we could see of the Duomo was the very top). After settling in, we wandered toward the Duomo, found a restaurant recommended by the front desk for lunch, Peck’s Italian Bar (https://www.peck.it/en/where-we-are/peck-italian-bar); affiliated with Peck’s, a world-renowned Italian deli that happened to be next door to the Hotel Spadari al Duomo, it was a great place for an al fresco light lunch that, of course, included a glass of wine.

After lunch, on to the Duomo. Checking out the line outside the Duomo, we opted for the “fast pass.” It cost a bit more, but it gave us immediate access to the elevator taking us up to the upper terrace of the Duomo, where we still had to climb “a few” stairs to get to the highest point possible on top of the Duomo. But the views were incredible. And good exercise, walking up those stairs, trying to make sure not to miss a step and sprain an ankle in the process. We walked back down to the elevator and considered walking all the way down, but being wise seniors decided to wait for the next elevator. Another advantage of the “fast pass” was that we entered the Duomo immediately and didn’t have to wait in another line. We walked through a side door, at the altar end of the sanctuary. It’s magnificent! And it’s massive - the second or third largest church/cathedral in Europe. Largest in Italy (since St. Peter’s in Rome is not really in Italy, but rather in Vatican City). The statuary inside was certainly worth noting. After walking around the inside of the Duomo, we found the stairs to take us to the “basement” where there had been significant excavations taking you back to the very beginnings of the church. The first cathedral, the "new basilica" (basilica nova) dedicated to St Thecla, was completed by 355. We visited the old octagonal baptistery that dates to 335. After this visit to the Duomo, we decided to use our 2-day ticket the next day to visit the Duomo Museum, just across the piazza from the Duomo.

So after religion, it was time for shopping - well actually just window-shopping in the adjacent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, supposedly the oldest active shopping “mall” in Italy (built in the 1860s). Designed in the Belle Epoque style, it’s glorious. Rather than actually shopping, we took a breather, people-watched (we were seated in the “outdoor” seating area, which was not outdoors but, you get the point), and had a glass of wine at Il Ristorante Biffi (https://www.biffigalleria.it/it/) in the Galleria; actually Nancy had wine, and Suzy and Steve had cokes and water, whereas I had a grappa! After a rest back at the hotel, and a glass (or two) of wine there, on to Slow Sud (SlowSud | Cucina Terrona ? Siamo un gruppo di terroni immigrati a Milano per portare la cultura meridionale dentro e fuori dai nostri piatti. La cucina è aperta!) for dinner. Recommended by the hotel, and very good, very popular with the locals. Don’t recall what we ordered.

Next up - the next day - The Last Supper. Nancy and I had “done” the Last Supper on our earlier trip (in 2012) that included ONE whole day in Milan. We weren’t going to do it this time, but Suzy and Steve had two extra tickets (Steve’s brother and his wife had planned on being in Milan at the same time but had to cancel their trip), so Nancy and I did it again. So, after breakfast the next day at the hotel (a great breakfast buffet, with eggs/omelets made to order), we got a taxi to Santa Marie delle Grazie. Our timed tickets were for 9:30, we got there a bit early and walked in and through the church cloister (we were the only people there). Then we lined up for the 9:30 group, waited a bit as our guide herded us to the airtight/hermetically sealed vestibule where we stood until the group preceding us vacated the refectory. There were probably 25-30 people in our group - that surprised me and Nancy, since on our earlier visit (in 2012) they only allowed smaller groups (in fact in 2012 there were maybe 10 people total, including our guide). Our guide this time explained at the end of our visit to the refectory why larger groups were allowed now - better HVAC! So more people get to visit the iconic fresco without causing any further damage. The experience of the Last Supper is still moving - surprise.

After The Last Supper, we wandered our way toward “the” Leonardo museum, actually called Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci (Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia "Leonardo da Vinci"). It was only a few blocks from Santa Maria delle Grazie, but of course it took us some time to find it - the front of the building is not imposing, and signage not too prevalent. Or, we’re just stupid tourists. In any case, we spent a couple of hours in the museum - fascinating. Of particular interest, at least to some of us, was a single room that displayed machine models based on interpretations of Da Vinci’s drawings. The collection includes more than 130 models connected to Da Vinci’s different fields of interest: from flight to military engineering, from architecture to work machines. Suzy and Steve wanted to see even more of the museum, but Nancy and I were starting to tire, so we cut the cord and left them. Nancy said “let’s get a cab.” Right. That really meant we had to get to a street that had cabs - easier said than done. After walking a few blocks, we finally got to a busier street with cabs and hailed one. The cabbie got us back to the hotel in short order. Nancy was not feeling well at all, so we skipped lunch (as if we’d been starving) and, in short order, Nancy was sawing logs. I wasted time on the internet, waiting for the cocktail/wine hour to come.

We met Suzy and Steve downstairs at 6:00 for our daily wine before dinner. The hotel had made several recommendations for dinner, and we picked one that was “easy” to find. It would have been easy if we could actually find our way on a map. In any case, find it we did. A few blocks from the hotel, on a side street, the Osteria Borromei (Home) did not disappoint. I started with a dish totally new to me - grilled flying squids with ricotta cheese and lemon cream. The rest of our party was less adventurous, but no less pleased - I recall among the four of us we had Mamma’s First Plate (a great pasta), pumpkin ravioli with butter and sage, ossobuco, and a Milanese veal chop. I ordered a bottle of barolo for me and Nancy (who had recovered from her afternoon malaise), and the waiter was delighted - almost as delighted as I was upon drinking it with our meal. He made a great production of serving the wine - not just opening and pouring; or just opening, letting me taste before pouring; but pouring a tasting amount in one glass, transferring it to another glass (nosing it between each pour), and then tasting and letting me taste it before the full serving. Wow! A great introduction to our subsequent week in Piemonte and plentiful barolos, barbarescos, and other wonderful nebbiolo-sourced wines. As might be imagined, we had no room for a dolci. It was all we could do to waddle back to the hotel and bed!

The following day it was time for “clean-up”, meaning getting back to the Piazza del Duomo for a visit to the Duomo Museum, back to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II, and a tour of Teatro alla Scala (aka the La Scala opera house). After our bountiful breakfast, a very short walk to the Duomo Museum, next to the Royal Palace of Milan. Our ticket to the Duomo a couple of days earlier included the museum, so no extra cost. We wandered through the museum, seeing all sorts of statuary and relics associated with the Duomo. Truly magnificent. Also included in the museum are large wooden models of the Duomo, including one commissioned by the Fabricca (literally “factory”) that constructed the Duomo from the early 16th century.

After the Duomo Museum, back to the Galleria for a bit more window-shopping and a chance for Nancy and Suzy to spin on the bull’s testicles. This probably needs explanation. Virtually the entire galleria floor is made of mosaic tiles. Near the center of the galleria is a mosaic of a bull. Located on the ground is a tiled mosaic depicting a bull which is reared up onto his hind legs. The tradition is that if a person puts their right heel on the bull’s testicular region and “turn on himself three times,” which is to actually rotate backwards, or counterclockwise, this will bring good luck. As far as I could tell, only women participated in this activity. Ouch!!!

After spinning on the bull’s balls, we exited the galleria, past the statue of Leonardo and onto the Via Santa Margharita and the Teatro alla Scala (Tourists - Teatro alla Scala). I had looked into attending a production at la Scala while we were to be in Milan, but there was no opera any of the nights we were in Milan; we could have trained down from Varenna (and had to go back by train) for a production, but, the cost - about 200 euros/person. So that was out. Visiting the theater and its museum was worthwhile. We purchased our tickets, left our day-packs at the front entrance, and made our way up marbled staircases where we saw many posters for performances at the La Scala - Carmen, Madame Butterfly, Aida, and many others. As we entered the museum, going left let us get a view of the actual theater from one of the upper boxes. Going right has many exhibits and artifacts of the history of opera. There were instruments, stage decorations, costumes, busts of Rossini, Caruso and others, paintings of famous composers and opera singers. Fantastico! And we are not really opera buffs.

After our opera experience, back to the hotel for a brief respite before dinner. Nancy and I did decide to walk next door (you gotta work, you know) to Peck’s (https://www.peck.it/en). This is a historic (started in 1883) “delicatessen” full of gastronomical delights. Fresh produce, cheeses, charcuterie, unprocessed meats, pastas, and a wine cellar not to be believed. Oh - and very expensive. They have a restaurant but stop serving at 6:00 pm. So no eating at Peck’s for us on this trip, but next time in Milan we have to have lunch there. Instead, we met Suzy and Steve at 6:00 pm for wine in the hotel’s public area. Then on to another dinner recommended by the hotel, the Trattoria Milanese (https://www.facebook.com/TrattoriaMi...edium=referral), that has been in operation for more than 80 years. It was a few blocks from our hotel, but we made our way up Via Torino (crowded with lots of happy people and beautiful storefronts), hung a right on Via San Maurilio, and then a right on Via Santa Marta. We didn’t have reservations but were seated immediately in one of the interior rooms. Our waiter was straight out of Hollywood Italian - portly, gregarious, uproariously funny, and also helpful. The menu was lengthy (and all in Italian - a good sign) and as we were picking out or courses, he opined what we would like and what he thought we would not like. He told me not to get the veal in tuna sauce (I actually had it a few days later in Alba and it was good).

After dinner, back to the hotel to pack for our drive to Alba. The next morning, we had our usual great breakfast (how could we be hungry?), brought our bags downstairs (using a tiny elevator), and asked the front desk to get us a cab to take us to Linnate Airport, where we were to pick up our rental car for our week in Piemonte. The driver got us there in fairly short order (it was, after all, a late morning Saturday). We got our car, a VW Passat, as I recall, and we were off.

Alba and the Rest of Piemonte

Our drive to Alba was reasonably uneventful. Although I’d thought we’d stop midway for a lunch, the Passat’s navigation took us on a route I hadn’t anticipated. No problem - we were still pretty full from breakfast. Instead of taking us on the A4 or the A7, it took us through Asti (actually only the outskirts) on the E74, followed by the A33, past Neive, through Barbaresco, and then to our accommodations just outside Alba, at Villa La Favorita (Villa la Favorita ? B&B Alba ? home). It was a very scenic route! Since we spent so much time in Piemonte, I’ve broken it down, day by day.

Day 1

I had selected this agriturismo/B&B based on glowing reviews on Fodor’s and Trip Advisor, although the reviews rating it so glowingly were written a few years ago. At the time, the current owner’s mother, Roberta, ran the show. Now it is run by Michaela, a charming, accommodating, and very over-worked youngish woman with two small children and a few helpers. The setting for the B&B is incredible, on a hill up from Alba. The views from our room, on the third floor, were wonderful - seeing Alba and surrounding areas in the distance. The villa has its own vineyards, fruit trees, a terrace for sunning, an outbuilding with kitchen facilities, outdoor dining/breakfasting areas, and great, if a bit whimsical, statuary throughout the villa’s grounds. The interior of the villa is furnished eclectically but tastefully. There are separate rooms for breakfast (it can be served outdoors, weather permitting), to accommodate different sized parties. Michaela provides all sorts of literature describing and offering opportunities for local discovery. Michaela also provides lots of personal advice regarding what to see, wineries to visit, and is helpful in critiquing, constructively, any plans we had - for instance, my plan focused almost entirely on the Langhe region, and Michaela suggested we save a day for the Roero region - good advice! As described below, Michaela also arranged a truffle hunt for us, and encouraged us to make reservations for all our dinners while in Alba (since it was the beginning of the white truffle festival, she anticipated lots of diners). Another very valuable bit of help she provided was to arrange a “taxi” service for us each evening to take us to dinner in Alba. We could have driven each evening (some guests might walk into town each evening - about a 20 minute walk downhill until you get to the commercial parts of town), but then we’d have to find where we were going, where to park, and make sure we had not over-served ourselves. So Luigi became our dinner driver - spoke very little English but always prompt and friendly.

Well. After settling in at the villa (both couples and rooms on the top floor), we drove down to Alba, found a place to park (our go-to parking lots at the train station), and started wandering around. On the piazza on Via Roma we found a place for a bite of lunch, Bar Savona (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaura..._Piedmont.html) - it was OK, but nothing special. Vendors had set up all around the piazza, there was a carousel, and after lunch we walked down a main pedestrian street (at least it’s pedestrian only during the truffle festival). Above the pedestrian street, there were flags everywhere, each one representing a different neighborhood or borgo of Alba and its environs - very colorful. As we walked down the street, we window-shopped. I stopped at one store that advertised over 60 varieties of grappa. We went inside, but it was so busy with other patrons I gave up - too bad, since I really enjoy grappa. I’m almost the only one I know who actually likes the stuff.

At the end of the pedestrian street, we got to another piazza, this one hosting a vintage sports car rally. Corvettes, MGBs, Alfas, you name it. The next day, this same piazza hosted a major borgo flag tossing/band playing exhibition. After drooling over the fancy cars, we wandered back to the parking lot, got our car, and went to our B&B. One word of advice/knowledge regarding entry into/out of the villa grounds - the grounds are gated, and the electronic gate is VERY slow, so you need to pull off to the side of the road (a fairly well-traveled road) while the gate opens before trying to enter. We got used to it.

After freshening up and having wine on the terrace, Luigi showed up to take us to dinner our first night in Alba - at l’Osteria dell’Arco (Osteria del Boccondivino - Osteria dell'Arco), just across the piazza from where we had our lunch. This is a companion restaurant to Osteria del Boccondivino (in Bra), and is noted as a premier “slow food” restaurant. The Slow Food movement began in 1986 in Bra as an alternative to fast food and as a direct reaction to a MacDonalds that opened on the Spanish Steps in Rome. Its goal is to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourage farming of plants, seeds, and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. Our dinner was great - I started with Tajarin "40 tuorli" al burro o sugo di salsiccia (great thin pasta made with 40 egg yolks), and I had mine with sausage sauce; of course I also had tartufo bianco (white truffles) shaved over the pasta. It was divine. I followed my primi with Brasato di vitello (braised veal, in a barolo reduction). I declined a dolci (dessert). I was pretty full. My satiety was probably also a function of having split a fine bottle of barolo with Nancy! I would identify and describe what my table mates had, but I was so focused on my own gluttony that I paid them little attention. After our dinner, I called Luigi and he showed up within 10 minutes for our drive back to the villa.

That’s the end of Day ! in Piemonte. It promised to be an incredible and very filling week!

Day 2

The next morning, after breakfast (OK, but not as elaborate as described by visitors from past years), we set off for “downtown” Alba and a full day at the truffle festival (https://www.fieradeltartufo.org/en/). There were tents full of truffles, wines, cheeses, and salsicia; exhibitions and re-creations by borgo residents dressed in medieval costumes; and, to top it off, the donkey palio (palio del asini). We did our part! As was the case yesterday, but even more so today, the town was filled with revelers, including parades up and down the streets of residents in medieval costumes, some waving flags, and simply being spectacular. The piazza that held the antique car exhibition yesterday was filled by successive borgo bands in costume, with flag teams throwing their flags high in the air. We went through the main truffle festival tent, where vendors offered tastes of all sorts of goodies, but not tastes of the white truffles. Too expensive to waste letting revelers taste, but they did offer sniffs. The air was decidedly pungent with the aroma of truffles. We found a trattoria with outdoor seating, where we enjoyed a bite of lunch and some wine. Then off to the Piazza Cagnasso, where the nine boroughs (borgos) of Alba provide costumed historical re-enactments for a couple of hours. After these exhibitions (some fairly amateurish, others very professional), it’s time for the palio del asini. Since we didn’t anticipate the two-hour exhibitions, we only lasted through the first heat of the palio. It was worth the wait - hilarious. The costumed riders got on their donkeys (chosen randomly the day of the palio), and once lined up, the race began. Some donkeys ran (if you can call it that), others stood stock still, and a couple went the wrong way. The riders did their best to convince their animals to win the prize, and eventually they all finished the race - except for one or two who had stopped to graze on the bales of hay that provided the boundaries of the race.

We made our way back to the parking lot, our car, and then to our home at Villa La Favorita. Rear ends a little sore from sitting on aluminum bleachers for so long, but nothing that a couple of glasses of nebbiolo couldn’t vanquish. That night, Luigi showed up promptly at 7:00 to take us to EnoClub in Alba. Although it is a highly rated/reviewed restaurant, it wasn’t to our liking. Although the ambience looked promising (in a rustic cellar with stone walls), the service was slow, the reception was pretentious, and the cost was exorbitant ($240 US for four). We left after our primi. We called Luigi on my cell phone, waited maybe five minutes outside the restaurant, and there he was to take us back home.

Day 3

Our third day in Alba was devoted to wine, wine, and more wine. After breakfast, we set out for Neive, a relatively small hilltop village in the barbaresco region. We got to our first tasting around 11:00, at Enoteca al Nido della Cinciallegra di Michela Gall in Neive (Al nido della Cinciallegra - Enoteca nel borgo di Neive). Not at all pretentious, we sat out on the terrace (along with another table of locals), we had a glass of barolo with some nibbles (breadsticks, a bit of salame, and a few grapes). It was restful, but I’m not sure I’d go back. We finished our visit pretty quickly and started our drive to the Montaribaldi winery in Barbaresco (The winery - Montaribaldi - Azienda agricola in Barbaresco). We had booked a 3:00 pm tour and tasting and arrived at least one hour early. It’s a fairly small family winery, but very professional. The gracious hostess put us with another couple, toured us through the winery, including the various sized barrels (from 250 liters to 3000 liters), and then seated us outside to sample three or four of their production lines, including their barbaresco, barolo, barbara d’Asti, both DOCG and DOC certifications. The cost was 10 euros/person, except we bought a couple of bottles at a total cost of 50 euros, so our tour/tasting was free. Oh, and the views from the winery terrace was spectacular!

After our day of wineries and enotecas, it was back to Villa La Favorita. We needed to rest a bit before resuming our wine (and salame and cheese) intake. And then, of course, dinner. Luigi picked us up at 7:00 and took us to l’Inedito Vigin Mudest in “downtown” Alba (Ristorante L'Inedito Vigin Mudest - Alba (CN)). It was so good, we meant to get back there to dinner, but never did. For our antipasti, I started with vitello tonnato (veal in tuna sauce). I’d resisted this dish before because it sounded “odd” but it turned out to be delicious. I have no recollection of what the others had - as usual, I was too focused on my own experience to think about the others. We also started with a bottle of Teo Costa Ligabue Nebbiolo d’Alba, 2016. As we learned later, virtually any nebbiolo vintage 2016 was spectacular - didn’t have to be a barolo or barbaresco. We now find any 2016 nebbiolo in our Total Wine store and know it will be good. I just checked online for that particular wine and vintage, and the retail is around $50 a bottle - I think we paid, in a restaurant mind you, maybe $15 for the bottle. My primi that night was tajarain in butter and sage and, ta da, shavings of white truffles. The truffles experience involved the server bringing a truffle and set of scales to the table, weighing the truffle before shaving it, shaving it to my specification (you don’t need a lot), and then weighing the truffle after shaving - at 5 euros/gram for the truffle added to the bill. The tajarin was heavenly. The others skipped a primi but joined me with beef medallions braised in barolo for our secondi. And more wine. I’ve no recollection of having a dolci - we were likely too stuffed from the prior dishes and wine.

After dinner, Luigi picked us up a few minutes after I called him, and back home to “our” terrace and having an after dinner glass of wine. This was getting to be too much of a ritual, but what a nice ritual! But we did ask Luigi, in my broken Italian and his broken English, to take us out for pizza the next night. Believe it or not, we were tiring of gluttony, and wanted a simple dinner of pizza and wine. After I asked Luigi, he thought for a few minutes, said he had a couple of places in mind, and would pick us up the next night at our usual 7:00 pm time. Turned out to be an adventure and fun!

Day 4

This turned out, pretty much, to be a lazy day. We slept in, ate breakfast, wasted time at the villa (hey, it’s vacation), and set off for Bra around noon, maybe 20 km away. Other than getting a bit lost in Bra (the nav system doesn’t always do one-way streets well), we finally found a place to park that was a few blocks from our destination, Osteria del Boccondivino (Boccon di Vino). We had reservations for lunch at 1:00 pm at the home restaurant of the slow food movement. We probably didn’t really need reservations - not crowded at all. We sat outside at a four-top. It was a sunny day, and very bright. We perused the menu. We ordered, we drank wine, we had more tajarin in butter and sage (couldn’t get enough of that magical dish, even without the white truffles), braised veal in barolo, and Nancy had local guinea fowl with rosemary. Once again, we were stuffed even without a dolci - but that would come a bit later.

After lunch, we wandered around Bra. We were almost the only people in town, as far as we could tell. Most of the shops (and it didn’t seem that there were really all that many), were closed for the after-lunch hours. It’s a pretty town. Finally I found a shop that was open - gelato! We each got a cup, sat on benches outside the shop, wandered a bit more, and then trekked back to our car. I’d originally planned a much fuller day, with side trips to Saluzzo and Cherasco, but our pace of play had been sufficiently vigorous, so simply back to Alba and Villa La Favorita. We simply had to rest before drinking more wine and going out for another dinner.

Luigi picked us up at 7:00, as promised. As usual, I was in the shotgun seat, and Nancy, Suzy and Steve were in the back. Luigi took us to a totally different area than we’d been in before, away from the town square where most of the “better” restaurants are located. After 20 minutes or so, he pulled into a strip-mall and parked the car in front of a modern/contemporary pizzeria. Luigi escorted us in, talked to the staff at the front of the house, and got us seated before leaving us to a dinner of pizza and wine. When we got there (maybe 7:30) we were not quite the only people there, but almost; within the hour the place was packed, people were waiting for tables. I wish I could remember the name of the pizzeria, but alas it escapes me. We each ordered a pizza, we shared a couple of bottles of wine, and people-watched. It was a fun evening. I think Luigi was parked outside since he was in the parking lot within minutes of calling him. He took us back home, where we had a last glass of wine before turning in. Next day was our TRUFFLE HUNT!

Day 5

After our breakfast, Michaela said it was time for our truffle hunt. Contrary to what I thought was the plan (we’d be picked up at the villa), Michaela, together with her baby, had us follow her for a 30-minute drive to the hunting fields. There we found our truffle hunter, and his faithful canine, Lola. He had us then follow him deeper into the hunting fields. Michaela put on a pair of boots our truffle guide had brought for her (it promised to be a bit muddy), and then we were off. Our guide spoke not a word of English, and that’s the principal reason Michaela joined us - as interpreter. After walking a few hundred yards, Lola was let loose. Our human hunter warned us, through Michaela, that Lola was a working dog and was not to be coddled or petted - he had a job to do! Lola scampered around, found a spot and started digging. Before he could get to the truffle, itself, his handler pulled him away from the truffle site and carefully dug with a little trowel to find and extricate the truffle. It was maybe the size of a golf ball. But success! After smelling the truffle (very earthy and pungent), we continued. Well mainly Lola continued, replicating his earlier discovery with three more white truffles, all about the same size. He also found black truffles, pretty much on top of the ground, under leaves. After finding each truffle, Lola was rewarded with a “cookie.” In fact, Leo was warned, verbally, “no truffle, no cookie.” At one point, Leo apparently did something wrong and was being admonished; for all of the warning about not coddling/petting him, Lola took matters into his own paws - after being scolded, he hid under and between Nancy’s legs! We walked on for another 30 minutes or so and then made our way back to our cars. There Lola and his leader left us. Before leaving, I asked Michaela if she could ask the guide the value of the four truffles we’d found - about $3,000 worth of edibles. We were also told that you should plan on eating/using the truffles within a few days to maximize your enjoyment. I guess whatever is not used within that period of time is sold (at a lesser price?) for other uses - truffle oil, anyone?

We followed Michaela to our lunch destination, Albergo Tra Arte e Querce in/near Monchiero (Restaurant Tra Arte E Querce). Owned and operated by the same family that owns the truffle fields we’d just toured and harvested, we had a great lunch. Michaela didn’t stay with us - Marina, the baby, really needed a nap, so it was just the four of us for lunch. I think there was another table occupied while we were there, but otherwise we had the restaurant all to ourselves. The owner, Ezio, was our server. His wife, Clelia, was the principal cook/chef. Everything was fresh. Everything was good. The restaurant probably doesn’t seat more than 20 people maximum, very homy. I started with my favorite tajarin, served of course with shavings of white truffles. When I suggested that Ezio had shaved off enough for my dish, he said NO, and kept on shaving. YUM! After the primis, on to our secondis - veal brasato in barolo.

Stuffed again, as usual. After lunch, back to Villa La Favorita for a brief respite. We also decided that rather than another “elaborate” dinner, we’d go to a grocery in Alba, pick up some cheese, salame, mustard, bread and crackers, and fortified with ample bottles of wine we’d purchased, simply dine al fresco at the villa that night. I had Michaela call Luigi to let him know we were not dining out that night, so his services weren’t needed. It turned out that was probably a good idea, since he’d come down with a cold and was feeling miserable. After a short nap, the four of us drove into town and stopped in a grocery fairly near the parking lot we’d used before near the train station. That was a new adventure. Strolling up and down the aisles, trying to find and then agree on food purchases. But we did it.

That night, we took our goodies to one of the outdoor terraces at the villa, opened a bottle of wine, then a second bottle of wine. It could be that our decision to wing it with groceries was not a good idea, since some of us woke the next morning with gut aches. Live and learn!

Day 6

A washout of a day. As noted, our digestive systems let us down. I’d made plans (and reservations) for wineries that I cancelled at the last minute. The winery people were nice, but one of them said we’d be sorry (for missing the opportunity). I tried to tell him we were already sorry - but not simply because we’d miss visiting wineries. I doubt he understood me.

By the time dinner rolled around, we’d rediscovered our appetites. Luigi picked us up around 7:00 pm and took us to Vinoteca LaSacrestia, on the Piazza del Duomo in Alba (https://www.vinotecalasacrestia.it/vinoteca/). It was not a large venue, but we had the place to ourselves and had a very nice meal, including salads (for Suzy and Steve), tajarin (for me), and then a secondi, but memory fails regarding exactly what secondis we had. After dinner we walked around the piazza for a bit (very beautiful and peaceful at night) and then called Luigi for our ride back home. The next day was our last full day in Alba, and I’d reserved a winery visit across the river in the Roero region. Before retiring, we also started the depressing job of figuring out how to pack for the trip back home.

Day 7

After breakfast the next morning, we started our drive to the Bajaj Winery (https://www.bajaj.it/en/). We had reservations for a 10:30 arrival for a tour and tasting and lunch. We had lots of fun that day. The drive took us perhaps 45 minutes, driving down the hill to and through Alba, crossing the Tanaro River, catching the SR29 and driving through small towns to Monteu Roero. We arrived at the right address on time and finally found our way to the correct entrance to the winery (signage not very evident, at least to us). Some small dogs announced our arrival, and we were met by the father (and owner) of the young man who was our host for the tour, tasting, and lunch, Adriano Moretti. His father, Giovanni, who spoke little if any English, knew we were coming and got his son, to come meet us. Adriano was charming - perhaps 30 years old, very good English, had recently visited the US (including Las Vegas) with friends as a birthday present to himself, and loved to talk. He walked us throughout the winery (very small), talked about their production (of multiple agricultural products, not just grapes), gushed about the Roero (significantly different than the Langhe where we’d spent all of our time), and finally took us to the tasting room/dining room.

Our tasting of three different wines, accompanied by nibbles, was at a table in the main (only?) public room. It looked over a beautiful terrace (with a tall palm tree!), which looked over the Rorero. The wines were good. Adriano explained each wine, but then as we tasted (and ate) he visited the only other table of visitors who were there “just” for a tasting.

After 30 minutes or so, we moved two tables over, next to the floor to ceiling window, where his mother Mirella had set the table with cutlery and wine glasses. I don’t recall each dish she had prepared for us, but they were all good, and each was accompanied by a new wine we hadn’t had - so, for the experience, perhaps 6-7 glasses of wine - WHOA! Between courses, Adriano chatted with us about the wines, courses, and all matter of things. The last course was a dolci, served with a jar of their own honey. After we spooned a bit of honey on our dish, we noticed a bee had landed on the top of the honey jar. The bee really liked the honey. We nudged the bee off the jar, but his/her feet were sticky with honey so had a difficult time walking, much less flying. Finally the bee managed to get to a curtain, rest a bit, and then fly away. I think the bee was as full as we were by this point. I did ask Adriano if they had any grappa. He was chagrined that they did not, but disappeared for a few minutes. He returned with a bottle of grappa made by one of his friends and gave me a pour. Bless Adriano’s heart for being so accommodating, but it was AWFUL! I’m used to dry (and almost tasteless) grappa, and this was sweet.

Among the other topics we discussed with Adriano was American culture AND politics. He expressed some surprise that he’d rarely met American tourists at their winery who were avid supporters of the current administration in the US. We hypothesized with him that that was likely due to the fact that the core base of the president’s supporters did not travel to Europe, might not have a passion for wine, and any number of other reasons. Adriano agreed. He’d gotten a university degree (in Italy) in politics and had tried his hand in local politics but didn’t like it so returned to his family and wine-making. After an hour or so of pleasant chat, I purchased a couple of bottles of their wine and we returned to Alba.

After resting up for a bit, I realized that we had to drink the wine I’d bought at the winery, since we really didn’t want to try to pack the wine bottles in our luggage for the flight back to the US. So we managed to accomplish that mission. I don’t recall where we went for dinner that night - perhaps we were so full from our ample lunch and subsequent wine that we decided to forego dinner.

After our non-dinner, back to our separate rooms to pack for our drive back to Milan - actually back to Malpensa - the next day.

Our last day in Italy

Since we weren’t scheduled to return the rental car at Malpensa until 2:00 pm, we took our time that morning. We breakfasted, we wandered around the grounds of the villa, took more photographs of the grounds (including lots of contemporary sculptures acquired by Michaela’s mother Roberta over the years), and finally started bringing our luggage down the two flights of stairs to the entrance hall. We paid Michaela for our rooms, the truffle hunt (30 euros/person), and more than a couple of bottles of wine made from the villa’s grapes. We bade our farewells to Michaela and her baby, loaded up the car, and took off.

The drive to Malpensa (maybe an hour and a half) was uneventful. Since we’d pre-purchased a tank of gas (yes, more expensive than filling it ourselves, but much more convenient), the return of the rental car was a breeze. We walked into the terminal where we said our goodbyes to Suzy and Steve. They were catching a later flight to Zurich, where they’d take a train to Lucerne for a couple of days before flying to Barcelona for a Mediterranean cruise. We, on the other hand, were spending the night at a hotel near the airport, the First Hotel (https://www.firsthotel.it) where we’d stayed on a previous trip when departing from Malpensa.

It took a while to find the location for the shuttle we’d called the hotel for, but finally found it and the shuttle. The drive to the hotel was all of five minutes. We unloaded our luggage, checked in, and settled in our room. Not fancy, but clean, modern, and convenient. We had a glass of wine at their bar, then back to the room to rest for a bit. Then dinner. We thought about walking across the street to a well-reviewed trattoria, but decided that took too much effort. So we ate at the hotel - meh! Maybe we’d been spoiled by two weeks (a bit more) of fantastic meals in Italy. After dinner we went back to our room, made sure everything was packed for the flight back home the next day, and crashed.

Going home

Our flight out of Malpensa was at a reasonable time - around 10:00 am. After breakfast, the hotel shuttle took us back to the airport, dropped us off near where we thought we’d check in with Delta, and found that we had to walk the length of the airport to get to where we needed to be - we got our steps in for the day! Getting through passport control meant going back the way we’d come - more steps - and then through security. Finally we got to our gate, waited a bit, and then boarded our flight. The flight was uneventful, but did involved making a connection at JFK for our flight to Atlanta. We had global entry, but still it took a while to jump through all the hoops to get to our flight to Atlanta. The flight to Atlanta was uneventful. We got the shuttle back to our airport hotel in Atlanta, made sure our car was still there, and crashed for one more night before driving back home the next morning.

In Conclusion - Finally!

This was a great trip. Although I’d thought it would be relaxing and emblematic of “slow travel” we were fatigued by the time we got back home. We’d loved all the scenery, the wines, the foods, the people, and the whole experience. After being home for three months, I’m ready to go back!
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2019, 10:48 AM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 23,394
Thanks for your TR, knoxville. That Talloires dinner sounded luscious. DH and I stayed at that hotel in Varenna quite a few years ago--was the owner still a woman? We had a very quirky night there.

Where to next?
TDudette is online now  
Old Jan 9th, 2019, 12:55 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 701
TDudette - Pretty sure it was the same woman/owner. She seemed a little less gracious than some we've encountered. But perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. One thing I forgot to mention is that the elevator (tiny, as per usual in older European hotels) is that it is incredibly slow! A quirky night needs exposition.

Not sure about our next trip - maybe a tour of western US national parks - if and when they re-open! We're also tentatively scheduled for a southern Africa photo safari in 2020 - maybe.
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2019, 06:02 PM
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 22,866
Thanks for posting, knoxvillecouple! I'm currently planning a trip that will include Annecy / Talloires, and found your comments about that area very helpful.
kja is offline  

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