Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Countryside of Italy

The Countryside of Italy

What a pleasure it was for me,Saskatoon girl that I am, to escort 10 enthusiastic ladies from rural Saskatchewan into the countryside of Italy this spring! We started our adventure at Anna’s La Vecchia Quercia in the hills above Salerno on the Amalfi Coast. Anna opened up her villa early for us this spring and as polite Canadians we tolerated the rather chilly temperatures in the rooms for the first couple of nights only to discover that the heating system had malfunctioned – we were toasty for our last night! Of course Anna’s warm welcome with Napolitana cuisine , a tour through her garden and an adventure in cooking gluten free pasta made for a heart-warming stay. Closeby at Rivabianca Bufalo farm we appreciated the process to make this succulent pure white ball of mozzarella cheese. We all had a squeaky taste of this cheese as it was being formed into balls or braids by the Mozzas !  We took in the Greek and Roman ruins as we walked through Paestum and learned all about olive oil production from our friends at Casa di Baal. One of the highlights of our visit to Campania wine region was the personal guiding of owner and wine-maker, Roberto di Meo at his family winery di Meo. In his 17 Century Prince’s palace we enjoyed a lunch of antipasti accompanied by copious amounts of Di Meo wine – Aglianico, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avelino! To top it off Roberto offered us some of his special brandy – 40 % alcohol – all this called “ lunch” in Italy!

At the beginning of April, surprisingly we lucked out with some beautiful weather all along this tour. On Sunday we made a partial visit to the Amalfi Coast visiting Vietri sul Mare for ceramics and Ravello for lunch and the beautiful gardens of Cimbrone with a precipice overlooking the Mediterranean! Nicola our guide in Pompeii had us visit some newly opened exhibits of Villas and Gardens with frescos still on the walls of this Roman city devastated by the Volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Then we slowly, very slowly (due to Sunday traffic) made our way to the Hotel Transatlantico in the old port of Naples – my favourite hotel in all my travels! Our chauffeur GP offered to dine with us on the terrace of this hotel and then stay overnight to transport luggage up to Florence for us – what a lifesaver!!! Thanks GP. Anita Silvernagle our 10th guest arrived in Rome that evening so GP and Chandra made the trek to Rome airport to pick her up and carry on to Florence. Quite the logistics of planning!
At the Pensione Bencista, a former convent (and yes some of the beds were that hard!) we were welcomed by the Simone family whom I have known for 13 years now! What a beautiful setting in the hills overlooking the city of Florence. Our Florence stay had us enjoy the food and leather market before seeing the sights like that handsome “David”!  Soon we were off to Cinque Terre for our stay in the beach hotel in Monterosso – what a cute little village! Somehow the beach bar and the Mediterranean Sea captured the group as the enjoyed an afternoon of sun! Chandra even went swimming!!!! A true Canadian! The next morning 4 of us climbed the 700 and some steps on the path from Monterosso to Vernaza! Yes, we had a wine break at the top and met the rest of the gang who arrived on the train in this village for gelato. Further along on the train to Riamaggiore for lunch and soon Maronibus whisked us off to Lucca, the roman walled city which resisted any invasion by the Florentine Medicci family.
One of the restaurant owners in Lucca entertained our Canadians so well that they went back 3 times for pasta!  What a find! And they spoke perfect English! Lucca is one of the best little places to shop, this resulted in buying another suitcase for some!  Oh yes, and we did see a glimpse of the Leaning Tower of Pisa – fascinating! Although most of the time in Pisa was in Macdonald’s getting a fix of North American food!
Before taking the fast train (around 300 km/hr) to Venice Franko drove through the rolling hills of Chianti (Linda’s wish) where we tasted wine and walked through the vineyards with Mathio of Croce di Bibbiano. Farmers talking to farmers – what we didn’t learn about growing grapes!! The train ride went without a hitch as we were prepared for the luggage ordeal. Thanks to efficient packing most of the gals had no difficulty with their bags on the train as this time we did not have GP to come to our rescue!  The Locanda Fiorita was a stone’s throw away from the San Angelo Vaparetto station and our Prosecco reception was welcomed after our voyage. Venice was a delight and the weather was perfect! Our last day we pooled our coins together and bought a private taxi to the island of Murano to see the glass blowing. Of course you are obligated to visit their show rooms after the demonstration, but they quickly learned that we were not about to buy a 35 000 Euro chandelier and guided us to the Murano glass room full of affordable jewelry. Everyone seemed to pick up a little souvenir of our visit. We persevered the vaparetto to Burano, the lace making colourful houses island for the rest of the afternoon and then decided to hire another taxi to take us home.
A final Prosecco and feedback evening on the terrace of the Locanda and our final Italian pasta meal finished off our tour to Italy!  Thanks gals ! It was a real delight for me to share the countryside of Italy with you! 

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