Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Dolomites, 2 wonderful restaurants, Mangiare Bere Uomo Donna at Suzzara and Delicatissimo in Milano opened by old friends

27 luglio
Finally I have time to write about my great little 1000 mile trip to the north of Italy.  I finished up a big job in the vineyard and saw nothing urgent ahead for a least a week and the B&B had a couple of down days, so I hopped in the z4, put the top down and headed up to Suzzara in Emilia Romagna to visit Amy and Corrado at their little B&B and restaurant named Mangiare Bere Uomo Donna.
The beautifully designed logo

Cozy dining room

World of wines

  Amy, from Hong Kong, was for a short time my roommate in Parma as she attended the master in journalism from Slow Food while I completed the food science master.  There, she met Corrado, one of our tutors and romance blossomed, they got married and decided like me to go off the deep end, but instead of a vineyard have opened a bed and breakfast and restaurant with more hours of work than I care to think about.  They remodeled an old mansion in Suzzara with 3 quaint rooms serving as their B&b and Amy became the chef blending her wonderful skills with traditional chinese cooking with traditional Emilia fare.  I had a wonderful dinner with shrimp wontons, vegetable wontons, a nice tender and flavorful pancetta, ravioli which were incredible reminding me of dimsum potstickers in consistency and taste and a lamb chop I traded a piece of pancetta for that was tender and seasoned perfectly.  They have a well selected group of wines as you see in my photo and artisanal beers also. Corrado runs the dining room as host, waiter and sommelier and speaks perfect italian and english and spanish.  Highly recommended and well worth a side trip if you are in the Mantova area.
Next it was off to the Dolomites, the mythical Alpen mountains which I had heard about constantly from everyone who has ever been there, but I had never seen. I just followed my instincts heading off the autostrada to the 5 pass area, Cortina, Dobbiaco, Sesto, Bressanone, Bolzano, Sterzing, Merano and then the Adige valley where I checked out Italy's Pinot Noir, Gewurtztraminer, Lagrein zone.
Above and below, the road east of St. Cristina

 Views from the passo Falzarego, below the hike up the little mt. to the right called Croda Negra

 View from and of the WWI bunker above the Falzarego pass

It is truly a beautiful group of mountains which in many cases remind one of a microscopically enlarged saw blade or maybe some vicious teeth.  I took an impromptu hike up a 2500 meter mountain near one of the passes to explore some WW1 bunkers and get a view of miles of these peaks, then headed for the night to Cortina which has a reputation as a high roller ski resort.  I had a wonderful dinner at Ra Stua, a restaurant which serves up their beef steaks and pork and chicken raised at the family farm near Padova.  A carpaccio started me out which segued into a t-bone steak cooked perfectly with some oven roasted potatoes and a Ripassa from Zenato as accompaniments.
 View from the top of Croda Negra above and Cortina below

 Above, the mts looking over Dobbiaco and below from the road above Sterzing

 At this pass above Sterzing, the car registered 40 degrees F

The next day was cold with new snow on the surrounding mountains, but I put on my windbreaker, got the top down and suffered through 40 degree temps in some places to visit further north at the border with Austria and the towns of Dobbiaco and Sesto.  Finding no lodging, I headed back west to Bressanone, found a hidden road through another mountain pass connecting Sterzing to Bolzano which I highly reccomend if you have time as the views are incredible and you will have the road to yourself.  Then up to Merano, home of a famous wine tasting event which I would like to attend someday, before turning south to Ora/Aura for the night.  This was a good base to explore and find the best Pinot Noirs of Italy and my favorites were Hofstatter and Lageder across the Adige river from Ora/Aura near Tramin or Termeno depending on which language you prefer.  This is Alto Adige and they speak more German here, Italy having been gifted this portion after WWII for switching to the Allies (at least that is my version which I have pulled from some unused part of my brain).  After a great dinner at Hofstatter with perfectly cooked duck following an appetizer of various concoctions like smoked salmon, soft cheese etc presented in baby cones,
 The cones
The duck

Some of their wines

I headed up to Madonna di Campiglio to check out their ski mountains and then suffered through a 60 km traffic jam of sorts to Brescia; this part I could have skipped.  I arrived at Delicatissimo, the restaurant of my old classmates Michele, Giorgio and Teresa with Michele's brother Maurizio in the kitchen, to find it full at lunchtime, and no wonder, as the food is fresh and wonderful and quite a bargain for Milano.  Another classmate Luca joined me for lunch and I dropped off 10 cases of our wine to those guys to sell for us and caught up on all the latest news.
Michele behind the bar with sister Stef in front

The menu and signage

Giorgio will probably not like this picture, hehe

Finally off to Parma on my return to Nascondiglio di Bacco to see an old friend Diego who is the proprietor of the outstanding wine bar Tabarro.  If you ever visit Parma, there is no need to search out producers of the finest prosciutto, cheeses, salamis, etc. because Diego who has a very discerning palate has done all that work for you and serves up the finest italian artisanal products in his wine bar.
Diego in front of his treasure trove wine bar in Parma with part of the bar below

 He is also planning on opening a web-based wine store and has extensively explored the Barolo region and has a cache of the best ready to sell in the near future.
It was a fun trip, lots of miles, 280 dollars of gasoline, but well worth it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A good hike gone bad? no's 24,25,&26 in the Monti della Laga book

12 luglio
After another 11 day stretch of non-stop working, Bacco got a little antsy and begged for a mountain hike.  We have had one week of 90 + degree weather (with another week to go), and above 1300 meters you get a little respite.  My goal was to find a nice trail with abundant streams for Bacco to play in and drink.  I chose no. 26 in the book and headed off to the little town of Ceppo a 75 minute drive from us.  This is evidently mushroom heaven as they have a barricaded road which they open only for those with mushroom hunting permits.  I parked outside the gate and headed off on a very pleasant stroll through the "marvelous forest" (the chapter title for the hikepassing all the cars of the fungus searchers along the way.   Its real name is the bosco Martese and was the site of a famous battle in WWII between the resistance fighters of the area and the germans.  After 90 minutes, we ended up at a nice 40 meter waterfall called Cascata della Morricana where I snapped some photos and tried to figure out how I might return to the parking area without retracing the 5 km stretch of trail which was on a dirt road.

Don't get me wrong, for a first date hike, you could do this and have a picnic and be wonderfully satisfied as it is quite peaceful, beautiful and easy.  But, I hadn't even gotten close to being lost yet, so I went back to the book and found a way to make it a loop hike (no. 25).  I hiked further along, up and out of the forest, where the trail had been beautifully marked, and entered a pastoral setting of grasses, flowers and singing birds, but no trail.  I followed the general instructions written in the book walking directly into a 200 yard stretch of tightly bunched thistles and, hidden beneath them, stinging nettles.  I felt like St. Benedict doing his penitence after feeling lust for a woman when he exited from his hermitage (he had lain nude in a field of nettles until the feeling passed).  I arrived at another 2 or 3 beautiful waterfalls where the description of the route was, "head right before the last waterfall, you will see the trail when you are nearly upon it.
2nd waterfall past the forest from above

Last waterfall above the forest; I wasted some energy and climbed above it for the photo.

For those doing this hike, take a left out of the forest and head towards the little house you see in the mid right of the picture thus avoiding the huge field of nettles and thistles to its left.  Then proceed  towards the waterfall below easily visible cascading down the mountain, whereupon you head to its right, climbing upwards until you get to the oblique, left running trail which will give you fits trying to stay on as it disappears at its own whim.  

  After losing this trail a handful of times, I decided to head straight up to an imposing ridge above figuring if their trail was not reliable, I would make my own.   I climbed about 500 meters up, hit 2 false summits and found the ridge I saw below was the middle of a mountain and after considering a tactful surrender, continued on until we arrived at the top of Pizzo di Moscio, which happens to be hike 24 in the book.   Once you leave the forest below, you enter into one of the forgotten circles of Dante's Inferno with its attacking plants and also horseflies which make mosquitoes' blood sucking look like pleasant little kisses.  Every time I took a pause in this uphill trek and there were many, they swarmed me.  They are slow, so you can swat them easily enough and that smears your combined rbc's all over whatever exposed body part they attacked.  I am going back to hiking in jeans!
After walking straight up the hill Bacco arrives at the summit of Pizzo di Moscio, 2411 meters slm.

Views of the Sibillini mountains in the distance to the north above and Gran Sasso to the south pictured below

Having labored extensively, Bacco is eyeing the way to the car from the top of La Storna.  It is here I finished my 2 liter camelback water and had to go to the reserve liter with an hour and 40 minutes of descent ahead.
Now, the book says to descend to the road for Ceppo but then take a fork to the left which is a little used lane passing by a farmhouse with 5 Abruzzese Shepherds who ganged up on Bacco.  Luckily he was too quick for them and took no damage.  This lane is supposed to take you back into the "marvelous forest", see photo above.  I asked a farmer on said lane if this would take me down to Ceppo and he said yes, but I would have to guess which way to go after a bit.  I said I had been doing that all day, so what harm could come from continuing in that manner.  Well, the road starts out pretty clear and wide, narrows and becomes covered by a blanket of leaves and then disappears, leaving you to guess and hope.  The good news is, if you don't fall off a cliff first and head to the right, you should eventually hit the main road I dismissed at the book's recommendation and if you go left, you hit the road you walked previously on the way to the waterfall.  I ended up on the latter after zig-zagging on a logging trail for a bit (something about being on the semblance of a trail soothes my nerves).  Well, I am writing this now, so I guess we made the 6 hour and 18 minute 1100 meter climb and 1100 m. descent and lived to talk about it.  I am seriously considering buying a mobile GPS before taking any more hikes in Abruzzo, though!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Sunflower motif, hail damage

9 luglio
Everyone is putting up great photos of the local sunflowers, so I thought I would add my 2 cents worth.  Next hike on Monday with Bacco, stay tuned.  It will be 94 degrees, so expect  a trail with a nearby stream.
View from a bit northeast of us, lower right hand corner includes our vines, old oak, and olive trees.

Zoomin in on the local sunflower fields

Max zoom

What blog post would be complete without Bacco?!

This gives you an idea of the patchwork quilt that is our little area, Hay bales, vineyards, olive trees, sunflowers...

A ringer, no sunflower here, just what hail damage looks like on immature grapes; most of those with damage will fall off.  The hail came the same day we bottles our 1st 2 wines..... good karma=bad karma as my friend Sabrina said

One of my 2 blooming sunflowers

and the other... double click to enlarge.

Friday, July 01, 2011

I fiori dei Sibillini. The flowers of the Sibillini mountains

1 luglio
Here are the latest flower pictures from our hike on Wednesday in the Sibillini mountains.  Now is a great time to see them blooming.