Posts Tagged With: Lake Orta

24 Hours in Lake Orta

Italy 2014 035In this food filled itinerary, the lake I like to call Lago d’Orta was not part of it initially.  But guess what Mrs Z found out when she first Googled Piedmont and looked at the first images that came up.  Text conversation:

Mrs Z:  hey r we going to lake orta

Me:  Neh!

Mrz Z:  really?

Me:  Thanks for ruining the surprise.  Of course we r

As they say “Happy Wife, Happy Ziggy”

We enjoyed a full day after landing at MXP around 9 am with the lake only 45 minutes away.  Picking up the car from Hertz was a breeze, waiting for the GPS to find a signal was not.  How the Software Developer inner Ziggy did not think about restarting the unit is something only the Bill Gates gods can figure out.  Either way, Google maps to the rescue.  The car this time by the way was rather filthy.  And I dont mean in a cool slang sort of way.  We got a dirty car.  One of those Fiats that turns off at traffic lights and requires sweet talk to move up a hill.  But we made it in no time, and what we witnessed was something way better than what any of these images (and Google’s) capture

Italy 2014 001But there was another surprising aspect that contributed to this little one nighter even more than the lake itself.  Food!  As in the fairly new Agriturismo il Cucchiaio di Legno where we also spent the night.  The Agriturismo is not on the lake so no lake views, although the lake is a short 5 minute drive.  I imagined that once I pass by the lake side hotels of Orta San Giulio I would have hotel envy, but that did not materialize.  I was very happy with this choice and can not recommend it highly enough.  And if you are staying elsewhere and enjoy good food you should at the very least make it for dinner.  Sure you can have a nice meal at the 2 Michelim Villa Crespi or at Locanda di Orta which just got a star a few weeks ago, but for something more “homey” and casual it doesnt get much better than this Cucchiaio.

Italy 2014 144My type of menu here.  the absent kind.  You eat what they prepare that day, and boy did they prepare plenty.  We indulged in a fine plate of Salumi, delectable little salmon bites, and an only in Piedmont shocking Syrian soup.  Then came the “Welcome to Italy” green Risotto, and a homemade Fusilli with pork shoulder that served as another reminder that big flavors can come out from these unassuming simple dishes.  A juicier than juice hen with potatoes, and an even juicier veal cheek sealed the deal before we heard those magic words we’ve never heard in a restaurant before.  “Would you like some more”  A 10 course feast for a mere 25 Euros.  Considering how delicious everything was, it was like a bank robbery.  We reminisced about a meal in Coimbra, Portugal as perhaps the only one that beat this value.Italy 2014 149

They also provided a very nice picnic basket for us for lunch that we used on the picnic tables of the Sacred Mount of Orta overlooking the lake.  Just the two sandwiches in there worth the 10 € per person tag, but there was so much more.  The hotel room was very spacious and modern, with a loft in case we have guests (you never know) or Mrs Ziggy gets mad at me for packing only shoes with holes (like I’m supposed to inspect carefully before packing).  You also get a nice patio facing the back yard.  The whole place is so serene during the day you can hear a lung collapse.  I was surprised to see it run by 3 young girls, and the cook responsible for that wonderful feast, Luigi, is 28 years old.  There must be a law that all young chefs in the lakes region must be called Luigi (ie Luigi of Salice Blu in Bellagio) and when they reach puberty they need to change names.  Makes no sense if you ask me.

What else did we do besides eat and inspect shoes.  We Spent some time in the Sacred Mount.  Quite a stunning setting overlooking the lake, surrounded by it pretty much.  Its a series of chapels depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, from chasing goats as a child, to chasing goats as an adult.  I like goats as well but in a different way.  He apparently loved animals according to my friend.  The place was nearly empty, and extremely quiet.  If someone plays Doodle Jump down in Orta San Giulio you would hear the doodling.  The lake views from here is what you mostly see on Google images.  There are picnic tables by the parking lot, and I cant imagine a better setting for a picnic.

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The town itself Orta San Giulio was so much more pleasant than I thought, that we didn’t feel like taking a boat to the island and instead just wandered all over town.  We spent more time than Mrs Z liked in one particular deli with a chatty French owner where we sampled some salami and over 25 year old balsamic vinegar before we bought “Rafi”, the little truffle we carried with us the rest of the trip.  Rafi was a good sport, vacuumed wrapped in rice and all.  Update: Rafi is dead.  Unless the guy made a switcheroo on us at the last minute, the truffle just did not have it by the time I used it a week later.  The much anticipated dinner with our truffle at home turned out to be a simple Linguini with butter.

In short, Lake Orta is another gem that most Americans never heard of.  And on this day at least I was happy that that was the case

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Categories: Italy, Piedmont | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Piedmont in a (Hazel)Nutshell

Italy 2014 004“Err” thats what my scale said this morning, two days after we came back from Piedmont and Emilia Romagna.  So I tried again, and this time it said “One at the time”, followed by “Err”.  But I really dont feel like “Err”.  I feel like I ate very well, as in plenty of non processed, organic home cooking very well.  In fact, it was the greatest food trip of our young lives, and the first Italy trip where food and wine was the main focus.  The biggest tourist attraction on this trip was a statue of an oversized woman squeezing her breasts.  I will have much more about this trip, but meanwhile here’s a small recap of what we did in the Piedmont leg where we spent four days filled with wine, white truffles, onions, wrong turns, mushrooms, lakes, black truffles, vineyards, wrong turns after dark, and more white truffles.

Day 1 – Lago di Orta

45 minutes from Malpensa there’s this beautiful gem most Americans never heard of.  Lake Orta.  We stayed at Agriturismo il Cucchiaio di Legno 5 minutes from the lake, and the entire food itinerary this day surrounded the Agriturismo.  Starting with the picnic basket that we used on the picnic tables on the stunning Sacro Monte di Orta where the picture on top was taken.  Ending with a 10+ courser at their restaurant.  More to come on that too.  And in between the meals we explored the magical town of Orta San Giulio, where we bought Raffi, a small but deadly stinky truffle that we carried with us the entire trip, only to discover yesterday that Raffi tragically died

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Day 2 – Alba, Cherasco

One of the reasons for this trip is the Truffle Festival in Alba, a town renowned for its White Truffles and hazelnuts.  The entire town smells of Truffles and Nutella (this is the birthplace of Nutella).  But the big bonus on this day was the huge Saturday market where we indulged in chocolates which I regret not buying more.  Lunch on this day was at La Bottega del Vicoletto, a typical small family trattoria, where we had our first of many truffle tastings.

Before checking into a hotel with the best views from the toilet I’ve ever seen, we stopped at the Castle of Grinzane Cavour.  Its a magnificent castle, bested only by the stunning 360 panoramic views around it.  Its trully a great introduction to the Langhe area

After we rested a bit, we went to explore the town of Cherasco, known for its snails and kisses, as in the famous Baci di Cherasco chocolates.  But the main target of course was dinner at Osteria La Torre, one of many great restaurants in that area

Overnight in Tota Virginia in Serralunga D’Alba (3 nights).  I chose this place because it was the only one in the area I could pronounce

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Day 3 – Neive, Barbaresco, and The Lunch

The main event on this day was the 3 hour lunch at Il Centro in Priocca.  A meal for the ages, and an experience we will never forget.  The sheer number of great eats within a 20 km radius of Alba is quite shocking.  I will have more on this meal in no time

In the morning we explored the tiny, picturesque Neive where we sampled some more wine and crashed a Macedonian religious service.  We then went on a drive where I counted 34 ooohs and Ahhs from Mrs Z.  Half of them out of fear really.  After lunch we explored the village of Barbaresco.  And capped the day with a nice dinner at Castello di Verduno winery’s restaurant Ca Del Re in Verduno, another local Slow Food place

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Day 4 – Barolo, Another great lunch, Serralunga

Drove to Barolo the long way to find this odd looking church.  Barolo is another stunner, not overrun with tourists considering its name.  But we were more interested in the breadstick manufacturer than wine, where we got a private demo of the breadstick making process.  More spectacular views everywhere we turned, but none perhaps like the drive from Barolo to Serravalle D’alba and our power lunch with the three brothers at Trattoria La Coccinella.  Yet another gem.

After lunch we drove to Serralunga D’Alba to explore the village and take a tour of the castle, one of many in the area including a pretty one viewed from the toilet at Tota Virginia.  Dinner at Schiavenza, another popular local winery

Click here for the of the trip

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Categories: Italy, Piedmont | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

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