After spending two amazing days in beautiful Florence, we said goodbye to Tuscany and headed to the Piedmonte region of Italy. The heat continued in Northern Italy, another day eclipsing 100+ degrees. We decided to take a taxi back to our car and it was the smartest decision ever. As much as we enjoyed Florence, we were glad we were not staying in the city during this unreal heat wave. Our new house was located in a little village near the city of Gavi. We were staying on the second floor of a super cozy and very Italian house. The house belonged to a wonderful woman - Seniora Maria, who stole our hearts. This sweet Italian grandma was over 70 years old, still drove her little Fiat, worked all day in her garden and cooked heavenly food. Each evening we sat on our patio and were hypnotized by the smells of her cooking coming from the downstairs kitchen. When we arrived at her house, she greeted us with fresh eggs, homemade jams (raspberry and strawberry), fresh tomatoes, sage, basil and rosemary, all from her garden. I took several pictures showing all of the goodies, but I really wish the picture could smell...I have never smelled more aromatic basil or tomatoes. She also stocked our fridge with cold water and milk. Can you think of a warmer welcome...I don't think so. I already planned several dishes that will pair perfectly with those organic souvenirs.
GAVI - location of our house
The Piedmonte region is a bit lesser known than is southern counterpart, Tuscany, but it carries the same love for food, wine, and architecture. It also has many hiking trails that follow the rolling hills of the region. Its northern points are the city of Turin and the Italian Alps, while to the south are the vineyards and farms that make this region a foodie heaven. We really decide to go into the week unplanned, just enjoying the local cuisine. We all slept amazingly and woke up rested and refreshed. Seniora Maria served us delicious coffee and eggs from her chickens. We visited the local market to stock our house with local produce. At the market, I saw beautifully looking plums and as soon as we got home, I baked a delicious plum cake. Leo said it was his early birthday cake haha. Seniora Maria doesn't stop surprising us. Since the heat continues, hey its August in Italy, so its to be expected, she set up a little pool and hammock for the kids. She also allows them to play in a little wooden house. Leo claims that he build it himself and keeps inviting us to his little casa :-) We shared the plum cake with our host and in return, she brought us homemade gelato!!! At the market we also bought fresh veal chops and marinated the meat with all of the fresh herbs from Seniora Maria garden and threw them on the grill. We served baked zucchini, carrots, potatoes and onions as a side. Paired with a fantastic local white wine from Gavi, what can I say, it was the most delicious meal ever, a true Italian feast! Mila and Leo loved it too. You hear about it, you read about it, but once you are in Italy, get ready to eat eat eat! As a dessert, Seniora Maria gave us a bottle of homemade limoncello and there is nothing more to say, we were in real food heaven!
The next few days were extremely hot, temps were showing 105 degrees! Our current house doesn't have AC or fans so it can get very hot, even at night. One morning, Rick got up early and went on a solo 14km hike to Mount Tibbio while I did some magic in the kitchen, baking two delicious pizza and banana bread. We also watched a few movies ( that pretty much never happens), caught up on FaceTime with family and friends, took long naps with the kids, in other words, we have been embracing the Italian culture to its fullest - as they say, Dolce far niente (sweetness of doing nothing). Seniora Maria keeps surprising us with homemade pesto, tomato sauce, fresh zucchini, plum jam and of course morning coffee.
With the temps soaring and no end in sight for the heat wave, we really needed to cool off and decided to take a drive due south to the Italian Riviera (about 100km from our house). We did some research the night before and chose Spiaggia del Malpasso Beach. Once we reached the coast, we were amazed by the beautiful color of the water - turquoise at its best. The beach was not that big and it was very crowded, after all, it was a Saturday in the middle of the summer so that was expected. We sat our blanket down and immediately we all ran to the water. Diving into baby blue sea felt amazing and very refreshing. The beach was very rocky which always makes a perfect activity for our kids. Leo and Mila constantly climbed all of the rocks, swam in the water and enjoyed this little paradise on the Italian Riviera. Mila could not resist herself and as a norm, consumed a decent amount of beach rocks. I still find it surprising that she keeps eating them if they were the most delicious candy :)
Spiaggia del Malpasso
Our last day at Grandma Maria’s house was rather chill. In the morning, we played basketball with Mila and Leo. Later on, Rick and I played a game of horse. Funny story, when Rick and I met in Pittsburgh back in the summer of 2005, our second date was a little 1:1 basketball match. Rick was so into it, that at one point, while trying to post on me, he almost broke my nose, seriously!! Right then I should have known that a relationship with this man won't be boring. So going to our little game in Italy, I won't say who won but one thing is sure - Mama still has her sick crossover that breaks ankles!
It was time to say goodbye to our sweet grandma Maria and head off to Lake Como for one night. On the way there, we decided to stop by Lake Orta and take the short boat trip to San Guilio Island. Once we got to the lake, we were amazed by it's beauty and calmness. We walked around the very picturesque town Orto San Giulio. It’s very charming, full of old historic buildings, churches, restaurants and of course, gelato shops. Right across from the village there is San Giulio Island, which takes a name from a Saint who lived there in the 4th century. Leo and Mila were very excited to get on the boat and kept looking for the fishes : ) This island is very small - only 275 meter long and 140 meter wide, and really, in just 45 minutes you can easily see the whole place. We strolled down beautiful historic alleys, admiring the spectacular architecture and fantastic views. What makes the place unique is its quest for calmness, tranquility and silence. Everything was wet from the rain and it added a bit of mystique to the whole scenery. After returning to the mainland, we took a short uphill walk around Orto San Guilio and for the last time, enjoyed the breathtaking views of Lake Orta and its surroundings.
We booked one night in Veleso, a tiny village tucked at the very top of Lake Como. The drive to our apartment led us through very narrow and windy roads. I think our kids are getting used to it because no one complained about motion sickness. What was making us ill, were the crazy and very frivolous Italian drivers! Each time we were approaching a car coming from the opposite side, I kept closing my eyes and praying that we would not get crushed. Even Rick was getting annoyed by it. Nevertheless, we made it safe to this magical place!
Our host was waiting for us by the church, another wonderful lady who’s hospitality was perfect. Our little two bedroom flat was located on the second floor with balcony, overlooking the mountains and the one and only, Lake Como! The weather was very nice, 75 degrees, sunny with a little breeze. Since it was close to 6 pm, we all were hungry and decided to walk to a nearby restaurant - Trattoria Bella Vista Di Longoni. We had to wait a bit, since this place did not open until 7:30 pm but it was totally worth it. The food was out of this world! We ordered spicy salmon with polenta and gnocchi with pancetta and creamy sauce - a true food heaven. Kids loved it as well and we all left with full and happy bellies. As we were walking back to our apartment, it started to not only rain, but a hail storm! Pea size hail began to fall so we sprinted back to our flat (it was only 1 block) and went straight to our balcony to see the spectacular scenery. Here is the thing, within one hour it felt like we experienced all four seasons - sunny and blue skies, heavy clouds and rain with thunder and lightening, crazy hail storm, strong winds and finally, calmness and serenity. It almost felt as if an Apocalypse was coming! After this wild act presented by mother nature, we witnessed a very spooky picture - it was quite dark, the clouds transformed into cotton candy, in the very far background you could see the lights coming from Milan, the lake was very still and the mountains a bit scary. To add to this image, right in front our our apartment there was a lit up church tower that rings a bell every our hour, making this whole scenery very mysterious and spooky. We were there for only 3 hours but within that short period of time, we experienced some pretty unreal weather.
When we lived in Florida, we subscribed to National Geographic Traveler. I remember one specific issue from June/July 2015 and the article titled “Lake Como: A Love Story”. It was a history of a married couple, where the wife was battling a lunge cancer. Since each day could have been her last, her husband asked her where she would like to go and her answer was Lake Como. I remember reading it and getting a little teary - it was such a beautifully written article that right then and there I knew that one day, I will be coming to Como and witnessing everything with my own eyes. And here I am, sitting on a small balcony of our lovely apartment, looking at the lake in the company of my own husband and children - a dream come true, a total bliss and tranquility. If I could only freeze this moment…