Saturday, 29 November 2014

Love a panettone festival!

Via Savona
Last week the first signs appeared.  Along the street, in the supermarket,
and in the shop windows.
Christmas is coming and in Milan that means deck the halls with panettone.
Today we joined the locals at a very Christmassy event. A panettone festival held just ten minutes walk from where we live.  Suprisingly, even though panettone originated in Milan, the festival attracts pasticcerie from throughout Italy, and even Switzerland.
So what happens at a panettone festival?
Bakers bring their panettone to compete.
 There are tasting lectures and then the judges assemble to rigorously taste, slice after slice.
While the bakers wait nervously for the entire two days of the festival to learn whose panettone will be the victor,
 it is out in the main hall that the really serious action happens.
Thousands of slices of panettone are given away to the crowds coming to taste the many flavours on offer.  
The people's choice seems to be a close tie between chocolate chip and the traditional sultana with candied fruit,   
but this year there may be an upset, as the new iced panettone were very popular.
And if you're thinking that all panettone tastes the same - sort of like dry, yeasty bread with sultanas and candied fruit, then we have to say that you are wrong.
Even though it's only our second panettone festival, we can assure you that the best ones really "melt in your mouth," according to Stefano.  
"Mmmm," I agree.

Warning! There will be Panettone tastings on the Central Coast at Christmas this year.  
And, we're not the only ones dreaming of a Christmas down under. 
It seems that even in Milan, Sydney is the city of dreams.
Solo venti giorno fino ad arrivare a casa per Natale!

Panettone festival details
29 & 30 November
Via Bergognone, 34 
Ore 11:00 - 19:00.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

From Lecco to the snow

Weeks of wet weather in Milan have hinted that winter is on its way.  But although the heating in our building came on last month, and Stefano is talking about wearing a beanie on his morning walk to work, and I've made my first minestrone soup for the year, it just doesn't seem very cold.  Not really winterish at all.  
But this morning when we we stepped off the train at Lecco, on Lake Como, we finally felt a wintery, alpine chill in the air.  Above Lecco is the closest ski field to Milan, Piani d'Erna, only half an hour by train, and then a short bus trip to a cable car up the mountain.  Hoping to discover a weekend ski spot, we took a day trip to reconnoitre before the heavy snowfalls arrive.
 From the top of the cable car the views in all directions are spectacular.  And, there was snow.
At Piani d'Erna we discovered a few mountain lodges and a couple of bars and restaurants, almost all of which are closed until late December.  It is a very small downhill ski field, with only a couple of lifts to service what seems to be a beginners' ski area.  
While it probably isn't quite what we're looking for as a weekend ski area, it was exciting to see evidence of winter's imminent arrival. 
On our way back down in the cable car, some of our fellow passengers were so excited about the first snow of the season they'd taken a sample to keep in the freezer at home.  
And we were pretty excited too.  
We will definitely return in summer to explore more of the mountain walks and rifugi, but we will keep looking for a ski field close to Milan.  

L'inverno e' sulla buona strada.

Travel details
Trains to Lecco from Milan leave once an hour - 9.40 Euros for a single return ticket.
From Lecco catch the Number 5 bus to the Funivia Piani d'Erna cable car station. The bus stop is located diagonally opposite the front door of Lecco train station. Buy bus tickets from the news-stand at the front of the exit tunnel.  Bus tickets are 2.60 Euros for a single return ticket. Buses were only running once an hour, but are more frequent during the week.
The cable car tickets are 10 Euros for a single return.  In the winter the cable car runs every half hour but is closed for a lunch hour from 12.30-1.30pm.
Bar Funivia at the base of the cable car serve good panini, German style beer and great coffee. Lunch was 16 Euros for two.  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Torino for the day? Too easy.

Last week my friend Janka invited me to visit Torino (Turin) for the day.  Less than 2 hours by regional train, Torino is an easy day trip from Milan.  While it is a very Italian city - in fact it was the first capital of a United Italy in 1861 - the city actually appears more French than Italian, due to its long history as the capital of the Savoy kingdom when many of the magnificent piazzas and palazzos were built.
The heart of the city is the Piazza Castello.  We made our way there from the station and by mid-morning were seated in the very grand Caffe Barrati & Milano leisurely sipping glasses of bicerin, the deliciously strong mocha coffee for which the cafes of Torino are famous.  
After weeks of rain in Milan, we enjoyed the relief of crisp, sunny autumn air as we strolled along the wide streets and meandered through the beautiful piazzas and parks of this elegant city.
The spire of Torino's most famous building, the Mole Antonelliana, caught our eye and made us think that on such a sparklingly clear day, the views from the top would be spectacular.  And they were.
After enjoying the dazzling views of Torino from the top of the spire, we spent the rest of the day at the Mole as it also houses a small Eataly restaurant and the fascinating  National Museum of Cinema.
Time flew, so as we raced to catch the late afternoon train back to Milan, we both agreed that we will have to return to Torino as there is so much more to see and even more importantly, to taste. There was no time to visit the main Eataly store, where they make the best gelato in Italy!  

Grazie mille Janka per una buona giornata!
Alla prossima per ulteriori avventure autunnali.

Travel details
Regional trains to Torino Porto Nuova leave from Milano Centrale once an hour and cost approx 24.20 Euro return for travel the next day.  
Tickets to the Panoramic Lift and National Film Museum at the Mole Antonelliana cost 14 Euro.   

But wait there's more...
If you'd like to see a little more of this beautiful city, CLICK HERE for a post by my blogging friend Heather of Cafe' Carlson.  She loved Torino in autumn too.  

Monday, 3 November 2014

Ingredients for a weekend in Oltrepo' di Pavese

View from Agriturismo Mondo Antico, Oltrepo Pavese.
We combined these ingredients for a relaxing autumn weekend in the wine growing region of the Oltrepo' Pavese.
Image from HERE
One large scoop of local knowledge.
"Explore the hills and countryside below Pavia for some great local wines," said the lady from the Vigevano tourist office.  That was the plan.

Add a Fiat 500
Although we like to catch trains, sometimes hiring a car is necessary.  Our car of choice is the Italian favourite, the Cinque-Cento.  This one was an automatic, a rare thing in Italy.  Stefano was surprised to discover that it wasn't bad at all, even on the hills.
Add a portion of famous churches or monasteries.
We added both.
Certosa is a tiny town with a big reputation located just outside Pavia.  It is famous for one thing, an incredibly ornate Gothic/Renaissance style church which has a monastery attached.  The Cistercian order of monks still live in the monastery and conduct tours of their 'home'.  Every half an hour one of the monks gathers the crowd of visitors waiting patiently at the gates inside the church.  There are rare tours in English, but we chose to practice our Italian listening comprehension skills. Always up for a challenge to add a little spice to the recipe.

Once again we learned about the famous Visconti family who were the original owners of the Certosa complex.  The interior and exterior of the church are equally ornate and fascinating, but even more interesting was the tour of the lovely gardens and the monks' cells built around a huge courtyard for contemplation and prayer.  While we didn't catch all the monk's jokes, we understood that life must have been relatively comfortable as each 'cell' was comprised of a couple of rooms with its own courtyard, where the monks grew food, in addition to working the common land and spending much of their time in solitary prayer.

Lastly add the essential ingredient - A great agriturismo.
Agriturismi are definitely our preferred form of accommodation in Italy.
 In our experience, these uniquely Italian 'farm stays' offer lovely rooms, great fresh food usually grown on the farm, delicious wine, again usually produced on site, and charming hosts.  
Guilianna and Lucrezia our hosts at Mondo Antico
We stayed for just one night at Agriturismo Mondo Antico about 30 minutes drive from the lovely university town of Pavia.  Like many agriturismos, Mondo Antico has its own restaurant, perfect for dining in after a day of driving and sightseeing.  
Guilianna was our friendly hostess and her daughter, Lucrezia assisted her mother in the dining room.  The highlight of dinner was Guilianna's risotto. Simply made with just cream, butter, rice and parmesan but it was cooked to perfection.  Delicious. 

Stefano filled the boot of our little car with a box, or two, of the family's wine after Lucrezia took us on a tour of their vineyard. Wine making is her father's passion. 

Finish with the secret ingredient

We woke to a cool misty morning. The area is famous for fog and mist during winter and autumn. To us it added the flourishing touch of atmosphere to our autumn weekend. However, Lucrezia reminded us that the mist isn't quite as exotic when it settles in for weeks at a time, especially not when she is commuting to university in Pavia.

Grazie mille Guilianna e Lucrezia per la tua generosita. Speriamo tornare nella primavera per un altre fine settimana. 

Prossima volta a Grossio e Bormio con mia sorella. Ci vediamo. 

Certosa can easily be reached by train.  CLICK HERE for more details.
For more information about Mondo Antico Agriturismo CLICK HERE and for reviews of this lovely agriturismo CLICK HERE.