We Still Didn’t Drink All The Vino: Mai Tai Tom’s 2018 Return To Italy
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN – A SLICE OF HEAVEN IN ORTA SAN GIULIO
DAY SEVENTEEN – Where’s The Palace?, Venaria Disease, Quite A Hall, Going To The Chapel, Le Notre Gardens, What A View, Tracy Wipes Out, Chivalry Is Officially Dead, Ascending The Summit, Calling It A Day, Corkscrewed, Wine Shop To The Rescue, Going To A Garden Party and I Might Have Screwed Up … Again!
One last breakfast with Federica, and we were on our way. Il Gioiellino B&B became just the latest in a series of great lodging on this trip. Federica was a terrific host, our room featured a comfortable bed and a good shower. Tracy heard a little traffic noise. I didn’t hear any. The location, a little less than a half hour walk to the city center, worked out great. Nearby parking (about three blocks) was €10 a night.
Our ultimate destination on this day would be Orta San Giulio, but we did have a stop along the way at yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. One half hour north of Turin stands Reggia di Venaria Reale (also on the Torino+Piemonte Card), said to be the seventh most visited tourist attraction in Italy (about 600,000). We kept missing the entrance to parking, which as we were to find out is about a ten-minute walk to the palace. Around every corner we’d ask, “Where’s the palace?” We finally arrived a few minutes after its 10 a.m. opening time.
We were told the palace is “monumental,” and they weren’t kidding. As we took some photos, Kim stated, “I’m feeling a little under the weather.” I replied, “You must have Venaria disease.” Kim once again wondered why he and Mary travel with us (well, me … they love Tracy).
Not content with the number of Savoy palaces, in the mid 17th-century Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy and Duchess Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy Nemours decided they needed another stately place to use as an estate for hunting and enjoying some leisure time. It was redesigned at the beginning of the 18th century with the gardens also reconfigured into a French style garden.
In the early 18th century, the king skedaddled, and Napoleon used it as a military barracks. During World War I and II, Italian soldiers holed up here, and afterward it became vacant and was basically looted of everything. It was finally restored in the early 21st century (a few years after being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and reopened in 2007. According to the palace website, “It was the largest project for the restoration of a cultural asset ever undertaken in Europe.”
Entering, we immediately found ourselves at the Savoy Hall of Fame (actually called The Portrait Gallery), which features the most important Savoy rulers through the centuries. These portraits came from the Castle of Racconigi (I guess it’s open sometimes) and were collected by Humbert II, the last Italian king.
Now that we’d been in the area for a few weeks, we even recognized some of these regal royals’ names.
In the following room, besides the drawing and models of the castle, you could also learn a little trivia, such as … “Victor Amadeus II was the first to utter the famous sentence, ‘Italy is an artichoke, to be eaten leaf by leaf.’” I’d always wondered where that artichoke quote stemmed from.
As we walked through the castle, the courtyard was visible from a few vantage points.
There were also plenty of statues, including this bust of Vittorio de Amedeo II. I wanted to sing “Amedeo, Amedeo … Rock me Amedeo,” but I try not to embarrass my fellow Americans when visiting foreign countries.
Next up was an exhibition about Hercules. One of the statues, Heracles with the Cerinea Deer, features Hercules capturing the deer after a year-long hunt, but having to temper his temper by not killing it.
You think you had a tough childhood? Well, in this sculpture, an eight-month old Hercules has to fight two poisonous snakes that Hera (wife of Zeus) had placed in his cradle to kill Hercules. Hercules kills the two snakes. My guess is Hercules was given a rattle for his feat.
It took a Herculean effort …
… but we made it through the exhibit.
A small theater is located on the premises with a poster of some familiar movies, which I thought might cost a fistful of dollars or at least a few dollars more, but it was free, plus we would have paid in euros. I only provide you with the good, the bad and the ugly of our trips.
It was time to celebrate Diana ( Roman goddess of the hunt, the Moon, and nature, associated with wild animals and woodland). Downstairs were various tapestries …
… and soon we were in the Hall of Diana (photo courtesy of Reggia Venaria (Reale). This is where people coming to visit would enter through the court of honor.
Outside her room are the Gardens of Reggia, which were remodeled by famed landscape architect André Le Nôtre, a French landscape architect, and the principal gardener of King Louis XIV of France. The gardens would have been fun to tour, however we were a little short on time.
Speaking of Diana, there is literally a bust of her in this area.
It was time to enter The Great Gallery. This gigantic gallery connected the apartments of King Carlo Emanuele II to the apartments of the heir of the throne Vittorio Amedeo III. It was designed by Michelangelo (no, not that one). Michelangelo Garove was a town planner and ducal architect for the Savoy.
Before leaving the palace, we went inside the Chapel of Sant’Uberto (St. Hubert).
Constructed between 1716 and 1729, there are two large altars and four chapels. The statue of St. Anastasius is one of four statues commemorating saints.
A couple of paintings stood out, including the 17th century one on the right depicting Sant’Amedeo and St Louis.
It would be the last place we visited at the palace. We certainly enjoyed Reggia di Venaria Reale (it would have been nice to have a little extra time to see the gardens).
It was time to hit the road for our final destination, Orta San Giulio, located about 90 minutes from the palace. We called our B&B owner Massimo to set up a meeting point, located very near the Michelin 2-star restaurant, Villa Crespi, a 19th-century Moorish revival-style rural palace.
We had caught a glimpse of Lago di Orta on our way to meet Massimo, and we thought this would be a special place.
After parking our car in a nearby lot (as the B&B is located in a car-free zone), Massimo drove us to his B&B Al Dom, and our thoughts were now proved correct.
Al Dom is a restored late 18th-century mansion, which has been in Massimo’s family for decades.
The views … well pretty spectacular. It almost seemed we could reach out and touch Isola San Giulio.
The actual B&B has a beautiful breakfast room …
… and a lovely courtyard.
Once again we had found B&B Heaven, with our balconies looking out at the lake and Isola San Giulio, and a comfy bed (always important). It doesn’t get much better than this.
By the time we unpacked and freshened up, it was nearly 3 p.m., meaning lunch time was, in effect, over. We walked five minutes to the picturesque town square (Piazza Mario Motta), complete with pastel-washed buildings, some dating back three or four centuries.
They have been transformed into restaurants and various shops.
We arrived on October 9, and you could tell it was the end of the tourist season (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It was a beautiful day. I was desperately hoping we’d get two more days of nice weather. Although reports throughout our trip consistently called for rain, the only sprinkles we ever really got were at night.
A little after three, a very hungry foursome sat down lakeside at Ristorante Venus. Since only pizza and salad were only available at this hour, lunch at Ristorante Venus could not be called “out of this world,” but it did hit the spot. At this point I wished I had brought my Levis, because it would be cool to be at Venus in blue jeans.
Digression: I have been known not to be the most observant person. As we finished our last bite of pizza, Tracy got up to take some photos from the nearby boat ramp. Obviously, I was enjoying my pizza, because when I looked up, I saw people, including Kim and Mary rushing to the dock. “Where’s Tracy?” I thought. It seemed she had slipped and taken a tumble on the ramp. She slammed her elbow pretty hard, but fortunately there were no broken bones (and she somehow managed not to drop her phone, which already had nearly a million photos). A woman at the next table asked me if one of the guys helping was her husband. Unfortunately, I had to answer. “Uh, no, I’m her husband.” From her look, I knew we wouldn’t be talking any further. To my defense, I had no idea from my vantage at the table that Tracy had fallen. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Battered and bruised, Tracy joined us on our walk through town on our way to another historic site
There were numerous old homes dotting the walk that would eventually lead us up to Sacro Monte di San Francesco (yep, another UNESCO), “a hilltop plateau laid out with 20 chapels dedicated to the life of St Francis of Assisi.”
Heading up from Piazza Mario Motta, we walked to Chiesa dell’Assunta, a church that dates back to the 15th century (rebuilt in the 17th century).
The fairly steep cobbled hill makes the walk a little uneven, so for the balance-impaired (I really need to take tai chi) it can be a little challenge, but not bad.
We stepped inside for a short visit …
… and a few photos.
We walked up a rather steep path from the church toward Sacro Monte di San Francesco. Along the way we passed a statue of St. Francis who, at this point, I wished was the patron saint of magical escalators.
Other photo ops along the way gave us a chance to stop and rest for a moment.
“Are we there yet?” Another turn and a long, uphill climb would take us to the first of the 20 statues.
Finally we reached the first chapels. It took about 200 years to build all 20 of them.
The 17th-century additions include tableaux that some people love and others think are a little cheesy. I thought it worked.
In the photo on the left, “Innocent III approves the aims of the life of Francis and his first followers,” while on the right is the “Canonization of St. Francis.” Kim was able to make these tableaux look almost like paintings.
In real life, they look a little more like this.
Many of the chapels had elegant ceilings.
… was in the air.
We reached the top and the Chapel of St. Francis and St. Nicholas/Sanctuary of the Mother of the Redeemer, built in the early 1600s.
After one more chapel …
… the three of us made our way back down the hill with Isola San Guilio in the distance.
We stopped at the Orta Market Food Shop for our dinner/picnic at the B&B. Bread, cheese, prosciutto and vino (our usual picnic MO) were purchased. Back at the B&B, we quickly realized we had a problem … no corkscrew. Massimo had already left, and we couldn’t find one in the breakfast room. Tracy and I walked back to the market and asked whether they sold corkscrews. Unfortunately, they did not. However, all was not lost. The wonderful owner reached in a drawer and said, “Here, take mine. You can return it in the morning.” Did I tell you how much I LOVE Italy!
Dinner was served in the garden.
You could not beat our setting.
Views of Isola San Giulio changed throughout the evening.
The one constant … the view grew more gorgeous as dusk settled over the island.
It was time for bed. We took one last look at our little alleyway toward town and then out to the island. Magical!
In the middle of the night I awoke with a start and had a terrible thought (for once it wasn’t about the Chargers). How in the world were we going to get our luggage to our car early on Friday, drive the dark, narrow, twisting streets of this beautiful area and arrive at Linate Airport in time to drop the car and make our 11:20 a.m. flight? Massimo had said we needed to leave by 5:30 a.m. The only idea I could come up with was to skip our last night in Orta, and drive to an airport hotel near Linate with a stop at Stressa on Lake Maggiore along the way.
So, on what would be now our last day in Orta, we’d actually take it fairly easy. Hopping on a boat the following morning we’d take a short ride across the lake to explore the tiny Isola San Giulio and the Chiesa Isola San Giulio.
Back in Orta, we’d take a leisurely stroll around the lake. I thought about going to Stresa that afternoon because rain was predicted for the next day, but I hoped our weather luck might hold out (sad foreshadowing).
Our dinner on the final night in Orta San Giulio would consist of ingredients I never thought could go together. It turned out to be my second favorite dish of the trip, and one that Tracy has replicated since our return.
Next: DAYS EIGHTEEN, NINETEEN & TWENTY – Market Day, Cloak On The Water, Island Of Silence, Going For A Stroll, Mary Gets Framed, I Think This Way Is Fastest, Another Trip To Venus, Channeling My Inner Anthony Bourdain, Kim Goes Down For The Count, A Risotto For The Ages, On To Stresa, Stormy Weather, Keep On Trucking, We Have Us A Convoy, Ooh … It’s A Holiday (Inn), Beware Of The Giant Mosquitoes, Near Head-On, London Happy Hour, Near Head-Off & Epilogue