We Still Didn’t Drink All The Vino: Mai Tai Tom’s 2018 Return To Italy
CHAPTER TWELVE – THE HILLS ARE ALIVE WITH THE SMELL OF VINO
DAY TWELVE – Roll Out The Barolo, Right Out Of Disney, Snow In Piemonte, A Hill Of A Climb, This Might Have Been A Mistake, 18-Wheeler Dead Ahead, It’s A Movie Set, Guided Tours Only, No Bra, A Poplar Spot and That’s Using Your Brain
The fog in the valley cleared early, and after a hearty breakfast at Rocche Costamagna, the caravan was ready to explore more picturesque Piemonte towns. I had planned out our route before we left.
First stop … Barolo, the capital of “The King of Wines.” This village with medieval origins is another stellar town to discover. Wandering the streets of Barolo, we passed by numerous quaint shops and restaurants.
On this quiet day, you could almost imagine that you had the entire town to yourself.
We were on our way to visit the town’s Regional Wine Center, the Ethnographic – Oenological Museum, which is located inside the 11th-century Falletti Castle on a charming town square.
The interactive museum opened in the autumn of 2010, and the castle has been around for more than 1,000 years. There are numerous displays that dish out information on the history, as well as the myths, of vino. I believe the exhibition on the right is Adam and Eve on their first date (I wasn’t reading carefully). So much for that apple theory.
Tracy called the inside of this museum “Disneyesque.”
In the castle kitchen, Mary auditioned for an episode of Chopped.
The museum also takes a look at movies about wine, and how wine played important roles in some movies. The wine cellar scene with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant was an integral part of the movie Notorious.
Whenever Tracy and I find a large fireplace in any castle, odds are one of us will stand in it, always careful that a fire has not been lit.
This is either a wine area map or a painting from the Joan Miró collection.
We walked around town a little more admiring the views shops and restaurants …
… and got back in our cars for the short journey to what I call the “Mt. Everest of Piemonte,” Montforte d’Alba. Our visit to the medieval village built in the 10th century started innocently enough. After parking at the bottom of town, we immediately spied a large church (shocking!). Chiesa della Madonna della Neve is dedicated to the Snow Madonna.
In a foreshadowing moment, we climbed a number of stairs to enter. Before walking inside we admired the snowflakes around the entrance.
Inside we were immediately struck (not literally) by the gorgeous ceiling with lots of blue.
The frescoes and paintings inside this church rival almost any we saw on this trip.
Although we’ve been to so many churches, each one offers something unique to add to its beauty.
We hung around here for a bit, but it was now time to climb. Our goal was to see the Palazzo Scarampi (whose name for some reason made me crave shellfish) and then climb further to take a look at a small amphitheater where musicians like to perform because of its perfect acoustics. The streets became steeper and steeper, and as Kim, Mary and Tracy became just a faraway blur, I continued my trudge upwards. I was hoping for a basecamp to rest on the way up, but all I saw were colorful, narrow steep streets and alleys that I fear signaled my impending doom.
When I reached the Palazzo Scarampi, I knew I was close.
Finally, I arrived at the Horszowski Auditorium. This concert hall/amphitheatre is named for the pianist Horszowski who played here.
While Tracy took a selfie, I told my plight to some other weary visitors.
Flowers and grapevines flourished in this environment.
We started to walk back down in search of a restaurant. On this lazy Thursday, it seemed restaurants were taking the day off.
No food, but the town was colorful.
Finally, in a little piazza, we found the Albergo-Ristorante Grappolo S’Oro. A little pasta, and I was ready for the rest of the day. No, it did not contain sage butter, but it was still very good.
Back in our cars, we headed for Rodino for the express purpose of having friends Greg and Gloria take a picture of the town’s sign, because they have a friend named Rodino. Who says I’m an evil taskmaster? Getting out of town proved to be much harder than we thought thanks to the appearance of two delivery trucks blocking the street. Adding to our dilemma, a line of cars was forming behind us, meaning reverse was not an option. Since there were no persons accompanying these blocking trucks, this was no time to be passive. I narrowly inched by the trucks with at least half a millimeter to spare. I thought our collision warning system was going to explode it got so loud.
We then headed into the countryside towards Sinio. The road narrowed to the point where if a car was coming in the opposite direction, it could be curtains. That proved doubly troublesome when Tracy spied an orange semi-trailer truck larger than the Starship Enterprise barreling toward us. In a stroke of luck, there was a small grassy area on the side of the road where we maneuvered our car, and it also happened to be located in a beautiful vineyard showing off its gorgeous autumn colors.
We now had our Facebook photo for the day
While Greg went searching for stray grapes ….
We drove into the tiny town of Sinio and walked the empty streets for a bit.
The views once again were stupendous …
… and the town itself resembled a movie set.
Then it was time to retrace our steps (the drive on the narrow road), and fortunately we didn’t encounter another truck.
Serralunga d’Alba, another medieval hill town, was our next town to invade. Like so many of these towns, it’s dominated by the castle above the town. We parked next to Chiesa di San Sebastiano, a church restored in the late 1800s.
We briefly checked out the interior …
… and then headed outside, walking past a memorial to the area’s war dead.
We were greeted by a steep hill that would take us to Castello di Serralunga d’Alba. My legs were not happy, but we made it up the hill.
The only way to tour the 14th-century castle is by guided tour, and we weren’t in the mood to wait for the next English tour.
We took in the views of the countryside …
… and the town, and went on our way.
At this juncture, Greg and Gloria headed back to Rocche Costamagna for a little r&r, while our plan was ostensibly to head to Bra. Yes, our cups runneth over with places to see. On the way to Bra, we passed by a grove of Poplar trees, but there was no place to stop and take photos. Once inside Bra, our GPS system(s) went all to hell. Bra had a couple of sights we wanted to see, but try as we might, they were unable to be found. Since it was late in the afternoon and we were strapped for time, it was time to leave Bra behind.
Having no clue which was the road we had come in on that contained those dazzling Poplar trees, we tried to utilize something new … our instincts. Incredibly, even at our advanced ages, our instincts proved correct, and soon we were stopping at a little parking area near the grove of trees.
Our photographers, Kim and Tracy, scurried out of the car, dodging oncoming traffic, all in the name of photography.
.. because they took some beautiful shots of this area.
Once again the unexpected becomes one of the best moments of a trip.
Back in La Morra, Tracy and I walked a block to the nearby 18th century Chiesa di San Sebastiano. It only took a few minutes to take a look at this small church.
We strolled around the village, and back to Rocche Costamagna. We had a few moments to snooze before wine time on the terrace (wine always trumps sleep). Thanks to a hotel recommendation …
… we walked though town until eventually finding our restaurant for the evening, Locanda Fontanazza Osteria. It was a charming restaurant with quite an interesting and diverse menu.
Mary started with the Galletto e Gallinacci (Cockerel and Gallinacci Mushrooms). I told Mary since she was eating part of a rooster, she better not wake us up early.
She followed that up with swordfish with turnip tops and a cannellini bean cream.
Tracy and Gloria split chicken liver pate on fried brioche with fig jam.
Tracy really enjoyed her traditional homemade Tajarin with veal roast ragout.
I started with traditional homemade ravioli del plan stuffed with goat cheese (Wow). I then ventured way outside my comfort zone with fried calf brains with butter, pumpkin, chicory and almonds. To my relief … it wasn’t bad. I wonder if putting sage on brains would even make you more wiser.
There was also an order of seared lamb chops with peppers and endive, along with pasta with prawns and hummus. Kim ordered Mallard with potatoes and onions. After finishing his Mallard, Kim said he felt “just ducky” and ready to “get down.”
All this plus three bottles of wine amounted to €60 a couple.
The walk back to Rocche Costamagna felt good since we needed the exercise to shed some of the few thousand calories we had consumed.
Sadly, tomorrow would be our final day in Piemonte, which I am trying to convince Tracy would be a great place for us to live out our lives. Greg and Gloria had booked a couple of winery tours, while the Fearsome Foursome would venture in the opposite direction to explore more of Piemonte.
We’d check out the lovely (and, once again, steep) town of Saluzzo and then visit a nearby castle containing some unique frescoes. After lunch, we’d hit our final town, Fossano, where we’d tour for about 90 minutes.
Finally, back in La Morra, we scouted out a surprisingly spectacular local church, while Kim and Mary took one for the team and climbed the tower to get one last beautiful photo of the surrounding fields and vineyards.
Our dinner wound up being the best of the trip (Mai Tai Tom’s International Restaurant of the Year), complete with the greatest pasta dish ever served on planet Earth.
Next: DAY THIRTEEN – Up Up Up, Would You Like To See My Elevator?, I’m Not Going Back Up, A Slight Parking Error, “Master Of The Manta”, Exploring Fossano, Is There Anything To See Here?, This Will be Cool When It’s Finished, International Restaurant Of The Year, 40 Red Eggs and A Very Generous Umbrella Policy