Follow along on my two-week Italian Journey that entails a return after being away for two years.
I felt an interesting melange of emotions while navigating COVID tests, multiple country documents and timing. Naturally, I had excitement thinking about plans in Italy and the amazing food, wine and meandering that I would experience. Yet, I also had anxiety over the unknown – would I arrive as anticipated or would I encounter hiccups because of tests and Italian or German documentation. This is new terrain for all of us.* Yet, I did it, and successfully; I left and entered European land, through Germany and to Italy. I had butterflies (farfalle) the entire time; this was my first trip in almost two years! Yet, the calm stillness flying over the Alps and my delicious glass of Rose allowed me to savor the journey better. (*A future article will come on navigating this new process of travel. See recent blog Tips to travel in Italy.)
Trentino – the Italian journey beginning
Days 1 and 2 – After landing in Torino, I made my way east and north to Trentino – Alto Adige area. Specifically, I went to visit the tiny villages of Smarano and Coredo in search of information about my family ancestors. My great grandparents left these villages, part of the Val di Non, for the US in the early 1900s. I did not find all the information about my family; however I learned about the process, while sitting among the locals at the Hotel Antica Torre in Smarano, sipping and savoring the plethora of Speck and cheese that they put in front of me. When I am in Italy, I know I will never go hungry.
Asking numerous questions about my family, I realized that our family names – Casari and Recla – were quite common. Kind of like Gallo or Smith. All their birth and death records were prior to 1922, and therefore the churches maintained them. I needed more time to dig and get all the documents that was going to require more time than just two days. So, in that moment, I decided to put the search on hold and enjoy the villages, Lago di Tovel and its scenery and the boutique family-run Albergo Tuenno where I was staying. This hotel was a gem. Client service, Lagrein red wine and apple torta were to die for there. From Trentino, Lagrein is a must try if you haven’t already. The day was like mini pieces of art and if you have not been to northern Italy’s Trentino then quickly put that on your bucket list.
Sitting at Lago di Tovel Chalet Tovel, Lago di Tovel Lago di Tovel, Val di Non Val di Non, Trentino-Alto Adige Peering out the window of Albergo Tuenno Outside Albergo Tuenno
Arrival to Piedmont – the Italian journey continues
I arrived – sono arrivata – to Piedmont after a 5.5+ hour drive from Trentino – actually a little longer with the espresso and other necessity breaks, like picking up some grissini at a local shop along the way. Love, love, love grissini which are a mainstay here in Piedmont. My favorites are ones at a local panetteria. Yet on my journey, when I stopped, I found Bacoli grissini, which was the perfect accompaniment for the drive. I admit I am obsessed with grissini.
The views driving and arriving into Barolo and Dogliani, both places that I will call home for two weeks, are breathtaking. With clear weather, you can even see Monte Viso (Monviso) in the distance. Arriving later in the day only allowed me to stop at the grocery store for next morning essentials – coffee, fruit, water, eggs. I am staying at a small apartment which sits smack in the middle of the village of Dogliani, the area known for Dolcetto wine, a little hidden gem. Dolcetto goes perfectly with the grissini and local fig jam I brought back from Trentino. The apartment also allows me to wake up to the local church bells, and then hear them again at noon signaling lunch. What bliss this is!
Slowing down the pace in Dogliani
Being here in Piedmont, Italy is not just about wine and food. (Seriously, it isn’t.) It’s also about slowing down, exploring, the unknown, the people who you encounter serendipitously. Those – a beautiful dome on the historic church, a moment captured of myself in the square to remember later, narrow walking streets, bells chiming – are the best things.
On my walk today in the old part of the village of Dogliani (pronounced dough – le – on – ee) where I am staying, the castello, I noticed things that I didn’t yesterday on the same walk – the doors, the buildings! Why? A different mindset today maybe. Five days after arriving maybe today I am finally slowing down more. It takes time…to slow down. Time – right now I finally have it. I just want to bottle it up.
The apartment in which I am staying allows me the quiet and peace also. No hustle and bustle from an active hotel. To apartment or not – that is the question I often ask myself when traveling abroad. Many pros and cons to renting an apartment versus staying in a hotel. I love to put myself among the local people to hear them through the day, talk to them, learn new things from them. It can be more isolating but that is exactly what I wanted.
Since I am in the historic part, Castello Dogliani, the only noises that I hear are from neighbors and cars far below traveling about, going to work or the local bar for a coffee or aperitivo! Being here allows me to write each day in the quiet with espresso, wine and my favorite, grissini. Yes, I eat more than that!
A new restaurant just under my apartment is preparing to open. The owner who also owns my apartment invited me in for a look at it. With eagerness and joy, they gave me a sneak peek at the cellar and collection as they know I love collecting older wines. “Cosa tu pensi” – “what do you think,” he asked. Hmmmm – amazing! The only sad part about this is the restaurant will open one week after I have departed. Look at some of the amazing shots.
Casa del Maestro courtyard View from bottom of wine cellar Inside view of cellar storage Casa del Maestro Wine Collection
To Barolo village on the Italian journey
Piedmont Italy is a region comprised of many different towns and villages. I had a lovely one-week peaceful stay in the village of Dogliani. I moved my second week to the renowned area Barolo, which is comprised of 11 villages, and made my home Villa Giobatta within the Barolo village of Barolo. Villa Giobatta is a restored historic property that is owned by the Burlotto family and was once home to the great famlies who worked in the vineyards. This four-bedroom house, which sits only a 10-minute walk outside of the Barolo village center, exudes stories and history. That coupled by its stateliness and the hospitality of the family told me the week in this home would be exquisite.
One of my first visits in Barolo was with Chiara Boschis, one of the most remarkable women winemakers in Italy, and specifically Barolo. To spend a couple of hours with her was bliss! You know that feeling when you instantly connect with someone, like you’ve known them forever? Well that happened!
She is the woman who has paved the way for other women in wine in Barolo. She was the only woman in the Barolo Boys, a group of “rebel” boutique winemakers who in the 1980s and 1990s elevated the image of Barolo wine. The Barolo Boys was later turned into a film! I love to collect and sip wine too! We know collecting and sipping renowned wines like Barolo is not just for men and Chiara elevated that. Thank you Chiara for letting me taste your new and not yet released wines, being a great icon in the industry and being so darn nice.
Cannubi in Barolo
I have been busy busy in Barolo! Its stunning landscape, quiet villages and plethora of pasta with truffles are a few reasons I love this area. Also it’s not as packed as some of the other more famed wine regions and is only 20 minutes from the International Truffle Fair in Alba.
Many of you may be asking – what is this Barolo I keep hearing Jessica share. Barolo is a region in Piedmont, Italy that also carries the same name as its famed wine Barolo. It is about an hour drive south of Turin (Torino).
Barolo also then drills down even more into 11 (villages) like Barolo village, Monforte d’Alba, La Morra, just to name a few. Within these, there are then vineyard sites with specific names, like Cannubi, where I am standing in the photo.
Barolo is made from the grape Nebbiolo. Its stunning landscape is often covered in fog (Nebbia in Italian) in the early morning waking hours. The Barolo village itself, like the other villages, is quaint, walkable and home to one of the most historic producers – Borgogno. Borgogno has passed to different families since it began in the late 1700s, only 200+ years old! The family of Chiara Boschis owned it also, from the 1960s until the Farnetti family bought it in 2008. Do you know the Farinettis? Well the Farinetti family started the interntaional success Eataly.
Venturing out to Cissone
Obviously there is more to see than just the Dogliani and Barolo villages. That is where Cissone and Gavi enter. Cissone is a tiny area, maybe a population of 100, which you would miss if you did not have good directions.
I learned about Cissone and Azienda Agricola Vivalda Bruno e Romina about five years ago, and am so glad I did. Romina and her father Bruno, who just passed away in early 2021, are the epitome of a small family farm run with passion and love! Romina and her daughter, along with a help from only a few others, now make it all happen. She grows her hazelnuts to sell at the farm and carts the rest to a cooperative where they may be used for hazelnut liqueur or other Piemontese culinary treasures. She makes great local wine – Favorita is my fave. Sadly we can’t get Romina’s wines back here in the U.S., so I always ship a ton back.
Romina’s farm and winery are off the beaten path. So off the path that I actually missed the turn this time. You would not just stumble upon her hazelnut farm on a Sunday drive, or any drive for that matter. I, or someone else, must give you directions. Even then you might miss it like I did. But once you arrive and meet her you will see why I love her. In this trip I brought my friends there, and they instantly fell in love with her, and a little nocciole liqueur.
She and her story are inspirations for other women of all ages. She makes it all happen with a beautiful charm and smile! You must visit her.
Going farther out to Gavi
Do you know her, Gavi, a crazy beautiful area in Piedmont? Well she is about 1.5 hours due east of Alba. I was lucky to be smack dab in the middle of Gavi at Villa Sparina one of my few favorite makers of Gavi, the white wine with the same name as the area. Gavi is made from a grape called Cortese.
Arriving there on the most rainy and foggy day of the trip still proved to be beautiful. (Thankfully I was not driving.) Villa Sparina is a wine producer and also a resort and spa where you can stay. No need to leave. And they dry their own meats – fabulous; I shipped some back to recreate my day back home!
Oh and a little fashion side note – I was super thrilled to wear my Jeffrey Campbell red boots that match the same color of the leaves painting the side of the villa. (See in one of the photos.) If you want to visit let me know. Owner Stefano and his siblings are THE most hospitable. Side note: if you haven’t tried Gavi, step out of your comfort zone and give it a swirl and a sip!
Back to Canale
Did you know Italian sparkling wines are not just Prosecco? That is true!
Well, I continued celebrating in Italy with these “other” bubbles (known as Alta Langa or Metodo Classico) and oysters with Winemaker Giorgio Rivetti, owner of one of the oldest classic method sparking wine houses in Piedmont, Contratto. Contratto is located in Piedmont’s Canale region within the Cuneo province. I felt pretty special with Giorgio who is well known and respected in Piedmont, actually internationally!
I took my two friends to visit Contratto and Giorgio, who, full of charisma, shared his passion for the great care he takes in making wine, from anything he touches in the vineyard and cellar. No wonder the Contratto bubbles are so darn good. This care is shown in his smaller production wines. Not mass produced. I will toast to that!
We sat with Giorgio and Elisa, my friend and Giorgio’s export director, with no time constraints, just sipping away talking about life. Giorgio opened some special wines for us, a toast as he says for my birthday. I met Giorgio about 5 years ago and have been friends since then.
Giorgio and I at Contratto Tulay Lawton & Giorgio Friends at Contratto Contratto Novecento 2011 Bubbles ready for riddling Contratto Special Cuvee 2012 Wine Cellar
Giorgio is always very proud, yet humble, of his work at Contratto and La Spinetta, his other family winery, as well as at his two wine restaurants, Ape, in Alba and Santa Stefano Belbo. After our visit, we headed over to Ape Santa Stefano Belbo, where we sat and chatted with Giorgio for hours about many things wine and business, obviously over Contratto bubbles and none other than oyster, Giorgio’s favorite food.