If you’re keeping track, we just left Lago di Como and are enroute to vicinity Verona in the Veneto. We knew that Bergamo was on our route and we planned to stop there for an early afternoon snack before continuing on to Verona. What we didn’t realize is the Valpolicella region of the Veneto is so beautiful and inviting…but I digress. So we left Bellagio around 12PM and began are drive to Verona with a planned mid-afternoon Bergamo walk around and snack. We found our way to Bergamo Alta around 1;45pm to get caught in the middle of a cycling event that had traffic all choked up. We relaxed and slowly worked our way up to the top of this amazing hilltop town.
(Photo Bergamo from Wikipedia)
Bergamo is about 24 miles northeast of Milan and home to over 120,000 inhabitants. She lies just south of the Italian Alps. Originally founded as a Celtic settlement, it became a Roman municipality and has the dubious distinction of being one of the many cities destroyed by Attila the Hun in the 5th century. What remains of Alt Bergamo was mostly built in the middle ages and is an amazing, romantic and delightful medieval hilltop city. We walked its streets and enjoyed a small festival focusing on gardens and small herbs and flowers. Just the beginning of our hill-top town adventure.
Searching out a late lunch we happened upon Il Fornaio, a pizza palace if there ever was one. Tray upon tray of pizza of every combination you could imagine. Cheese, Salumi, Artichoke, Truffle, Prosciutto, and on and on and on! We ordered one each and went upstairs to the dining area to relax. Wonderful!
A perfect respite from the rigors of autostrada driving. We loaded up and headed west toward Verona. Within an hour we were on the Veronese outskirts and finding our way to B&B Relais La Caminella our next resting place. The GPS got us close but the finer details were not forthcoming, so phoning our hosts, we were guided in like air traffic control and Andrea Alberti was waving his arms as we came into his view. In late afternoon, after a couple of hour drive there is nothing more welcoming than the arm waving of your hosts!
Andrea and Rafaella Alberti welcomed us to their recently renewed B&B. They have two beautiful children, Nicolas and Rosa, who help create the warmth and hominess of this exceptional property.
We didn’t do that.
But Verona does have a rich real history and is a beautiful city with extraordinary examples of Roman and Medieval architecture and actual Roman basalt streets and structures buried about 2 meters under the current street level. It also has a Roman Arena completed around 30 AD. It is the third largest in Italy and remains open for tours. The Arena is used for Opera and other theatrical and musical performances through the year.
They were tearing down the stage and lighting equipment when we arrived as their Opera Season finale had occurred the night before. In its day, the Arena held the entire population of Verona..about 25,000 people. Now the city has a quarter million inhabitants and the metro area is about 750,000.
We had a very relaxing walking tour of many of the cities churches, Roman Gates, like the Porta Borsari completed in 245 AD and many gardens. The city is very friendly and easy to navigate with a simply street map that we acquired from Rafaella that morning.
On are way back to La Caminella the skies broke loose and we were drenched by the time we were inside. This was the first of two days were rain intruded on our meanderings but the timing was perfect as we settled in for our afternoon siesta.
Rafaella and Andrea graciously found us another wonderful place to dine on this Sunday evening. Not a small feat as many restaurants in this grape growing area of the Valpolicella close on Sunday and Monday. Our destination was Trattoria Alla Rosa – Restaurant Scamperle in Fumane just about 5 miles from La Caminella. The first directions we were given by the Alberti’s just didn’t seem to be working and in the deluge of rain and in the dark we were hungry and desperate. We called Andrea and he quickly realized they gave us the wrong directions. Recognizing our bit of panic, rather than send us out on another goose chase, he told us to wait where we were and jumped in his car to meet us and lead us to the restaurant. I tell this to help my readers understand the warmth and caring that Andrea and Rafaella showed us throughout our stay. Just wonderful and gracious hosts.
Now safely dry, the rain had stopped, and comfortably seated we were in for another dining experience. Unlike the previous evening at Groto Corgnan, where we were regaled with the combination of haute cuisine and the freshest of seasonal ingredients, at Alla Rosa, we where equally impressed with the freshness and quality of the more simple but wonderful fare. Again, black truffles led the way as we enjoyed an antipasta of cheese filled wild mixed mushrooms topped with shaved black truffles. Unlike many US versions of this standard, there was no over flowing of different flavors. What set it apart was the 2 or 3 flavors that are highlighted and distinct rather than heavy and over bearing. We shared entrees of Shrimp and Arugula Ravioli and creamy concoction of potatoes and mushrooms (truffles) in a light and flakey philo type pastry with Monte Veronese cheese. This second dish was called Fagottino ai Funghi su Funduta!! Mouthwateringly wonderful in presentation and flavor.
These colorful and wonderfully simple entrees were accompanied by our new favorite wine from Vapolicella. Allegrini is one of the largest and most well know producers from the area. I have been told by one expert advisor to think Robert Mondavi in the late 80’s-90’s. High quality and volume at reasonable prices. The specific bottle was the Palazzo Della Torre made from Corvina and Rondinella, the principle grapes in Valpolicella but in this case a typical wine, IGT, rather than a DOC(G) from Valpolicella. This wine paired so well with these dishes it is hard to image a better pairing.
We followed, of course with the Dolci! Again, Alla Rosa amazed us with the sophistication and distinct flavors in their desserts. Linda had a Bigne with Chantilly Cream and Chocolate Fonduta. I had a Semifreddo Zambione Prune reduction sauce (Recioto). I was in heaven.
The trip back to La Caminella was much less exciting but we were happy to be safely back in our room and preparing for our morning departure. After the usual delightful breakfast and wonderful coffee, Rafaella helped us with appointments at two wineries for tasting. The two we chose were well-known and widely distributed in the US, Allegrini and Masi. As this was a Monday morning and we hadn’t made reservations well in advance we were lucky to get in. We were very pleased with the tastings in both locations. The Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre is a beautiful historic property and we had the chance to walk the grounds. We purchased a couple of bottles in their cantina and enjoyed our conversation with Karina, a Norwegian woman who was very knowledgeable about Italian Wines including those from the Barolo.
At Masi we were equally impressed with our host, Marti. She waxed eloquently about the Masi and Sergio Alighieri wines (the Dante descendent) which they manage and market for the Alighieri family. The tasting room was filled with travelers from Germany, Belgium, Canada and of course we two Americans. The variety and price ranges of the wines offered here were perfect. We thoroughly enjoyed the Valpolicella Classico and the Amarone Classico that we purchased to take home.
Alas, our time was running out and we needed to begin our drive through Modena on our way to our next resting place in Parma, Emilia-Romagna. Join me when the next story in the series titled Valpolicella to Prosciutto – Verona to Parma, appears at this site. Thanks for reading.