Beautiful Italy, postcards and memories so lovely they needed to be shared. A few short months after starting Back Road Journal, a road trip to Europe was planned by two foodies…myself and my husband. It was September, the weather was great and interesting destinations and delicious food was waiting to be discovered. Take a look back and enjoy.
After spending a few days in Provence, France, my husband and I drove across the nearby Italian border and along the Italian Riviera to the beautiful Mediterranean towns of Portofino and St. Margherita. If you are rich or famous, stay in Portofino. The small village with peach, yellow and terracotta buildings lining the harbor, the square and up high on the rock cliffs that surround the town is wonderful.
Click on any of the photos below to enlarge and see a slide show.
If you are the average tourist like myself and not wealthy, you can plan a day trip and perhaps enjoy a seafood lunch at one of the many cafes or restaurants on the main square called Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta. After lunch, take time to explore the back alleyways of the village and then walk up the steep road to Castello Brown for a wonderful view of the fishing boats and the yachts anchored below.
The seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure, a few miles to the east of Portofino, makes a good base for exploring the coast and is less crowded with tourists and far less expensive than its glamorous neighbor.
Heading inland from the coast, our next stop was the town of Reggio nell’ Emilia. Halfway between Florence and Milan, just south of Parma and north of Bologna, it makes a great base for exploring the Emilia-Romagna region. Again, not as expensive or crowded as its more well known neighbors.
Emilia-Romagna is a foodies paradise as this is the region known for Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Balsamico Tradizionale as well as food specialties such as local porcini mushrooms and erbazonne, a delicious fried spinach filled pastry.
Oh yes, it is also the home of the Ferrari automobile and Formula One racing car factory, in Modena, established by Enzo Ferrari. I guess you could say that this region of Italy is known for fast cars and slow food…something to please everyone.
A two hour drive north brought us to the picturesque resort town of Bardolino on the eastern shore of Lake Garda in northern Italy. It is a charming spot with small fishing boats neatly tied up in the harbor in front of the old town. If you are hungry, skip the tourist restaurants on the crowded main street. Instead, head down one of the side streets and you will discover small sidewalk cafes where you can enjoy a light and fruity glass of Bardolino wine and seafood specialties fresh from the lake.
If the weather is nice, you might want to take the ferry to some of the other charming towns around Lake Garda such as Desenzano, Sirmione or Gardone Riviera.
Leaving Bardolino, it is just a short hour and a half drive north to the historic yet cosmopolitan city of Bolzano. It is the capital of the province of Alto Adige also known as South Tyrol. The city is located in a large valley surrounded by mountains. It is called “the gateway to the Dolomites” and is a very pleasant town to use as a base for exploring the region.
The center of town is dominated by the gothic cathedral with a beautiful roof and a two hundred foot tall bell tower and spire. It is across from Walther Square which is lined with restaurants and outdoor cafes that seem to be the gathering spot for locals as well as visitors.
The quaint little town of Bressanone/Brixen is twenty-five miles north of Bolzano. It is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by orchards as far as you can see and large vineyards growing up the slopes of the nearby mountains.
Just off the main piazza, we discovered the oldest restaurant in town, Finsterwirt – Oste Scuro, where we had a wonderful lunch. It has a charming antique, wood paneled dining room but since the weather was beautiful we decided on the cosy terrace on the inner courtyard. The service was excellent and the food was inventive and delicious.
Our final stop in the Alto Adige was in the heart of the spectacular Dolomites, the mountainous region known for hiking and skiing. Our base was the town of Ortisei, located in the Val Gardena about twenty minutes from the Brenner Autostrada.
The Alto Adige has huge Germanic influence, (it was part of Austria before WWI) and that can be seen in its buildings, alpine chalets with cattle grazing in the meadows, in the spoken language and also in the local food.
One day during our stay at the Hotel Gardena, we accompanied the two sommeliers, Franz Lageder and Egon Perathoner, from the hotel’s Michelin starred restaurant to the well known wine producer, Tramin. The town of Termeno/Tramin, origin of the Gewürztraminer grape variety, is part of the Alto Adige Wine Road. Willi Sturz, the winemaker, lead us through various wine tastings then took our small group to their most prized vineyard in the high foothills. We had a lunch right in the vineyard of speck (smoked ham), parmesan cheese and bread to go along with more wines from the famous producer. It was definitely a memorable experience.
Italy was wonderful, from the seaside towns in the south to the amazing mountains in the north. It was a journey on the back roads that took us to places that I yearn to return to and hopefully someday we will. As I start this new year of blogging, I’m already looking forward to our next adventure this fall. Tickets are bought and we will be on a plane before we know it…I hope you will be following along.
I hope that my postcards of wonderful moments, beautiful scenery and delicious food that I shared with you in this post will inspire you to explore not only the famous Italian cities of Rome, Florence and Venice as most tourists do but that you will also explore the lesser known cities, towns and quaint villages with their beautiful architecture and history. Beautiful Italy is where memories are made that will last you a lifetime.