As we walked out the door the other day we encountered Angelo yapping with the garbage man. “Il Capitano” greeted us warmly, and the foodie king of our village quickly informed us of the big porcini festival in Borgotaro, or Borgo Val di Taro, or just Borgo Taro. Yes, the call-it-what-you-will little town has been awarded the IGT designation for its mushrooms
You can get there by train from the Lunigiana. After the train stops at Pontremoli it leaves Tuscany for the Emilia Romagna province of Parma. You don’t see much of it; the train mainly sways through long tunnels before emerging into the sunlight in the Val Taro right before the village of Borgotaro.
The town of around 8000 people is jammed with gastronomic treasures during the late September festival, including early truffles and the vaunted porcini. Borgotaro is home to what many believe are the best, il fungo di Borgotaro.
18 bars participate in bringing you the traditional food, drink, and porcini.
And that’s what we’ve come to see.
Here’s Some Food From the Trattoria Al Fondo
What? Bacon and Fries? No, that’s not right. pancetta and fried porcini caps is more like it, and boy did they go together like nobody’s business.
The last day of the festival is today. Plan for next year. Really. I got me a real nice donkey salami. You don’t get that every day.
Let’s say the sun is shining. You’re in the Cinque Terre. You’re feeling a bit peckish.
You want a bit of food, a view that lets you know you’re not in Cleveland, and a wine that will make you crazy happy.
Go somewhere that will get all your senses in an uproar. Somewhere you feel fully alive. Somewhere wine glasses crash and scatter their shards but you are so happy you can only manage a silly grin. These are times nobody sleeps. Nessun Dorma.
Nessun Dorma is a restaurant in Monarola which, like Tastevere KmZero in Rome, doesn’t have a stove. Or maybe they have one but don’t use it. On a warm summer day who needs hot food when there’s the famous anchovies, olives, cheese, artisan cured pig parts, capers and other stuff gathered and fished for.
For a mere 28 euro you can chow down on the signature appetizer plate. Four meats, cheeses, anchovies, fruit, olives. It’s not really a “plate” but a big old slab of wood larger than most people’s cutting boards and it’s loaded with good eats. More than enough for 3 or 4. Add a bottle of the crisp house white and it’ll only set you back another 14 euro. There are salads, bruschette, sandwiches, and desserts.
Gaze at the sea, the village, or your sweet honey across the table. It’s all good.
Let’s talk about them tables, eh? They have these odd, wide slots in them. Your wine glass will sit perfectly still when you span those slots with the base of one. But if someone where to bump the table, just a little bit, then the glass will fall and shatter on the floor, which is also slotted so that trying to slide your chair up to the table will become a daunting task. We witnessed four shattered glasses. Only one came from our table. It happens all the time, the waitress explained. We could tell. Nobody cares. It keeps the glass people employed.
I highly recommend Nessun Dorma for the food, the people watching, the village staring, the wine, and the laid back attitude as the glasses shatter. Expect to wait for a table. Apparently other people like it too.
Località Punta Bonfiglio
As you pass through “downtown” Manarola, keep to your right as you reach the port and head up the ridge where you see the tables and umbrellas and hear the smashing wine glasses.
The restaurant is in the region of Liguria. Ask any tourist and they won’t know that. It is also in the Cinque Terre, which they know like it’s the password to eternal bliss.
There’s a very likely chance you haven’t heard of Campiglia Marittima. It’s in Tuscany. It’s not as famous as Florence, but once stood head and shoulders with the great Tuscan cities.
If you were to intelligently veer off the beaten tourist track and decide to visit the Etruscan Coast to see not only the ancient and intricately planned tombs and quarries but to learn of early metallurgy going on here centuries before Christ—in between your visits hedonistic visits to pristine beaches of course—you might, near the end of your trip, develop a hankering for a medieval hill town with castle ruins, flowers, narrow lanes, and very good food.
Welcome to Campiglia Marittima. The “Marittima” added to the old town name reminds you of its Maremma pedigree.
Let’s say you end up in the Piazza della Repubblica. You might think. “Oh, how nice” at seeing this view:
When you take this picture, on the left of you will be a bar with gelato. They have a gelato for dogs. Honest. I don’t think you can get your dog a cone though. On the right side of you is another bar and a very good restaurant, La Tavernetta. If it’s a hot day, have the warm calamari over a citrus salad with shaved fennel. Fantastic, as are the pastas. In front of you is the 13th century Palazzo Pretorio, festooned with coats of arms of the city’s 15th and 16th century Podestàs.
Inside the Palazzo Pretorio is the Archaeology Museum and the Mineral Museum.
Then snake your way up the hill. Eventually you’ll end up at the castle ruins. It’s a window upon the world, and a Romanesque window at that.
Take a good look around while you’re up there. There’s a lot of interesting landscape to look out upon. Then snake your way back down. There are lots of arches, overhangs, odd doors painted in even odder colors, and there are flowers aplenty. People take pride in this town.
Ain’t it just about the prettiest little village you can imagine? It holds just over 13,000 people at the moment. The plague reduced the population of the city to a mere 316.
And the outside of the tourist office is quite nice.
But eventually you’ll want to go learn something. Just north of Campiglia Marittima is the Parco Archeominerario (the Archaeological Mines Park) and the Rocca di San Silvestro. The Rocca is a 10th century fortified castle. The mine tour is something else:
“An evocative kilometre long mine train ride through the mountain along the Lanzi-Temperino Tunnel, with an explanation along the way of what life inside it was like for the miners. The presentation is in Italian, but you can collect an English information sheet at the ticket office that will tell you everything that the guide says during the trip.” ~ Campiglia Marittima Tuscany Italy from the Marrema Guide.
The Travel Curmudgeon distills the common definition of Bellagio [Italy] into a bristly nub
Bellagio, Italy, they tell me, is a very romantic place—the kind of place you go to kindle the flames of passion with your sweet honey while looking over the still waters and seeing, despite the tiny ripples, the reflection of a clear and perfect sky before you turn and your lips meet those of your honey as if by magic, as if they were two puffy clouds merging into one.
My wife Martha, who has other ideas and runs Martha’s Italy, describes Bellagio as “Set in an ideal position where the two legs of Lake Como come together.”
So, if you see Lake Como as a man running joyously with his head thrown back as the wind rumples his sweats, yes, then Bellagio is right there, in The Crotch as it were.
If you are romantic you take the boat to the crotch of Como Romanticism, trying to ignore the redhead taking a picture.
The Milanese flock to Lake Come and Bellagio in Summer because nights tend to cool down impressively, compared to the humid darkness that descends in summer evenings upon the urban jungle where they work. Italians seem to need quite a bit less sleep then Americans, so they’ll be up most of the night slurping gelato, drinking spritzes, and perhaps waltzing the Ferrari up a side road.
Don’t go then.
Go in fall. That’s when the Milanese get tired of making the trek to Como and the lake goes all gooey on you. You know, when the mists hang over the wine-dark waters and you see a little boat bobbing in the distance and suddenly you feel your neck hairs bristling from your brain feeling that sublime combination of fear and excitement as if something’s really, really, going to happen, going to draw you in, going to explode on you so that your life is changed forever…
It’s time for another picture, isn’t it?
Of course, you might be disappointed in the Autumn sunsets you see from romantic Bellagio. They need photoshopping to turn them into the brilliant, “Look at me, I’m Unnatural!” cloak of the night-walker late for her stint as second-rate pole dancer. No. The sunsets are muted, mysterious, entrancing. Black silk teddy, pink slipper hanging off a barely painted toe, snifter of limpid, golden cognac held carelessly between twin forked fingers on that oddly familiar hand…
Ok, so you want a list of things to do. It’s the “industry standard” of pole-dancing editors.
Villa Melzi, 1808, reached by a walk along the lakeside promenade, has a park with sculptures and garden known for its beautiful azaleas and rhododendrons. It’s open from the end of March through beginning of November and admission includes the museum and neo-classical chapel.
San Giacomo Church, built between 1075 and 1125, is at the pinnacle of the historic center. The church is Lombard Romanesque style and offers mosaics, a 12th century cross, and a 15th century triptych.
Villa Serbelloni Park, above the historic center, has an 18th century garden and great views of the lake. It’s open April through November 2. A combination ticket includes admission to the Museum of Navigational Instruments, just in case you’ve lost your way.