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10 March 2014 1,593 views No Comment


photo 2At the last minute, Nad switched our agro-tourism, country b&b for a town centre, marble & chandelier apartment. You should go to Mantua just to stay in these apartments, they are unreal. Huge, cleverly designed, inspirationally decadent. Over the course of the weekend we successfully made the most of our posh abode. We had buffet breakfasts at the lovely glass dining table, chandelier chinking overhead (I was convinced it was going to fall down) and we used all the best Alessi tableware. We lounged variously on cushy leather sofas with assorted cushions and throws, and used all the gorgeous bathroom stuff so that we smelt heavenly. Staying somewhere delightful is such a nice thing to do when you have the time to hang around and enjoy it. Otherwise I maintain there’s nothing wrong with a Travel Lodge :)

take a break

Mantua is in Lombardy, the region next to Piemonte. The town isn’t far from Verona or Lake Garda, and is actually positioned between two lakes. This weekend the rain and the bump prohibited any major sight-seeing or sport-doing so instead we committed to a gastro weekend, which is a sensible choice anyway in the land of risotto!

country living

Nad spoke to his best friend, Trip Advisor, and decided we should go to Il Grifone Bianco for dinner on Friday night. The cobbled and archway-ed streets of Mantua are very pretty in the evening with lots of lantern shaped street lights and the colossal churches up-lit. It was also drizzling so there were twinkles everywhere. Il Grifone Bianco is tucked into the corner of one of the squares; not a plus point for passing trade and consequently a plus point if you want a quieter dinner. It was all classic Italy – super courteous service, simple furniture, stimulating style features (a big mosaic hanging from the ceiling for example), brilliant menu. For appetiser Nad had cappone, (that’s castrated cock, mmm!) marinaded in balsamic vinegar and served with baby leaves. photo 3My appetiser mostarda, a local speciality of apple chutney served with 24 month matured crumbling Parmigiano-Reggiano. The condiment is the highlight here, the apples are from wild orchards specific to Lombardy, they’re sliced, mixed with honey and mustard and left to meld together to make chutney loveliness. The next day, when we saw more mostarda in the shops we found variations on strength and some options with pear instead. Anyhow, trust an Italian for your chutney because this was delicious, and exactly perfect with the Parmesan in terms of texture and taste. For prima Nad took agnoli (think baby ravioli) with chicken in broth, he said it was nice and light. Mine was garganelli (a shape similar to penne) with monkfish. They weren’t shy with the fish and it was really tasty. I’m not sure either of us needed secondo but such is the temptation of a well written menu and a comfortable atmosphere… Nad had pike – fresh from Mantua’s lake, with salsa verde and soft polenta, I had baccala – current front runner on the fish front for me – with baby glazed onions and fried polenta. Our weekend was off to an excellent start :)

gardener’s world

Thank goodness for comfortable beds and good nights sleep or we might not have felt like having breakfast the next day! We’d been lolling around the apartment for a while before we looked out of the window and saw the most beautiful sight – the photo 1farmers’ market. And suddenly we were dressed impressively quickly. There was a biting wind and spotting rain but everyone was in very infectious good spirits. The very first two stalls were Parmesan and apples which made us smile since we were by now well-genned in local knowledge. The cheesemonger (who’s name probably sounds a lot more artistic in Italian) had brought three giant Parmesans to the market to sell that day. He started a new one for us and it was fascinating to watch how he scored and sliced to break the wheel into ever small chunks. One wheel he said would sell for 500 Euros. So you’ll understand how much scoring and slicing he had to undertake to sell us a 12 Euro chunk! Up and down the market there were oils & vinegars, bread, dried meats, fresh herbs, salad and vegetables and more cheeses. Like all markets it was pungent, colourful and bustling, very good fun. After a coffee sharpener we went back to luxury-on-first for a super wicked breakfast buffet. The fresh apples, by the way, were crispy and juicy and turned brown really quickly. Perfect for preserving!


Mantua reminded me a lot of Turin with its cobbled streets, magnificent buildings tucked around corners and lively cafe culture. I said to Nad that it never fails to surprise me how going somewhere new teaches me a lot about where I actually live; opens my eyes. Unfortunately we didn’t see Mantua at its best because of the rain. Nad ran around the lake and said it was nice, I saw it briefly and it looked perfect for a paddle (as in kayaking). But when the weather’s against you, what ya gonna do… graze n chill.

good living

To avoid a deluge we went to a quirky osteria near the castle. The decor was a bit random and funky which we enjoyed and there was a good combination of lively people in for lunch. We ate well, pasta then steak and chips for Nad – I think the giant cow painting helped to influence his choice. I took a mixed salad (raw fennel heaven) and gnocchi with seafood ragout that arrived looking totally different to now I expected. The ragout was chunky – mussels in shells, whole baby octopus, good chunks of white fish, and a rich tomato sauce. The gnocchi were mega large dumplings, and it was all arranged beautifully.

Saturday evening, to take a break from Italian flavours we went for sushi. It was good. Not amazing, but good, and it did make a change.


To break up the drizzly Sunday drive home we stopped for lunch at Locanda del Artiste in a tiny town that looked all shut up – not unlike a Western movie. It was awesome to walk into this stylish, rustic restaurant with clever photo 1touches (the menu is a paint palette), smart young staff and a very inviting wine cellar. Now, wierdly, I cannot remember what we ate. I have recollection that I had a local pasta dish with vegetables that was very delicious but the details, and anything beyond that escape me entirely. We always natter and laugh at lunch but perhaps this time it was so much that it distracted from the food. Shocker!

Another pit stop on the way home in Alba to meet friends for tea. We hit jackpot here ordering mixed antipasto for the whole table and watching wide eyed as dish after dish came out. Grilled vegetables, mixed cheeses, sausages and meat selections, piles of grissini, and – to applause from me – insalata russa, my new Number One reason for living in Italy :)

grazia ;)

I reckon if you’re gonna have a weekend of indulgence you might as well leave your judgement at the door, crack on, undo a few buttons and enjoy it. We did. Go running and clean the house another time, give yourself an indulgent break…

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