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8 June 2014 6,583 views No Comment

garden of Italy

Cortemilia is one of the little towns in the rolling Piedmontese hills. It’s truly beautiful here. There are vineyards and hazelnut trees on the slopes, maize and other grains on the flatlands and charming, mostly stone architecture holding everything together, all peppered with red & magenta geraniums & azaleas inbetween. photo 2I don’t typically enjoy time in the car but driving around here is a real pleasure, very easy going on the senses. And Nad had it one better because he went bike riding too. It sounded wonderful. Since it was 30+ degrees and bump is 36 weeks now, sitting and little bits of waddling were all I could manage. Nice then that mum was there to keep me company.

We stayed at this great little hotel – Villa San Carlo – a family run place that takes welcoming and accommodating to a new level. The restaurant is superb and they have a gorgeous garden with herbs, roses and a crispy swimming pool.

table of excellence

So, dinner… Naturally Cortemilia and Le Langhe (this region) have their own produce and consequently their preferred dishes and methods of cooking. Here, hazelnuts rule supreme and the Villa San Carlo chef who likes “traditional dishes but with my own twist, often making them lighter”, loves including hazelnuts in his dishes. I went for the full four courses: Garden of Cortemilia – a fresh pea cream served with chopped hazelnuts, herbs and flowers and little ‘rocks’ which were semolina and Parmesan – all delicious. Next I had an original chef’s creation – gnocchi bricks (actually stacked like Jenga) with caramelised hazelnuts and Parmesan served with sage. It was sticky and stodgy and rich. Tuma is a cheese that was new to me, it’s soft and fluffy, and here had been covered in chopped hazelnuts and cooked lightly in the oven I think. It melted in the mouth; it was glorious; I talked about it for days. There were lots of desserts to choose from, I went for fresh apple sorbet which came with garden mint; a great finisher.

man of many talents

Nad and mum did well too. Nad went with fried gnocchi on a cream that we all agreed had a curry flavour. Amatriciana for primo and a veal steak with onions and sauce so caramelised and rich he said it was like French cooking. Mum also had the Amatriciana, the pasta was fresh and the sauce was light, she said it was great. There was more caramelised onion action for mum, hers with pork and peppers. She had the apple sorbet too, but hers was served super special and accompanied by the chef playing piano and singing because it was her birthday. We had a little bit of sparkling rosé and a bottle of Barbaresco decanted into a long, snail shaped bottle. Of course there was the amuse bouche and petite fours to squeeze in… Fresh mint tortilla and spinach pastries to whet our appetite and a hazelnut selection for mini dessert – sugar coated, chocolate covered and meringue-d. All very wonderful. The chef’s work was absolutely unreal, and when he started playing piano too – a full medley of Italian hits – we were all in awe. What a guy!

field of dreams

photo 1The sitting around the swimming pool was a real pleasure. It’s so peaceful here, and the water was so cool, it really was just what we needed. But the countryside is beautiful to see too. Nad sweated it out cycling to Roccaverano and we followed in the car. His route sounded great and ours definitely was, we followed a single track road for much of the way (that’s what el sat navo said to do!), going through avenues of trees, past big hazelnut fields, getting up close to stone buildings, skirting alongside vineyards and over streams. It really was a good, proper wholesome adventure.

land of plenty

Roccaverano is a tiny village perched on top of a hill with an incredible outlook over Le Langhe. There were lots of motorbikers here, and quite a few cyclists too. There’s one main piazza with a giant church and a small bar/ coffee shop. Nad had made himself at home there, with a group of Germans and some locals drinking prosecco, and there was a cruisy, friendly Sunday atmosphere. I was saying to mum though, that I can’t imagine living somewhere like this, yes so gorgeous but also so far from anything else. Maybe my survival instinct isn’t what it should be but I like a bit more infrastructure around me for actual day-to-day.

Cortemilia was also a lovely looking town, closer to the valley with lots of little streets and piazzas to explore, bridges to walk across and tucked up shops to nose in. Unfortunately it was too hot for hanging around so we just took in what we could as we drove through. So, heading back to the city (although I still think of Turin as a big town), and amazed again at the interesting, diverse, satisfying destinations that are all within this one region of Italy. Marvellous.

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