Pietra Ligure (Liguria), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

Leaving Lago Le Tamerici we drove north; making for Camping dei Fiori, a campsite in Pietra Ligure which I think is part of the Pian dei Boschi hotel complex. We would stay in Pietra Ligure for just one night as we were due in the small French town of Monteux the following day. Vanya had booked us into Monteux’s Hotel Le Blason De Provence, a highly recommended boutique hotel just outside of Monteux on the road to Carpentras. We were going to spoil ourselves for two or three days but more about that later. First, let me write a little about Pietra Ligure. I really liked the place and will most certainly return.

Pietra Ligure is a popular seaside town, half way between Genoa and San Remo, on the Riviera Ponente (part of the Italian Riviera) and it is named after it’s castle perched up on an imposing limestone cliff known as La Pietra (which translates as the stone or the rock in English). There has been a castle on this rock since the time of the Roman Empire but the current structure dates from the 16th century.

It took just 10 minutes to walk from Camping dei Fiori to the beach and another 5 minutes to reach Pietra Ligure’s historic old town (the largely medieval Borgo Vecchio)… and what a little gem it is!

Hemmed in between the sandy beach and a series of low hills which form a backdrop along much of this coast, the old town is built mostly of a pastel coloured stone and comprises numerous narrow shaded alleys (known as ‘caruggi’ in this part of the world), many of which are topped with arches and lead through or to small squares or courtyards. Interspersed with shops and cafe-bars and almost entirely pedestrianised, the caruggi are brimming with character and lend the town a very local flavour and feeling. I love them.

At the centre of the Borgo Vecchio, on the town’s main square (the Piazza San Nicolo di Bari) is an elegant, cream coloured, Romanesque style church – the Basilica of San Nicolo di Bari. Inside its beautifully carved doors this church is sumptuously decorated with sculptures and stunning artwork. The inside of some churches that I have seen during these tours have been overelaborate, almost gaudy, but this is a jewel of a church and no photos I took can do it justice.

Pietra Ligure is not a large town (just 8,000 residents outside of summer) and it didn’t take long to explore the Borgo Vecchio. I knew too that I would be returning later in the day with Vanya and so, after tearing myself away from the Basilica, I made my way on the beach and then on to the Borgo Nuovo (the new town).

I was most impressed with the beach area. There’s a long sandy blue flag beach, a sizeable pier from which numerous anglers seemed to be enjoying themselves and a wide seafront promenade lined with palm trees. Most important, given Italy’s proclivity towards private beaches (regular readers of this blog will know that I abhor private beaches), Pietra Ligure has determined that a large central part of the beach should be open to the public. Moreover, the town has at least one and possibly two dog friendly beaches complete with dog showers. Respect!

The next day, we were moving on into France. Sadly, we didn’t have time before leaving to return just a few kilometres back down the coast to visit two of Italy’s most beautiful villages – the Borghi piu Belli d’Italia of Borgio Verezzi (with it’s Valdemino Caves) and Finalborgo (with it’s annual medieval festival) but, we’ll be back.

On to Monteux…

Lago Le Tamerici (Tuscany), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

It was time to head north. We were always going to be on a tight schedule this tour and, anyway, towards the end of September the majority of campsites in the south of Italy tend to close for winter. France beckoned. Vanya picked out a small campsite (44 campervan pitches) back in Tuscany halfway between Pisa and Livorno and so it was that we set off for Camping Lago Le Tamerici.

Camping Lake Temerici is an outstanding little camp site on the side of a small lake in the Coltano Nature Reserve – large grassy pitches, decent facilities and a warm welcome from the proprietors. There’s also a very good restaurant on site which for the most part relies on their own locally produced meat and vegetables (just as well because there is very little else in the immediate area).

We were fortunate to arrive on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon. The place was packed with day trippers but we were assured the great majority would leave before sunset and we need only reserve a place in the restaurant if we wanted a table on the porch overlooking the lake. I did just that and, after updating my Face Book account over a large glass of the local artisan beer, went off for a short stroll around the lake.

It turned out to be a beautiful evening with a great sunset but, the food and wine (a Tuscan Vermentino) were such that I couldn’t be bothered to move from the restaurant to take any photos.

Campeggio Lago le Tamerici proved a great find and we would certainly return. Nearby Pisa does little for me but Livorno I do want to see more of and this campsite works for me.

Anzio (Lazio), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

We drove to Anzio by way of Orvieto in Umbria.

Anzio is a fascinating medium sized town of some 50,000 inhabitants on the Tyrrhenian Sea, about 30 miles south of Rome. In the Summer, it is very popular with Roman holidaymakers (some 40% of houses in Anzio are second homes to people from Rome) but, outside of those months it is usually quiet. The town, with it’s sandy beaches and a pretty little harbour (a departure point for a ferry and hydroplane service to the nearby Pontine Islands, although Formia is the primary port in this regard) was very quiet as we arrived.

We had the dogs with us and were therefore unable to make the trip to the Pontine Islands but that is an archipelago we will most certainly visit in the future. Only 2 of the 6 islands are occupied all year round (the islands of Ponza and Ventotene) but Palmarola and Zannone are inhabited during the summer months and all six islands have stories to tell; even the deserted Santo Stefano (a penal colony until 1965) and Gavi (now a wildlife refuge).

Anzio is steeped in ancient and modern history (with a fair bit in between although the place fell into decline during the Middle Ages). At the time of the Roman Empire, the combined towns of Anzio and Nettuno were known as Antium and was the birthplace of two Julio-Claudian Emperors (Caligula who reigned 37-41 AD and Nero who reigned 54-68 AD). During his reign, Nero developed an enormous, magnificently decorated palace in Antium (the Villa Imperiale di Nerone or Nero’s Villa). Covered in a precious white marble it stretched 800 metres along the beach and 300 metres inland. No doubt with the palace in mind, a subsequent emperor, Hadrian, described Antium as one of the prettiest places in the Empire. There’s not a great deal remaining of the villa but it’s footprint is largely intact.

Anzio’s beaches once again became a centre of attention in January 1944 when during WW2, “Operation Shingle” saw troops from the USA, Great Britain and Canada invade them with a view to compromising the German 10th Army and liberating Rome. After a promising start (i.e. a 7 mile beachhead established and an open road to Rome for the loss of just 13 Allied dead) the invasion stalled and developed into one of the more savage battles of the war (more than 43,000 Allied casualties) with Lieutenant General Mark W Clark and his subordinate Major General John P Lucas combining to totally screw the operation up. Lucas (described by Winston Churchill as a ‘Stranded Whale’) was relieved of his command and sent back to the USA after sitting on the beach for 8 days and doing nothing while the Germans rushed their 14th Army south to support their 10th Army. Clark too should have been returned to the USA for tolerating Lucas’ inertia and then deliberately ignoring the orders of his own Commanding Officer (General Sir Harold Alexander) as he sought to retrieve the situation. Lucas’ replacement, Major General Lucian Truscott of the US 3rd Division wrote that “had Clark held loyally to General Alexander’s insructions… and not changed the direction of my attack… the strategic objectives of Anzio would have been accomplished in full”. The US military historian Carlo D’Este was more critical saying that Clark’s actions in disregarding Alexander was “as militarily stupid as it was insubordinate”. Clark kept his post. No surprises there since he was a close personal friend of Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces.

Except for a few words about the war cemeteries I perhaps need to draw a line under the Battle of Anzio. It will suffice to say there is a great deal in the town and it’s immediate surroundings to remind any visitor of Imperial Rome and the Anzio landings of 1944.

There are three war cemeteries in the area immediately surrounding Anzio; two British & Commonwealth cemeteries (‘Anzio War Cemetery’ and ‘Beach Head War Cemetery’) and the USA cemetery at Nettuno (now known as ‘The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery’ after US cemeteries in Salerno and Sicily were closed).

I took the time to visit the well maintained Anzio War Cemetery and during my walk back to a beach car park where I’d left Vanya with Nala and Beanie, I passed the charming 17th century Villa Adele, a significant part of which is now a museum, the Museo dello Sbarco di Anzio. Initially,the museum’s focus was directed towards the area’s archaeological finds but, perhaps unsurprisingly, four rooms have since been dedicated to the Battle for Anzio; a room each for the USA, Britain & the Commonwealth, Germany and of course Italy. A small part of the museum is centred around a Lieutenant Eric Fletcher Waters, a British officer who landed at Anzio and lost his life in the ensuing battle. His son, Roger Waters, grew up to be a co-founder, bass player and principal lyricist of Pink Floyd and; one of Pink Floyd’s singles, “When the Tigers Broke Free” (originally entitled “Anzio, 1944”) tells the story of his fathers death at Anzio.

Close to Anzio War Cemetery is the Basilica di Santa Teresa. That’s Saint Teresa de Lisieux (the Saint I wrote about in my blog on Alencon earlier this year – Tour 7) and not to be confused with Saint Teresa of Avila or Saint Teresa of Calcutta or any one of the other Saint Teresas’s). The Basilica, which was built between 1926 and 1939, is very imposing from the outside (especially having regard to it’s huge belltower) and it is supposedly very impressive on the inside too but a wedding ceremony was underway as I arrived and I wasn’t inclined to hang around.

One church I was able to access is the Chiesa dei Santi Pio e Antonio on Anzio’s main square, the Piazza Pia. Having been consecrated in 1885, this neo classical style church is a little older than the Basilica di Santi Teresa and, if not so imposing, is far prettier.

Back at the Van, Vanya and I planned our next move and we determined to drive north along the coast and seek out a good seafood restaurant. This whole area is justifiably famous for it’s fresh fish. We found the perfect place some 16 miles away on a wide sandy beach in Torvaianica. The food, the setting and the mood were truly great. From Vanya’s perspective however that all seemed to fade into nothing against the new drink she discovered at the restaurant – a Prosecco & Lemon Sorbet. Honestly, she was in seventh heaven. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of that drink…

Bolsena (Lazio), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

Wow! Bolsena really impressed me, notwithstanding the overcast weather. It is probably crowded with tourists during the summer but during mid September the place was quite empty (and yet all facilities were still open). We timed our visit well.

Bolsena is a small town of less than 5,000 people located on the northeast shore of Lake Bolsena which, with a depth of 500 feet and a diameter of 7.5 miles, is the largest volcanic lake in Europe. The crystal clear waters of the lake teem with fish but is so clean it is safe to drink. There are a couple of small islands towards the centre of the lake, L’Isola Bisentina and L’Isola Martana, but the inclement weather precluded any boat trip on our part. They are privately owned islands but boat trips are still possible at least during the summer months.

Many of the villages around Lake Bolsena, particularly Marta on the south side of the lake, are fishing villages where pike, perch, eel, various species of bass and catfish are caught. Bolsena also supports a number of fishing boats but in summer the town’s main source of income is from tourism and that is reflected by the number of boats in the harbour offering lake tours.

Bolsena is very much a town of two halves. Down by the waterside is the more stylish, modern half of the town with it’s many hotels, restaurants, holiday homes and lakeside leisure activities while behind that area, clinging to the surrounding hillside, is the attractive old medieval town.

These old town streets, filled with dark stone houses reminiscent of a medieval fishing village, are as interesting and full of character as any in Italy and walking them it is easy to believe you have slipped back in time.

At the very top of the town is the 13th century Castle Rocca Balsena. By the 15th century this imposing castle (it towers over Bolsena) was in an advanced state of decay but the Monaldeschi family committed to it’s restoration and as a consequence the finished product was renamed the Castello Rocca Monaldeschi. The castle currently houses the Territorial Museum of Lake Bolsena and while I wasn’t too impressed with the museum contents (there doesn’t seem to be any real focus to the contents – they are as diverse as Etruscan pottery, medieval paintings and fish from the lake), it is well worth the 5 Euro entrance fee for the views from the battlements alone.

Having explored the castle and checked out the museum I was keen to visit the local church, the Basilica of Santa Cristina but it was closed. It is said that the church was the scene of a miracle in 1263 when a Bohemian priest, in doubt about the doctrine of transubstantiation (i.e. the conversion of the eucharistic bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ) was convinced of it’s truth by the miraculous appearance of drops of blood on the Host he was consecrating at a mass in the crypt of the church. The marvel is commemorated in the Vatican by Raphael’s fresco “The Miracle at Bolsena’ and the Pope, Urban IV, subsequently built Orvieto Cathedral where a blood stained altar cloth from the Basilica of Santa Cristina is stored.

While exploring the old town I found a small restaurant-bar where we would take dinner later that evening and I spent what was left of the afternoon in that bar sampling the local white wine (a Lazio ‘Vermentino’) until it was time to collect Vanya.

Despite not being able to walk at all well (her hip was playing up) Vanya was as entranced with Bolsena as I was and the meal was great. Oh, and Vanya loved the Vermentino although, upon the recommendation of the waiter, we switched from the Lazio Vermentino to one from Tuscany. It proved to be better.

A little bit more about the Vermentino because I don’t doubt that we’ll be taking a fair few bottles back to the UK. It’s a hardy yet thin skinned white wine grape which thrives in warmer climates because of it’s tendency to ripen quite late in the growing season. It is believed the grape originated in Piedmont but, because it is easy to grow and resistant to drought and disease, it is now found all around the world (particularly Provence in France where it is known as Rolle) and across a broad swathe of Italy (Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio and Sardinia). We’ve since tried quite a few and so far I favour those from Bolgheri in Tuscany with some from Sardinia coming a close second.

And then it was back to the Van, passing all kinds of critters on the way, one of which (down by the lake) frightened the life out of Vanya. She didn’t half scream. Lol.

We’d have stayed longer in Bolsena except the facilities at the campsite we were using (Camping Internazionale Il Lago) are so badly in need of modernising. We love the location (in terms of it’s proximity to the lake and the town centre) but we wanted a decent shower block.

Anzio next…

Santa Lucia (Tuscany), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

This will probably be my shortest post ever.

We were heading south to Pitigliano. Not sure how but I got it all wrong and we ended up missing Pitigliano and stopping at Santa Lucia where there really is nothing except a Campsite -cum-Lorry Stop. Having said that, the campsite owners were very welcoming and operated a decent bar-restaurant which made the overnight stay fine but the next morning we retraced our steps looking for Pitigliano and I again got it wrong. Disaster.

I have enjoyed and been impressed by a fair few hilltop towns and villages in Tuscany (Montalcino, Montepulciano, San Quirico d’Orca and Volterra, to name but a few) and, from what I have heard, Pitigliano may well prove to be among the best of them but, it will have to wait. We gave up on the place and headed for Bolsena in Lazio Region.

We paused at the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet near Berberino di Mugello and drove through part of Orvieto in Umbria Region but at best this was a travel day…

… and then we arrived at Bolsena in Lazio and everything changed for the better…

Asolo (Veneto), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

Arrived in Italy and made our way to Bolso del Grappa through Vidor and Valdobbiadene. We were booked into Camping Santa Felicita together with friends Craig and Julie who were visiting Italy in their own van. We fancied a return to the Prosecco Hills and, in particular, the pretty little town of Asolo which is a relaxing little place in the foothills of the Dolomites and fully deserving of it’s “I Borghi più belli d’Italia” status. We used the Santa Felicia campsite as a base when last in the area and there’s nothing wrong with the place.

It was pleasant meeting up with Craig and Julie and for the most part we really enjoyed that first evening at the campsite notwithstanding the incredible storm which struck as we were eating in the restaurant adjacent to the camp site. It wasn’t so much the thunder and lightning which made the storm so memorable but the torrential rain. It was deluge which for a short while at least matched any of the monsoons I have witnessed in Africa and the Far East.

It was later, after the storm had subsided and we returned to the Vans, that we learned the full cost of that evening. The awning on Craig’s vehicle had been half torn from the side of his van. It was totally ruined. If that wasn’t bad enough, the next day both Julie and I, despite eating different dishes at the nearby restaurant, were both very sick. I’ll not say any more about that but I very much doubt we’ll be eating in that restaurant again.

Next morning we all made our way in the Van to Asolo. We parked in the large municipal car park, the Parcheggio Coperto ‘Cipressina’ (free parking except at weekends and bank holidays) and strolled up towards the town centre using Via Forestuzzo and Via Robert Browning.

When last in Asolo I intended walking to the 12th century castle ruins (La Rocca) which tower over the town but Vanya and I so much enjoyed sitting in the sun drinking chilled Prosecco that we left it too late. Together with Craig, I was determined to put that right this time. We enjoyed a glass of Prosecco with Vanya and Julie at one of the bars on the picturesque Piazza Garibaldi (once known as the Piazza Maggiore) and then, leaving the ladies to enjoy a second glass, we set off on the short steep walk up to the castle.

We made it (after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing) but ‘Sod’s law’, La Rocca was closed! There was a sign at it’s entrance advising it is open to the public only at weekends and bank holidays. We could have done with that sign at the bottom of the hill. No matter, the exercise will have done us good and we could still enjoy the views over the surrounding countryside.

Upon our return from the castle, there was plenty of time for a wander around the town…

… and this time, unlike before, I was able to access the church, the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta.

The Santa Maria Assunta does not rank amongst the most beautiful of Catholic churches and neither, I think, does it have a great deal of history (it’s all relative) but it does have a very good copy of Titian’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ the original of which we saw in a church in Venice many years ago. This copy is by Lorenzo Lotto but, to be honest, I know almost nothing about him.

The following day was spent driving around the Prosecco Hills, pausing briefly at Vadobbiadene and Vidor for a drink but that meal of a couple of days ago was still hurting and I was in no mood for either eating or drinking. Shame because this is a beautiful part of Italy with some great and very unique local produce. I’m talking drinks and food.

The Veneto Region is most famous for it’s Prosecco. I went into some detail about this fine sparkling white wine in a previous blog so; I’ll not risk repeating myself now except to say that Prosecco is made predominantly with the local Glera grape and Asolo Prosecco was granted DOCG status back in 2009. I don’t think I have ever mentioned that Asolo Prosecco was the first Prosecco to include an ‘Extra Brut’ category? I find that category too dry but Vanya adores it.

Other drinks which simply have to be mentioned when talking about the Veneto Region are Grappa (originated in Bassano de Grappa in the Vicenza Province of Veneto), Amarone (my favourite Italian red wine produced in Verona Province) and Aperol (this bright orange liqueur was created in Padua in 1919 and is used to make the Aperol Spritz – one part soda, two parts Aperol and 3 parts Prosecco).

So far as food is concerned, the Veneto Region favours polenta and rice over pasta (and I can relate with that). This is true across all of the Veneto Region and most especially across the province of Treviso (of which Asolo is a part). One very famous Italian dessert which originated in Treviso is Tiramisu, first created by chef Roberto Linguanotto in the 1960’s.

Anyway, enough about food and drink – I’m off for a beer.

Sasso di Bordighera (Liguria), Italy August 2022 (Tour 6)

The dogs were suffering in this year’s very hot weather (for weeks, even in the foothills of the Alps, the temperatures have been up in the high thirties) and so we decided to make our way west from Italy to the north of Spain where they are currently in the mid twenties. Sasso di Bordighere was chosen by Vanya because it took us quite a way west (into Liguria and within a few miles of the French border) and because the campsite reads very well. My gosh, what happened to all those wild camps I used to do in the Balkans? We seem to be using campsites nearly all the time now.

I’m not complaining; leastways not about A Bunda which was the name of the campsite Vanya had chosen. It is a small, shaded, tranquil site carved out of an olive grove near the tiny hamlet of Sasso di Bordighera. It offers decent sized pitches and wonderful views across the valley and the guy who runs it with his family, Alessandro, is as friendly and helpful as they come. He’s particularly proud of his gardens (with good reason) and the scent of rosemary is everywhere.

As for Sasso di Bordighera itself, it is an ancient fortified village high up on a rocky ridge, overlooking (part of) the town of Bordighera some 4 kms away on the coast. Sasso is Italian for stone or rock; hence it’s name. The village is little more than a hamlet with just 200 inhabitants, surrounded by olive groves and orchards. There is a tiny shop, a church and, just at the edge of the village, a small restaurant.

The views from the village towards the coast are stunning; those from the restaurant, even more so. I reserved a table for us on the restaurant terrace for that very evening.

We enjoyed it very much.

Garbagne (Piedmont), Italy August 2022 (Tour 6)

I have no idea as to why we decided to stop in Garbagne in rural Piedmont (probably just looking for a half decent campsite either in or close to a town or village where we could get a meal and a glass of wine) but, after a quick explore I really didn’t expect anything of the place. I was in for a surprise.

Garbagne is a small village through which the SP120 road passes. In Garbagna, they call this part of the SP120 the ‘Via Roma’ but that is a tad grand. The SP120 is a thoroughfare; it doesn’t go to Rome or anywhere else of any significance. The village has maybe half a dozen narrow streets, the longest of which, the Via XIV Marzo, runs parallel with the Via Roma and connects the villages two squares. Piazza della Chiesa, at the eastern end of the village, is a dry featureless square holding the larger of the village’s two churches, the ‘San Giovanni Battista Decollato’ (or Church of St John the Baptist) and a rather plain looking town hall. The larger, prettier, well shaded Piazza Doria at the western edge of the village accommodates the much smaller ‘Oratory of San Rocco’, a restaurant (the Bocu), a cafe bar and two tiny shops (a greengrocer and a general store). The shade on the Piazza is provided by four large chestnut trees which shelter the square’s centrepiece, a stone arch which straddles an old well – once the villages’s sole water supply. There are a few fixed steel benches under the chestnuts and a scattering of tables and chairs had been placed outside the Bocu and the cafe bar but all were empty. The village appeared deserted. It was a hot summer afternoon with the temperature in the shade well up into the high thirties. Garbagne was about as sleepy a place as you could imagine on a seriously hot Sunday in rural Piedmont.

That evening Vanya and I were among the first to take one of the ten or so tables outside the Bocu Restaurant. By the way, Bocu is short for Bottegacucina which means ‘small shop’ which, no doubt, is what the restaurant once was. There is no room inside for any dining tables; all are outside on the square. It was just as well that we arrived early because we didn’t have a reservation and within twenty minutes or so all of the tables were occupied. So too were the tables at the nearby cafe bar. It was just after 8.30 pm and the heat from the day’s hot sun was fast fading. Children were filling the square. Groups of friends who had been stuck inside their homes until the heat was gone were now free to run and play. The square had become a cheerful, bustling playground. It was the children’s parents who were settling at the tables around us. Tables were being extended, more chairs were produced and dragged noisily into position. The banter was loud. Everyone seemed to know each other and it appeared the elders were as happy as their children to escape the afternoon’s confinement.

The Piazza Doria was a hive of activity. Almost half of the village’s 600 or so residents must have been on the square. The change in atmosphere was as super as it was surprising. We were always going to have an enjoyable evening in such an agreeable setting and so it proved. The food and the service and the reception we received from those around us made for a great evening. Of course, having a Nala and a Beanie around always helps break the ice.

So what about the food and wine? I’m not so sure Vanya got it right with her choice of stuffed tomatoes but my veal and the accompanying wine was delicious. The veal came with a mildly spicy tuna sauce (and what I took to be a very large pickled caper) while the wine, chosen by the proprietor was a local Barbera – really smooth. He told me it is produced just 5 kilometres from where we were sitting.

The only downside of that first evening in Garbagne? The bloody church bells wouldn’t stop ringing. No matter.

The friendly reception we received that first evening warranted our staying on another night. I spent the next day further exploring the area around the village and visited the local 9th century castle which the ‘Borghi piu belli d’Italia’ describes as “perfect for a stroll and to enjoy a panoramic view”. Forget it. The castle amounts to little more than a simple gatehouse and a tower which is almost totally reduced to rubble. As for the panoramic view, you can forget that too. Such sites are there to promote tourism…

We didn’t regret staying on. There’s another small bar (very much a local’s bar) on the corner of Via Novi and Via Roma. I had used it a couple of times (popping in for a cooling beer while exploring the area) and Vanya and I stopped by for a few drinks after dinner. Once again, the welcome we received from the bar owners and the locals was fantastic. A word of warning, however, don’t ask for a large wine unless you want half a bottle of wine free poured into your glass. They serve large measures.

We will certainly remember Garbagne, not so much for the place as the people. You could not find a more welcoming village.

Valdobbiadene (Veneto), Italy August 2022 (Tour 6)

This blog on Valdobbiadene follows on from that of Asolo where I first enjoyed a Prosecco wine. The blog could just as easily have been entitled ‘Prosecco Hills’ or even ‘Prosecco Road’ because much of our day was spent driving through the hills in this area and we paused in Valdobbiadene only to sample different wines but, it was in Valdobbiadene that I really started to appreciate Prosecco. Valdobbiadene it is then.

Our travels across the Prosecco Hills took us from where we were camped at Borso de Grappa to Asolo and then on through Maser, Cornuda, Covolo, Vidor, Valdobbiadene, Miane, Follina, Cison di Valmarino to Revine Lago ( I wonder how long it will take before some or all of these villages become Borghi piu belli d’Italia). We were hoping to give the dogs a swim in the lakes up at Revine Lago but it wasn’t to be and we returned to Valdobbiadene via Conegliano, taking in much of the Prosecco Road as the route between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene is now known.

Except for the Prosecco Road, which term seems to be known by only a handful, there is no obvious tourist structure to this area although it will probably not be long coming. The fact that the Prosecco Hills were recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2019 will no doubt help (especially once Covid becomes a dim distant memory) but whatever happens Vanya and I are agreed, we haven’t seen such fabulously beautiful wine country anywhere in the world. The steep irregularly shaped hills are a patchwork of picturesque vineyards; squeezed into a series of verdant terraces, interspersed with a mixture of thick hedgerows and small woods. This rolling sea of green stretches in all directions and is broken only by a faint string of whitish grey stone farmhouses and, very occasionally, a majestic Venetian style villa. Like I said, neither of us have ever seen such fabulously beautiful wine country and just driving through it was an experience.

And so to Valdobbiadene, where we were properly introduced to Prosecco wine by Enrico from Venice who had previously lived in Cirencester and spoke remarkably good English. I was driving and so it was Vanya who took the lead with the wine tasting. I was allowed only the barest sip of those wines she considered suitable and, even then, I chose to stay away from the driest of them. Indeed, my winner was probably the sweetest of all those we tasted – it was the Dry (as opposed to Very Dry, Brut or Very Brut) Val D’Oca Cartizze which vines, I am told, are on the steep south facing slopes of the Cesen Mountain or, as Enrico said, “where the hills are the steepest and most beautiful”. We bought three bottles and some others which Vanya favoured.

I’ll not go into too much detail (you can always use google to properly research the matter) but, in case you are interested, there follows a little bit about the production of Prosecco.

Prosecco is a sparkling white wine from Italy (although it can be flat or have very few bubbles – tranquilo or frizzante). It differs totally from Champagne or Cremant, both of which are produced in France. Firstly, the ingredients are different. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes are used to make both Champagne and Cremant while the Glera grape is used in Prosecco. Secondly, different methods are used to get the bubbles into the wine. The traditional approach is adopted for Champagne and Cremant, where yeast goes to work in each individual bottle while, with Prosecco, the bubbles are added to large tanks of developing wine and it is bottled much later. So, both the ingredients and the (production) method in these two ‘recipes’ are totally different – which makes for totally different drinks.

Only other point I would make is that, just as is in France, Italy operates a system for determining how good their different wines are (so as to highlight wines of a particular and/or superior quality) and Prosecco is subject to that same Italian classification system. Italy operates three classes being ITG, DOC and DOCG. ITG is reserved for all wines that may not meet all of the standards of a DOC or DOCG wine but are nevertheless considered to be of good quality. DOC wines have to meet stricter standards to earn their classification. DOCG standards are higher still and therefore the quality is even better. The following chart identifies how the different Proseccos are classified across the Prosecco wine producing region:-

My favourite is a dry Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Just read all the above. Bloody hell, this is a dry old blog! Sorry, trying to catch up because I’m about a week behind. I’ll try and introduce something more personal next time; a bit of levity wouldn’t go awry.

Asolo (Veneto), Italy August 2022 (Tour 6)

This day was to be all about Prosecco wine. It started early in the morning in the delightful little town of Asolo, one of Italy’s famous Borghi* and; then took us up and around the Prosecco Hills. It continued along much of the Prosecco Road (Conegliano to Valdobbiadene) and; concluded with a wine tasting session in the capital of the Prosecco wine world, Valdobbiadene, and me becoming a convert to Prosecco – well, to the good ones.

Asolo was founded in Roman times but reached it’s zenith while under the control of Venice and not long after the Venetians had ‘persuaded’ Caterina Cornaro (Queen of Cyprus, Jerusalem and Armenia) to cede Cyprus to Venice and take exile in Asolo. It is generally understood that the town prospered as a direct result of Caterina Cornaro moving to Asolo and living in what has since become known as the Castello della Regina Cornaro. That would have been during the period 1489 to 1509. In 1509, the League of Cambrai (at war with Venice) attacked Asolo and forced her to flee and she died in Venice the following year.

We parked the Van in a large (free, except at weekends) car park and walked up into the old town through the arch on the Via Forestuzzo. This followed on to the pretty arcaded Via Browning (named after the English poet Robert Browning) with it’s handful of artisan style shops, directly to the centre of the old town. The Piazza Garibaldi is marked as the old town centre on the local map but in truth there is no central square; the centrepoint is the Fontana Maggiore (fountain) which sits just beyond the Hotel Duse amidst a couple of cafe bars, Asolo’s cathedral (the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta) and the Civic Museum, which is connected to the Castello della Regina Cornaro. It’s a pretty spot.

Asolo is a small compact town which can easily be seen within a day and it is very picturesque but the real delight is it’s calm and tranquility. After a brief look around the town and, in particular, the Castello della Regina Cornaro we were content to relax in the shade outside a little restaurant on the ‘Piazza Garibaldi’ and take brunch – the local cheese, ham and of course a Prosecco.

Some would argue that we should have walked up Mount Ricco, on the edge of the town, to the 12th/13th century Rocca Fortress for it’s views over Asolo and the broader Veneto countryside but; this day was about chilling and sipping chilled Prosecco so, we gave it a miss. Asolo had that effect on me. We were both content to sit peacefully in the shade, nursing our wine and watching the world go by although; in Asolo the world moved very slowly. This was a week day (no weekend tourists from Venice)… Why tire ourselves out exploring?

It was a slow walk back to the Van, notwithstanding that it was all downhill, and we took time to view some of the finer, more impressive villas on the way.

Quite a few personalities have lived in or at least visited Asolo for extended periods and many have left their mark. There are a series of steel plaques carved into the pavement towards the top of the Via Forestuzzo, recognizing some of those personalities – most especially Freya Stark (writer and explorer), Robert Browning (poet) and Eleonora Duse (Italian actress) but others, Ernest Hemingway (writer and journalist), Wilma Neruda (Violinist) and even Princess Margaret (younger sister to ERII) have also sought peace in Asolo.

We really had to tear ourselves away from the town… but on to Valdobbiadene.

* Borghi – The literal translation of ‘Borgo’ into English is ‘Village’. Borghi is the plural. So far as I can determine “I Borghi piu belli d’Italia” is a list of 313 beautiful villages in Italy as identified by the National Association of Italian Municipalities to help promote small Italian centres. The Association’s criteria for admission would appear to be “a fascinating small Italian town, generally fortified and dating back to the period from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance… Whether Medieval or Renaissance, sea or mountain, rural or lake, all… certified Borgos represent the best of Unknown Italy…”. This initiative is perhaps similar to the French ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’.