June 15 Sunny 28deg - perfect!
Cassis is one of those places you dream about - nestled amongst the famous Calanques rock formation that runs 20 km along the southern French coastline from Cassis to Marsielle - this sleepy 'fishing village' is far from asleep.
Breathtakingly beautiful scenery ,an abundance of fresh seafood , friendly waiters and of course 'Cassis'- the wine of he region also in abundance. We love it here.
On our first night we have a seafood platter- fresh to to say the least! I don't think the mussels or clams were indeed cooked in any way - 'al a natural' like oysters and they were amazing - (see pic). But with ample quantity of Cassis wine it all washes down okay and I am happy!
Second night we settle for more traditional French fare from a cute ally way bistro , L' Escalier, in rue Frederic Mistral. This classic little bistro has a menu totally in French (of course we are in France) even though Mark keeps breaking out in Italian. I order the classic dishes Soup de poisson et sa rouille - classic seafood bisque served with grated emmethal and croutons . Mark had the Palourdes et Moules a la provencale - translates to grilled mussels and clams with a buttery herb gratin - Yum .
During the day it's quiches lorraine like I've never tasted before and Croque monsioure at our little cafe overlooking the harbour of boats.
A trip to Cassis is not complete without a boat excursion to Les Calanques - this is the amazing limestone rock formations that took place10,000 years ago where the land joins into the sea resulting in beautiful private beaches in amongst caves that can only be reached by boat and intrepid explorers. Rock climbers paradise!
One could spend weeks here soaking up the Mediterranean sun if only there was an endless budget as well.
A gin and tonic will set you back 8 euro - but it is worth every cent to see the sun go down at 9pm on the French Riviera!
Bon soiree! My French is non existent! But that doesn't stop us from shopping or going hungry !
June 12 - fine warm 30 deg
On a visit to Torino (Turin), in the Piedmonte region of north west of Italy, we were lucky enough to have a personalised tour of the Lavazza factory. This was a highlight of our few days there as we have been Lavazza devotees for the past 17 years using only Lavazza coffee in our cafes.
Torino is the main Lavazza plant in Italy, there are also three other factories in Italy - one designated to decaf coffee only!
Every day during the week an incredible 20 semitrailer loads of green coffee beans arrive from areas such as Indonesia and Tanzania and start the process of roasting and packaging for one of the 60,000 customers of Lavazza.
The whole process from the initial delivery of the beans to the final packaging and distribution is a highly organised process with quality control at every level - the result is the delivery of a perfect 'shot of coffee'.
Also in Turin we have found the best gelato (so far) on Via Roma - Cafe Roma and only 2 Euro !
Turin is known as the home of the "Shroud of Christ " but we didn't actually see this. We were told the actual shroud only comes out every seven years or so - but - a life size photograph is on display in the Cathedral of Turin , just beside the Palace Reale - another top spot to visit.
There is a lot to see and do in this city, we must return one day.
June 5, 15 deg, Fine weather
Livigno is a small Italian Alpine village nestled just on the Italian side of the Swiss Alps. We approached it from Switzerland on this day as the Swiss border is only 30 km from Sondrio (our base) . This road, for most of the year impassable due to the altitude, approximately 2800m above sea level and at least 10m of snow covering the road during winter. Lucky for us the road has reopened recently and we drove through, although at one point about three metres of ice was still on the roadside - allora! Summer in Italy!
All the Italians (and every one else) love Livigno, not only because of the great skiing in winter but because for some reason unknown to me, all goods here are duty free.
We drive through the Swiss border. The vista, to say the least, is spectacular! Around every turn another surprise. Mark wishes he had his BMW with him but instead we are in a Ford Fiesta!
It is no surprise that the menu at the restaurant of Bivio Hotel - www.bivioholydays.com consists mostly of polenta and game meat- good warming tucker.
We shared a plate of handmade gnocchetti with a fresh pesto sauce and speck - delightfully light and flavoursome of fresh basil - it tasted like it had just been made specially for us!
I settled though for some Vatellina bresaola served simply and deliciously with vine ripened tomato and parmesan. Mark surrendered to the buckwheat polenta, cheese and wild mushrooms. Have I mentioned how good the porcini mushrooms are in this part of the world?
Yet another bottle of superb red wine from Antinori - Castello della sala - a Pinot nero from Umbria 2000. It is tough job but someone has to do it !
June 7 Sondrio - Alpine Italy - 20 deg Fine
Who would have thought in our own backyard there was such an amazing restaurant. Perched up on the side of a mountain in a village called Sassella lies Ristorante Torre Della Sassella. Blessed with commanding views over the valley, this restored building of unknown origin (to us) was renovated 10 years ago to become an iconic restaurant.
The four level restaurant, shaped like a tower, is made completely of stone, and is probably centuries old. This information was difficult to get as not one word of English is spoken there and even Mark, whose Italian is quite good, was struggling to understand.
You know you are somewhere special when even the mineral water gets decanted into a crystal jug. With the menu completely in Italian we just went with the key words we knew and hoped for the best .
My pick of the dishes was Risotto Carnarnoli con Bollicini Rose Cantadi Castaldi - this transformed to a perfectly executed risotto with a serving of parmesan ice cream and a rose jelly with fresh raspberry in the middle - all served on a segmented Villerory and Boch dinner plate.
Difficult to describe how exquisite this dish was - the adding of the parmesan ice cream to the hot risotto made it creamy and rich beyond description - and finishing with the occasional mouthful with the rose jelly and fresh raspberry cleared the palate for some more cheesey risotto.
The other risotto ordered - equally divine - Risotto Nero Integrace con Ragout di Cappesante , Gamberi e Asparagi. This translated as a squid ink risotto with a ragout of scampi and asparagus. The rice was cooked to perfection in both cases and rich sauce accompaniments also were perfect.
The meal was accompanied with a 2001 bottle of Masi Costasera Amorone Classico - a classic wine from Valpolocella grapes semi dried on a bamboo rack from Costasera region - perfect !
The whole experience left you feeling like you had stepped back in time with the ancient surroundings - the attention to detail was just amazing - the very finest of china and crystal. If you are ever in this part of the world, you must go to this restaurant a visit. You will not be disappointed.
First in a regular series of reports on food and wine in Italy and more from the wandering Togninis.
Bellagio June 4, 2009
Bellagio, as you will see, is simply beautiful . Mark and I have been here on several occasions and we always return to soak up the beauty. Bellagio is about a half hour's drive from our apartment in Sondrio and a short ferry across Lago Como (no sightings of George).
We went in search of a restaurant - one we had been to with Bennie and Tracey a few years earlier - on the water for lunch. After what seemed like 200 or more stairs up and 200 or more stairs down, we finally found it - La Pergola - Pescallo. Unfortunately, for us, the kitchen was closed by the time we reached it, so we convinced the owner to allow us a bottle of wine to relax and soak up the view of the lake.
We could actually see what we wanted to eat swimming in the lake - those beautiful salmon trout in the crystal clear waters were just teasing us!
So a bottle of Pinot Grigio later and no lunch we made our way back the 200 or so stairs to the touristy side of Bellagio. This is where we found a treasure down some more stairs - you just need to take the right ones. Hidden down an alley way is Apertivo et al www.bellagio.co.nz/aperitivo
It was about 4.30 pm by this stage - no need to tell you how hungry we were after the 200 stairs (maybe I am exaggerating as I really didn't count them) .
Lucky for us there was a bar menu to our liking - Pizzoccheri , soups, cheese and an amazing wine room all only about 8 Euro for a plate. Mark chose a fabulous red from the Veneto region - so smooth, so rich - yes that was the second bottle in as many hours - I love holidays !
Taste the last of the season's pine mushrooms at Tognini's Spring Hill. They come from Victoria and are collected from the hills outside Melbourne where they grow under the pine trees. The mushrooms become very meaty when cooked and are a real treat for mushroom lovers.