When I heard that a German film production company were planning to do a re-make of “you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”, I didn’t believe it until, when leaving Les Gets we spotted these 3 Mini’s (sorry BMW’s) in the car park at LiDL…., so it must be true. I wonder if they’ll ask Michael Caine to play the lead again?
The German’s aren’t the only one’s off to Italy, after stocking up with supplies we decided to make a quick dash through the Mont Blanc tunnel (€60 ouch) and down the Aosta valley to try to reach some drier weather on the southern side of the Alps.
After a long afternoon’s drive we made it to a MoHo service point close to the town of Biella 60 miles west of Milan. We thought Biella would be a useful stepping stone as they had a Vodafone store in a large shopping Mall. To save retelling all the frustration of how much time Dave has spent on the phone to Vodafone or on their ‘live chat’, trying to organise a replacement for the Vodafone 30GB data SIM….. “No we don’t want a new 12 month contract” Anyway. After checking out a few other data SIM providers, we managed to buy from Vodafone! a 100GB / 90 day contract for 60 euro which we think will last us until we get back.
Heading south and east, we picked out Torrazzetta, an agritourismo just south of Pavia for our next stay. It wasn’t a difficult decision especially when we discovered you could stay for free when eating in their restaurant that served regional dishes complemented by wines they produced themselves.., we thought, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
According to the very friendly English-speaking hostess, Torrazzetta was previously their family farm that in 1984 was transformed by her Grandparents into the first farm stay (agriturismo) in the province of Pavia (possibly the 1st in Lombardy?).
This could be where Marvin Gaye first heard it…..!
We had the parking area in a huge field at the top of the residence carpark to ourselves. There was no electricity or other services but with views of the vineyards surrounding the farm and the rolling landscape beyond it wasn’t too shabby a spot for a couple of nights.
In Italy, agriturismi (that’s the plural form of the word) must by law be working farms, and guests must be served items grown on the farm – whether that’s wine or olive oil from the estate’s vineyards and orchards or fresh produce culled from the house’s small private garden. Many agriturismi pride themselves on not only using ingredients grown on their property but bringing all other foodstuffs required from a short distance away. The focus is often on hyper-local and seasonal food in a rural and picturesque setting
This is Dave on his bike before he and the bike got caked in mud when the route we took went from muddy track to field edge quagmire. Keeping your balance in mud is usually ok unless it’s really thick stuff and you lose momentum. Then, well you might fall into a prickly hedge, but that couldn’t happen could it?
Since Roman times, the unique conditions of the Parma region have made it possible to produce the highest quality hams, that have been appreciated by gourmets for centuries. ‘Prosciutto’ is from the Latin ‘perexsuctum‘ meaning ‘dried‘ – an indication of the purity of Parma Ham production and its ancient roots. It was in 100 BC that Cato the “Censor” first mentioned the extraordinary flavour of the air cured ham made around the town of Parma in Italy.
The centre of Parma was easy to get into taking the no. 23 bus from just outside our Area Camper Sosta, although we ended up not paying as the ticket machine was, as a helpful fellow Italian passenger explained, ‘Kaput’ – I didn’t realise I looked German.
We didn’t end up buying any ham but did have a very nice lunch in the ‘Ristorante Corale Verdi” just by the park. Which meant we of course had to sample prosciutto di parma and a local speciality called torta fritta (fried bread made with butter, flour and milk shaped into pouches). All the while surrounded by the music and images on the walls of Giuseppe Verdi.
This is a small yet prosperous city, that isn’t especially spectacular, but Parma was definitely worth visiting. With lots of competition for the crown of food capital of Italy producing two of Italy’s most famous exports Parmesan cheese and prosciutto gives it considerable bragging rights.
Before leaving we felt the need to get the bikes out again and begin the process of waistline recovery after all the mountain food in Les Gets and for what is to come. It remains to be seen if the Italian cycle routes are as good as those in Germany. But we both got a good work out fighting our way along on the MTB trail we found today.
Italy is starting to get to us, Lesley and I have not yet fully succumbed to all the tempting guiles of Italian food, however our resistance is weakening. Visiting Modena started ok, we felt in control. The usual visit to the I office to pick up a map and tips about the historical centre. Although in a moment of weakness whilst in the tourist office we did accidentally make a reservation for a Balsamic vinegar tasting….oops. Our wallet and waistlines also survived largely intact after the all too tempting excursion around Albinelli indoor market. But dear reader, we have to confess we could not resist the temptations of Modena gelato.
Ferrari – Maranello
Ferrari needs no introduction of course, but I have to confess I wasn’t entirely sure why I wanted to go to see lots of expensive red cars, that wouldn’t fit my 6’4″ frame let alone our bank balance! In the end curiosity got the better of my inverted snobbery.
You don’t have to be a petrol head to get Ferrari. Yes the cars are special but once again it’s the story of the people behind the cars that made this place come alive. Enzo Ferrari started out racing Alfa’s before the war. In 1929 he founded the Scuderia Ferrari team, racing Alfa Romeo’s before borrowing money to start his original factory.
The history of the development of the designs and technology behind the race performance raised the small hairs on the back of my neck. When first setting up the factory in Maranello, the area had many farmers but very few engineers, so Enzo built an academy to train Ferrari’s own. It is difficult not to be impressed. Ferrari is the oldest surviving and most successful Formula 1 team, having competed in every world championship since 1950 and holds the record for the most Grands Prix victories, having won 238 times.
After not being sure why I wanted to go, I ended up enjoying the museum immensely and was especially pleased not to break the F1 simulator which was great fun.
Acetaia Clara – Maranello
Since the friendly chap from the sosta club had recommended a balsamic producer Acetaia Clara we decided to investigate. We navigated into someones back yard following an acetaia sign. Indicating in our best sign language we wanted to taste vinegars, the shop/tasting room was opened up – a large room in an outbuilding. A leaflet was found in English, and soon spoonfuls of rich, dark vinegar were tasted, including vinegar on parmesan cheese.. We ended up buying a 25 year old and a sweet liquid called Saba made from grape must used in desserts.
Acetaia Leonardi – Modena
We had pre-booked another tasting via the tourist information at Acetaia Leonardi. When we arrived it was a very grand looking place.
We had a really informative guide who showed us around the premises explaining how balsamic vinegar is made from slow cooking juice from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, then aged in wooden barrels, each year moving to a smaller barrel with the different woods adding complexity.
What’s really impressive to see is the barrels of 100 old vinegars that were started by the grandparents, knowing they were passing on the legacy to their children and their children’s children, but they would not get to taste the fruits of their labour themselves…..
Ok – so where next?
“This is the Self Preservation Society, This is Self Preservation Society”