September/October, 2001

This trip was designed around what we thought would be the highlight of the trip, a visit to Cinque Terre.  Everyone had talked about this area so much, and we really were looking forward to seeing it.  We did, but were quite disappointed by Cinque Terre.  We were wonderfully surprised by all the other places we visited, but found Cinque Terre not worth all the effort.  More of "CT" later.  We visited Milan, central Lake Como, (Bellagio), Liguria from Genoa to Lerici, and the most pleasant surprise of the trip, the area south of Alba, called the Langhe, the home of Barberesco and Barolo wines.  We did this in 10 full days, with our flights into and out of Malpensa airport near Milano.  This sounds like a lot, but we were never more than 200 KM from Milan, and we were never rushed.

Here's where we went and what we did.




We arrived at Malpensa at 9 in the morning and headed directly for Alba which is in the provence of Piedmont.  Alba is the white truffle capital of Italy and they have a truffle festival in October. We were there a week before the festival.  We found it to be a pleasant town for a stroll, but the main attraction is in the surrounding hills.  To the north of Alba is the beautiful village of Barberesco, and the area just to the south is called "La Langhe". This is a magical mountainous region which is home to the B&B wines.  B&B stand for Barberesco and Barolo, two of the greatest of Italian wines.  Barolo is called "the king of wines and wine of kings".  All the villages here are relatively unspoiled and there's lots of free wine tasting.  Each village has several "cantinas" which provide wine tasting and many provide tasting of other local products as well, cheese, olives, olive oil, salami, you name it!  The best Cantina we visited was "Minuto Fratella" in Barberesco. The area is covered with castles, cantinas, and lots of lovely hotels.   Visit the Grinzane Cavour which is a castle turned into a museum and local produce tasting and sales center.  All the villages in the area are delightful - among them are Novella, Serralunga d'Alba, La Morra, Barolo, and our favorite, Monforte d'Alba.  To the right are some more links about this wonderful area.

health conscious
dining in Piedmont

(a commercial site but with lots of good information)

We found the village of Monforte d'Alba to be absolutely enchanting, with lovely views of the surrounding mountains.  It is quite a remarkable little village as it is quiet, and restful and still has several small hotels and at least three excellent restaurants.  We stayed in the Grapollo d'Oro hotel which is a modest 2 star hotel run by the same family for 3 generations. To the right is a picture of the hotel which is located in the main village square.  While we were there, this square was being completely repaved. 

The hotel is simple, but absolutely clean and we had a great time there.  They don't have many rooms with a view, but we got one.  The view through our window is the picture at the top of the page.  In the distance is the village of Novello, mentioned above. There's a bar downstairs which is very popular in the evening with both locals and  tourists. This is such a family hotel, that the lady of the house could be found running the excellent restaurant in the evening, and in the morning hanging the linens on the clotheslines right outside our window.  The restaurant is very good and serves home made pasta and a wonderful 4 course menu for a very reasonable price. 

About 30 meters from the door of our hotel is another hotel/restaurant with one Michelin star which is absolutely fantastic.  The hotel is 3 stars and has about 10 rooms, but the main attraction is the restaurant which is presided over by the most entertaining of chefs we have ever met - Nino Felicin.  The name of the establishment is "Da Felicin".  The menu is changed every day according to the market and the whims of the chef.  The meal we had was superb.  I don't usually describe our meals, but this one was so good, I will anyway.  We took the "grand menu" which included 3 appetizers, an intermediate dish, a main dish and desert.  It started with an item not on the menu - homemade trout cavier on toast, then the appetizers:

Below is a picture of Restaurant Da Felicin.
* a slice of pickled trout on grilled eggplant
*goose liver pate with white truffles which melted in our mouths
* porcini mushrooms in a warm soup with potatoes

Then, the pasta dishes: 
* home made pasta called tajarin with fresh tomato sauce and herbs
* home made ravioli filled with spinach.

Then the main dishes:
* Alisa had roast rabbit with herbs and black truffles and I had veal oxtail cooked in a sauce based on barolo wine.
Everything was exquisite.  We had a '96 bottle of barolo by Mauro Veglio.  The bread was great but I've forgotten what we had for dessert!
The Villa Becarus
(just outside of Monforte)

Hotel Al Castello in Novello (This place has to be seen to be believed. Visit it even if you don't stay here.)

Hotel Barbabuc (Novello)

There's a third good restaurant in this little town called the Trattoria della Posta.  We only had 2 nights here so we couldn't try it, but we were told that is also very good.  Here's a web site with a description of this restaurant as well as some other good ones in Italy.

There are quite a few interesting hotels in the area.  To the left are  links to a few of them.

Turin isn't very far from this area and we hopped over for a short visit. We saw the "shroud of Turin" (actually a photographic duplicate) in the cathedral.  The cathedral and the street it's on are quite ugly, but the main street in town is a nice avenue for a stroll and some shopping.


On our third morning we headed south to Liguria.  Our first stop was Genoa.  This turned out to be a big mistake.  Genoa is a nightmare for private cars.  We drove around for an hour or more in search of the center and after we found it, we realized that parking was impossible.  We couldn't find any parking garages either, and when we finally did, it was another nightmare.  It was like driving into a honeycomb at least three levels below ground.  All the cars were stacked one behind the other and it was impossible to get in or get out.  I decided to escape.  At the first opportunity, we headed for an exit.  We found the center of town, parked the car in the most illegal place I could find,  got out of the car and took one picture.  Then we got back in the car and headed east.

We drove to Camogli and parked there for a visit and lunch.  Camogli is a beautiful little fishing village, with colorful houses and a lovely port area.  It's a pleasant place to wander around, but there aren't many hotels.  There is one very impressive 4 star hotel called the Cannobio dei Dogi.  To the right are a few links to pages about Camogli, and below and to the right is a picture of Alisa admiring the Camogli shore.

Sightseeing in Camogli

A CNN article on Camogli

A travel article on Camogli

After Camogli, we headed to Santa Margherita Ligure which we used as a base for 3 days.  We stayed at a 4 star hotel called the Laurin which is right on the beach. The hotel is very nice, although only a borderline 4 star and, it has no parking.  As most everywhere in Italy, parking is a problem and no less here.  The parking across from the hotel costs 2000 IL per hour between 8 AM and 8 PM and there isn't always a space available. 

The hotel gave us the "secret local information" that there is a free parking lot about a 5 minute walk from the hotel.  Remarkably enough, there was always a space available there, and we used it, but it was still a hassle and a real inconvenience that the parking is so far from the hotel. Our room was spacious and had a great view of the sea. The restaurant we found and ate at twice in Santa Margherita is called "da Beppe".  It's a typical family run restaurant with delicious home made pasta and a very nice menu, which includes mainly fish and seafood.

Santa Margherita is a lively, medium sized town (larger than Camogli, but smaller than Rapallo which we visited the next day) with lots of activity.  There are also many hotels and it is a good base for visiting the area.   It is about a 15 minute drive through Rapallo to get to the highway.  We visited quite a few hotels while we were there, and the most impressive one we checked out was the Jolanda, which is 3 star although the lobby looks like 4, and is about 100 meters from the shore.

Italy's two Rivieras

Information about CT

Excellent information site about CT

Some hotels in the CT area

Hotel Palace in Levanto

Villa Margherita - B&B in Levanto

The next day we visited Cinque Terre and as I wrote above, we were disappointed. For those who don't know what Cinque Terre is, it is a small strip of coastline a few KM north of La Spezia with 5 isolated villages, each perched on its own promontory.  There are walking paths and a rail line connecting the villages.  From north to south, the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  The closest town with car access is Levanto a few KM to the north.  Levanto has several decent hotels.  We took the train to Riomaggiore, walked to Manarola, and then to Corniglia. We walked up the many steps from the path to Corniglia where we strolled about and had lunch, and then took the train to Monterossa.  The path from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the Via d'Amore which is paved with flag stones and can be done in a half an hour in high heels. There were hordes of locals and foreign tour groups.  The path from Manarola to Corniglia is a good deal longer and took well over an hour.  It was not paved the entire way, but didn't present any particular challenge.  There were far fewer tourists on this path, but the last stretch of several hundred meters as we approached the train station of Corniglia looked like "shantytown" with ugly shacks lining the sea side, and sewage flowing on the road.   The 4 towns we visited were were not very interesting and in various stages of awkward touristy development. We have seen many towns and lots of scenery far more beautiful elsewhere in Italy.  Admittedly it was Saturday (more tourists) and overcast, but I don't think we would have enjoyed our visit on any other day.  Considering the logistics to get there, it really wasn't worth the effort. To the left are some links about the Cinque Terre area.

We visited several other towns in the area and the area near La Spezia.
Among them:

Portovenere - Portovenere is located about 10 KM beyond La Spezia, but it's a long unpleasant drive and it seems a lot longer.  However, Portovenere is beautiful and worth the ride.  We ate lunch at "Trattoria Iseo".  The food was fine and the service was fast.  This isn't said as a compliment, but the overall atmosphere was very positive. It's apparently a well known place which knows how to deal with a full house every day for lunch. Lots of pictures on the wall of notables and dignitaries who have visited the restaurant.  Of note in this town are the 13th century gothic church overlooking the sea, and a grotto named after Lord Byron who spent some time here. The church is impressive.  The grotto was full of garbage (some of it probably left by Lord Byron).

Lerici - Another beautiful town on the "bay of poets" (the bay of La Spezia).  It's a lot simpler to get here than to Portovenere.

Portofino - We had to visit Portofino, which is only about 5 KM from Santa Margherita.  Alisa remembers the song from the 50's.  We made the mistake of going by car.  At the entrance to the town the police are waiting for you.  They let you in when others leave as the parking is severely limited.  Actually, there is no parking.  It's all in organized parking facilities, at 8000 IL per hour.  Later, we realized that there is a regular bus service from Santa Margherita at 1500 IL per person. Very convenient, very simple, and the bus stoppped about 50 meters from our hotel.
Rappalo - We were very pleasantly surprised by Rapallo.

It's much bigger than Santa Margherita, but has still retained its' charm.  It has lots of good shopping and its port area is just beautiful.  Here's a picture to the left. We had a wonderful visit here for a few hours at the end of the day. We also found a great restaurant here called the Vecchia Rapallo. This is a class restaurant with great service and food. We had a wonderful meal including a very special dish served only in this area - "pansoti in walnut sauce".

Pansoti is home made pasta "pockets" (about the size of ravioli) stuffed with spinach and smothered in a walnut based sauce.   Delicious!  Alisa fell in love with the "acuighe" ) promounced ah-tchu-ay) which are the local Ligurian anchovies marinated in lemon juice and served in olive oil.  That was one of the appetizers we had.  These are not the anchovies Americans know as a salty topping for Pizza.  These are delicate and refined and very tasty.   The main courses were grilled shrimp and sea bream baked in olive oil, capers, and olives.  Desert was fresh rasberries.  Everything was delicious!  Address - Via Cairolli 20/24, and the phone number - 0185-500053.  To the right are some links about the food in this area, including recipes for Pansoti.


NYTimes on Ligurian food 

Recipe for Pansotti, a typical Ligurian Dish

About Chef Umberto Manghi

About Liguria and its Cuisine (a loving and beautiful personal description)



Before we arrived in Italy this time, we were undecided about visiting Milan.  Very quickly Alisa realized that the only good shopping she could do would be in Milan, so "we" decided that with the two free days we had, we would visit Milan.  Unfortunately, we had no hotel reservations in or near Milan so we had to drive into Milan and start searching.   We quickly found out that the hotels in Milan are expensive, and for the most part without parking.  They were also largely full, as we were there during the Milan fashion week.  We drove up "Via Buenos Aires" which becomes "Via Monza" as this street runs directly above the metro line #1.  At the stop of Via Pasteur", we found the Comfort Hotel & Suites Pasteur.   We got their last suite at the price of a double with parking in hotel basement for $205 per night.  This was a real "bargain".  We were about a 1 minute walk from the nearest Metro stop, the car was parked safely in the basement, and the suite was very very spacious and very nice - exceptionally nice for a 3 star hotel.

We ate at two memorable restaurants, the first, "Al Cantinone" which is a bar with an attached restaurant called the  "Tratorria dei Magnani".  It's located at Via Agnello 19, which just behind the Rinascente store on the Piazza Duomo.  The restaurant is simple, reasonably priced, and the food is excellent including home made pasta.  The other is one of the most illustrious restaurants in Milan.  It is called "Boeucc", (pronounced like "birch") which means "hole" in old Milanese.  It is the oldest restaurant in Milan, operating since 1696 and is located on Piazza Belgioioso, which is also just behind the Rinascente store (about 2 or 3 streets in a maze like way).   The meal was excellent.

During the day, Alisa did her shopping, and I toured around Milano on foot.


From Milan, we headed to Bellagio, noted by many as the most beautiful place in Europe.  We weren't disappointed.  The area is  one of the most beautiful we have ever seen.  We also had reasonably good weather.  This area is foggy and mist shrouded during the fall, but while we were there, the sun came out in the afternoon and we were able to fully enjoy the beauty of the area. We stayed at a 4 star hotel called Du Lac located on the shore and across from the boat dock.  As expected, the hotel has no nearby parking, but for 15000 IL per day, we rented one of their garages which are located about a 5 minute walk from the hotel.  We enjoyed our stay at the hotel which is run be an Anglo-Italian family which provided very helpful service.  The hotel has a very good restaurant and the breakfast buffet was the best we had during our entire trip.  The best restaurant we ate at was the Barchetta, which is about a 30 second walk from the Du Lac.

Bellagio is located at the northern tip of the peninsula which splits the lower two legs of Lake Como.  The main form of transportation here is by water as the road from Como is a narrow "white knuckle" route which takes about an hour.  There is an abundance of various forms of water transport; ferries, passenger only boats, hydrofoils, taxis, and privately run tours.  The area is famous for its parks and villas, but for us the main enjoyment was just hopping from one town to the next.  We bought 2 day tickets for 13000 IL each which entitled us to use the boats and ferries of the central Lago area unlimited for one day.  It was well worth it.  We sailed to Verrana where we visited the town and the Villa Monasteria. We sailed to Mennagia and strolled on the beautiful lakeside promenade.  And then, we sailed back to Verrana again because the sun had come out.  To the right are links describing this area, including some nice hotels.


Tourism on Lake Como

A Romantic tour of Lake Como

A travel journal about Belagio from IgoUgo

All about visiting Bellagio

Postcards from Bellagio

Hotel Belvedere

Hotel Royal Victoria in Varenna


Bellagio is the biggest and most lively of the towns is central lake Como.  We loved staying here, but as an alternative, check out Varenna, which is smaller and quieter, and it has a train line that goes to Milan.  The hotels are also much cheaper, and Bellagio is only about 10 minutes away by boat.

Menaggio, the third point on the triangle is also a pleasant town, but its main advantage is also a disadvantage.  The road that goes through it is very commercial and very busy. To the left is a view of the Mennagio shoreline from the shore of Verenna. 

On our last day, we drove to Stressa on Lake Maggiore.  It's also a beautiful area, but we found the Bellagio area more scenic and beautiful.  On the other hand, it is far easier to get to and is only 5 minutes off the highway joining Italy to Switzerland.  We ate at a delightful Mom & Pop restaurant called dei Pescatore, "the fisherman".  Again, the highlight was the homemade pasta but the trout baked "en papillon", (in a paper bag) was an incredibly delicious surprise.  Everything was delicious is this simple little restaurant on the edge of the town center. We also found another surprise in Stressa, the best wine store I have ever seen in Italy.  They have a huge selection of wine, as well as a wide selection of other Italian specialties - olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spices, and lots of other things.  The name of the store is "Cambusa" on Via Cavour. 


LAST UPDATE - August 20, 2011