Last year our French friends Rafael and Odile organised a Morgan tour of their region of Provence. We had such a great time that we decided to organise a similar tour of Lombardy. By and large we visited places that Alis and I had already visited but we went to a few places that were new to us. In all there were 6 Morgans. The French registered cars were: Laure and Jacques, and Christiane and Pier in 4/4s, Odile and Raphy in a Morgan 3 Wheeler, and Sylvie and Serge with an Aero 8 The Italian registered cars were: Letizia and Efrem in another 4/4, and us, Alis and Peter in our Plus 4. Needless to say we attracted a lot of attention everywhere we went.
Our tour, the Ballade Morganisti, was mainly on normal roads and we entirely avoided toll roads and the Autostrada (except for one short stretch to avoid city traffic on the way home). We were very lucky with the weather and only saw a couple of spots of rain on the entire 6 day period. Our journey was punctuated by a series of gastronomic delights and I am sure we all arrived home with a kilo or two more than when we left.
The following is, in effect, a list of the places we stayed and where we paused for lunch. Needless to say the journey covered a wide variety of roads and conditions varying from twisty mountain passes to traversing the agricultural plains of the Po valley. Along the way we also discovered many interesting small villages and towns. I would highly recommend to anyone who wishes to emulate or trip to use a good navigator. It is important to be able to specify that you do not want toll roads however if you specify to avoid high speed roads the navigator may want to take you over some very small country roads. One really needs to use a certain amount of common sense and if a road seems impractical do not take it and look for an alternative.
The departure point was Mamma Ciccia in Mandello del Lario (www.mammaciccia.it)on Lake Como and five Morgans headed north along the lake until we arrived at Bellano before climbing up the mountainside and passing through to Valsassina above the gorge of the Pioverna river. We then turned south following the road through Valsassina then down to Lecco and on to our lunch stop at Pizzeria Vecchia Napoli at Stezzano, near Bergamo (Via Azzano San Paolo, 31, 24040 Stezzano Bergamo). Following a lunch of excellent pizza in the true Neapolitan style we then continued on to our rendezvous with the Italian registered 4/4 and Efrem and Letizia at Cremona where naturally we had to take a look around the town followed by an aperitivo in the Piazza facing the romanic Duomo. From Cremona a brief run across the flat countryside brought us to our first night’s stop at Isola Dovarese where we stayed at the Hotel Palazzo Quaranta. www.palazzoquaranta.it
We found the recently restored rooms very comfortable and were served an excellent meal including local specialities. Off street car parking is available on request. The next morning all the staff and family of the owners turned out to have photos taken with the Morgans. Isola Dovarese is a small quite middle-age town with an interesting central piazza and well worth a visit.
Our next port of call was the seat of the Gonzaga, dominant lords of the area during the middle ages. Mantova is a well known tourist destination and offers many interesting sights. On advice from a local friend we drove around the town and crossed the Ponte di S. Giorgio (bridge) and returning into the city for the best views. Do take care in Mantova because a lot of the streets in the old centre are restricted to traffic (ZTL) and controlled by video surveillance. You would not want to spoil the visit with a hefty fine. Be careful if following Google Maps directions as they are incorrect and will lead you into the ZTL. We drove straight to Apcoa Parking in Via Giuseppe Mazzini. Unfortunately the Palace of the Duke was closed due to recent earthquake damage and the cathedral was also surrounded in scaffolding. We did however manage to visit the garden at the Palace and the ancient round church of S. Lorenzo nearby.
We had an excellent lunch at La Trattoria da “Chiara” (which confusingly also seems to be called Osteria la Bottega). www.osterialabottega.it
They prepared a number of dishes typical of the region including our first of a series of tortelli di zucca, a pasta filled with pumpkin.
Following lunch we had an excellent run of about 35 km in bright sunshine to the small walled town of Sabbioneta. www.iatsabbioneta.org .
Sabbioneta is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Lombardy. It was founded on the concept of the ideal town. Complex urban and architectural design combines the elegant balance of the last phase of the Renaissance to the vibrant atmosphere of the coming century. The town (1556-1591), enclosed by the powerful defensive curtain wall and accessible through austere and imposing gates, contains excellent examples of the architecture of the late Renaissance and pictorial art. Of particular importance is the Teatro all’antica (“Theatre in the style of the Ancients”), designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi. Unfortunately for us it is closed on Mondays.
From Sabbioneta we returned a short distance towards Padova then headed across country, beside rivers and irrigation canals, to arrive at Villastrada and Ristorante Nizzoli (www.ristorantenizzoli.com). Nizzoli also have rooms, comfortable but very “old style” so do not expect five star accomodation. Nizzoli is a genius in the kitchen and excelled himself with a series of local dishes that left our French guests most impressed. Amongst the culinary delights offered were his prizewinning tortelli di zucca (of the excellent tortelli di zucca that we tried these were undoubtedly the best), snails cooked in two different ways, frog’s legs, and local salamis and hams. All this was washed down with copious quantities of local red wine. For us the evening finished with a two kilometer walk to aid digestion.
The next morning, following the obligatory photos, we departed for the Maserati Museum and automotive collection of Umberto Panini www.paninimotormuseum.it/index-en.htm but first we deviated slightly from the original plan to visit Brescello, the town where the films about the exploits of Don Camillo and Peppone where filmed. After a coffee in the Piazza and photos with the statues of Don Camillo and Peppone we regained our route to the Maserati Museum. As we were more than the maximum of 5 persons for an independent visit we had a guide (a cost of €120 for the group) and much to our surprise this included a guided tour of the Parmesan cheese making facilities. I should explain that the museum is situated in the centre of a farm that produces biological Parmesan cheese of a very high quality. Following the very interesting tour we were able to sample some of the produce and make some purchases before proceeding to the Maserati Museum. Our final visit before leaving the estate was to the workshop of iXoost, a small manufacturer of hand made sound systems based on the exhaust manifolds of racing cars. www.ixoost.it. All very impressive and beautiful, and they sound wonderful, but they would be something of a stretch for my budget.
We had tried to find a place near the museum for lunch but in the end had decided to go another 37 kms into the foothills of the Apennines south of Parma to the Bar Trattoria Da Mandarein Di Fontanili Giliola. It can be found on a navigator at 44.61147 N, 10.49831 E. We had particularly wanted to try some typical local dishes of the Parma, Modena region, such assuch as gnocco fritto, a puffy deep fried pastry, and tigelle, a small flat bread, which are both eaten with cold hams, salame and fresh cheese. We encountered a brief shower as a front passed over so arrived a little late at our destination as we had to stop to put the hoods up. It was supposed to be a light meal but for €22 each, including wine, water and coffee, they brought plate after plate of delicious food including yet another version of tortelli di zucca (again absolutely superb). Following lunch we exited to find a different day. Not a cloud in the sky and warm sunshine so the hoods were tucked away before we tackled the narrow mountain roads to the Castle of Canossa.
The Castle, now in ruins, is steeped in history (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canossa_Castle). It, and the museum, may be visited every day except Mondays. We, however, only stopped to admire the view over the plains to Parma. Whilst there we discovered that there is also an excellent restaurant (Ristorante Bar La Rupe Di Conti Sante) in the small village below the castle. We will certainly keep it in mind for a future visit. On the recommendation of the restaurant owner we did not take the shortest road to Parma but on returning to the main road we continued on and past the castle of Rossena which is another interesting castle which remains pretty much intact. I can see another visit to the region in the not too distant future.
On arriving in Parma we left the cars at the Star Hotel Du Parc and after a brief rest we walked in to town. Parma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parma) is a vibrant, picturesque city that seems to be full of young people. Perhaps this is just the impression that one gains on a sunny afternoon when the call of fresh air exceeds the desire to study for the coming exams. After a wander around the centre and a visit to admire the cathedral and its bell tower we returned to the hotel via the Ducal Park. We had time for a rest and a change of clothes before meeting for an excellent meal, in the restaurant of the hotel, which was somewhat let down by a very poor and expensive wine list. We were unable to find any good local wines at a reasonable price and, on the only occasion in the trip, we had a rather poor quality red. The hotel is rather old , we were quite comfortable, and there is abundant parking, at a small fee, but we would probably search for a better restaurant on another visit to Parma.
Day four saw us taking a tour of the Appenines. After following a series of roads parallel to the Autostrada we turned west towards Bobbio, following the river valley (Valtrebbia), and then climbed the winding road of the Passo del Penice (1149 m) which follows an old pilgrim route. At the peak we paused for a light lunch at the Ristorante Lo Scarpone, www.ristoranteloscarpone.it.
Following lunch we continued our tour which turned out to be somewhat longer than anticipated. The original intention was to visit the village of Fortunago which has been judged as one of the most beautiful in the region but I failed to follow my own instructions and finished up miles off course before returning to the correct road. At least one could say we saw some interesting country. Given the lateness of the hour the decision was made to go straight to our overnight stop, the agriturismo of Cascina Casareggiò di Lucia Rossotti www.cascinacasareggio.it. The road in is not the best but can be easily accomplished at a leisurely pace. The destination is worth the effort.
The Cascina is an old farming community that has been completely restored and turned into an agriturismo of excellent reputation that is very popular for local wedding receptions. The accommodation is very comfortable and the dinning is nothing short of superb, not to mention the excellent local wines. In summer one can cool off in the pool. Following a good walk to explore the valley we returned for a rest to prepare ourselves for dinner. The evening was one of the most enjoyable on the trip and the conversation was peppered with many jokes and anecdotes.
Our departure the next morning was delayed by the need to find space for wine and salami. Our poor cars suffered the indignity of being loaded as though they were utility vehicles. In our case the near empty Morgan leather case was loaded with a dozen bottles of wine and a huge salami. Everything else was shoved into the passenger foot well or wedged behind the seats. At this point one of the French 4/4s piloted by Pier and Christiane had to leave for an appointment at home so we wished them “bon voyage” with many promises of future encounters.
This was to be the last organised day of the trip and our first point of call was Serravalle Outlet. Personally I feel that the huge outlet shopping villages do not often offer bargains and I think it turned out to be pretty much the case. After two hours or so of shopping we returned to the cars with very little additional encumbrance. We again managed to get somewhat lost, embarrassingly getting separated in the car park! Eventually, however, we arrived, reunited, at the terme Lago delle Sorgenti at Acqui Terme, www.lagodellesorgenti.it , where we spent a couple of pleasant hours soaking in various forms of hot water.
Our last gastronomical appointment was at Relais Borgo del Gallo at Cavatore. www.relaisborgodelgallo.com/eng/storia/. Do be careful if using a navigator as it will take you to a place some distance from the Relais. It is best to key in the geographical coordinates 44.634355 N, 8.451777 E.
The village of Cavatore is on the hill above the relais and is well worth a visit on foot to explore. It is dominated by a watch tower and the houses seem pretty much as they would have been several hundred years ago.
Despite the excellent food and wine or meal was somewhat more subdued than the previous evening as we all had thoughts of our eminent departure for home. Odile and Raphy were to leave in the morning direct for Provence in the M3W and Letizia and Efrem in the 4/4 had an appointment that could not be avoided. Laure and Jacques in the other 4/4 and Sylvie and Serge in the Aero 8 were to return with us to Mandello for a visit to the Moto Guzzi Museum before returning to northern France via Switzerland.
And so it was that the next morning, with many fond farewells and promises of future meetings, the group split once again to start our various return trips.