Mini-tour: northern Italy

View of the old city of Imperia

We went on another road trip, this time to Italy, to visit friends who have been renovating an old house since over ten years in Baragiotta. We explored a few towns along the way.

The Italian border is very close to Nice, where we were staying. However you drive past another country: tiny Monaco!

Soon after crossing the Italian border, we had a hankering for coffee, and where better to have coffee than in Italy? There weren't many exits off the highway - we got off at Imperia, on the Mediterranean coast.

Cappuccinos and a pasticcino (pastry)
Cappuccinos and a pasticcino

We sat outside a coffee house, and the cappuccinos were delicious, as well as the pastry (pasticcino) filled with a delicate lemon-infused cream. Cost for everything: 4 Euros 50 before tip. In Nice, one café crème usually costs 3 Euros 50. (We had given up on cappuccinos.)

The weather was cloudy, and there were few people out, but I can only imagine what it's like in the summer!

We continued to Genoa, which took us a little further than our turnoff to go north. Unfortunately, we hadn't done our homework and only caught glimpses of the beautiful old buildings and the port. We drove too far east and stopped in what appeared to be the business district; we ate a decent but unexciting lunch.

After lunch in Genoa, we backtracked to return to the highway (Autostrada) exit towards the north of the country. The highway was impressive, especially the first part going through the mountains, with tunnels galore.

Between GPS and signage we found my friend's house, in the tiny village of Borrogiatta, on the Sesia River, easily.

What's especially wonderful when you're not a lonesome tourist but visiting people who are local (my friend is German but has been living in Italy for over 30 years, and her husband is from the region) is that you're able to experience things that a tourist would probably not be able to, or not know about. That first evening we went to sample a specific white wine at a vineyard belonging to a man who loves all thing rock! So we were in a dining room with walls decorated with rock concert posters, T-shirts, and more. The wine was delectable, and we had simple food to go with it: cheeses and salami/smoked ham, leek pie, cooked greens. (Most was difficult for vegetarians or anyone avoiding fat!) Note: The winery is Alfonso Rinaldi vinicoltore in Suno, and the type of wine we drank was Erbaluce.

The next day we had lunch in Romagnano Sesia at a local restaurant that does Friday lunch specials. After that we walked along the Sesia River; many towns along the river have "Sesia" at the end of their name, such as Prato Sesia, Borgosesia, and more.

Romagnano also boasts a museum set in an old castle, that shows old professions and their tool, dolls, and much more. The setting is beautiful, and the museum is fascinating.

Saturday is market day in Borgosesia.(Piedmont). You'll find anything you could think of and more--from vegetables (including 5 types of zucchini) to clothing (including sparkly bikinis). Cafes abound; we sat down to savor a Marocchino (coffee + milk + cocoa, layered), and people watch.

It was too chilly and damp for a real hike. We drove to a large lake, the Lago d'Orta. In summer, it must be fabulous, albeit very crowded. Walking from the car, we noticed an amazing Moorish-style building, the Villa Crespi. It is now used as a Michelin starred restaurant run by a famous Italian chef named Cannavacciuolo. There are inscriptions in Arabic, saying (as per my Lebanese relative): "And a friend with whom I get along - and we are very happy." It was a bizarre feeling to see an Arabic inscription in the northern part of Italy!

We walked a bit around the lake; it would take days to go all the way around, and apparently not all of it is on a path. We arrived at the small town of Orta San Giulio. There is a tiny marina, and many shops and restaurants like in Antibes and Sausalito.

Ducks were strolling on the cobblestone streets as if they were also visitors. A movie team shooed us away from a waterfront spot. We stopped (time for aperitivo) at a wine bar, the Enoteca Re di Coppe for wine and wonderful appetizers. The ice cream was very tempting, but we'll have to come back to try it!

Driving back to Nice the next day, we decided to stop for lunch in Turin. My friend lived there for many years, and I remembered the center to be very beautiful and historical. This time we were better prepared, and parked near the main train station in order to walk to most of the historical area.

We ate at Eataly, the well-known specialty supermarket and eatery that now has branches in various parts of the world, but started out in Turin. Service was good, and the food also. After my multicolored insalata (salad), I insisted on drinking a bicerin: hot chocolate with coffee and cream, a Turin specialty. Even Alexandre Dumas praised it! We walked back via other streets, with many shops, including a wonderland-style candy store.

It was a short visit, once again, and sadly the weather didn't cooperate much.

We drove back on the Autostrada, and a couple of hours later, we were back in Nice.

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