Archive for the ‘Bassano del Grappa’ Category

Lunch at Bottega dei Sapori

July 9, 2012
Italian coffee shop  Bottega dei Sapori

Italian coffee shop Bottega dei Sapori

mushroom tortellini

mushroom tortellini

There are two places worth eating at in Alton, a small relatively unspoilt market town in Hampshire, the source of the River Wey, O’Connor’s and Bottega dei Sapori.

Bottega dei Sapori is an Italian coffee shop cum restaurant cum Italian shop.

As you walk in your eyes are caught by a display of scrumptious looking cakes. As you walk through, on the left is a small room in which Italian produce is on sale, bread and seeds.

Walk through and you can enter a small garden, where I am pleased to report smoking is not allowed. I have never understood why for those who wish to sit outside in the fresh air they have to suffer from those who seem to think it is their right to pollute the air around them.

I ordered mushroom tortellini. I ordered off the board, which is what I recommend.

The mushroom tortellini was delicious.

I would have tried one of the cakes, but it was late afternoon and I was running short of time to have a walk around Alton. I had already missed the Alton Food Festival. I did though try blackberry crumble or pie which was sitting on the side. It was delicious.

All the ingredients are either fresh sourced locally or sourced from Italy.

Their coffee is single origin Bourbon Arabica from El Salvador with Rainforest Alliance Certification. One of the best Arabica coffees I have ever tried was Zapatista coffee from an autonomous region of Mexico.

I had a chat with the Italian owner. I learnt he was from north of Venice, not far from Bassano del Grappa.

With the exception of Ristorante Alla Corte the food in Bassano del Grappa was over priced and awful, then to add insult to injury when you came to pay the bill you found you were hit with an extortionate cover charge. On one occasion 50%!

It is somewhat ironic that one has to travel to Alton to discover excellent Italian food.

I am at a loss why people eat in disgusting fast food outlets when there are decent restaurants serving excellent freshly prepared dishes.

Next door to the Italian coffee shop (it is really a small restaurant) the site of what used to be the bank that belonged to the brother of Jane Austen.

A Jane Austen trail runs through Alton and nearby Chawton where she lived.

European Vacation 2012

June 17, 2012
Grand Canal Venice -- Canaletto

Grand Canal Venice — Canaletto

The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute -- Canaletto

The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute — Canaletto

Incredible film footage by Brian Wilson.

London, the Eurostar train, then Milan, then Venice.

I flew to Venice in March then train to Bassano del Grappa, then back to Venice, an hour, then left.

May, I flew over Venice, before that Istanbul, then over the Alps.

The architecture and mountain scenery of northern Italy is very much that I found in Bassano del Grappa.

Excellent the way Brian Wilson captures the spirit of Venice. Looking down the Grand Canal, the scene could be straight out of a painting by Canaletto.

It never occurred to me to travel Eurostar to Venice until I was in Venice and saw the Eurostar trains.

Top Story in Veni Vidi Vici (Sunday 17 June 2012).

Monte Grappa

April 7, 2012

Montegrappa is a company in Bassano del Grappa that makes high quality pens. They recently celebrated 100 years 1912-2012 with the launch on St Joseph’s Day of The Alchemist pen, a collaboration between Montegrappa and Paulo Coelho.

Montegrappa launch The Alchemist pen
Launch of Montegrappa The Alchemist pen

Monte Grappa is a mountain, 1,775 metres (5,823 ft) high, not far from Bassano del Grappa.

Bassano del Grappa is very popular with cyclists, Monte Grappa is no exception. Cyclists on mountain bikes like to make a rapid descent of Monte Grappa.

Top Story in The Digital Mission Daily (Saturday 7 April 2012).

Montegrappa launch of The Alchemist press pack

April 3, 2012
Montegrappa The Alchemist press pack

Montegrappa The Alchemist press pack

Hard to believe, a couple of weeks have already passed by since my Japanese friends and I turned up at the launch of the Montegrappa The Alchemist pen in Bassano del Grappa on St Joseph’s Day (19 March 2012). The Alchemist pen a collaboration between Montegrappa and Paulo Coelho.

After the launch, we had a guided tour of the Montegrappa facility.

On leaving, I spotted a few press packs were available.

Could I have one please, I asked.

Are you a journalist?

Certainly not, I replied, but more people will read what I write.

One press pack was handed over.

We only had time to get back to our hotel, change, then back out to be picked up for a St Jopeph’s Day party at a medieval Venetian Castle, guests of Paulo Coelho. I never really looked at the press pack until much later.

  • Moments, a diary with wonderful illustrations by Catalina Estrada and quotes from Paulo coelho.
  • A Montegrappa pen! No, not The Alchemist, a Parola, but still a Montegrappa pen.
  • An illustrated book on Montegrappa.
  • A pouch with a Montegrappa 300 GB hard disk drive!

I regret I did not get a press pack for my Japanese friends but that would have been pushing my luck.

Ristorante Alla Corte

March 31, 2012
Ristorante Alla Corte

Ristorante Alla Corte

shellfish and spaghetti

shellfish and spaghetti

Mio expert with spaghetti

Mio expert with spaghetti

I had intended eating out, but there was nowhere nearby, Bassano del Grappa was half an hour walk away in the dark, and so I ate at Ristorante Alla Corte.

Not that I am complaining, as the food was excellent, and as I was to later discover, there is nowhere worth eating in Bassano del Grappa.

Many places claim to be gourmet restaurants, but few live up to the claim. Were Ristorante Alla Corte to make the claim (it actually does not), it would be well deserved as the food and service excellent.

Wherever possible, the ingredients are sourced locally.

Ristorante Alla Corte is popular with locals, which is always a good sign. Regulars were greeted as old friends.

The locals or regulars seemed to eat off menu. On my first night, a table of ten was served a leg of roast pork. I inquired and was told it had been slow roasted for ten hours.

I was then asked would I like to try.

I said yes, and was served a couple of slices of the roast pork with small, diced roast potatoes. It was excellent.

Roberto and his chef clearly took a great pride in what they served, and were very happy to sit and talk about the food if you showed an interest and they were not too busy.

One evening Roberto showed me two photo albums of cultural events where food was served, one location being the Villa Bianchi.

I was very much reminded of Nicolas Tavern in Protoras in Cyprus where Nicolas takes a great pride in the food served.

One night Roberto told me he had something special. I assumed he was going to tell me of a special dish and ask would I like to try. But no, Monetegrappa had booked a table for ten and had as their guest of honour Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho.

A great honour indeed for Roberto and Ristorante Alla Corte.

On the evening everyone was spruced up, but sadly it never happened. One hour before they were due to dine, Montegrappa called to cancel, Paulo Coelho’s flight had been delayed and he would not make it in time for dinner.

I ate there every night, not Monday as it was closed. Monday night I ate at a medieval Venetian castle at a St Joseph’s Day party, guest of Paulo Coelho.

My last night I did not enjoy. Roberto was absent and I do not think the chef was there either. The service was not as good and I did not enjoy my meal (though it may have been because I was not feeling well). My Japanese friends said their meal was good, shellfish with spaghetti. I barely touched mine. I emptied my plate onto Mio’s plate, she ate it and said it was good.

On my first night I was treated by Roberto to a glass of grappa, from Poli, a local speciality. I did not like it, and spent the rest of the night politely sipping.

Slow Food, as an alternative to fast food, was founded in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986.

Slow Food has expanded to become the all embracing Slow Movement, which includes Slow Money, Cittaslow, Slow fashion, Slow music.

Slow Movement embraces local, seasonal food, local culture, local seed varieties.

Although not part of the Slow Movement, what Roberto and his colleagues were doing was something similar, cultural events that celebrated local food, local customs.

Sadly we did not see Roberto to say goodbye. He was in Brussels helping to prepare a Gala dinner for over 700 MEPs!

Grappa

March 30, 2012
glass of grappa

glass of grappa

Grappa is distilled from grapes.

The area for grappa is Bassano del Grappa.

Bassano del Grappa has two distilleries.

One, Poli, is over the bridge and up the hill. It faces as one comes off the old wooden bridge.

Poli distils from two grape varieties, Merlot and Pinot. The basic ingredient is the mush or pomace left over from making wine.

Grappa is usually served as a digestivo or after-dinner drink. It is served in a specially shaped glass.

I had my first taste of grappa on my first night in Bassano del Grappa, when I ate at Ristorante Alla Corte and after dinner Roberto poured me a glass. I then spent the rest of the night politely sipping.

I liked it not.

Grappa has protected status. It may only be produced in Italy, or in the Italian part of Switzerland, or in San Marino. It may only be made from pomace, not grape juice. There can be no added water.

A contemporary cultural reference to grappa can be found in The Fire, the sequel to The Eight.

Synchronicity: I was given The Fire whilst I was in Bassano del Grappa.

Aleph now out in paperback!

March 30, 2012
Aleph and The Alchemist joint No 7 (in non fiction chart)

Aleph and The Alchemist joint No 7 (in non fiction chart)

Wonderful display of Paulo Coelho books in window of Libreria Palazzo Roberti

Wonderful display of Paulo Coelho books in window of Libreria Palazzo Roberti

HarperCollins have produced a rather tacky video to promote that Aleph is now available in paperback.

This appalling New-Age-light video from HarperCollins merely serves to reinforce the worse prejudices from critics that Paulo Coelho is a pedlar of psycho-babble and pseudo-crap.

In many ways it is much worse than the critics. At least with the vicious personal attacks by critics masquerading as book reviews, the intelligent reader can see there is something wrong, wrong that is with the critic not the books or author.

Had I never read Paulo Coelho, this awful video would have put me off Paulo Coelho for life, or at the very least it would have taken a lot of persuading for me to have picked up and read one of his books.

I learnt Aleph was out in paperback on passing through an airport and finding it on display on a book stand. It was joint No 7 with The Alchemist. Odd though, I thought, in the non-fiction chart.

The Alchemist has a new cover. This I discovered on meeting and chatting with a man who like me was in transit between terminal buildings and waiting for the shuttle. Strangers passing by in brief encounters.

Reading the signs

Was Aleph on display in Waterstone’s?

Friday of last week, I checked Waterstone’s in Guildford. No, Aleph was not on display. It was not on display in the window, not on display in-store. At least it was on display on the shelves after I passed through.

Same story, Waterstone’s in Lincoln, Tuesday of this week. No Aleph on display.

What is wrong with Waterstone’s?

Last year when Aleph came out in hardback, it was not on display in Waterstone’s

Paulo Coelho in Waterstone’s and the author the publisher forgot

If nothing else an opportunity for independent bookshops. But will they grasp the opportunity? On past track record, the sad reality is no, which is one reason they are all going out of business.

What’s gone wrong with our bookshops?

Last year Aleph was released across Europe. It shot straight to No 1 in all countries apart from UK.

Waterstone’s is a very depressing place to visit. A marked contrast to the four bookshops I found happily coexisting in Bassano del Grappa.

Bookshops in Bassano del Grappa

One, Libreria Palazzo Roberti, located in a former palace that was once owned by the Comte Roberti where Napoleon slept the night, was a delight to visit. As one wandered around one could see the love of books. Wonderful enticing book displays.

I mentioned Paulo Coelho was in Bassano del Grappa. When I passed by a couple of days later, Libreria Plazzo Roberti had a wonderful display of Paulo Coelho books in one of their windows. Somehow I cannot imagine that happening with Waterstone’s.

Guildford has an annual book festival which takes place mid-October. Pass by Waterstone’s and you would not know, as no mention of the Guildford Book Festival. Sour grapes because they are not the official festival bookseller.

But please do not let the tacky HarperCollins video put you off reading Aleph. It is excellent and highly recommended.

Aleph is available in paperback the UK now, in the US in June.

Villa Bianchi

March 29, 2012
Villa Bianchi - Bassano del Grappa

Villa Bianchi - Bassano del Grappa

You do not expect to wake up the morning, look outside of your bathroom window and find across the road an Italian villa, a Palladian villa.

I knew it was big, but it was not until later in the day when I walked into Bassano del Grappa after a three-hour walk along the river in the morning, I appreciated how big, or how splendid. My view earlier from my bathroom window was end on.

What I was looking at was a 16th Italian villa designed by the Venetian architect Andrea della Gondola detto il Palladio.

Andrea della Gondola detto il Palladio was a Renaissance man. He reintroduced the Roman villa. And that is what I found I was looking at, a Roman villa, collonaded structures, a pond, massive gates, sculptures. Off to one side, forming a wing, a long block, probably once servant quarters, was now lived in.

This block formed one side of a farmyard, which we learnt talking to a local man on our last day, housed a winery.

What must have once been the extensive grounds for the house, now vineyards.

The villa is now boarded up, though Roberto, owner of Hotel Alla Corte, told me it was used a couple of times a year for grand cultural events (and showed me an album of pictures of one such event) and said during a visit to Italy, Queen Elizabeth II of England stayed at the villa.

Andrea della Gondola detto il Palladio (1508-1580) got the name Palladio from Pallas Athene, patron of Athena. He was influenced by Vitruvius Pollio, a first century Roman architect whose books, The Ten Books of Architecture, had recently been rediscovered.

Andrea della Gondola detto il Palladio wrote Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, four books on the principles of architecture.

Andrea della Gondola detto il Palladio influenced Thomas Jefferson, who in turn had an influence on the design and layout of Washington DC, in particular the Capitol building.

In modern literature, Andrea della Gondola detto il Palladio makes an appearance in The Fire, the sequel to The Eight.

Synchronicity: I was in Bassano del Grappa for the launch of The Alchemist pen by Montegrappa and for a St Josepeph’s Day party. Alchemy is key to The Fire. I was given as a present The Fire at the St Joseph’s Day party.

Our last day together in Bassano del Grappa

March 27, 2012
Mio about to set off for Bassano del Grappa

Mio about to set off for Bassano del Grappa

my wonderful travelling companions setting off for our last day in Bassano del Grappa

my wonderful travelling companions setting off for our last day in Bassano del Grappa

It was our last day together in Bassano del Grappa. The next day it was Venice.

It was the morning after the party the night before. We got back at 3-30am in the early hours of the morning from Paulo Coelho’s St Joseph’s Day party. I awoke not long after 6am. I felt dreadful, my head would not stop throbbing, but somehow I dragged myself down to breakfast, not that I felt like eating anything.

My Japanese friends had not yet made it to breakfast. My Russian friend Dasha had made breakfast. She had got in at 3am, and asked what time did we get in.

No sign of my Japanese friends so I went for a walk to Villa Bianchi (arch A Palladio), a 16th century Italian villa.

On my return, Dasha was packed and ready to leave. We said our farewells.

Ken and Yumi had made it to breakfast, but as yet, no sign of Mio.

Ken and I walked to a nearby bank. No luck changing Yen. They suggested we try banks in Bassano del Grappa.

On our return we chatted to a film maker who was preparing to leave. Yumi made her an origami figure of a crane.

Mio was now up. As Ken and Yumi did not wish to go out until later, I suggested to Mio we walk to the nearby church, it was too lovely a day to waste.

Mio agreed. We walked to the church, then up a mountain. It could not have been a more enjoyable walk, very peaceful and quiet, the only sound that of birds singing and the rustle of lizards in the leaves as they scurried away on our approach. And I could not have wished for a lovelier walking companion.

A walk to a church then up a mountain

On our return we found Yumi and Ken were now ready, so we set off for Bassano del Grappa.

I found a stick, which I gave to Ken. He found it an ideal walking stick.

A man who had spoken to us the previous day stopped and chatted. He told us three types of grapes were grown in the vineyards, Merlot, Pinot and a variety I did not know, and that there was a winery in the villa, the wine exported all over the world. He suggested we take a look, though he did not know if there would be anyone there to talk to us.

We retraced our steps and walked into what I thought of as the farmyard. We found cases of wine ready for shipping, vats in which we assumed the grapes were fermented, large barrels for storage, but no one about.

We then carried on our way. We could not have hoped or wished for a better day.

It could not have been a nicer or more pleasant day for our last day in Bassano del Grappa. We set off in good spirits.

Our day in Bassano del Grapp was though a somewhat wasted day.

It took most of the afternoon to find a bank that would change money, or at least that would change Yen.

We then decided to eat a pizza. Could we found a pizza place? Sadly not. We did not find a pizza place until around 7pm.

By now I was cold, not feeling very well and probably very bad company.

We ordered a taxi. Mio tried to keep me warm.

We ate that evening at Ristorante Alla Corte. I did not enjoy my meal. I was tired, not feeling well, and feeling miserable as the next day we would go our separate ways. I ate a little, then gave what was left to Mio

We had a bottle of champagne from the night before. I was for drinking it late night, relaxing after packing was done, but everyone was tired and wished for an early night, so we had it with our dinner.

Packing, bed, then train to Venice the following day.

No 1 Top Story in The Waverley Daily (Wednesday 28 March 2012).

A walk to a church then up a mountain

March 27, 2012
nearby church from Hotel Alla Corte - Bassano del Grappa

nearby church from Hotel Alla Corte - Bassano del Grappa

It was the morning after the party the night before.

We got in at 3-30am in the early hours of the morning from Paulo Coelho’s St Joseph’s Day party. I awoke not long after 6am.

I somehow dragged myself down to breakfast. I felt dreadful, my head would not stop throbbing. I felt sick.

My friend Russian friend Dasha was down to breakfast, but no sign of my Japanese friends. Dasha asked when did I get in? She got in at 3am.

As there was no sign of my Japanese friends, I took myself for a walk to Villa Bianchi (arch A Palladio), a 16th century Italian villa.

On getting back, Dasha and family were preparing to leave. We had a chat, and said our farewells.

I found Ken and Yumi finishing breakfast. No sign yet of Mio.

We had a chat with a film maker, Yumi made her an origami figure of a crane. Ken and I went down the road in search of a bank. No, they could not change Yen, suggested we try banks in Bassano del Grappa.

On our return we found Mio had emerged. As Ken and Yumi did not wish to go out for at least an hour and as it was too nice a day to waste, I suggested to Mio we went off for a walk to the nearby church that we could see on a hillside. The church we could see from our hotel.

As we set off, I suggested we could maybe then go for a walk along the river, but realistically we did not have the time and I was not sure how long it would take. I had walked along the river on my first day, and that had been a three hour walk.

We find our way to the church. We walked all round, tried every door, but sadly all were locked. We were unable to gain access to the church.

Outside the church a wooden cross with a hen atop. Not something I had ever seen before. The church also had painted on its wall a sun, a pre-Christian symbol.

Let’s carry on up, I suggested, see how far we can get.

Mio agreed, and after a short rest, off we trekked.

It was a wonderful walk. Sunny, very hot. very peaceful and quiet. The only sound was the birds singing and rustling in the leaves as lizards scrambled away on hearing our approach. Occasionally we caught sight of the lizards as they scurried away.

We were greeted by dogs protecting their property. Whether friendly or not we did not get to find out as luckily we were always separated by a wall or a fence. We greeted them and carried on upwards.

As we climbed, a panoramic view unfolded below. Views of the mountains, views of the flat plain that extended all the way to Venice. Far below we could see in the near distance the Italian villa opposite our hotel.

To the side of us lovely grass slopes, wooded banks.

In the woods we found a lovely blue flower. I knew what it was but could not recall its name. It also grows in the woodland area of my garden and I found it in flower a few days later on my return.

We found four, maybe five, species of butterfly flitting around. Mostly small, including a white one with orange tips to its wings. I caught a glimpse, but that is all it was, of a much larger butterfly, maybe twice the size.

The road turned into a stony track and eventually petered out, the way forward blocked by a gate.

It was time to turn around and set off back down as Yumi and Ken would be waiting for us.

On our way down, it struck me how like an Alpine church was our little church. I do not even know its name.

We found Yumi and Ken waiting for us. We set off for Bassano del Grappa, along a little road, past the 16th Century Italian villa and then to walk along the river.

As we passed the villa, a man we had spoken to a previous day, stopped and chatted to us. He told us that the villa had an associated winery. That in the vineyards they grew three varieties of grapes, Merlot, Pinot and a third variety we had not heard of. He said the wine was exported all over the world. He said we coud go take a look but did not know if anyone was there.

We retraced our steps and looked in what I thought of as the farmyard. We found packed cases of wine, what we assumed were vats for fermenting the wine, barrels for storing the wine, but no one was around to talk to or sell us any wine.

We then continued our walk into Bassano del Grappa. I picked up a stick, which Ken found ideal for walking with. It was a lovely sunny day for our last day in Bassano del Grappa. And I was slowly slowly recovering.

It could not have been a nicer or more pleasant day for our last day in Bassano del Grappa. We set off in good spirits.

Flowers: There are 1200, maybe 1600, flowering plants in northern Europe. I used to know them all, be able to identify them all, even though it may have meant spending half a day sat by a plant trying to identify it. Mushrooms and fungi and grasses too. Now the best I can do is see a plant, know I know what it is, but be unable to give it a name.

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) is a white spring woodland flower. Blue anemone (Anemone apennina) is a close relative, looks the same but with blue-purple flowers, not white.