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Piedmont to Genoa or Getting Lost and then Found Again

Some travel days have themes.  Some of these are fun, others, not so much.  Almost all are amusing in retrospect.  Our third full day in Italy was apparently designed to test my navigational skills.  I basically failed but I had a lot of fun doing it.

I started the morning by waking early and decided to get in a run before we traveled to our next stop.  I set off on the winding country road, sure I couldn’t get too lost with a simple out and back route.  I intended to run 3 miles so after heading down the road 1.5 miles, I turned around.  After about a mile or so, I realized that the scenery didn’t look all that familiar.  I was in a foreign country, though, so maybe that was it.  After another half mile it was pretty clear that I wasn’t back at the agriturismo.  Luckily, I had brought my phone with me and pulled my map which indicated that somehow, on my simple out and back route, I had taken a wrong turn and ended up WAY off the beaten path.  Perhaps some day I will learn to embrace this type of situation but at the time all I could think was that my children were expecting me back at a certain time and I had no way to call them and that we had a train to catch in Genoa and a pretty tight time schedule.  Damn.

I thought through my options, hoped and prayed that my Google Maps were actually going to be accurate this time in a foreign country, and began hiking up a rustic trail through an orchard.  Eventually I came to the top of the hill and from there navigated my way back home.  Phew.  We ate breakfast, loaded the car, and set off for Genoa.  However, the navigation system in the car decided to be a bit finicky and had us going up and down a rural path multiple times.  We were hopelessly turned around, going in circles and getting later and later for our train.  I had about lost my mind when fortuitously, the correct road appeared.  It would seem that it was always there and I just didn’t see it, but who really knows?

After getting on the correct road we enjoyed a stunningly beautiful drive through mountain passes and along the coast to the seaside town of Genoa.  Total time in the car was about 2 hours.  I was anxious about finding the car drop off at the harbor in Genoa but it turned out to be really easy thanks to my eagle eyed backseat navigators who spotted it immediately after getting off the autostrada.  We dumped the car and hiked 20 minutes to the train station where we met my husband who had purchased train tickets for us.  We had a few minutes to wait and then boarded our train to Monterosso.

The train ride was less than an hour and deposited us at the train station in the new town section of Monterosso.  From there it was a 10 minute walk to the old town where we were met by our Air BnB host and showed up five flights of steep stairs to our apartment overlooking the neighborhood square.  The apartment was ideally located in the center of old town.  It was a bit noisy, though, and without AC we had the windows open all night and the noise of the town was definitely noticeable.  The long hike up and down the stairs was a bit of a pain, too.  We knew about it ahead of time and weren’t surprised but I think next time we will find somewhere a little more peaceful (which in Monterosso would mean moving only a few blocks up the street).

We had lunch at Belvedere (good pesto pasta) and then met our friends at the Monterosso beach.  One of the luckiest parts of our Italy trip was convincing our good friends to join us in Monterosso for nearly a week.  The girls had friends to play with and the adults had good companions for a variety of activities.  If you’ve read my earlier posts you know I love traveling with friends and having our friends with us on this trip was indescribably amazing.

Anyway, I digress.  The kids hit the ocean, we lounged on the chairs and drank prosecco and soaked up the Italian sun.  Life is good!

At the end of the day it turns out that we got lost a few times.  But we also got found.  And at the very end of it all we found ourselves with our dear friends on a beach in Italy, enjoying the good life.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

A few logistical details: the main beach in old town Monterosso is a pay to play operation.  You rent lounge chairs for the day.  You can also rent paddle boats which were a big hit with the girls.  There is a small walk up restaurant and you can order at the counter or from your chair.  There are sandwiches, salads, etc as well as snacks and drinks.  Beach loungers with umbrellas were 20 euros for the day, lower cost for a basic chair.  The food and drinks were very reasonably priced.

 

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Seaside in Monterosso

 

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End of the day

Piedmont Day One

Following a not so auspicious start to our Italian trip, we woke on our first full day of vacation to clear, sunny skies and improved outlooks on life.  We ate a quick breakfast at our hotel and hopped in our rental car in search of a gas station.  We found one without too much difficulty and I thanked my lucky stars that I had at least briefly skimmed the information in my guide book about gas stations in Europe.  This one was full service (!!!) which was a major plus.  It felt decadent to just pull up and allow someone else to figure out what gas to put where.  After a huge sigh of relief, I entered our final destination into the GPS and we hit the road.

We headed towards the small Piedmont town of Alba.  We had a reservation at an agriturismo in an even smaller Piedmont village, La Morra, and wanted to explore Alba on our way there.  With the help of GPS and my backseat navigators we hit the Italian autostrada.  The roadways were really easy to navigate and traffic was fairly light making the entire experience as stress free as it could possibly be.  We drove through farmland and countryside with occasional glimpses of the Alps towering in the distance.  The drive took us approximately 2 hours and we arrived in Alba just before lunch time.  We parked in a small parking garage and walked to the town center.  From the center there is a pedestrian only shopping area that extends for a few blocks.  We snagged an espresso (and restroom) and then explored the shops.  Hazelnuts and truffles are produced in this region and can be found in many of the shops here.  The village feels very friendly and relaxed and the streets are just the right amount of busy.  We sat briefly at a restaurant intending to get lunch but the service was poor and before we could be waited on we discovered a small food shop a few doors down.  We quickly abandoned our menus and headed to the food shop to snag fruit, cheese, salami and bread.  The Italian woman who was running the store spoke no English and my Italian is quite limited but we managed to figure it out and walked out with a lovely picnic lunch.  We took this with us up the road about 20 minutes to our agriturismo, La Morra Brandini.

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Pedestrian street in Alba.

 

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So many truffles!

 

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Nocciole!

At La Morra Brandini we were greeted with warm hospitality, a refreshing swimming pool and stunning views of the valley below.  Our suite featured a main living area, lovely bathroom, and sleeping area in the loft with a large bed plus a couch bed.  There was a common area outside with tables and chairs for relaxing.  There was a garden on site as well as resident chickens, a goat and a mule.  My children quickly made friends with the goat (whom they named Albert) and he became our very own one goat welcoming committee.

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Poolside is a good place to be.
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Albert!

 

After enjoying our picnic lunch we commandeered chairs poolside.  I read and journaled and the girls swam.  I spent much of the time simply sitting in my lounge chair, taking in the views of rolling hills and green countryside.  There are rare moments in life when I feel fully and completely content and relaxed and at peace.  This was one of those.

Following our respite, we hit the road again to visit our first winery,  Fontana Fredda.  It was located approximately 20 minutes from our agriturismo.  On a side note, navigating through Piedmont requires a sense of humor and a well developed appreciation for adventure.  You must have GPS or an exceptionally good map.  The roads are narrow and sometimes steep.  The speed limits are posted for a reason.  You can easily get lost and sometimes feel like you are going back and forth across the same road fifteen times.  You might be.  But I’ll always advocate that getting there is half the fun.  And sometimes getting lost is all the fun.

At Fontana Fredda, we were treated to the cellar tour which was rich in historical information as well as wine facts.  The story of the estate is really cool and even my children enjoyed it.  The tour lasted approximately an hour and a half and cost 30 euros for myself while the children were free.  While the tour was great, the tasting afterwards was very limited.  We tasted just two wines.  Not sure why the tasting was so short.  No explanation was offered.  I decided to just roll with it.

IMG_7813After the winery we drove back through La Morra stopping for a few groceries and gelato.  Then back to the agriturismo where we enjoyed more swimming as well as a decadent dinner of gnocchi, pasta, wine and cheese plate.

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Gelato time.

 

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Appetizer with fresh vegetables from the garden.

Sometimes when you travel you are lucky enough to be with amazing people.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be doing something you really love to do.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be in that magical place that just feels right.  Every once in awhile, all the forces of the universe come together and you get all of it at once.  That is what Piedmont was for me.  It was the most amazing, perfect people, in the most amazing place, doing the most amazingly simple yet fulfilling things all at once.  It gave me that warm, full, relaxed, contented feeling that will continue to inspire my travels for years to come.   

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