Thursday, May 23, 2013

A trip into the Ligurian alps

Our morning habit in Ceriana is to meet at Pellegrin's for coffee and croissant and today was no exception. As a lovely bonus we were greeted with a warm reception from the owners. It was a much nicer day than yesterday, sunny and warm enough to sit outside. This is always fun as we meet people that we know as they pass by or see people we know about. Many of the town's residents have lived here all their lives so everyone knows everyone and since it is a small town everyone knows everything about everyone. It makes for delightful and intriguing coffee conversation.

This year there were more new faces in town with several Brits, Norwegians and Romanians  taking up residence full time or for part of the year. It's good to see the place being revitalized by the newcomers. Of course the Albanians and Moroccans have been here for awhile. The Albanians have been fixing up several of the old, abandoned stone apartments as well as working the land for people who can't do it themselves anymore.

There is one new bar in town but unfortunately it doesn't have Wifi yet. This is a problem since the only place to get it is the computer in the tobacconist. Certainly this caused me many withdrawal symptoms. The pastry shop on the main street has new owners and only the butcher has reopened.

It definitely wasn't a beach day so we decided to have a drive in the mountains. After driving for awhile through beautiful densely treed countryside in the Ligurian Alps we stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant Vecchio Frantoia near Badalucco, where our friends knew the owner from Ceriana of course.

If you haven't figured it out yet Vechhio Frantoia was an old oil mill. Inside were the huge old stones that ground the olives. What a lovely setting. in Italian restaurants it is quite common to bring you the food, always freshly made, without ordering from a menu and this is exactly what we did. After being served wine and eating the local black tagascan olives we were served some sardinara, which is a Ligurian pizza, but it has a lovely crust topped with tomato sauce, anchovies, olives, oregano and capers. Next came some focaccia bread and some other cheesy bread. After this some very thinly sliced meat like bresaula but even tastier was served. This was followed by potato and porcini mushrooms. The next serving was a mushroom and egg flan followed by delicious risotto with porcini. Tagliatelle in a lovely light tomato sauce with olives completed the appetizers.

Although we were pretty full we were intrigued by the beef covered in a thick layer of salt and cooked for half an hour and decided to share this main course. We have cooked fish like this but didn't know you could do the same thing with beef. When we got the beef it was so tender. Excellent.

Our meal ended when three  bottles of homemade liqueurs were brought to the table. We had sips of each, the best limoncello I've ever tasted, a delicious black licorice drink and another herbal digestivo. My favourite was the licorice. After an espresso we were back on the road. Everything was hand made by different members of the family, who worked in the restaurant.

We drove up through beautiful treed mountains to the village of Triora, where we stopped at an Italian specialty shop, buying some dried porcini mushrooms and a round of Toma semi-hard cheese made from cow, goat and sheep's milk.

Now we continued up the mountain driving round blind hairpin bends passing rock faces oozing with water and streams flowing out of the rocks. We stopped to admire the 120-meter-high Loreto Bridge, one of the highest in the world, that crossed a deep gorge. There had been so much rain that on one bend we encountered a waterfall, cascading over the road and down into the valley below. What fun and a lovely sight.

Finally, we ended up in Verdeggia, 1100 meters high near the French border. Looking further up the mountain we could see remaining patches of snow. It was  pretty chilly up there and apparently  we had missed a huge hailstorm. A lady from the town told us about a special day in August, when the whole town goes up to the top of the mountain, 2200 meters, for a big picnic.

After walking around the narrow streets of the village we started our return trip to Ceriana. Back in our friend's house we opted to miss dinner but we did have a little taste of the Toma, very nice. It was quite cold in the house as we huddled close to the fire listening to the river below and the croaking of the frog prince outside.

As we left our friends we heard a roll of thunder and then there was a spit of rain. By the time we got back to our place we were in a fully fledged thunderstorm with the rain pelting down. Still, l we'd had a lovely day.

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