Thursday, 22 January 2015

Madesimo - what a difference a night makes.

Village nestled on Alpe Groppera in the Valchiavenna.
Where to go skiing this year?  Our choice was made when I read this article describing five of the best places to ski in Italy.
Madesimo.  It ticked every box on our wish list - high altitude therefore more reliable snow, a small alpine village but with lots of variety in ski runs, bargain prices for accommodation and an easy transfer service from Milan. 
free chauffeur driven Mercedes whisked us from the centre of Milan to the front door of our hotel in less than two hours.  
Albergo Soldanella is a family run hotel right in the middle of town and best of all, only two minutes walk from the main lift.  It proved to be an excellent choice not only because of its position, but mostly because of Barbara, the hotel owner and perfect hostess.
Barbara has been running the hotel since she was twenty.  Yes, you read that correctly, twenty years old.  A Madesimo local, she followed her father's advice and took out a lease on the hotel twenty-five years ago.  Twelve years later, she bought it.  Barbara and her partner Francesco, who is also the chef, have two daughters who work with their parents in this sweet albergo. When we arrived Barbara excitedly explained that she'd had a very busy Christmas as she'd just become a Nonna! After being looked after by Barbara and Francesco for only a week, we felt as though we'd joined their Madesimo family.  
Barbara warned us that the snow was patchy this year.  Last year 10 metres of snow fell in the village, a fifty year record, but this year it was a different story across the Alps. 
While there was enough snow on the mountain to ski, it was icy - reminiscent of the slopes in Australia but without the biting winds, or crowds. 

Although the snow wasn't perfect, we enjoyed our first few days in Madesimo easing ourselves back into the routine of skiing to work up an appetite for the delicious three course dinners every evening.
But then we woke to this view from our balcony.
Madesimo was blanketed in a cover of sparkling white.  Rather than rush up the mountain, we took a stroll along the main street.
After only one night, Madesimo had been transformed into the picture-perfect Italian alpine village we had expected.
Up on the mountain those scratchy sounds of skis on ice were silenced!
And the snow kept falling...
It was still snowing when we said arrivederci e grazie mille Barbara e Francesco per una settimana meravigliosa!
 Our transfer back to Milan wasn't as speedy as when we arrived, nor was it quite as luxurious, but we didn't mind being driven down the mountain in a small bus.
While cars with winter tyres were skidding all over the road causing the local carabinieri to take their gloves off, our friendly bus driver was entertaining us with a commentary about terrible Italian drivers.   
And we were relaxing in the front seats, very glad to know that we were in the safe hands of another Madesimo local.
Ci vediamo.  Prossima volta a Bormio.

Where we stayed and ate, and ate, and ate: 
Albergo Soldanella CLICK HERE
It's not just us who love this little hotel.  CLICK HERE for other reviews.
Bus transport is free from Milano Centrale, Linate and Malpensa aiports during December and January.  CLICK HERE for more information.

If you'd like to see a map to locate Madesimo CLICK HERE.  It is opposite Bormio, at the other end of the Valtellina in a smaller valley called Valchiavenna.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Christmas in Tuscany

A guest post from the resident photographer, and editor, of Milan Transfer.  Grazie mille Stefano!
Last Christmas we attended morning Mass in the medieval village of Radicofani, perched on a hilltop in Tuscany.  In typical Italian style, people arrived well after Mass had started and later, the line-up for communion, or lack of it, could not have better encapsulated the Italian approach to queuing.  But the choir of assembled locals sang beautifully to a soft organ accompaniment. It seemed as though they were drawing inspiration and breath from the centuries of singing that had taken place in this simple Romanesque church. However they weren’t averse to improvisation. Their rendition of I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas added a special touch to the service.
After the Mass we returned to the agriturismo, where we were staying, for a Christmas lunch of traditional Tuscan fare.
Our host Marina turned out to be an excellent cook.
The six-course lunch started with an assortment of bruschettas topped with pesto and grilled bacon, olive tapenade, pork pate and tomato, moved on to a chesnut and mushroom soup, then progressed to a double serving of the local pici pasta served with ragu and cacio e pepe sauces. This was followed by a mushroom crepe, before the really serious business of the secondi, a selection of  perfectly roasted lamb, beef and pork.  They were sliced at the table and then basted with olive oil using a brush made from twigs of fresh rosemary. Dessert was a light, simple sponge roll with crème anglais.  Grappa followed as a digestive for anyone interested (me).
Our stay at this agriturismo was part of a two week holiday in southern Tuscany and Umbria.  We explored the countryside on drives through vineyards, olive groves, hilltop villages, rolling open fields and wooded slopes (while trying to eat less extravagant lunches) to places including Siena, Montelpulciano, Montalcino, Terme San Filippo, Perugia, Gubbio, Bevagna and Assisi.  Spello, was one of our favourites, a picture-perfect medieval village that would be a lot more famous were it not for Assisi being just a few kilometres away.
Just outside the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abbate we came across the abbey of Sant’Antimo, which was established to serve pilgrims on the ancient Via Francigena route from France to Rome.  The order of Canons Regular of Prémontré who live there pray seven times a day, at precisely the same time, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  Their prayers are sung in Gregorian chants. Needless to say, the acoustics in the church were perfect.  Only the two men taking a break from their yard work  joined us, as we listened spellbound.
Then it was time to return to the chillier temperatures in Milan, which greeted us with snow for the last 200km of the journey. 
This trip marked the beginning of the end for our Milan Transfer.  We now look forward to a year of adventure as we take the slow road home.  
Auguri e felice anno nuovo.
Where we stayed:
Lucca - We stayed outside the town at Rose e Limoni, a simple townhouse which was part of a larger converted farmhouse.  Staying in spring, or summer, would be lovely as the garden would be beautiful. CLICK HERE for the listing on AirBnB.
Spello - Our little apartment, San Francesco III, was recommended by some friendly locals.  It was sparklingly clean and very cosy, situated on a quiet lane in this lovely little town.  CLICK HERE for the website.
Perugia - A night of luxury in Castello di Monterone.  Loved it! CLICK HERE for the website.
Radicofani - Our little apartment, La Vigna, at the lovely agriturismo, La Sevlella, was perfect for a lazy week.  The beautiful view from the balcony would be even more stunning in summer.  Perhaps we will return one day...CLICK HERE for the website.

Where we ate:
We mostly ate dinner at 'home' but lunch out.   Although we ate well throughout the trip, few places stood out.  The exception was this restaurant in Assisi.
Assisi - Locanda del Podesta is just inside the arched entrance to Assisi.  It was a complete surprise.  We were the only people dining as the day was misty and cold, but the waiter was charming and the food delicious.  Highly recommended.  CLICK HERE for the webiste and HERE for reviews.