Olives, wine, pasta and smiles…! This fall in two minivans and a loaded car with adventurous women, we set off for Northern Italy. Our goals were to assist with the olive harvest, try some wine and make Italian cuisine from scratch. While we toured from the coast to the mountains, we met old friends, made new ones and created some unforgettable memories.
It took us almost nine hours to drive from Stuttgart to the coast of Italy. We stayed in one of my favorite towns, Diano Marina in the Liguria region of Italy. This resort town is booming during the summer season, but I love it this time of year because it’s so relaxing and quiet. Prior to traveling to the Riviera in the off-season, check and see if it is fully-open as not all properties have all amenities available.
We stayed in a quiet hotel, the Hotel Eden Park. It is located right on the water with magical sunrises and sunsets. I even woke up early one day to snap shots of the sunrise.
We also walked to the town for dinner every night, which was adorable. Many stores were open in the pedestrian area and were not to be missed by my crew. We also found a lovely bar open with Stuzzichini (appetizers) that could easily have been our dinner.
On our first day in Imperia we visited an olive grove where our friend, David manages and operates the VisAmoris (love is a force) farm with his family. They have cultivated and grown olives here for four generations. On the day we visited, he showed us a tree that was over 500 years old.
We were able to shake the olive trees loose from the trees, in which they then fell into a big green net on the ground. We also learned that all olives are used- light green, medium and dark. The olives are either marinaded in water, become pate and, of course, made into olive oil.
We all bought olive oil after everyone had a chance to work in the grove. Prices for the olive oil were €50 for 5 liters and just a few Euro each for the olives and (a dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives).
Olive Oil Festival
Next on our itinerary was the Olive Oil Fest of Imperia. Olio’livo is one of the largest olive oil festivals in Imperia, Italy.
In this region of Italy, olive oil is quite light and used for marinades, fish and chicken. To me, it’s like the olive oil we use in the states; however it is unfiltered and light green and very delicious.
Having visited last year, I knew I would be back for this year’s fest and was very happy to have several friends join in the experience. At this olive oil festival, the largest in all of the northern Italy, you can taste over 1,500 different kinds of olive oil. I know it seems impossible, but the streets are lined with large and small vendors tempting you to try their special blend.
There are other delicacies to try including gelato, La Fortunata (a chickpea pancake), genovese pesto pastas, mascarpone gorgonzola cheesecake, etc. We stopped at several of the eateries trying out as many tasty samples as we could, filling up and leaving very little room to breathe. Thankfully, we were walking a lot.
Last year I also stocked up on olive tree cutting boards and met Alberto, who enjoys working with wood and flirting with women. This year we were able to really stock up and almost clear him out of several designs. The practice of bartering seemed common at some of the tents, as was the case with Alberto. The boards were beautiful and ranged in price from €10-100 depending on grading and size.
Visit to Vineyards
We were fortunate to try different wines of the region (we did FOUR wine tastings) on this trip and I think almost everyone found a favorite. I enjoyed either a sweet white or a lighter dry red wine. Some of my friends even enjoyed the Moscato, which was a sparkling white wine.
Last year during our trip we met a sweet vintner (Claudia Cordara), who invited us to her winery called Cordara Vineyards in the Canelli, Piemonte region. At a Bagna Cauda (a fondue of sardines and garlic – actually quite delicious) celebration last year, Claudia and Antonella sat across from us and we struck up a conversation of mutual interests like good wine, good food and people.
As you can imagine our little group this year was delighted with the fine production of this small winery that tastes like Italy in every sip. At this point, the vans were starting to be pressed at the seams with our purchases and we still had a few more wine tastings left.
Our next vineyard and wine tasting was to visit friends Juliana and Ignazio of l’Armangia. With warm hugs and greetings, Ignazio gave us a personal and historical tour of their winery. The vineyards have been in the family for several generations which produced white and red wines.
Our final Piemonte wine tasting was at the Coppo winery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and winery. Our ladies were very impressed with the history of the caves, the fermenting processes of the wine and our handsome tour guides.
Like l’Armagnia, Coppo winery shifted from white wines to red wines. They produce a great deal of Barbera as well; however they both still produce excellent whites and Moscato. We actually saw bottles from 1989 that were sold for €1200 a bottle. This tour blends the old and new ways of growing, collaborating with vineyards and producing wine. After a sweet little wine tasting and more purchases, we felt like we really had a great sampling of wine from the Canelli, Piemonte region.
Staying in an Agriturismo
Not quite finished yet our next stop was to check into an Agriturismo. I recommend staying in one of the authentic Italian B&B’s. Designed to include room and board, your stay is with a working farm or agricultural producer. These sweet, humble accommodations truly give you a hands-on Italian experience.
We stayed at La Luna e il Falo (the moon and the bonfires) in the hills of Monferetto, in Canelli, where we were able to help Esther prepare our dinner meal. Everyone took turns churning out the pasta and stuffing raviolis. Our inner budding chefs can now create a few Italian dishes just like a pro.
After preparing several courses, we were able to take a rest before a late dinner. In Italy everyone eats dinner around 8 to 9 p.m. This was okay with us after a full day of wine and food tastings, so a few minutes of shut-eye was welcomed.
Soon though the smells beckoned us to the dining room where the table was set perfectly. Franco and Esther served us everything we helped prepare while we listened to classical music in the background. Unforgettable.
Saying “Ciao” always brings a little sadness as our stay was much too short. But alas, reality called and it was time to hit the road with our wine, olive collection and other tasty treasures. Luckily, traveling to Italy is paved with delicious opportunities for discovery, and I can’t wait until my next trip down south.
Author’s Profile: Wendy Payne is a military spouse and lives with her family in Stuttgart, Germany. She is a freelance writer, blogger and photographer. She also enjoys gardening, hiking, yoga and sharing Europe with people.
Featured Image Photo Credit: © Wendy Payne