The tour!     


Ah, Nice.  The Nice Côte d'Azur Airport is a chichi place. Kind of a sneaky entrée to Formaggio's highly un-chichi tour.  An aéroport where lots of exceptionally tanned people with tiny dogs in big purses, en route to their villas in Cap d'Ail and Monaco, swerve sleek shoulders past huff-puffing hoi polloi, the 4 million rest-of-us who descend on Nice each year. The oleander-lined Promenade des Anglais (the Prom) sweeps us along the bay into Nice Ville, the Med sparkling on our right. Nice (Nissa La Bella in Niçard) has several museums that bear the names of artists who once found inspiration here (Musée Marc Chagall, Musée Matisse and Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret). The food and flower market at Cours Saleya in southwest Vieux Nice (the old part of town) should not be missed. Nice is a good place to eat, with flavors from Provence, Liguria, and the Piedmont. As we select the day's 10th gelato, probably best not to think about Max Cartier's massive sculpture in the roundabout of Terminal 1.
FEATURED CHEESE: REBLOCHON (French Savoy DOP; a similar cheese known as Rebruchon is made on the Italian side of the mountains)




Glori  is Sybilla Waterman's home patch. Sadly, Trattoria "il Poggio" is no longer cooking, although an  agritourismo, under new management, has opened in il Poggio's former location, and they do dinners on summer Sundays. Otherwise, Glori is the jumping-off point for the half-mile trek to the  Santuario  Madonna di Lourdes, where you can sit and read a book (!) and gaze back upon Glori. Glori was supposedly founded by a bunch of citizens of medieval Triora who took a trip (somewhere), and came home to find the gates of their home town barred against the plague (there was a bad one in 1558) then ravaging the area. They trudged down the river a ways, found this lovely spit of land facing southward, and began the town.

FEATUREDCHEESE:  Toma di Mendatica


Triora  is the main tourist destination of the Argentina Valley. It is a sister city of Salem, Massachusetts . . . and Why? you might well ask. Witches. They had 'em in Salem, and they had 'em in Triora, back in the day (although supposedly the Triora witches fared a bit better). Triora, being very old, has lots more history, but the witches apparently are the sexiest draw . . . gotta find something to lure the curious up that twisty valley. The other attraction (besides witches) is biking. Leathery, sinewy old guys in Day-Glo spandex pedal on up, braving not only gravity but close encounters on blind curves with give-no-quarter Iveco 18 wheelers (and the vintage race cars that take over public roads from time to time).
    Triora is a nice old medieval town in a
stunning hill-top location, its parts linked by a series of stone stairways and carrugi. A very special dinner can be had (reserve ahead) at the Colomba d'Oro Hotel, on its beautiful terrace overlooking the Argentina valley (the Formaggio crew spends its first night there). Triora has several other good restaurants, a couple of bars, a local-products store where you can top-up your supply of organic catnip, and a great hardware store that sells everything you never knew you needed. Plus a mushroom festival with funghi for every course. 

FEATURED CHEESE: Formaggio d'Alpeggio di Triora



The Ligurian Alps  
are not very high, but they contain some wonderful hiking trails, including part of the Alta Via (map). The Argentina River Valley, and  Monte Saccarello, are cited by Annie Hawes  in her very un-Mayesian memoir, Extra Virgin, as cool, green alternatives to her own hot, dry valley a bit to the east. The river begins in an icy spring just below Saccarello's peak (the highest in the vicinity). The water is crystal clear, and many swimming holes can be found along the river's course (including "municipal pools" within the village confines of Badalucco and Molini di Triora). We have encountered Italian families (and others) body-surfing down the Argentina in wetsuits and life jackets. But you can just take a picnic, a book, and a dip when the day becomes too toasty. All this is thanks to the residents of the valley who back in 1963 successfully battled the national electricity company's plans to build a huge upriver hydroelectric dam. 
    The road beyond
Realdo, above Triora, gets pretty rough, but is worth a slow careful trip up to trails for Monte Saccarello, the Colle Melosa, and elsewhere right along the high French-Italian border. Realdo itself, built on a steep cliff over which the vegetable gardens of its few hardy residents hang in space, is home to a fine eatery, the Osteria Desgena. Good for dinner or breakfast at the bar before your hike. The other road up from Triora, toward Vignago, is even rougher, but eventually takes you (if you make it!) through the Galleria Garezzo and eventually to Monesi, home of Formaggio's (fictional) Fattoria Ozenda. You can find real pecorino at the old Army barracks/rifugio on the road between Colle Melosa and Galleria Garezzo. Look for this sign:  (This article is in Italian, but worth auto-translation for its description of the tough but endangered Brigasca sheep, pictured below). Then look for the shepherd,  who will probably give you his opinion of (supposedly) protected Alpine wolves and the threat they pose to his sheep. Or goats. See photo: shepherd-mutt as intrepid protector from marauding wolves (in this video-fable, the wise old nonno tells his shepherd-grandson that fear of wolves is needed for a healthy flock). Sheep dogs provide other protection, as herefrom marauding tourists). 

   FEATURED CHEESE: BRUZZU(from Mendatica, near Monesi.)
 A fermented ewes' milk ricotta, similar to Brös or Bros or Bross or Bruss, made in the Piedmont. A cheese about which poems are written.


The Garfagnana region,  between the Apuan Alps and the Tuscan Appennines, is the northernmost, the rainiest, and probably the least-visited part of Tuscany. Orecchiella Park is a protected area of over 12,000 acres, encompassing a massive limestone plateau rising from 600 to 2045 meters above sea level. Hiking trails up to the plateau begin right behind the Albergo Baita in Corfino (as well as elsewhere); hikes are through large beach, chestnut, and fir forests, and lucky hikers may spot cinghiale, deer, the aforementioned Italian wolf, bear, mouflonfalcons, some Golden Eagles, cows or horses in their mountain pastures, or herds of goats.

 FEATURED CHEESE:  PECORINO della GARFAGNANA made from milk of Massese sheep.



Lago d'Orta 
 is the pinky of northern Italy's finger lakes. Orta San Giulio (hyperglycemia alert!) is a tranquil hamlet built on an eastern promontory. Its attractions include the Romanesque Basilica of Saint Giulio located on the tiny island of the same name in Lago d'Orta; and nearby Sacro Monte di Orta, a World Heritage Site constructed between 1583 and 1788 and dedicated to St. Francis. Now lots of people from all over have destination weddings, performed by Orta's mayor.

                  (made between Lago d'Orta and Lago Maggiore)

GORGONZOLA?  Q: Who doesn't love GORGONZOLA? A: Tons of people, but Massimo is not one of them. The DOC for Gorgonzola includes the town of that name (although little cheese is made there now) as well as the provinces of Novara, Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Cuneo, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Pavia, Varese, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli, and a number of comuni in the area of Casale Monferrato (province of Alessandria). 
Gorgonzola 'del Nonno' 
(the way grandfather supposedly made it) is more densely marbled and sharper.  "Due paste" ("two curd") Gorgonzola requires milk from both the evening milking and that of the following morning, and has its origins in the traditional Lombardian transhumance (the bringing of cows from their Alpine pastures to the lowlands for the winter). 
    Lots of Gorgonzola (watch this video from the giant Invernizzi Si)
 is now made in big factories in northern Piedmont and Lombardy. The pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is of real concern to those involved in the in the production of Gorgonzola, and keeping their chese Listeria-free is no joke.


The FORMAZZA VALLEY    is an out-of-the-way jaunt no matter where you're headed, because once you get there you'll have to turn around and go back; but it's the only place where Bettlematt cheese, famous among real cheese fanatics, is made, and not a lot of it either. The Formazza valley is alpine and beautiful, although its bucolicism is not enhanced by all the power plants and granite quarries.

BETTLEMATT (click on the cheese for a peek at Bettlematt in the Formazza Valley)


Parma  is famous for her ham ‘n cheese and her Enron-style scandal, an epic accounting fraud that reportedly sucked more than $10 billion out of the hyper-cooked-milk giant Parmalat.  Parma has tons of history (and pre-history) and a golden glow and a sweet perfume, thanks to the love of Napoleon’s second wife, Duchessa ‘Maria Louiga,’ for ‘Parma yellow’ paint and violets.


 Mantova  is a frequently misty city mostly surrounded by artificial lakes (created in the 12th century, as defensive moats, by damming the Mincio River), is approached over a causeway. It has a Gonzaga Ducal Palace. It had lots of great art commissioned by various Gonzagas, but in the late 1600s lost much of the stuff that was portable when inept Ferdinand Carlo IV decamped for Venice and left Mantova to the Hapsburgs. In 2008 Mantova became a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its Renaissance planning and architecture. Its football club has hit some rough patches, went bankrupt in 2010, but was recently promoted to Lega Pro Seconda Divisione.  So we’ll see.


VOLTERRA  was a Neolithic settlement and a significant Etruscan center (Velathri). It was also an important location in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series (a fact just gleaned from Wikipedia, which only goes to show how out-of-touch), although Twilight-the-movie (sadly for Volterrans, I guess) was filmed in Montepulciano. Volterra still has lots of Etruscan stuff to look at, a Roman theatre, a 12th century cathedral, intact 13th century medieval walls. In addition, the Volterrans have long been known for their skill in carving alabaster, the particular milky white local version mined from nearby caves at Castellina Marittima. (A  scale model -- 1:25, working -- the bell rings, in alabaster, of Pisa’s Leaning Tower was just commissioned and exhibited by the Arteinbottega Association of Volterra). Several organic agritourismi, including Fattoria Lischeto, can be found dotted around the outskirts of Volterra.   


 SARTEANO    is a Tuscan hilltown of about 4000 souls in the province of Siena next door to Montepulciano and Chiusi, near Pienza and Cortona, and at about the half-way point between Firenze and Roma. It has a tiny Etruscan Museum, some small shops, a few excellent restaurants, a 12th century castle, a weekly market, a public campground with a pool fed by naturally-hot spring water, a choral music workshop, and a jazz festival.
    Sarteano is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. Eat at 
Osteria ‘da Gagliano’ (say hi to Angela and Giuliano, two of the finest people anywhere), and at the ex-Convento Santa Chiara at the top of the hill (great sunsets).
         FEATURED CHEESE: PECORINO di PIENZA (the Formaggio bus skipped Pienza, but you can watch lots of people who didn't).


  CHIUSI  was one of the 12 important centers of Etruscan civilization back in the 6th century BCE (as "Clevsin"), home to "King" Lars Porsena under whom the Etruscans scored a brief victory over the Romans (it was "Clusium" to them). Porsena's tomb, thought by some to be in or near Chiusi, has never been found. Chiusi has a nice Etruscan Museum in the old town, and is the nearest train station for Montepulciano, Sarteano, and environs. From the commune of Chiusi here is a description and visiting hours for the Catacombs of Santa Mustiola (also here).  A discussion of the Chiusi catacombs  can be found in the Dublin University Magazine, 1894.
 FEATURED CHEESE: Pecorino Fresco from Il Casale

Monte Oliveto Maggiore   is a large Benedictine Monastery founded in1313 smack in the middle of the Crete Senesi (i.e., nowhere, which is probably just the sort of thing that Saint Benedict -- San Benedetto da Norcia, that hyper-austere old fella – had in mind). Its isolation is a big part of its attraction, along with the fresco cycle of San Bernie’s life, the painting of which was split between il Sodoma and Signorelli. There is a nice restaurant on the grounds. The views are to die for.          


The GRAN SAN BERNARDO , or Great St. Bernard Pass, or Col 
du Grand-Saint Bernard (el. 2469), is the third highest road pass in Switzerland. The  SS27 runs up to it  from the Val d'Aosta on the Italian side. Lots of armies have used it, naturally, including Napoleon's. The dogs of the same name were kept by monks living in the high-altitude hospice; the most famous, Barry, reportedly saved up to 100 lives. The Great St. Bernard Tunnel (and the main road) dip through the mountains at a measly 1915 m, so only a few hardy souls bother with the pass nowadays. Those who do (it's only open between June and September) have a long twisty slog (especially on a bike)-- but worth it. This rifugio (mountain hut) is a nice place to stay when you're up there.
FEATURED CHEESES: FONTINA VALLE d'AOSTA (the famous one) but also 
 Toma di Gressoney and   Reblec.


ROME . You needed a map? Here is a list of some  books to read before you go and while you're there. Rome after dark is great, huh?

FEATURED CHEESE: Mozzarella di Bufala 

 MASSIMO: The cat has his own page. Of course.


A Fiat Ducato, like the one Paolo converted to a greasemobile for Marika:

 (This Ducato appears to have ended up, as many do, in Brazil. You just never know.)

And here is where you can rent (last time I checked) your own
red sports car for a breezy jaunt around Tuscany (or  along the Ligurian Riviera, if that happens to be your fantasy

                FORMAGGIO ITINERARY!        
Swimming Hole, Argentina River, Liguria

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