Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Day 1: Fermignano

The plane trip from Washington DC to Milan was tolerable though long. Since our tickets are paid for by miles, we have two connections en route...in New York and Zurich. We leave Washington at 2:30 pm on Monday and arrive in Milan at 10:30 am the next day.....about 14 hours in all. The flights are on American (Swiss for the 35 minute hop from Zurich to Milan) and the planes are reasonably comfortable, the connections are painless, the food is edible and we arrive at Malpensa just about on time.

After a longish wait at passport control in Milan...due to a large group of drunk Russian soccer fans....our luggage arrives quickly and we are on the road in a large and comfortable Opel Zafira van. It feels a bit cool when we arrive but the day warms up comfortably as we make the long drive from Milan to the northern part of Le Marche to the Locanda della Valle Nuova, the agriturismo near Urbino run by the family of my internet "friend" --Giulia Savini--from the Slow Travel Italy message board.

I expect the drive to take 4 to 4.5 hours....almost all on the autostrada, but for a variety of reasons, we arrive at the Locanda close to sundown. At an autostrada rest stop, we stop for coffee and pastries--the pastries that they serve are better than 90 percent of the pastries that one can get anywhere at home. One idea we have is to stop for lunch at La Buca, the wonderful restaurant in Zibello where we had such a memorable lunch last Spring, but unfortunately, it is closed on Tuesdays.

We stop for lunch near Parma at the Trattoria Emiliana....we are heading for a place near Langhirano where we had a wonderful meal of prosciutto, etc. several years ago but we decide not to venture that far afield. We see the sign for the trattoria from the highway (I seem to remember having read about it somewhere) and pull in. It is a no-nonsense place with trucks in the parking lot, a mostly male clientele and a Euro 13 lunch menu. We both have the pasta with a very tasty pancetta and pecorino sauce, Diana's roast pork with mushroom sauce is just okay but my "trippa" in a rich tomato sauce is delicious. With a half-liter of drinkable red and some tangerines, the bill comes to Euro 32.00.

We get back on the road and are making quick progress across Emilia-Romagna--the autostrada is straight and level, there are a lot of trucks and the scenery is either flat agricultural fields or warehouses and factories. I am a bit surprised at how many of the trucks seem to quickly pull out to pass, without much warning, which forces me to either slow down or move quickly to another lane to avoid them....I don't remember this happening as often on other trips.

As we approach the Adriatic coast, the green, rolling hills of Le Marche make the scenery more interesting but that scenery doesn't make up for the traffic jams--due to construction near Riccione and Pesaro--that slow us down considerably. We don't reach the Locanda della Valle Nuova until after 6 pm...making it a long day after the overnight plane flight.

The Locanda is set beautifully in the very green and very hilly Le Marche countryside between Fermignano and Acqualagna, not far from the main road from Fano (on the Adriatic) to Rome--the Via Flaminia. The approach is on small, mostly paved, winding road with lots of nice views along the way. I finally get to meet Giulia and we get settled in our room. The agriturismo is stylish and modern...with a sitting area and the breakfast area downstairs and the bedrooms upstairs. There is an appealing swimming pool outside and stables and a riding area are immediately adjacent.

Dinner is at 7:30...there are two other couples having dinner tonight (another family is eating in Urbino)--and we have a pleasant talk with one of the couples while waiting......we find that we have some tangential Toronto connections with them. Dinner is very good.....a local cheese sealed in cellars to age (formaggio di fossa)--strong and pungent to start, served with Giulia's fig jam and green tomato compote- then tortellini in brodo--delicous filled pasta in a rich chicken broth, a fragrant beef stew (more like a pot roast) and boiled potatoes and jam tarts for dessert. We have a local sangiovese and a red from southern Le Marche--rosso di Piceno--to drink. There is lively conversation among the all the diners and with Guilia who is serving the dinner. After dinner, we "retire" to the sitting area and continue the discussions. This is a feature of an agriturismo that I hadn't thought of (we mostly stay in towns at hotels) and it can make for a very pleasant bonus.

Finally the long day catches up and we say good night.


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