Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Italy 2014: Day 5: Tuesday: May 6: Milan-Mantova

Time to leave Milano....we say goodbye to our "friends" at the bar where we eat breakfast, pack up and take a cab to the nearby car rental office.  Although there is no one else there and the car is sitting outside, it takes close to 30 minutes to complete the rental process.....not sure why.  

Driving out of Milano in our Lancia Delta is pretty easy...the GPS is working well and, even with one stop at a "fruttaverdura" for some delicious strawberries, we are on the road to Mantova in no time at all.   Although I love driving in Italy, I was struck today on the autostrada by the constant changing of lanes with no warning by trucks and cars....either Italian drivers are getting worse or I am getting old.

On a trip from Milano to Mantova, we would normally stop for lunch at our favorite restaurant in Emilia-Romagna, La Buca in Zibello, where the pasta is heavenly and the culatello (a local prosciutto-like specialty) is fantastic.  However, they are closed on Tuesdays......but I have a good alternative.  Ten years ago, we had lunch in on the Mincio River, just north of Mantova, and noticed a trattoria on the far side of the river with tables set out along the river bank.

So we call for reservations at the Antica Locanda Mincio and have a fantastic lunch there.  Our table sits right next to the rushing stream (we are lucky that we called...almost all the outside tables were full), our waiter is charming, the food is great and the ambience is incomparable.   


For lunch, Diana has the culatello from Zibello that she is missing and a very rich and delicious ravioli with pears and ricotta cheese sauced with lots of butter.  I have excellent salami with polenta followed by a beautifully grilled lake fish called luccio.  Diana gets a head start on her favorite Mantova dessert, sbrisolona.

A very memorable meal.....

(Looking through my old reports, I found this one from our visit to Vallegio sul Mincio from 2004.....not much has changed.)

At Vallegio sul Mincio, the river is crossed by an old medieval bridge and the town's castle dominates the top of the hill. Beneath the bridge and set right on the river, there is a small village called Il Borghetto. Obviously developed to draw Sunday afternoon visitors, it is a picture postcard little cluster of shops and restaurants set on the banks of (and in the middle) of the river. With the warm sunshine, the blue sky, the clear flowing river, the tree lined banks, the small waterfall and the medieval bridge, it is pretty irresistible. We have a leisurely light lunch (some bruschetta to share, a plate of cheese for Diana and stew of horsemeat with polenta for me) and some wine at one of the outdoor restaurants--Divinosteria. For a better description of a Sunday afternoon meal in Il Borghetto, read H.V. Morton's "A Traveller in Italy". This elegant book, written in the 1950s, is a great companion to take to Italy…Morton's love of Italy and his graceful erudition about history and art are wonderful. He had stopped at a trattoria on the riverbank during his trip in the 1950s and describes the buildings, the bridge and the fishermen in the river…it was not too different from our experience—but better written. 

After lunch, we stroll through the village on the other side of the river (it is a real town with houses and a couple of hotels and bars) and enjoy the spectacular day. 

Mantova is less than an hour away and we find our hotel with only one missed turn.  The Hotel Broletto is located smack in the middle of the historic center, close to all the monuments and attractions, near shops, restaurants and bars and right next door to a McDonald's which I don't think was there on our last trip.  We check in, unpack, park the car (the hotel sells us a pass that allows us to park in the historic center).   I go out to explore and get my bearings as well to check out a place for dinner.  

The town feels very familiar and comfortable.....I take a few pictures


 and then we go out together to have a prosecco before dinner.  Which turns out to be harder than it should be...we sit down a two separate bars (one crowded, one not) and no one appears to take our orders.  The third bar is a charm.....

Then to dinner at a restaurant that we had eaten at on our two previous visits to Mantova where we remember having had one of the local specialties...risotto alla pilota.  The local version of risotto features a much drier rice which is mixed with ground sausage and, at Cento Rampini, served with a rib on top.

It is as good as we remember and goes well with the local red wine.....

The hotel is just around the corner...

Tomorrow we will find the laundromat and do a laundry before re-exploring the city.

Jim and Diana