Travel 2011 – Monza

Wednesday, 13th/Thursday, 14th April 2011 – Monza, Como, Brunate

Wednesday was all about the travelling, and it was late in the evening when we made it to Milan Linate and then spent some time trying to round up our hire car. That got interesting, largely because Avis’ website is not quite as informative as it should be. There’s a “fun car” category, which displays a picture of a 4-wheel drive type thing, and which indicates that the car supplied will be big enough for 4 people and their luggage. However, on arrival, the three of us (including all 6′ 5″ of Robert) found we’d been allocated a Fiat 500!!! Somehow, I don’t think that was ever going to work, and to be fair neither did the guy on the desk. He promptly found us another car, and then we hit problems because for some reason the card payment machine didn’t want to accept either of my VISA cards, or Lynne’s. Luckily, it was finally persuaded to accept Robert’s Mastercard and we eventually lurched out of the airport and onto the Italian autostrada, where we soon found ourselves at our hotel, the Hotel Motel Ascot, in Lissone, about 10 minutes from the circuit. By then, we’d lost interest in anything except getting unpacked and getting some sleep… Amazing how much better you feel once you’ve got organised and can collapse till morning.

The meeting was now going to be just two days (scaled back from the normal 3-day meeting with testing the day before) so we basically had two days at leisure in Italy. Oh dear! What a shame… whatever would we find to do?! Thursday we got up late, ate breakfast and stared out of the window at the weather. It was grey but looked to be clearing – we had plans for all sorts of weather, and all being well we’d planned to drive to Lake Como and pootle around the lake a while. An hour later and we’d parked up and wandered down to the lake front. The plan was to get some lunch and then maybe take a boat trip, but there was also the matter of the funicular to Brunate, above the town which looked as if it might bear scrutiny too. We started at the Volta Temple, dedicated to Alessandro Volta, and apparently containing the battery he invented.

We didn’t go in – but instead walked down to the water’s edge and looked at the view, which was starting to clear nicely. We also took a look at the jetty/bridge that has lots and lots of padlocks on it. Apparently, local couples write their names on a padlock, then lock it onto the metal fence there. It’s a new “tradition” it seems. We also failed to get a close look at some sort of predatory bird that was circling, but that cleared off as soon as I got the long lens on the camera. I swear they know. At that point we took a decision to go and look for somewhere for lunch, and eventually settled on l’Antica Riva, a splendid old building looking out over the water, and settled inside – it was really too cold to be outside although there were some hardy souls braving the outdoor tables. They seemed to be locals, as did the guys settled down inside, who looked like they worked locally. This was looking promising, and so it proved. The fresh asparagus was very good indeed, and the risotto with Barolo and wild boar ragu was as near perfect as a risotto can be.

Comforting, tasty, larger than it probably needed to be, but very enjoyable. There was no chance of dessert – it just wasn’t going to be possible, and anyway we had a dinner reservation that threatened to be very impressive, and we didn’t want to slow ourselves down too badly.

Robert’s main was a splendid fish the size of a whale:

Lynne had pasta with wild mushroom sauce:

Lunch dispatched, we set off on to find the funicular to Brunate, and soon found ourselves in the town, high above the lake.

It’s small but delightful, if somewhat quiet in April. A lot of the houses seem to be holiday homes for rich Italians, and there was some work going on to get the places ready for the Easter holidays which were just around the corner by then. It’s a lovely place and I would imagine it’s cool in the Summer when everywhere else isn’t. It also has some stunning views over the lake and to the Alps in the distance. We pottered around, befriended a cat, and admired the architecture, while trying to decide which of the houses we should move into! If only…

 

When we got to the edge of the town there was one hell of a view over the lake:

We eventually headed back down again and checked the boat trip times. There was a 1-hour round trip on offer, and we had time to buy tickets and drink a coffee at a lakeside cafe before it set off. We knew we couldn’t get off the boat using our tickets; what they didn’t warn us about was that the man driving it was a maniac. We sat down in the outside bit at the back and the next thing we knew he’d taken off like a rocket, and he didn’t slow down for the rest of the hour. Anyone who did want to get off at any of the stops needed to be damn fast, because he would stop the boat by ramming the jetty (mooring by ear), and would then wait a nano-second or two before flooring it and setting off back into open water.

Half my photos came out blurred simply because we were bouncing around so much! It was fun though, and the lake is very beautiful.

 

I can see why it’s such a popular destination. We staggered off the boat and into the centre of town, aiming to see the cathedral before we had to go back to the hotel. The Duomo is in the typical local style, and has some stunning glass work, rose windows seeming to be a feature of Lombard cathedrals, and also contains beautiful blue and gold painted ceilings.

It also has a quite lovely dome:

Additionally there are statues of both Plinys on the exterior, unusual in a religious building, as they were apparently local (or at least spent time in Como). I always feel better for medieval architecture, and a wander down some of the side streets revealed even more of the same… I could go back to the hotel happy (once we managed to fight our way back out of the town that is!).

And so, in the evening, we headed for the first of our restaurant choices, il Profondo Rosso. When we got there our booking seemed to have been lost, but to give them their due, they didn’t panic. They simply set a table in the downstairs area, while we drank a prosecco and looked around the shop area. We were then led downstairs and in effect had our own private room for the night. It was wonderful, and the food that came was amazing. We opted for the tasting menu and sat back to see what the chef could do. First came a small amuse bouche of pork brawn with a slice of brioche.

Then we were hit with the first of the very serious cooking. It came in the shape of “Asparagus and Artichokes”, which was a puff pastry parcel of artichokes and pumpkin, stuffed artichokes perfumed with mint, salad of raw asparagus with aged percorino cheese, and aspic of asparagus, raspberries and tarragon. It was simply but beautifully executed.

It was followed by a mille-feuille of chickpea flour with leeks, Saint-Maure de Touraine, French goat cheese and celeriac cream with paprika.

And then came tortiglioni from Gragnano with rabbit liver, sweet onion, parsley and celeriac which was dense, rich and again exceedingly well done.

The main course was a roast fillet of stone-bass with charcoal, spicy turnip tops and “caviar” of native “RaRo” extra virgin olive oil.

I could have happily eaten several portions of this, though perhaps it was as well I didn’t! Especially as there was still dessert to be had. And what a dessert! A home-made “magnum” ice-cream, which turned out to be a dense, gooey chocolate mousse with raspberries inside, wrapped with white chocolate and toasted almonds, and served with a small mojito (or in this case, because we shared it, three small mojitos).

The other two “desserts” were portions of Italian cheeses, well-kept, at just the right level of ripeness.

We finished off our wine (we drank a local white and a local red, both organic and both just right with the food) and then staggered off into the night, more than ready for our beds, and in possession of a gift. As we were leaving, the chef presented us with a bottle of olive oil to take with us, recommending using it with fish.

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