Five Enchanted Days in Hangzhou


Pagoda across West Lake on a foggy morning

by Jean and Peter Richards

Hangzhou, southwest of Shanghai, is the most beautiful place we have seen in China.

Guides often give the area a half day; we spent five and could have filled more enjoying its magnificent lake, tasty cuisine, abundant museums and friendly people.

West Lake defines the city and sets apart from it, a six and a half square kilometer site comfortably absorbing thousands of people strolling its willow-lined paths in a flow as continuous as water. No photograph, poem or drawing can do justice to its gently interwoven shores, causeways, walkways, islands, pagodas, pavilions and gardens formed over 2,000 years.IMG_9449

When UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) selected the “Ancient Chinese cultural landscape” of the lake and three surrounding hills for Heritage status in 2011, it said it “bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealised fusion between humans and nature.”

IMG_9367That fusion is evident everywhere. Visitors transition from water to land aboard traditional  wooden boats. Water lilies drift against sloping shores graced by weeping willows. Autumn is golden with soap berry and red with maple leaves. Peaceful little gardens with classical stone sculpture are secreted off main walking paths. Pretty pavilions lie ahead of stepping stone crossings with beautiful bridges linking the lake’s many parts. Tourist tat and refreshment is confined inoffensively to compact areas.

Even in December’s chill, the human flow was continuous. We’ve been the only Caucasians in sight many times in China and are accustomed to being a curiosity, but never have we had so many people stare at us, motion to us or photograph us as in Hangzhou. Once, as we sat down for a rest at the end of a walk by the lake, two middle-aged women asked to take a photo then very politely approached, took our hands and kissed each of us on the forehead. We’re so old, we’ve become talismans.

Old age has its advantages in a country which honors it and where people believe that tea drinking helps to ensure it. The National Museum of Tea at Longjing (Dragon) Village is a temple to  the leaf. We spent a half day in the complex set amidst a plantation not far out of town. Not a word of English was spoken, but the explanatory signs were good and the exhibitions on the history, production, preparation and ritual were informative. One hall displays 100 examples of leaf tea, including the green for which Longjing is most famous. When it came to choosing gifts at the shop, we were lost and picked by package appeal. It was unlikely that anything in the national museum would be a poor choice and we were pleased when a knowledgeable recipient approved the selection.

Gong Chen Qiao (Bridge)

Gong Chen Qiao (Bridge) at terminus of Grand Canal

Hangzhou is the terminus of the ancient 1,100 mile Grand Canal which was hand dug and has been critical to trade and contact with Beijing for 1,500 years. We rode this historic waterway one morning from Wulinmen Dock to Gong Chen Qiao Bridge for 45 cents each traveling alongside barges still plying their trade as they did in Marco Polo’s day. The museum in the nearby plaza celebrates the history.

We didn’t expect to be spoilt for choice with other museums.  After all, how interesting could fans, umbrellas or scissors be? Very, it turned out. Each has its own building in an old industrial complex on the west bank of the Grand Canal re-developed as the Hangzhou Arts and Crafts Museum.

4 Tang Dynasty silk (618-907)

Tang dynasty (618-907) silk fragment

Hangzhou also hosts the National Silk Museum near the southern bank of West Lake. It offers a comprehensive view from worm to wardrobe with stunning examples of weaving and needlework  going back 5,000 years.

The focus is on food at the Museum of Hangzhou Cuisine. We spent the better part of a Sunday on the bucolic hillside site in the suburbs where historian Zhao Rongguang has turned his passion into an informative feast. The museum exhibit of a legendary Qing banquet meticulously recreated has become famous. The dishes were faithfully prepared then replicated in plastic by

Most famous banquet

Famous Qing banquet replica

Japanese experts in that particular craft.  At the adjacent restaurant capable of hosting a thousand people we lunched very well as guests of a young Chinese couple we met on the queue. They ordered steamed chicken, West Lake vinegar fish marked on menu as having been served at a recent G20 summit banquet, steamed chicken, Dungpo pork with eggs, stir-fried cabbage with pork and tofu with chicken and pork. That fine lunch came to 256RMB or US $38.40.

Fuchsia Dunlop, an English woman who has become an authority on food in China, actually lured us to Hangzhou with her descriptions of meals at the Dragon Well Manor where Dai Jianjun religiously records the origin of every morsel and where the diner may never know what is on the menu. In the end, we decided not to go to the restaurant because it all seemed a bit much and an expensive experience best had with a group of people fluent in the language and history who could identify the more exotic ingredients.

3 West Lake vinegar fish

West Lake vinegar-glazed fish

We were more than satisfied to experience the lovely, comfortable and very good Lou Wai Lou, a 150-year-old restaurant on the banks of West Lake to have some of the most traditional local dishes – Dongpo pork, West Lake style vinegar glazed fish, shrimp with Longjing tea leaves and the famous Longjing tea. We were reassured that one of our favorite places in Hong Kong, Zhejiang Heen, is even more authentic than we thought.

The Hangzhou specialty of lotus leaf wrapped Beggars Chicken from Shang Palace Restaurant was beautifully prepared but more interesting to try than to savor.

Shrimp with tea leaves

Shrimp with Longjing tea leaves

Some of the best dim sum we had were breakfast specialties in the Horizon Lounge of the sprawling  Shangri-la Hotel by the Lake. The East Wing, where the Russian delegation stayed for the G20, is traditionally and appealingly styled. The rooms are large, the location is superb and Mr. Jan Fan, a floor manager, was extremely helpful in the planning of our days.

We hardly saw the sprawling city on the other side of the lake. It, like so many in Asia, is a mass of grey metal and glass. The new buildings are not as towering as those in some other cities in China, the streets are wider and construction continues as Hangzhou prepares for its next big event, hosting the 2022 Asian games.

Marco Polo’s enthusiasm for this ancient Song Dynasty capital is well-remembered in China as is the traveler himself whose statue near West Lake appears to be surveying the “paradise” of his 13th century journey; a “heaven on earth” he might still recognize at least at the lake today.


Diorama of old-Time shop at fan museum


Display at umbrella museum

© 2018 by Jean & Peter Richards

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Vienna: a Surfeit of Satisfactions


6 Demel's in Vienna

A few calories of enjoyment at the iconic Demel’s

By Jean and Peter Richards

Vienna is what cities once aspired to be – an elegant center of sophistication, civilized living, comfort and taste.

It is also a bit of a stage set.

Three weeks in late winter wasn’t nearly enough for us to exhaust the richness of its architecture and art or the decadence of its desserts.


Ivory at Kunsthistoriches Museum

We loved the compact center, polite people, clean trams, quirky corners, walkability, lively cafés, traditional foods and conversations and laughter with friends.

Nowhere could we turn in Vienna without something to learn about its 19th century transition from the center of an empire to a city with a center.

A friend suggested that we read Carl E. Schorske’s Fin de Siecle Vienna. It was important to our understanding and enjoyment of the city; the work of Gustav Klimt, the artist so associated with the Secessionist Movement and the transformative decision in the mid-19th century to allow grand buildings and an encircling boulevard to replace the fields and moats of historic  fortifications.

The Ringstrasse is a masterpiece of urban planning. Along this 5.3 kilometer circular showcase rise the fabled neo-Renaissance opera house, the Hofburg Palace, incomparable Kunsthistoriches Museum, Natural History Museum, Greek revival parliament, neo-gothic town hall, Burgtheater, Museum of Applied Arts and Otto Wagner’s stunningly modern Postal Savings Bank. A tram line  serves them all.

Café Hawelka

A spring afternoon at Café Hawelka

Vienna gives quintessential meaning to the word café. Centuries-old-coffee-houses are unique treasures often referenced as “Vienna’s living rooms” – a perfect analogy – places to sink into a cozy chair; have a good, modestly-priced bite to eat, read a newspaper, chat with a friend or just wile away the hours for the price of a single coffee. These very democratic places are frequented from early morning to late night by the well-groomed, the pleasantly scruffy, the doddering elderly and the engaging young.

Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher

Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher

Black-suited waiters preside with old-fashioned pride delivering “little sweets” big enough to serve two. In the evening, cafés like Central and Prückel may have pianists who play lively tunes though never loud or intrusive, as lights cast their warm glow. It is an exquisite experience. Landtmann, with its expansive terrace, also has an elegant dining room with good food and a terrace within view of Burgtheatre. The rich chocolate Sacher torte is a near-religious experience in Vienna, but we found it over-rated even at Sacher.

The breadth and depth of the collections of fine art and objects in Viennese museums is astonishing. Initially we sought to see, with perhaps a little prejudice, that about which we knew least – the avant garde works of Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele. Gustav Klimt and Égon Schiele became more interesting with every exposure; the former for his highly decorative sense and the latter for the ease of seduction by his dark and disturbing work. It was an opportune time to learn about Schiele. In anticipation of the centenary of his death at 28 in 1918, the stately Albertina mounted an extensive exhibition of the drawings and prints of this very strange man who had a conflicted view of women and a contorted image of human kind. It was a fitting complement to the collection of his paintings at the Leopold and his “Death and the Maiden” at the majestic Upper Belvedere.

Klimt is the main attraction at the sprawling former summer palace which has 24 of the artist’s works including Lake Attersee landscapes and the legendary “Kiss,” perhaps the most famous painting of the Viennese Jugendstil. A corner salon contains a maquette for the selfie-obsessed to pose.

Cafe Sperl

Café Sperl

Self-reflection is a pre-occupation in the city. In 1906 Sigmund Freud convened the oldest psychoanalytic society in the world not far from the Academy of Fine Arts where in the 18th century Franz Xaver Messerschmidt began sorting out “confusion in his head” by sculpting it over and over. Many of his 64 original character studies in alabaster or metal became an attraction in carnival freak shows in the 19th century and valuable artistic rarities today. The twelve at the Belvedere should not be missed.

Something is lost simply by knowing that the originals of Durer’s “Young Hare” and other masterpieces of drawing are seldom on view at the Albertina anymore. Facsimiles are a concession to conservation being widely adopted. Still, there is always something to see. A major exhibit of the master’s drawings is scheduled for the fall of 2019.

The Habsburg State Rooms on two floors of the Albertina are amongst the most beautiful in Europe.

It’s a pleasant three minute walk from the Albertina to the Academy of Fine Art to contemplate the demons and tortures of a “Last Judgment” by Hieronymus Bosch. The c.1500 triptych is more dour than its contemporary, “The Garden of Earthly Delights” in Madrid’s Prado.


Sessession Bjuilding

The Secessionist building

Nowhere could we turn in Vienna without something to learn. The Secessionist movement may have been brief, but its architectural and design influences were broad and lasting.

Otto Wagner’s light, airy and air conditioned Postal Savings Bank building was far ahead of its time. Joseph Maria Olbrich’s leafy, white and almost windowless Secessionist building is worthy of Klimpt’s Beethoven frieze spanning three walls inside. A view of it graces the obverse of the Austrian 50 cent Euro coin. The Museum of Applied Arts, known as MAK, is a showcase of centuries of design and the widely reproduced glass and metal of Josef Hoffmann and the Weiner Werkstadt.

Tower of Babel, Breughel

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Nothing seems reduced to a smattering in Vienna. Where others might have one or two Breughels, the Kunsthistoriches has twelve out of 40 known including the “Tower of Babel.” Visitors sink onto its velvety sofas to view them and works of Vermeer, Reubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyke, de Hooch, the Cranachs, Canaletto and Carracci.

Days could be spent just wandering the long galleries of ivory, ancient stone, ceramic, wood, paper and metals. One of the most alluring works – the Cellini gold and enamel salt cellar (c.1540-43) – is at the far end of the Kunstkammer, but one is likely to be distracted along the way.

Cellini salt cellar

Cellini salt cellar

The collection is arrayed over 20 rooms and perhaps rivaled only by the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden for its quality and range.

The building with its grand neo-baroque entry, staircase and spandrels by Klimt also houses a pleasant café under the cupola.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s wildly imaginative portraits of human heads composed of vegetables, plant life and sea creatures might inspire a trip to the market. Vienna has a delightful 16th century one. Foods of the world spill out of the well-kempt sheds of the Naschmarkt, named for the ash wood of which its original milk cans were made. Gasthaus Zur Eisern Zeit opened to serve the milk market’s builders and is still turning out a fine goulash and dumplings. On a warm day, an outside table enhances the meal.

Slicing a pig at Naschmarkt

Slicing a pig at Naschmarkt

Across the way and behind the Gasthaus are Linke Wienzeile 38, 40, and 42 designed Otto Wagner. Number 40 is also known as the Painted Buildings or Majolica Wienzeile after the type of ceramic tile used on its facade. The effect is exuberant.

Our days, filled with leisurely walks in unusually spring-like temperatures, could be capped by a perfect afternoon sampling sweets alfresco at one of Demel’s streetside tables.

Evening often found us returning to Plachutta, the branch on Wollzeile, where we did our best to sample the variations on tafelspitz, a beloved boiled beef specialty which rivals pot au feu and  bollito misto. The heavenly aroma of Plachutta’s steaming stock arriving in its gleaming copper pot presages the marrow on warm toast and the plate of sliced beef served with chive sauce, horseradish, crunchy, golden rosti potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Tafelspitz at Plachutta


Tafelspitz is like Vienna: cultivated and comfortable with strains bubbling beneath the surface.

Plachutta publishes its recipe as follows:

1 onion with skin halved

2 kg Tafelspitz (cap of rump)

About 3.5 liter of water

10-15 black peppercorns

250 grams vegetables peeled (equal amounts of carrots, yellow carrots, celeriac and parsley root

½ leek (halved and washed)

granulated bouillon as needed


chives (chopped to garnish)


Brown the unskinned onion halves on their cut sides without oil in a pan lined with aluminium foil until very dark brown. Wash meat briefly with lukewarm water; drain. Bring water to the boil, add meat and cook at a simmer. Keep skimming off the foam that accumulates, and add peppercorns and onion. About 25 minutes before the meat is scheduled to be done, add vegetables, leek and, if desired, granulated bouillon.

Remove cooked meat from the broth, cut into finger-thick slices, place on patter and sprinkle with salt and chives. Strain broth and season to taste with salt.

Cooking time: about 3-3½ hours


Cafe Pruckel

We passed many pleasant hours at Café Prükel

© 2017 by Jean & Peter Richards

Posted in Art, Austria, Europe, Food, Travel, Vienna | Leave a comment

Bratislava: an easy day trip from Vienna

Michalska, Bratislava

Along historic Michalska in Bratislava

By Jean and Peter Richards

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is a popular day trip from Vienna.

The one hour 10 minute boat cruise was relaxing, comfortable and boring. The waters were calm, the sun shone and there was little to see but for the occasional fishing shack along the banks of the Danube and passing of a Viking cruise ship.

Within the confines of the tourist quarter of this longtime center of the Austro-Hungarian empire are a few sights, a wonderful chocolate shop, cobbled streets, an elegant memorial and St. Martin’s where 11 Hungarian kings and queens were crowned between 1536 and 1830. The cathedral has wonderful animalistic sculptures on the choir stalls, very nice gothic proportions, some beautiful stained glass and on the day of our visit, a line of people awaiting confession.

Nearby on the site of a demolished synagogue is a compelling black wall sculpture – a memorial to the more than 100,000 Slovakian victims of the Holocaust; 15,000 of them Bratislavan.

Holocuast memorial, Bratislava

Holocaust memorial

We walked the cobbled streets passing the various and often charmingly attractive small houses and embassies flying their national flags. It made us sad to see that our own was the only one  fenced off. It was made into a fortress breaking the streetscape.

“Cumil,” one of the Old Town’s biggest attractions, is a bronze sculpture of a man peeping out a manhole said either to be resting from work or peeping up a skirt. Visitors rub his shiny hat knop as we did for luck.


Cumil: you pat his helme for goof luck

The little Red Crayfish Farmacy Museum near Michael’s Gate is charming; the Café Mayer at the Stare Mesto is one of the prettiest in Europe. Luncheon salads on the terrace were fresh, tasty and reasonable; the pastries were worthy of the Vienna legacy. The real treat is across the way at Café Maxmillian where chocolate is the speciality and the chocolate ice cream is very special indeed.

The steep climb to the castle discouraged us, but there was enough architectural diversity to see in two or three hours to make for a pleasant, unhurried day in the old town. The tourist area is nicely tidied up; the rest of the town is less well looked after. Bratislava taxi drivers have such a reputation for cheating people that even the tourist office warned not to use them so we tapped into Uber and had a driver who works in IT at one of the big four accounting firms. The environs beyond the old town we saw on the way to catch the train back to Vienna were grim.

© 2017 by Jean & Peter Richards

Posted in Art, Bratislava, Europe, Food, Slovakia, Travel, Vienna | Leave a comment

A Confusion of Fusion…

One lesson we have learned in many years of traveling in France is that the French seem baffled by and unable to reproduce any cuisine foreign to their land. They even have problems with French cuisine, but that is a story for another time.

Man Mo is an attractive modern restaurant in Hong Kong set amidst the clutter of Upper Lascar Row, a former area for antique shops now strewn with the worst kind of tourist detritus. The man behind it is from Lausanne, Switzerland, in the French-speaking part of the country just a few kilometers from the French border.

Styled as “contemporary dim sum,” its menu consists mainly of various dumplings with fillings clearly meant to be “creative,” drawn from various cuisines. You can order two or three dumplings of a kind; we ordered two of each.

We had dumplings filled with mushrooms, “French Peking duck,” foie gras, and tom yum (a popular spicy Thai soup with prawns). Some were served with sauces, and we were instructed to put grains of salt and pepper on the foie gras offering.

Man Mo: duck dumpling

Duck dumpling.

The problems were varied: the skin on one was tough, as though it had dried out and been reheated; the pieces of foie gras were minuscule; the mushrooms, sautéed in a Western manner, were tasty but seemed inappropriate to their wonton-type skin.

Being inordinately fond of good French pot au feu, we could not resist ordering “Chinese pot au feu” with beef cheeks, which was noodles in the saltiest soup we have been served with several very tough slices of beef cheek. Having cooked beef cheeks, we knew that these needed far more cooking to become tender.

Man Mo:

“Chinese pot au feu” had salty broth, tough meat

With a small bottle of water and the typical 10% service charge our bill came to 477HK$ or 61.06US$

There is a French waitstaff that tries to be helpful, but they do not make up for the disappointing offerings and the poor ratio of value to price.

We were actually glad we tried Man Mo. We left so hungry that we stopped on the way home for a crunchy, warm barbeque pork bun dotted with sesame seed, four little Mandarin oranges available only for a short season and two steaming custard tarts, all of which cost 18HK$ or US $2.30. They were a treat.

Mandarin oranges

Fortunately mandarin oranges were in season

© 2017 by Jean & Peter Richards

Posted in Asia, Food, Hong Kong, Notes, Tips & Prejudices, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Photo Exhibit Exposes the Soul of Hong Kong

The pest exterminator lets his customers know his targets.

by Jean and Peter Richards

The soul of Hong Kong can still be found in the little shops wedged beneath and beside its soaring skyscrapers. Simon Go has captured that soul in a photographic exhibit titled “Gold Painted Signs – Hong Kong Old Shops.”

Sixty of his portraits of businesses, beloved and essential to daily life, are on view at the sleek, new f22 Gallery in Wan Chai until mid-January.

It is a touchingly important collection illustrating a sadly vanishing way of life. Some of the shops have already closed; others will inevitably follow as space becomes too expensive to rent and profits too meagre to attract new entrepreneurs.

They are extraordinary examples of the ordinary days of people who provide the services that keep Hong Kong humming: the bamboo steamer maker, umbrella mender, pot repairer, thermos flask restorer, slipper king, “seamster,” watchman, noodle makers, dried fish seller, snake specialist and pest control shop – all memorable in the great tradition of businesses shoe-horned into tiny spaces providing a service and making a living.

Go and Douglas So, the erudite founder of the gallery, chose carefully amongst hundreds of photos and grouped selectively and cleverly. In one example in Central, a series is hung as if ascending the actual street on which they were located.

Simon Go with his picture of four brothers who run a noodle restaurant.

The pictures were taken with great care over 13 years during which photojournalist Go got to know the people, bided his time until they were comfortable with him and then captured the essence of the owners in their places of work. One of the most memorable photos is a noodle shop with four bothers flexing their muscles and showing their rippling tattoos.

In each photo, the subjects face the camera and through use of a small aperture, the entire shop is shown in detail.

So says of Go, “His works are much more than a photo record. In Simon’s photography, we see strong humanism, warmth, empathy and great respect for his subjects.”

It is a matchless collection of the real Hong Kong that most people don’t know to seek out and that tourists may never notice in the rush and crush.

Bamboo steamers made by traditonal methods.

Nearly every year we visit Tuck Chong Sum Kee Bamboo Steamer Co at 12 Western Street in Sai Wan, one of the last shops where bamboo steamers are made and fastened with copper by hand. We no longer need anything, but we still go just to make sure it is still there and buy gifts one more time.

The exhibit is on until mid-January 2018 at f22, a two-storey gallery cum café at 70-74 Morrison Hill Road, the Amber Building, Wan Chai.

© 2017 by Jean & Peter Richards

Posted in Art, Asia, Hong Kong, Notes, Tips & Prejudices, Photography | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Spring Ahead to the Slow Lane in Italy’s Po Valley and Lake District

Giardino Melzi, Bellagio

The Melzi Gardens in Bellagio in April


By Jean and Peter Richards

A short driving trip meant to fill time and gaps in our travels in Italy turned into three memorable weeks along the Po Valley and into The Lake District just as it awakened in April.

The prospectively “dumpy” third level city was so inviting we wanted to stay for weeks.

The summer resort was magnificent in a cold, wind-driven spring rain.

The food, glorious food, was produced with care, prepared with understanding and devoured with delight.

Portero meat

Sweetbreads at Portero in Brescia.

We were so comfortable in Modena where we began that we hated to leave the Castello, a charming hotel at the edge of town, and were completely taken by the city’s beautiful Romanesque duomo which we happened upon during a Sunday evening service which brought it aliveIt was lovely time to see the flowering of Italy. The weather was fine. The air was perfumed with the scents of Spring. Azalea and rhododendron bloomed in a profusion of color. The people were still amongst the friendliest in Europe – ready with a smile and eager to help.

Fabrizia explains all about balsamic vinegar

Fabrizia explained the intricacies of  balsamic vinegar

We’ll never remember all the details of an education in balsamic vinegar at the hands of the Pedroni family in Nonantola, but we shan’t soon forget the lunch in their Osteria Rubbiara after a tour on which we were joined by a rabbi from New Jersey on her way to Lake Como with a cabaret singer friend to officiate at a wedding. Lunch was interesting and fun, but not as tasty as the pumpkin ravioli drizzled in aged balsamico that we had the night before at a simple trattoria, Grama, in Modena. This was the great traditional cooking of Emilia Romagna: an antipasto of meats, a polenta with a perfect ragu and the ravioli, all shared.

Outside Violin Museum, Cremona

Sculpture at the Museum of the Violin in Cremona

Even lesser known towns are becoming pedestrianized in their centers, some with better results than others. Access to Mantua’s Renaissance center is but a few minutes pleasant walk from parking just outside the walls. In other places it is not unusual to have a kilometer walk in from peripheral parking and most unusual to find underground parking at the historic center as we did in musical Cremona.

The Museum of the Violin has Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati examples and a wooden pod in which sit back and listen to their pure sounds. The ancient, compact and comfortable city state boasts a rare Romanesque baptistry in brick and an important white marble church. It also honors edible traditions by making mostarda and crunchy torrone. Part of the pleasure of buying them at Formaggi d’Italia at 32 via Boccaccino was talking with the man and woman behind the counter whose enthusiasm for their products had not ebbed with the decades. We bought the mostarda in a colorful tin not just for the contents but for the memory.

We didn’t expect much of places like Brescia or Bergamo and weren’t much disappointed by Brescia. We found it a little shabby but with a very good trattoria. At GA Porteri, the local specialty was minestra sporca, a flavorful chicken broth with minced liver. The sweetbreads were softly grilled to perfection. Sadly, graffiti has found its way into Brescia and so many other places where the selfish leave their mark on the culture by vandalizing their way to a canvas.

Piazza Vecchio, Bergamo, medium shot

Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo is renowned for its perfect scale

Ancient, Celtic bifurcated Bergamo, on the other hand, was a wonderful surprise. The Medieval upper town has the important Piazza Vecchia, the oldest town hall in Italy, the Colleoni marble chapel which is a riot of style so bizarre that it works, and a tower with a spectacular view.

Moroni portrait of young girl, Bargamo

Moroni portrait of young girl is regarded as a masterpiece

The modern lower town has broad avenues and the Pinacoteca dell Academia Carrara, a fine art museum with penetrating 16th century portraits by Giovanni Battista Moroni. The pleasantly rustic Taverna Valtellinese is an old-fashioned family place a ten minute walk from the comfortable Mercure Palazzo Dolcino. No one seemed to object to the little boy riding his scooter around the dining room or the couple sharing dessert with their dog. No one seemed to object to the food either which included an extensive antipasto of venison, fromage frais, exquisite lardo and a variety of charcuterie. A perfectly al dente mushroom risotto, rognons and polenta and a sampling of tarts completed the feast. With drinks, dinner came to 28€ a person. The tagliatelli with black edged white truffle of summer (tartuffo nero) the following night was pure bliss.

Pastaw truffles

Tagliatelli al tartufo at Taverna Valtellinese

Hints of vistas to come rose with the Alps just outside Bergamo along the way to Bellagio winding through sleepy hamlets alongside the sparkling expanse of Lake Como.

When a summer resort is beckoning on a cold, rainy, windy early spring day, it has to have something special, and Bellagio does – a unique lakeside setting, appealing architecture, sprawling gardens, the Rockefeller Foundation at Villa Serbelloni as a cultural anchor, friendly people, good restaurants and fine hotels. Seldom have we been welcomed as well as at the Hotel Belvedere above town. This century-old hostelry still run by family wears its luxury with comfortable familiarity and treats its guests with genuine sincerity.

When night fell, wind rose driving the rain into our pores as we walked downhill to the cliffside pedestrianized town and got a hint of just what it is like in winter when much closes down. Even gloomy weather couldn’t dim the luster of Bellagio’s softly lit pale yellow hues or the vivacity emanating from the Trattoria San Giacomo atop the steps of Salita Serbelloni.

View from hotel room, Bellagio

View from our hotel window in Bellagio

We awoke to see snow-capped mountains beyond a sun-dappled lake and spent much of the day strolling the waterside slopes of the Melzi Gardens where the azaleas and rhododendrons were near peak. At the far end, through the gate into Di Loppia Bellagio, the Ristorante Darsene was a good choice for lunch. Spaghetti carbonara, gnocchi with mushrooms and a plate of sweetbreads fueled us for the walk back through the garden and around the rusting Venetian gondola said to be transported to the lakefront for Napoleon’s pleasure.

We had a sturdier craft for excursions across the lake on another day after we were taxed to our aging limits by the cliffside steps and a walk to the promontory at the tip of Bellagio. The view of the confluence of Como’s spurs and the freshness of frito misto at Ristoranti al Ponto made it all worth it.

Within 24 hours, it seemed, Bellagio had come to life. Enough tourists filled the port to convince us how fortunate we were to get there just ahead of the onslaught.

View from hotel room, Stresa

View from our hotel window in Stresa

Holidays, religious and other, were giving the start of the season a push when we reached the Grand Hotel Des Isles Borromées in Stresa. The evening promenade along Lake Maggiore had a festive air. By week’s end the influx of guests overwhelmed the breakfast staff in the dining room.

“Resorts” have figured little in our travel vocabulary. Where Bellagio was just simply quiet and beautiful in our three day stay, Stresa was what we imagined a Lake District resort to be – stunning views, boat trips to relatively uninteresting little islands, souvenir shops with imported tat and tour groups galore. Still, we enjoyed it for the bright tulip beds, flowering trees and well-tended spaces of the gardens of Villa Taranto at Verbania; for the tourist watching at Isola Bella after we skipped the palace interior and sat on its walls, and for the ferry rides on Lago Maggiore.

Villa Tarranto, Verbena

Villa Tarranto

The 14th century monastery of Certosa di Pavia in an isolated area northeast of Turin was far more interesting. “Elaborate and richly detailed” are Michelin understatements of description for the facade of the church at this Carthusian monastery.

It is a marvel in marble surrounded by a complex in brick incorporating cloisters, cells, corners of commerce, curatives, gardens and a gallery. The cash piling up in his hand at the end was a sign that the monk must have given a worthwhile tour even if we couldn’t understand him. His ecclesiastical colleague did brisk business in the shop selling very reasonably priced potions, remedies and sweets.

Certosa di Pavia

Cloister at Certosa di Pavia


Eataly in Turin

Our appetite was for Eataly – the food center of global inspiration in Turin about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Markets of any kind are a passion for us – a guide to the colors, economic conditions and culinary traditions of a culture; a chance to learn while you eat. The original Eataly in Torino offers an incredible, edible tour and a very good lunch.

Peter suggested a stop in Cuneo for a night or two just because we were reluctant to leave Italy. My reaction: “We’ve had such a fabulous trip, why make the last memory of it a dumpy little city?” – a judgment made on the basis of guides where “faded, not much to delay the sightseer,” and “worthwhile only for its annual cheese festival” in November were bandied about.

Nearly a week later, we were reluctant to leave not just Italy or the Piedmont but Cuneo itself.

© 2017 by Jean & Peter Richards

Please see accompanying article on Cuneo below

Lake Como

Lake Como




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Hemingway came to Cuneo to buy candy — we followed and found a lot more


Window at Arione, Cuneo

Framed clipping from newspaper reporting Hemingway’s visit to Cuneo in the window of its famous caffé and confectioner, Arione

by Peter & Jean Richards

Cuneo was a big surprise.

More to Jean, who asked, “Why do you want to go to a dumpy little town like Cuneo?”

After two eye-opening and enjoyable weeks in northern Italy, including Modena, Bergamo, the Lake Country and the flamboyant Certosa di Pavia, we were heading south into the Piedmont.

We stopped for lunch at Eataly in Turin, always a treat, from where Cuneo is less than a hundred kilometers.

We often find that third-level attractions turn out to be highly rewarding. That was the case in Cuneo.

via Roma, Cuneo

Corso Roma in Cuneo, looking towards Piazza Galimberti and the Alps

The guide books say little about Cuneo. One source seemed to say that the only exciting event in its history was a May 8, 1954, visit by Ernest Hemingway, who went there to buy a special rum-infused chocolate candy, a local specialty.

Slow Food sign, Bra

Logo of Slow Food movement outside restaurant in Bra

It sounded intriguing and little-explored by the average tourists: great food at the heart of the Slow Food area, and Renaissance architecture replete with arcades. What we did not know is that the hotel we had chosen was in a perfect location on the main square, had very comfortable rooms, and was hosted by a charming man whose family had run the hotel for two generations.

We arrived at the Best Western Hotel Principe at the northeast corner of Piazza Tancredo (Duccio) Galimberti and were greeted by Maurizio Maccario and his sister, Irene. The hotel is carved out of two buildings, so we had to take two elevators to get to our spacious and comfortable room.

The piazza and the two major avenues, Corso Roma and Corso Nizza, form the spine of the city. All are arcaded and lined by impressive neo-Renaissance buildings. Because of the arcades, you can walk to many restaurants and shops protected from the weather.

Arkione, interior

Arione, the famous caffé and confectrioner in Cuneo

Within easy walking distance were several good restaurants and caffés, the most famous caffé/confectioner, Arione, a great gelateria, and many interesting shops.

Within an easy drive are several small, attractive towns with restaurants belonging  to the Slow Food movement, founded in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini with the goal of promoting traditional gastronomy and food production.

On our first night we asked Maurizio for a restaurant recommendation. He directed us to Via Dronero, which he said had many good eateries.

Battuta, Bove's, Cuneo

Battuta at Bove’s

We chose Bove’s, which had great atmosphere, friendly staff and very good food. We enjoyed  superb battuta (the Italian version of steack tartare), a delicious coteletta alla Milanese, a delicate tempura di verdura and a fresh mixed salad. It was so good we returned twice more during our six-day stay in the city.

We also had extraordinary meals at Osteria della chocciola (an unbelievable tagliolini burro e saliva), Boccandivino in Bra, headquarters of Italy’s Slow Food movement,  and Taverna San Martino in nearby Saluzizo. A highlight of several meals was the local tagliolini, a very thin pasta made with 40 egg yolks to a kilogram of flour. Dressed simply with butter and sage, it was possibly the most elegant pasta dish we ever had.

Tagiolini al burre e salvia

Tagliolini (also called tajarin locally) al burro e salvia

We walked around Cuneo, sat in outdoor caffés where one could see the snow-capped Alps in the distance, sampled gelato (a tedious chore), and browsed the confectioners and food markets.

It was a glorious six days: we plan to return as soon as we can.

© 2017 by Peter & Jean Richards



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