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Eating Local… In Italy – Nine

Every Journey Begins Near to You

by Krista Harris

  • Day Four: The Lake District
  • What We Did: Went to Lake Orta, boat to San Giulio island, lunch, brewery visit, time at the castle
  • What We Ate and Drank: Castle breakfast, wine pairing lunch, beer and snacks, picnic dinner, wine and grappa

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We are visiting Lake Orta today, a smaller version of the more popular Lake Como and, as we are about to find out, far more enchanting. We get up a little earlier and have breakfast at 8am before getting into the bus for about an hour or so drive to the lake. The closer we get to the lake the grayer the skies get, and by the time we arrive it looks like it is about to rain. We put on our raincoats as we walk down the narrow streets of Orto San Giulio to catch the ferry boat to the island of San Giulio.

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It is lightly raining now and the mist on the lake makes it all appear so medieval. Stepping off the boat feels like stepping back in time on this tiny, quiet island. We have a tour guide, and he starts to tell us the story of the island. It is named for Saint Julius, who lived in the 4th century. Legend has it that Julius rid the island of snakes and brought Christianity to the area, building many churches.

We step into one of those churches, the Basilica of San Giulio, and again we are further back in time. Although it has been damaged and rebuilt and added on to over the centuries, there is still a feeling of the year 390 when you step inside. Then the frescoes take us right into the medieval ages.

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The work of various artists, these frescoes were probably redone many times. Notice how Saint Catherine in the middle is so different from the figures next to her. She positively glows in the soft light of the church. It is very pleasant here. I could linger looking at the intricately carved pulpit, and I’m finding the archaelogical display downstairs very interesting. A group of young school children enter and even their hushed noises do not disturb the atmosphere.

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Above: It says “The Island of silence welcomes you” on this map.

Outside it is still raining and we seem to have the island to ourselves. Our guide takes us for a walk on the Way of Silence—a path that weaves through the island and has signs every so often to inspire silence, meditation and contemplation.

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Above: In four languages “Silence is the peace of oneself”

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Above: “Every journey begins near to you”

The island is really only home to the Benedictine monks and some temporary residents. But on a rainy day in September it is ours. Our final stop is a quaint gift shop where a few of us make purchases before dashing to catch the ferry boat back.

After we dock, we have a little more time to browse the town of Orto San Giulio, and then we head to lunch in the nearby village of Miasino at the Antico Agnello restaurant.

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We are all starving. The walk, the rain, the medieval atmosphere—I’m not sure what it was, but it has made us all hungry. It has stopped raining. Everything is damp, and we are having lunch inside instead of in their charming garden. But it could not be more welcoming. We go upstairs to a lovely room set up with tables of wine, beautiful wine glasses and a lavish display of appetizers. It’s a wine pairing lunch, so there are different wines to taste with different appetizers. Then we sit down to eat more courses, paired with additional wines.

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Above: a cheese custard tart appetizer

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Above: porcini risotto

The pairings are some of the best I’ve tasted. I take a sip of wine, I take a bite of food, I take another sip of wine. Magic. The food and the wine are amazing together. I look across the table at Heidi, and she says “I am so happy right now that I could cry.”

The flavors of the food and wine are so vivid. I understand what she means. Time stands still for a moment while we enjoy this very special lunch.

Then we are off to a craft brewery—Birrificio Sant’Andrea in Vercelli. The place is a visual treat. It feels like a group of really hip, smart graphic designers got a hold of it. The beers are fantastic, too. We can’t decide which is better—the flavors, the names of the beers or the great packaging and design. It is all so good. We are sold.

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It is in that contented, satisfied state that we head back to the castle. We have time to linger here tonight. Our picnic dinner is moving inside to the upstairs cantina, but we still have the spirit of a picnic. Shannon cuts up some gorgeous salume, there are wines from our travels to sample, and we fill our plates with soft, pungent cheeses and bright, flavorful preserves.

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And later we wander out onto the grounds and sit in the quiet, chilly air and sip some grappa before bedtime. And we sleep… contentedly.

Next… Day 5: Wine Country


Krista Harris is the co-publisher and editor of Edible Santa Barbara. You can read more about the Edible Santa Barbara Tour and sign up to be notified of the next tour on this page.

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