Discover Northern Italy: 5 Highlights

Oh Northern Italy. The sweet and intoxicating scent of flowers in the warm amiable evening. The mixture of sun oil and salt on my skin. And that particular glow that results from vacation freedom, utter happiness and a bit of glowing sweat as the thermometer reaches 30 degrees Celsius. Pure love.

We spent almost two weeks in June road tripping in Northern Italy. We began our trip with a steady and faithful Fiat Punto* in Milan and headed toward La Spezia and the colourful Cinque Terre with a lunch / day stroll / photo stop in Pavia. Our tour also included Porto Venere, Florence, Modena, Bologna, Lago d’Iseo, Pilzone, the Franciacorta wine region and then lastly, Milan.

*If the friendly customer service lady promises you an upgrade to your rental car it can be a good idea to check that you are on the same page when it comes to the meaning of that term. But anyhow, the journey goes on.

I have a million and three tips and recommendations and I’ll dive in to the beautiful cities and villages, the winery and restaurant recommendations and unforgettable do’s in upcoming posts but now I thought I’d share some selected highlights. So, let’s start!

The best lunch view

The view from the restaurant Al Castello in the village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre. You can enjoy a fresh from the sea and al dente Pasta Vongole as a primi and listen to the waves hit against the vertical rock wall down below. The view is spectacular, the seafood is savoury, but the service could afford a little improvement as the elderly waiter was quite grumpy.

The title of the most beautiful view of our entire trip goes to the rooftop vista from the Duomo in Milan. Or the magnificent view from the Castello Doria in the town of Porto Venere. Or the view of the village of Manarola as the sun sets.

The hottest thing

By far and without a doubt our bike tour in the Franciacorta region, from Pilzone to the Bellavista winery and back, a good 30 kilometres in total in the equivalent amount of degrees.

As we hit the town of Iseo all I wanted to do was run straight into the lake. The bike tour was great: biking is a good way to explore the wine region and the many wine roads. There are several prestigious wineries in the area. It’s a good idea to book a visit in advance either by contacting the wineries directly via email or booking a tour from the Iseo tourist office. And for the bike excursion remember to take with you your phone for navigating, a hat for the sun and a bottle or two of water. We got the bikes for the day from our accommodation, which brings me to my next point:

The best accommodation

The award goes to [drum roll] Antica Casa Fenaroli in Pilzone (Via San Pietro, Iseo). Upon our arrival to this mansion house the hosts greeted us with bubbly prosecco, strong espressos and sweet delicacies prepared by the mother of the direttore. Quite a welcome! The room, a suite apartment as it turned out, was cozy, spacey and very well equipped. And the breakfast served to our room was plentiful and tasty. As a cherry on top we got to borrow two bikes for an entire day for visiting the wineries. I would make a critical remark if I had one but nope.

The learning experience

There is a precious wine area, the Franciacorta wine region, South of the Lake Iseo in the Province of Brescia. That I knew. The sparkling wines are made by the metodo classico (the same method as with champagne). We visited two wineries, Ferghettina and Bellavista and learned quite a bit. Stay tuned!

The gem

This is my favourite. We got to see an opera at the La Scala! Must admit, when it comes to opera I thought that I wasn’t quite in touch with my inner Niles Crane, but this program ended up being one of the top experiences of the whole trip. Getting the affordable tickets for the performance of the evening requires that you make space in your day’s schedule and go the Evening Box Office by Via Filodrammatici three times on that day: first to get your name on the list at 1 o’clock pm (the first 140 get in), then at 5 pm to get your voucher and thirdly at 5:30 pm to exchange the voucher for the actual ticket. The tickets are balcony tickets: we had our seats on the sixth floor and by standing and holding on to the metallic rail we saw rather well to the stage. The piece that night was La Bohème. The powerful singing in Italian, the beautiful interior, the mirrors and crystal chandeliers in the foyer and a glass of sparkling Bellavista: a splendid night.

2 x Helsinki: a sea view and a delicious krog discovery

Almost every time I walk the streets of Helsinki a new restaurant has popped up in one corner or in another block. That’s one of the things I love about the city: new places and pop ups emerging. We had passed Krog Roba (Pieni Roobertinkatu 1-3) several times and last Saturday as we were searching for a cozy place to dine in this atmospheric restaurant came to mind. And they had a table for two. The place opened in August, so it’s not brand new but it was on my would be a nice place to test tip list.

But before dinner time it was time to raise a toast to summer at the Allas Sea Pool by the Market Square and the Ferris wheel. The summer terraces of the place are open now and in August they will open the sea water pools and saunas. A public sauna boom is alive and strong in Helsinki right now. I look forward to seeing what the sea spa will be like when it opens big time. Now the view gave both to oceanic Helsinki and to the construction containers.


And then to Krog Roba. It was a purely delicious. The restaurant space is stylish, spacious and bright with high windows, a beautiful floor pattern and original lamps. The service was friendly and fast. The menu is built around Scandinavian flavours and included many tasty sounding alternatives. We went for the Danish open sandwich with juniper smoked duck leg and pickled vegetables and a salad with arctic char and baby potatoes for starters and for the glazed veal and the marbled beef fillet for the mains. The food was yummy. An extra mentioning goes to the home made crispbread with a lot of crunchy seeds. Also the portion called something small and sweet on the desert menu gains cuteness points.

The only critical remark is that it’s quite pricy: the price level of a very fine restaurant and at least for me the krog part in the name suggests a bistro like quarter restaurant with a laid back atmosphere and also a difference in prices compared to a fine-dining place. The feeling of the place was elegant and pleasant: if you want to dine in a bustling hotspot then this is not the apt choice.  But  all in all, it was delightful.

davThe magical light of summer evenings, love it.

Cava Travels: Visiting the Cava Capital and Cavas Codorníu

Fancy a glass of cava on a Sunday morning? Well yes please. A glass of sparkling wine is actually quite an appropriate way to start a Sunday; especially if you’re visiting a cava production house.

A visit to a cava winery was something we wanted to include in our Spain road trip. Around 95 % of all cava is produced in the Penedès area in Catalonia. We stayed in the town of Sant Sadurní d’anoia, the home of several of the biggest cava production houses in Spain, and visited the Codorníu winery.


Before I’ll take you to the cava house I’ll say a few words about Sant Sadurní. It’s a small town around 50 kilometers Northwest of Barcelona. There is a train station if you are travelling by train and the autopista A-7 takes to Barcelona. The town itself is very peaceful and the most remarkable thing about it is that it’s at the center of the production of cava. The slightly odd thing is that there aren’t many hostels or hotels at all, despite the fact that there must be quite a lot of cava tourism in the area. We stayed at Hostal Sant Sadurni D’anoia (Calle de San Antoni, 99): it was very comfortable and the receptionist was friendly but the accommodation was quite pricy.

Our restaurant choice for dinner on that Saturday night was La Cava D’en Sergi (Valencia 17). The food was excelente, the service rather formal. They have a cava list three pages long.  A very recommendable place to sip some excellent cavas and to have a delicious meal.

And then, let’s go to Cavas Codorníu. We had booked a guided tour in advance from the website. The place has a history dating back more than 450 years. After visiting the smallest winery of the Bardolino wine area last year in Italy we wanted to see a big production house now. And the Codorníu estate really is big. They used to make their own electricity for the winery and for the nearby village as well, and there are 30 kilometers of tunnels in the wine cellars. It’s a real underground maze. They’ve built a professional tourism institution to acquaint the visitors to the world of cava.



We took the Codorníu visit, which included a quick tour in the winery garden, a visit to the Celler Gran museum and winery, a descent into the underground cellars and tasting of two cavas. The winery architecture is very elaborate and beautiful. I would have liked to learn more about the history of the Codorníu family and hence it was a pity that the speakers of our train (yes, they had trains) weren’t functioning. Our guide was friendly, well-prepared and efficient: quickly, come everyone, she led us forward. We learned for example, how cava is bottled and aged. The tour was in English, it lasted an hour and a half and the cost was 12 € per person. On weekends and on holidays the English tour starts at 10 am. A cava breakfast it is. It was worth the money and I enjoyed the visit. The tour is both about the premises and about cava itself. The grounds are beautiful and really well kept.

A few tips for the visit. Be on time. A walk to the winery from the village takes 20 minutes. The tour starts exactly according to the timetable: first there’s a film in the movie theatre (yes, they have their own cinema) and then the group continues with a quick pace and takes the train. If you arrive late, you won’t be able to find the bunch on your own and you most likely wouldn’t be allowed to. Secondly, the restaurant/bar by the gift shop doesn’t really serve a proper lunch (there are small salty snacks) so if you haven’t booked the cava lunch package you have to head back to town for lunch.

And that’s what we did. We spent a relaxed and sunshine filled Sunday strolling the streets of the town, enjoying a lunch at Cava Canals & Munne and espressos at the plaza.  And even spotted one cava factory being for sale, hmmm, shopping decisions / turning points of life…