As part of our useful Italian curriculum, we learned about different types of lodging. One type that we don’t really have an equivalent of in English is agriturismo. It’s like living on a farm. And being with nature. So naturally, we had to try it. With all the farmland they have in our region, there are lots of agro-tourism places.
Will, Austin and I rented a car from the airport and drove up a couple hours north to Lake Garda to stay at Agriturismo Biobio. The Italian highways were actually very good. We passed by lots of picturesque farmlands. There are those rows of thin trees that you imagine when you think of Olive Garden. I recall passing under this cool-looking modern bridge in Reggio-Emilia that I wasn’t fast enough to take a picture of. The agriturismo was at the top of a hill and there’s only a dirt road to get up it. Not only is it narrow, but there is a tight switchback too. Will had a little difficulty getting around it, but he’s a very good driver.
They have animals cause it’s a farm. You immediately smell the horses and cows. I guess it’s the smell of the countryside and fresh air. They also have a ton of dogs and cats. Some of them were cute, others were not. There was this one enormous fluffy dog that stuck out. They sort of just wander the grounds freely. There was even a donkey making donkey sounds while all the dogs barked at us. What a welcome!
It was much colder than I was expecting. And we didn’t actually do things on the farm. Like we didn’t go milk a cow like the advertisement purportedly said. But we took the opportunity to explore the area. We strolled around the land. I tried to take pictures to find that I packed a camera with a dead battery.
We went into a quaint little town nearby called Volbarno. It was totally dead. There were literally no people anywhere. There were only a couple of businesses open. Everyone went to Brescia or something. There wasn’t even really much of a piazza. There was a neat looking bridge, but that’s about it.
We climbed to the top of the mountain , over private property to get to the abandoned church overlooking the town. That was kind of neat. There were actually two abandoned churches. We got to one and thought that was it, but then the path kept going and we found the higher one. It’s like God is always watching you from above. As it got darker, the lights went on, illuminating the church. We were able to make shadows on the church exterior wall. Wonder if anyone down below took notice…
We walked into a bar for a little snack before dinner. We were all pretty hungry but dinner wasn’t being served at the agriturismo until at least 8. The barista was a girl from Albania. She as nice to us, bringing us chicken wings. She was just shocked that anyone was coming to visit Volbarno.
Our dinner was freshly prepared by the sister who owns the farm. It was organic and fresh and delicious. We had wine that we assume came from the farm and was presumably organic. The bread was great. We ate penne al ragu for primi. And then tagliate (beef) for secondi. And on the side, there was vinegar broccoli and cauliflower, spinach and tomatoes. They were some of the freshest tomatoes I’ve ever had, and I don’t even like tomatoes. I don’t know why they cover the vegetables in vinegar though. It’s not a good taste for vegetables. Slightly disappointing was no dolci though.
We were also the only ones in the dining room. There was another table set and covered and a man kept bringing out food and hiding it under the cover. It seemed like the same food we were being served, but there was clearly no one to eat it. We had the run of the place. It couldn’t possibly be breakfast, right? We saw some people earlier, elderly people gathered around the TV watching soap operas. But they are nowhere to be found. Figured they were family just hanging out.
The stars are out in the countryside. It’s really incredible seeing stars in the night. That’s the one thing we don’t have in the city. It’s impossible to capture it in pictures though. It’s really experiential.
We went to bed early with not much else to do. I turned on BBC News and fell asleep watching the news. But I was awakened by sounds around 11:45. There were people downstairs eating dinner. There was a lot of them. And it was difficult to say who these people were exactly. Were they guests? Do they live there? Is that a normal time to eat?
Breakfast was great though. There was fresh, organic (unsweetened) yogurt and oats, fresh juice, cappuccino, prosciutto, salame and bread. And there were eggs. They get English-speakers sometimes, but they rarely get English speakers that also know some Italian. So we helped them translate some styles of eggs, like sunny side up (bull’s eye) and hard boiled and poached and scrambled. It was actually really funny.
In the morning we went to Salo, a pretty lakeside town. The streets are unbelievably narrow and steep, such that we missed our turn not seeing the street. There was no room on either side of the car, and Will got us down unscathed somehow. He really is a good driver. Lakeside towns, I think, actually rival seaside towns. It’s very pretty being out on the lake sitting outside the cafe. We even saw a wedding taking place with a tiny little fiat with a just married sign.
At the recommendation of our Albanian friend from the bar, we visited Vittoriale degli Italiani. It was Gabriele d’Annunzio’s villa. Now we had no idea who this guy was. But apparently, he is a very big deal in Italy. He was a famous writer, and fashionista, and fascist war hero. This guy was really into himself. Very over the top. Amphitheaters, fountains, creeks, This place was incredible. It’s so gaudy, you wouldn’t believe it. The grounds are enormous. He built himself monuments and a grand mausoleum. He has a real functioning plane indoors. And most incredible is a ship. He had an actual ship that never touched the water. It is set in the side of the cliff overlooking Lake Garda. He was a real narcissist. Who builds himself a museum and calls it the Victory of the Italians? And the things in this museum are pretty bizarre too. He kept belongings of his lovers and put them on display. Who does that? Descriptions range from “monumental citadel” to “fascist lunapark.” The scope of this place is what I imagine Donald Trump’s monument to himself will look like. Just you wait.
We stopped for a quick pizza lunch and then drove around the lake to Sirmione, a thin peninsula at the south end of the lake. We didn’t go up the main castle cause it was kind of expensive, but we did go to the ruins of an ancient Roman villa at the tip. And it was amazing. It was very Ozymandias. The foundations are still totally intact. The grandeur of the villa is just awe inspiring, breathtaking. I really wish my camera had battery. We were even there during the magic hour when photos come out best.
The town of Sirmione itself is very pretty. It is so thin, that you can see the water on either side of the town. It has a nice piazza that opens out on the water where there were bands playing. There were tons of gelato places with these huge cases of dozens of flavors. We had to stop. They gave us enormous scoops. And it was good. I’d say best gelato I’ve had outside of Bologna.