I can't believe I haven't written about this yet! I've got a real treat for anyone who ever wanted to do a food & wine tour of the Italian Alps, because I am running one this coming October, along with Asheville chef Mark Rosenstein! I've been enamored with my new home of Aosta, Italy since I first came here to visit my now-husband 4 years ago, and even more now that I'm a resident here. It has always amazed me how there aren't more tourists here (aside from ski tourism), because it is such an incredible place, rich in beauty, food, wine, and castles. One of the things I like is that there aren't a load of tourists, because it means Aosta hasn't 'sold out' for tourists, but I don't think that bringing a small group of folks here will hurt that! Anyhow, it occurred to me that others would likely fall in love with Aosta as well, so I've been working to put together this tour of an undiscovered gem of a travel destination.
The basic facts:
Name: "Battle of the Queens: Rustic Foods & Wines of the Italian Alps"
Date: October 22-29, 2011
Cost: $2400 (double occupancy), includes 7 nights accommodation, 7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 7 dinners, all group activities, transportation within the tour. Does not include transportation to Aosta.
Maximum # of Guests: 8 (we will hold an additional week, October 15-21, if this week fills up)
Guides: Mark Roseinstein & Annie Erbsen
Nearest Airport: Torino, Italy
Schedule (from website):
Mark Rosenstein, chef, author, restauranteur and world traveler is pairing up with Annie Erbsen, musician, cook, Alpine guide, Aosta, Italy resident and Asheville native to conduct a tour of the Alpine region of Northern Italy in October, 2011.
7 nights accommodations at the restored Maison Colombot – once the town’s post office dating from 1715, located in the historic Roman center of Aosta, Italy.
Arrive Saturday for an evening’s social in the center of town for a traditional Valdostano dinner.
Sunday morning Annie leads a walking tour of the historic Roman Aosta and a light lunch, including some of Italy’s best gelato! In the afternoon experience an authentic Alpine celebration, the exciting “Battles of the Queens” finals in the “cow dome” of Aosta. Picnic with our friends as the cows duel to determine the Queen of the Valle d’Aosta. In the evening, indulge your appetite: dinner with an Italian ‘nonna’ – prepared from seasonal ingredients paired with the wines and cheeses of the region. Learn the folklore and local stories of this mountain community.
Monday we hike the forest, hunting wild chestnuts – in preparation for the evenings ‘Castagnata’ – a chestnut party. In the afternoon, a visit to La Chévre Heureuse (The Happy Goat), one of the best dairies in the Aosta Valley. Owners Ruben & Roberta will tour us around the farm and the cheese aging caves, introduce us to their herds,lead a cheese tasting, and teach a cheese making lesson. During the tasting, we’ll see if we can distinguish the terrior of Aosta. Weather permitting, we’ll finish the afternoon with a hike to the edge of the near-by glacier, topping out at over 1600 meters (optional). This evening, Mark lights up the fire pit and grills, pairing the luciousness of wood-fired cooking with the magic of Alpine air (aided of course by the robust wines of the region). Afterwards, a lesson in roasting chestnuts, making Mont Blanc (the dessert, not the writing instrument), music and general merriment – dancing is allowed.
Tuesday we set you free for the morning in Aosta, to discover the area on your own. We will challenge you to bring something to lunch you found or bought in the town and tell the story of who you met. We will meet in one of the local bars for lunch. In the afternoon, a visit to Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et La Salle – Europe’s highest vineyard. Fortified by the bracing and mineral-mountain sharp wine, a short hike through the vineyards, while learning the history and method of making ‘ice-wine’. For dinner, La Jolie Bergere – a beautiful agritorismo very high up in the mountains – a meal of traditional foods with wine made on property. If you like, some additional walks around the property.
Wednesday is a big day – we will meet Cobra – the reigning Cow Queen the past two years! Her home, at La Borettaz, also has the world-famous raw-milk vending machine, as well as other dairy vending machines. Imagine, Reblec, Fontina & Seras instead of Coke or Pepsi. Maybe there is also a wine vending machine around, if not, we’ll find some at one of nearby vineyards, such as Cave des Onze. After saying goodbye to the Queen, we hike to Pondel, a 2000-years old aqueduct. A picnic lunch, followed by a grappa & local liquor tasting inside the aqueduct. The afternoon will be set aside for ‘recovery’ – a day at the spa – Terme de Pre Saint Didier, which is a natural hot springs at the foot of the other Mont Blanc (the tallest mountain in Europe). We can arrange for massage, facials, saunas, mud baths or what ever is your pleasure. While Annie leads you to the spa, Mark will ‘hang back’ and prepare an “Italian Spa” dinner upon your return. Dinner will be preceded by a short cooking lesson – one about healthy cooking.
Now recovered from hiking and grappa, on Thursday morning, we charge ahead to La Vrille – one of the most exceptional farm-to-table and Slow Food certified restaurants in the region. They also make one of the coveted top 100 wines of Italy. We will tour their farm, garden and vineyards as well as take a seasonal cooking lesson from Chef Luciana, who has twice been voted Italy’s “Best Chef”! Incorporating local herbs in her cuisine is one of her hallmarks. In the afternoon, a hike to Fenis Castle, a meticulously restored showpiece and one of the largest of the Aosta region. For dinner, we return to La Vrille for dinner, which Annie promises “will likely be the best meal of the week (and to be honest, of many lives!).
Friday will continue on with the gastronomic theme of the week – visiting a local enoteca for a ‘smelling test’ and wine tasting with certified sommeliers. A light lunch is in order, we’ll set you free in town. In the afternoon, our friends Massimo and Angelo will teach you about making toppings for polenta (carbonata, fonduta, porcini mushroom, beef ragu) as a prelude to the evening’s Polenta Party. Cooked in the traditional fashion over wood-fire, we will be joined by our local friends for food, music and dancing. At the end of the evening, safely back to the hotel, we say “arrivederci”.
Saturday morning is check out.
Registration is currently open! Let me know if you have any questions. It should be a terrific week, not to be missed!