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In the 'Hood With Brangelina, June 26-28, 2013

These three days in the Valpolicella region have been an off-the-beaten-path adventure that turned out to be filled with wonder-ful moments (as these types of adventures usually are).  And because we are generally away from tourist crowds (certainly from American tourists), it's been most relaxing.

View out our window in Valpolicella
View out our window in Valpolicella

An explanation of the blog post title.  We're staying at an agriturismo* bed and breakfast in the middle of vineyards -- Il Rusticale Fumanelli.  As you turn in the drive to get here, you pass by a forlorn looking huge villa named Villa Costanza.  I googled the villa to satisfy my curiosity and learned that Villa Costanza was purchased in September 2010 by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as a vacation home!  Doesn't look like their vacation schedule overlaps ours this year ...

Exploring a new area (more of an explore without the aid of Lady TomTom).  Driving through little villages, stopping to look at churches, forts, villas and wineries (most not open) as we happen across them.  Riding bicycles on dirt roads through the vineyards on a perfectly cool morning.  Strolling through village squares looking for a lunch spot.  Hiking along shady paths from one antique water mill to another to another.

Incredible discoveries not included in any guidebook.  The weekly market stretching for a kilometer or so along the waterfront of Lake Garda in the town of Bardolino, filled with beautiful Italian leather goods, inexpensive but stylish clothing, handblown Murano glass, etc.  The village of Lazise, also on the shores of Lake Garda, totally enclosed by the fortification walls built in the 13th century.  Churches in these little towns with bits of original 12th century frescoes still on the walls, used as the regular parish church.  The olive oil museum with tastings of different kinds of pesto.

Medieval walls surrounding Lazise on Lake Garda

Medieval walls surrounding Lazise on Lake Garda

And the most amazing surprise of all:  Villa Mosconi-Bertani.  Built in 1735, looks very opulent and says it's open to the public.  We arrive at the same time as a tour bus and are told to come back in an hour after they're gone.  After wandering the vineyards and local neighborhood for an hour, the tour bus is still there.  We wait patiently outside the gate until finally an elderly woman comes to let us in.  Come to find out, she is the wife of the current owner (part of the Bertani family) and she gave us a personal 2+ hour tour of the main floor and the grounds, including the complicated history of property ownership (and accompanying title of count).  Followed by a wine tasting with extensive education about how wines in the Valpolicella region differ from those made anywhere else (they dry the grapes for different lengths of time to increase the sweetness and other properties).  We have both fallen in love with local Amarone wine, using 100% dried grapes and aged for a small forever.

Villa Mosconi-Bertani
Villa Mosconi-Bertani

For dinner, we've been selecting various agriturismo restaurants who serve typically local cuisine and their own wines.  YUM!  In addition to the fact that they are run by family (meaning that grandma or grandpa are often your server), another quaint custom is that they offer liqueur gratis after you've paid the bill (three dinners, three different liqueurs -- local sweet wine, house brand limoncino, myrtle liqueur from Sardinia).

* Agriturismo is an economic development model that might help to maintain the "custom and culture" of our southwest ranching communities.  Many of the wine and olive growers in Italy have added a bed and breakfast and/or locavore restaurant operation, which both gives them added income but also gives them an opportunity to market their wares to new guests.  It is our understanding (without researching it) that to qualify as "agriturismo", the income from bed and breakfast or restaurant operations cannot exceed the agricultural income.

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