I'm going to start off this blog with some words about our recent trip to the Veneto - the bit of north-east Italy between the coast and the mountains. Of course, the jewel of this is Venice, a city we've been to many times, starting in the days when we spent summer holidays travelling round Europe in an old car, with a tent, a Camping-Gaz stove, and one small son, then two ... I still remember buying fresh fish in the Rialto and cooking wonderful al fresco suppers ... but that's all far in the past. I admit that nowadays I like to sleep in a comfortable bed and eat at least some of my meals in the best restaurants I can find (and afford). But I still love to shop in real Italian food shops and markets (including the Rialto), and cook dishes which are part Italian, part Indonesian - food-wise, the two countries, though so different, seem to understand each other rather well.
Of course, this means I need self-catering accommodation with a good kitchen. My husband Roger and I are lucky enough to know the family of wine producers who, two or three years ago, opened a foresteria - literally, 'a house in the woods', though really it's set among rolling hills that are covered in vineyards. This is the region of prosecco grapes and the light, sparkling wines that are made from them. The foresteria is an old stone building that once belonged to the Cistercians of an abbey somewhere in the district; its new owners have made it into a welcoming place, with spacious rooms, well-equipped kitchens, all mod. con., swimming pool etc. - and wonderful views. It's on a hillside above a tiny village called Rolle, where the church clock always strikes the hour twice, in case you forgot to count the first time.
Just a little to the right of the church in the picture is a restaurant I particularly like, even though it's unassumning, modestly priced, and usually crowded. In fact, it's usually full of friendly people thoroughly enjoying themselves, so what higher recommendation could you have? It's called Al Monastero di Rolle - just Monastero for short - perhaps for the Cistercians, though the atmosphere is totally unlike any monastery I have ever imagined. It operates on two floors; downstairs, one corner of the room is taken up by a great open range, in which the fire is always blazing while the spit turns before it. Upstairs, the same cheerful atmosphere but without the fire. The menu is fixed, so you have no problems choosing; the only problem is to eat all the food that is put before you. There are always two or three antipasti, then of course the primi, the pasta dishes, then the secondo, the main course, and finally the dolce, if you think you can face another mouthful. The house wine is good local stuff, and at the end you will be offered a generous mouthful of grappa at no charge. Four of us ended up paying 30 euros / £21 / US$40 each for what was, in effect, a real old-fashioned Italian nobleman's feast, after which we retired to bed and slept soundly for eight hours. Be warned: Chef gets quite worried if anyone refuses a course merely because they 'aren't hungry'. The main course changes each night: Wednesday it's a grill, Thursday fish from the Adriatic, Friday a whole roast pig, and so on. Monday they're closed, and Tuesday they open only for a pre-booked party of at least 20. To arrive at Rolle after driving all day along the crowded autostrada, say hello to the staff at the foresteria and settle in, then trundle down to the Monastero for supper, is better than coming home - all the good feeling, and you don't even have to cook.
The other restaurant in Rolle, to the left of the church, is more conventional and more expensive, but also very good, well worth visiting at least once while you're in that rather remote, unspoiled corner of Italy - unspoiled (so far) because it's a protected area, where permission to develop property is hard to get.
Well, that's enough for today - tomorrow, a few memories of Venice herself....