Limited in time by the Easter holidays, on the fourth day we had to turn back North, direction of home. The plan was to drive from Florence to Garda, spend the night in Bardolino (well-known and fondly remembered for its annual wine festival), and return to Munich on the fifth day.
We followed the plan with only a slight detour. Back in the Verona Tourist Information Office I picked up a home-made flyer, advertising a vineyard in the area. The flyer attracted my attention due to its English print, and simple sincerity – three brothers, owning the place, proudly advertised their family venture by the name of Fratelli Vogadori, adding that their 90-year old father (aka the vineyard founder) was still working alongside them, and promised rivers of excellent wine any day of the week and any time of the day. The reverse side of the flyer had a hand-drawn (and by the looks of it not in a very sober state) map, and directions to this wine oasis. It was the directions, that convinced us we had to visit – there was something utterly authentic in the instructions to turn right into the 3rd road past a drug store following the 1st roundabout at a 2nd supermarket on the left, that made us remember our long-gone boy- and girl-scout days. The amount of drug stores, roundabouts and supermarkets on the way exceeded all wild expectations, and camouflaged the wine oasis exceptionally well. Luckily, the car was equipped with GPS, and the flyer quoted the coordinates of the venue in microscopic letters at the bottom. We drove around in circles a bit, took a couple detours, but in the end the vineyard was found!
The place turned out to be a big villa on a hill, surrounded with vineyards that seemed to stretch almost to the horizon. It’s been raining since early morning, and the area looked exceptionally fresh and green. Despite the early hour and difficulties locating the place, at 11 in the morning we were by far not the first visitors. A cheerful group of Italians was chirping amicably in the main room on the 2nd floor, actively sipping wine from their full glasses. The older brother was in charge of the morning shift, and although he did not speak a word of anything but his native language, this did not get in the way of communication in the slightest – he quickly handed us glasses, and continued pouring wine into them from a battery of bottles in the center of the big table, dominating the room. Judging by the rosy cheeks and a visible tremor in the hand holding the bottle, the older brother tasted his product on a regular basis, so his advice and opinion on the wines on offer could be trusted.
In about ten minutes the English-speaking younger brother materialized in the room, and added information about the place, as well as the wine. The room was full of beautiful wine bottles of varied sizes and colors, and the walls were covered with flyers, similar to the one that brought us to the villa on the hill. The flyers assured that for visitors who got tired, or too carried away in their wine-tasting enthusiasm, the hospitable brothers had guest rooms with comfortable beds.
As a result of the visit, three boxes of wine (that upon arrival home turned out to be even tastier than “at the source”) were loaded into the car boot, and enriched by the experience of wine-tasting in a real vineyard, we left the brothers, continuing in the direction of Bardolino. The tasted wine, however, was now insistently calling for food to accompany it. What was the classic quote – “Start drinking in the morning, and you are free for the rest of the day“?… We technically were already free for the rest of the day, but we did want further adventures, so refueling was the next point on the agenda. Fantastic lunch was found right there – offered by a tiny family restaurant in a village next to the vineyard. A simple dish of pasta with meat ragout called for applause and all sorts of compliments on our part (and no, not due to the amount of previously tasted wine, but due to the excellent quality of food!)
Close to three in the afternoon we finally made it to Bardolino that was being soaked with rain. After half an hour of walking the streets, we realized that the non-maritime nature of our shoes did not call for continuation of the exercise, and landed in one of many wine bars downtown. The venue served drinks in elegant half-litre glasses, and each order came accompanied by a bowl full of olives, crackers, and a variety of other fantastic snacks, so the next couple of hours we were happily watching life and people go by from the warmth and dryness of the bar, enjoying total idleness. Time seemed to stretch in direct proportion to consumed beverages.
Having been spoilt by the variety and quality of food over the past several days, we walked all over downtown Bardolino in search of a place for our last proper Italian dinner of the season. We wanted this, and that, and everything, ideally in an authentic surroundings, and a quiet atmosphere, without crowds of tourists, screaming babies, or TV screens on the walls. Having finally chosen the place and taken our seats, we immediately localized two TV screens in the corners, and in the next ten minutes a crowd of tourists with crying babies and overactive toddlers entered the previously peaceful interior of the restaurant. Just our luck!…
Here I have to say a couple of words about Italians and “bambini“. No matter how loud, annoying, and nasty they might be – “bambini” are sacred. Even the snottiest kid gets a pat on the back, the waiters start digging out toys and candy, and gush over them every time they pass by. Since we already ordered and had no way to escape, we resigned to observing the restaurant staff’s attitude towards the kids. The waiters gushed even over the brats who broke plates, and screamed their hearts out while smothering the food all over themselves, table cloths and walls!…
Despite the brats, the dinner was a success. Even though the portions in the venue were purely touristic, after a 4-day training we wolfed down everything we ordered. The size of portions is, probably, the only way to tell a tourist restaurant in Italy from the one where locals eat. Freshness, quality and taste are always exemplary, be it a family restaurant with two and a half rickety tables, or a silver-service establishment. In local joints, frequented by the neighbors the size of portions will always be small, allowing the patrons to spend the whole evening tasting the menu, without putting their waist lines in too much danger. On the other hand, portions in the tourist places can easily feed a family of five each.
This gluttonous note wraps up the description of our Italian Easter trip. The next day we were back home, where we happily unpacked the purchased wines, pastas and other dried tomatoes, and only photos were left to remind us of our brief Italian vacation…