We have been luckier than many during this terrible covid year. We have had enough bookings to cover our expenses. Many property owners around the world, and here in Italy, have not been so lucky. Our bookings were much longer than usual, and virtually all Europeans. I don’t think a single person arrived on a flight – all drove from near or far.
After our complete lockdown in spring, our summer was relatively normal in some ways here in our small isolated peninsular. Bellagio had many European tourists. Many French and German accents could be heard in ‘distanced’ outdoor restaurants and in the narrow salite of the village.
We even went on a couple of small holidays! And started going out to restaurants with outdoor dining…..well, almost outdoors – terraces with sides enclosed for cosiness. And this year we discovered a restaurant we had driven past so many times and never stopped at. Now it’s one of our favorites – 15 minutes from the villa. Trattoria del Segrino in Canzo. We find the best restaurants are not in Bellagio, or with a lake view. They’re the ones the locals frequent. This is one of them. A creative, amazing chef, with stunning presentation. It’s our best kept secret. This photo we posted on our villa Instagram #villapontibellavista https://www.instagram.com/p/CBjO05TB77D/?igshid=jpul33nor8tc, which looks for all the world like a lemon on a plate, is in fact panacotta in a white chocolate casing!
How happy we were to get out and about!
Then my most beautiful season of the year arrived – autumn. Chanel and I were whipping our cameras out trying to capture the beauty that was our privilege and pleasure to enjoy every morning and evening as the sun rose and set.
Around that time we signed with an agency, Emma Villas, who wants to rent our place from Easter to end of September each year. They sent a gorgeous photographer, Gianluca, to highlight features of the villa we’d never even thought about. What an artist he turned out to be.
Who would have thought to even dream up a shot of the villa where you could look through one window all the way to the other side through the living room!
As the new bank of hydrangeas near the swimming pool began to turn to rusty colours, we had a streak of gorgeous sunny weather all day every day, with no rain in sight. Days seemed normal. It was easy to forget the world was living through a crisis.
Then, having forgotten to check the covid figures in Europe for months, behind my back, while I was commiserating with my Melbourne friends and family, who had been in total home detention for three months, the contagion rates in Italy were slowly but steadily rising. A fact that wouldn’t hit me until late November.
We had beautiful Workawayers staying with us for a couple of weeks here and there. Ignacio from Argentina taught me how to make bread before he and his lovely girlfriend Mica left. I made three failures, and then, determined not to be beaten, I joined the throng of locked down bread lovers around the world who were also discovering the joy and satisfaction of making their own daily bread, and researched my way to success.
We took Ignacio and Mica to Cascina Prada, an agriturismo restaurant where almost everything you eat is made on the farm. From the home made salmi and cheeses to the rabbit and wild boar hunted nearby, this is a meat lovers heaven. The set price meal includes antipasto, pasta, several different meats, desert, wine, bread and pickled vegetables - all for 25 euros. If you go during autumn at lunchtime you will fall in love with this season on the lake where you don’t have to jostle other tourists and find a carpark to enjoy the charm and splendour this little corner of heaven has to offer. See their cows in the autumn scene below. If you bring a bottle with you, and ask ahead for a bottle of unpasteurized milk, they'll sell you a litre for a euro! It reminds me of when I was young and horses would deliver milk in bottles!
Having been locked down and restricted in travel for so long, we decided to head to Milan for a night out. Now that marijuana is taken off the dangerous substances list in Europe, and is legal in many places around the world, I can tell you that once there, I followed my son’s advice. I asked an African young man near the Central Railway Station if he could get me a small package – don’t pay more than 20 euros my son advised - of dope. I smoked a joint for the first time in an age, went dancing, met a man who unexpectedly kissed me. Sadly, I did not like the kiss. After we parted, my colleague pointed out that I had been kissed by a stranger in the middle of a pandemic. I was horrified. In the morning I sent him a text asking what on earth he thought he had been doing! Lovely Italian that he was, he went to have a covid test and the next day sent me the negative results. Phew!
While we were there, because of the pandemic, we were able to see The Last Supper, which usually has a waiting list of many months. We hardly waited and were there in a tiny group to allow for social distancing. Another silver lining of the pandemic.
As the weather cooled, so did the pool. And our morning Wim Hof breathing and cold swim took on a new dimension of courage. Most of November was an unrelenting surprise of glorious sunny days where myself and some lovely Belgian Workawayers put the vegetable garden to sleep in crisp dry air that made you happy to be alive. Slowly we adjusted to the coming of winter. Now, as I write, I’ve been doing the morning dip after my Wim Hof deep breathing....in the snow! In the three years we have owned the villa, we have never had such early snow. With climate change, we never know what to expect. But this was a magical surprise - on my birthday, 3 December, we had the thickest snow fall I’ve ever seen around here. Then, after a week of being snowed in, the sun cam out with one of the firey sunsets on the Grigna mountain ranges opposite
With Belgians Sidney and Sarah here during this time when daily temperatures struggle to rise above zero, it’s too cold to work outside. So I try to delight them with my experiments with sourdough, and even breaking out into other types of dough. I discovered this mind boggling youtube video called 7 Nifty Trick to Do With Bread Dough and here are my very own cinnamon scrolls in the slideshow below!!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfCdJOXJxuA&t=256s
I taught the guys how to make tagliatelle from Semolina and fresh eggs we get from Pinuccia, the wife of our blacksmith friend Augusto, on the spianatoia – a very large board you make pasta on - made by the carpenter couple who we love, Alessia and Fabbio. Village life is a return to a simpler time, when everyone plays a vital, if small and simple part in everyday living. In turn I've taken bread as gifts, again, simple small tokens of gratitude for their craftsmanship and friendship.
We decided to take the biggest culinary plunge so far and dive into a Christmas panettone. I read it's one of the most difficult Italian recipes. They were not wrong! After leaving the first dough to rise for the recommended 12 hours, and it sill hadn't budged from when we set it out, I realize it's because this Christmas recipe needs 28C (summer temperatures) to rise! I put it out again for another 12 hours on top of a wooden board on a heater. It rose slightly, but it wasn't until I put it once again, for another 12 hours, in a slightly warmed then turned off oven, covered in teac towels and a woolen hat overnight, that it finally came to full ife. It is now resting again in that same oven, for another 7 hours before going into the oven to actually cook! This is a time consuming labor of love. But as I said to my French Friends Whatsapp group, it's not as if I'm running a country at this red hot minute.
Now we wait for our Christmas guests. Drinking wine with home-made crusty bread and soup by the fire, followed by competitive backgammon – I was winning until they learnt my strategies! – and deep talks about life and love and pain and healing and silly things besides.