Planning a proper vacation in the midst of a pandemic…

Love my tongue twister title today… Jeez! I’m on a roll!

Bill wants to take some leave. Both of us need a break from Germany. Since COVID-19 appears to be on the rise again, winter is coming (and probably more cases and lockdowns), and we’re hoping to have a new dog in a few weeks, we figured now is the best time to get away for awhile. And although Italy was among the hardest COVID-19 hit nations a few months ago, it’s supposedly got things a bit more under control.

Bill and I both love Italy. We also love Austria, and we haven’t been to Austria in ages. Our last couple of trips to Italy involved driving through Switzerland.

I was looking at booking a place near Bolzano or maybe Meran. But the places I was finding seemed like a lot of slickly marketed, overpriced spots for young people looking to hook up. I suddenly remembered an absolutely wonderful bed and breakfast Bill and I visited in May 2008, when we were in Germany the first time. We found it because we wanted to go to Turin. I think Bill wanted to see the Shroud of Turin or something… I don’t remember what exactly prompted him to want to go to Turin.

A little shrine near Bella Baita in 2008.

Anyway, I started looking at places to stay and I found an ad for a place called Bella Baita, which is not in Turin, but on a mountainside near Pinasca and Pinerolo. It’s run by an American woman named Marla and her Italian husband, Fabrizio, both of whom are chefs. The price was right. In 2008, they charged 50 euros a night. I couldn’t help but notice that at that time on TripAdvisor, they didn’t have a single rating of less than five stars. Today, Bella Baita still gets mostly five star ratings (if not five, then four), and is still inexpensive at about 60 euros a night.

Marla had also written a blog post about the then new food superstore, Eataly, which opened its flagship location in Turin. Eataly is now a bonafide chain and there are at least 40 locations around the world, including six in the United States. Bill visited the one in New York City in 2014, when he was there for a job interview. I have only been to the first one, opened in 2007 in Turin. It’s a really fabulous place.

The Dom in Pinerolo, circa 2008…

I was intrigued, so we booked four nights there. We ended up having an unforgettable experience. I have never stayed in another place like it. It was like visiting old friends… and the area is absolutely beautiful and uncrowded. We took a cooking class, went to the market in Pinerolo, and Bill learned how to prepare rabbit, although we haven’t ever had that at home. We also prepared a beautiful fruit tart.

I remember having an incredible dinner in Pinerolo at a brand new restaurant called Perbacco, which I see is still running today. We found it while looking for lunch. They weren’t open for lunch, but grandma came out with a business card and strongly encouraged us to come in for dinner. I remember it being excellent, and the sommelier (who was also probably the owner) asking us why we’d be visiting Pinerolo when we could be in Rome, Florence, or Venice. And we told him that in those places, we would be among too many Americans. We then proceeded to have the most wonderful dinner coupled with lovely wine, and music from a video channel starring Duffy.

At another place, where we had lunch, Bill earned the dismayed groans from a bunch of Italian men because he ordered prosciutto with cantaloupe for himself while I had nothing. They ended up bringing me a plate so I could share, even though I don’t like cantaloupe much. Italian men love women.

I remember Marla telling me that we were staying in the “John Malkovich” room. Turns out the actor’s wife is from that area and he stayed there while visiting her family. Back in 2008, there was also a restaurant within Marla’s and Fabrizio’s house. It was called The Ant and The Giant (translated from Italian). It was an Italian couple– tiny wife with large husband. Marla said she didn’t think they’d stay in business long because they weren’t drawing much interest from the locals. Bill and I ate there, and I distinctly remember the “giant” expertly deboning a branzino (sea bass) fish for me at the table.

Last night, as we were trying to figure out where to go in Italy, I asked Bill if maybe he’d like another trip to Bella Baita. There’s a lot to do in the area. It’s not far from where the ski events for the 2006 Winter Olympics were held. It’s also not far from France, where we visited a lovely town called Briançon, which has the distinction of being the highest city in France.

This was taken from a paddle boat cruise on Lake Thun. It was so pretty, but so expensive!

I sent Marla a message to see if things are operating down there where she is. If they are, we’ll probably design a road trip not unlike the one we did in May 2008. We drove from Stuttgart to a tiny Italian commune very close to Lake Como and the Swiss border called Pellio Intelvi. Pellio Intelvi, according to Wikipedia, no longer exists as of 2017. It’s now a “frazione” of Alta Valle Intelvi. We spent three nights there, about twelve miles on a mountain above Lake Como, then drove to the Piemonte region of Italy to Bella Baita, where we spent four nights. Then, on the way back to Stuttgart, we spent two nights in Lake Thun, Switzerland. Lake Thun is very beautiful, but it was my least favorite part of the trip. The Swiss didn’t impress us with the same style and warmth the Italians did… plus, it’s a hell of a lot more expensive there.

This time, I’m thinking maybe we’ll drive from Switzerland, spend a night or two, then head to the Piemonte for at least three nights, then drive east to Bolzano or somewhere near there. Then, on the way back to Wiesbaden, maybe we’ll stop in Austria for a night or two. I think we have ten nights to play with for this trip. We’ll see what happens. I want to throw some money the Italians’ way, though. They could use the business, and we could definitely use the change of scenery. I also want to take a lot of pictures. In 2008, I didn’t take nearly enough!

Wish us luck!


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