Serendipity

Serendipity

Valtellina, Italy

Jan 2018

‘Serendipity’ is someone’s predisposition to stumble on fortunate discoveries, a word coined in 1754 by author Horace Walpole, who wrote it in a letter to an English friend living in Florence. It comes to our minds while we listen to Antonella’s story. She moved here from Venice, and here she takes care of her buen retiro, Il Dosso Maroggia, where she welcomes travelling guests and benefits this benevolent land as if it was her grandparents’ birthplace. Each morning we wake up in a room that reveals a woman’s instinct for beauty, we go down hundred-year-old narrow stairs and caress with the eye a wide landscape of slopes, plains and declivities enveloped by the first light. From left to right, Pizzo Coca and Pizzo Rodes (the highest ones, beyond Sondrio), then Pizzo Meriggio, some Orobie Alps’ ridges and Pizzo Presio, Val Cervia and Val Madre. Behind them, Alpe Granda and Scermendone. We find ourselves talking about minor publishers, vines and refuges while the coffeepot grumbles; the table is set with any morning craving and the record player is on. A hymn to exchange, empathy and affinities. Valtellina is our latest discovery, and serendipity a gift we will never stop nourishing and blessing. One day in Morbegno, we find out about the skills of making pezzotti, the typical local carpets. In the Ruffoni workshop, Davide weaves on post-industrial looms, following the techniques his father and his grandfather bequeathed him. A house-and-shop whose colours and taste take us back to Mongolia and to the Italy of our childhood respectively. Davide improvises multicolour carpets with geometric designs, creating unique pieces. We discover that the road from Tirano to Gerola Alta is a journey to go on to again and again, along mountains covered with larches and Norway spruces.  We are taken back to ancient ages among the town’s alleys, in the spaces of the Ecomuseo, between vintage classrooms and old shops. We taste authentic Bitto slivers and delicious polenta at Casera, where an enlightened community of locals, i Ribelli del Bitto, works to preserve the excellence of this noble cheese with the aid of the Slow Food association. We listen to stories of toma cheese aged up to ten years and of young shepherds who, in summer, live on the mountain pastures of the valleys of river Bitto and make cheese following ancient rituals. Each pleasant discovery leads to a new one, along roads peopled by souls alike and unexpected wonders, ad the blueberry field, where Olmo worked and daydreamt until he invented a line of preserves, nectars, and even a beer. Then came the challenge of a bar that stands in front of the Alps (Retiche and Orobie), of a shop that gathers the best of the local gastronomy, and of the trattoria where Olmo’s dishes refresh us tonight. They taste like woods, country life and youth. He goes in and out the kitchen, tireless and jovial, and only stops to talk to his guests. He tells us about a hotel in preparation, one more reason to come back. In Teglio, a small wood climbs towards a fortress that faces the jagged outline of mountaintops against the horizon. On Sunday, we like to walk through it, sit on the bench next to the medieval tower and listen to the mountain silence, and then seek refuge among the Renaissance wonders of Palazzo Besta. At lunch, we sit in the most classical room of Hotel Combolo, an old mountain hotel whose old-fashioned soul we approve of. Perfect sciatt and handmade pizzoccheri, served with savoy, potatoes, butter and Casera cheese, in accordance with the Academy’s illustrious recipe. It is the pride of this sweet village, 900 m above sea level on the Retiche Alps. Closer to the border, at Vineria Tirano, we learnt the secrets and history of chisciöl from the Confraternita that keeps and divulges its ancient recipe. A big doughnut made of cheese and buckwheat flour, chisciöl was the ancient frugal meal of the valley, and often the food you brought on long walks. This wine shop is Filippo’s dream come true; the owner of Vineria Tirano, he was inspired by the café in Trieste where intellectuals gathered to discuss and discuss, sipping good wines that kept them warm. Here, too, hospitality shows in signs of brotherly generosity by the fireplace. It feels like meeting at a friend’s house and improvising one more winter Saturday together. The ritual of the aperitif (a journey among wines that have special souls and histories) blends into the dinner and everyone – friends, regulars and strangers – comes to stay. A sense of belonging, smell of resin, alpine warmth. One by one, we go up to the bistro, where ancient recipe books are edited, their innate wisdom left untouched.

Translation Alessia Andriolo. Special thanks to Valtellina Tourism Organization.