Thursday, 27 December 2007

New Year's traditions...

Traditions are very regional in Italy, so here is what I have grown up with since I was a little girl. Most of these "rules" belong to the North of Italy:

1 - Eat some grapes to bring you good luck! Grapes is out of season by now and it is supposed to bring good luck to those who manage to find some. Obviously now-a-days it is available most of the time as it is imported. Try to find some Italian grapes though ;-)

2 - Eat some lentils as they are supposed to bring you lots of money: the more you eat the better it is! If you never cooked lentils before, make sure you buy the precooked ones or check on the packet how long you need to put them in cold water for before cooking them. Need a recipe? Let me know!

3 - The zampone is a "must" on the table. A bit strong and greasy for some, but lovely with the lentils. I would suggest to get it from a proper butcher and ask for the cooking time.

4 - Wear some new red underwear!!! This was a typical sister-to-sister Christmas present :-) If you look in the shops you'll find plenty of "tacky" red pants and nickers with good luck messages for the new year. You can also find more refined items if you wish to spend a bit more. Just a fun tradition!

5 - Turn the radio on for the final count-down to midnight and make sure you are next to your beloved one for the first kiss of the new year!

Have fun wherever you are and may 2008 bring you all you wish for!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Newsletter - December 2007

Villa Mimma: overview of the year
...another year has passed and our guest book is filled with new messages from people from all over the World, who chose Villa Mimma as their accommodation in Piedmont. They came from Japan, New Zealand, Israel, the UK, Australia, Canada, USA, France, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Cape Vert, Russia, Panama, and Italy. I hope I haven't missed any! We had some lovely messages and many artists. Check our online guest book and enjoy your reading as well as the lovely drawings.

Highlights of the year are too many to recount, but here are some:
  • "Riso & Rose"
    Once again Villa Mimma took part in "Riso & Rose", the spring festival that involves all the Monferrato villages through May. This year we had several exhibitors of craftsmanship and paintings. It was again a successful day with several people visiting the courtyard and all our guests certainly enjoyed the typical Italian village festival atmosphere.
  • Tennis fun
    Thanks to Shane's love for tennis, we got in touch with Mr. Luigi Boltri who owns a tennis court in Treville and went to have a few games there. It is only 10 minutes walk from Villa Mimma and if our guests want to play, Mr. Luigi is happy to have people around. He runs a small club to keep it going, but the fees are really reasonable.
  • Paola & Alberto 40th wedding anniversary
    Well, believe it or not, Elena, Andrea and I managed to organise a surprise party for our parent's 40th wedding anniversary. We invited friends from all over the place and asked them to turn up at Church on a specific Sunday. We even managed to prepare the veranda with tables and chairs on the Saturday when by chance our parents were away for the whole day and keep it all secret. It was really emotional when they realised what was going on. It was a gorgeous day and we couldn't be more blessed! Thanks to everybody who put up with it all, those who came from quite a distance and especially a warm thanks to all who helped.
  • Grapes harvesting with Isabella and Lorenzo
    Grape harvesting or the "vendemmia" has always been a great memory for me as a child. I remember going to my Grandad’s vineyards on the tractor and spend what seemed like hours helping cut grapes - and also eating them! This year, while organising my parent's party, we got in touch again with a dear friend, Isabella, who invited us to visit Lorenzo's organic vineyard for an afternoon of late-season grape harvesting. The children absolutely LOVED it and kept filling more and more baskets, up and down the lines, with black marks on their hands and faces. Lorenzo was great with them and when we had done enough picking - more than expected, he showed us how to "make the wine": the children even tasted it! We ended the afternoon warming up by a massive wood-burning fireplace, with some delicious salame (i.e., the Italian for salami) from the area and Isabella's "focaccia ligure", while tasting some of Lorenzo's unique wines (he is actually studying and experimenting with organic grapes in the Asti region). It was certainly a great day!

  • Cooking with Paola
    Italian hosting nature is in my Mum's blood and she cannot resist from sharing an Italian meal with our guests when the occasion arises, sometimes giving away some of the basic cooking secrets (e.g., not too much garlic!), while preparing dinner together. So, it seems to become a recurrent theme the hand-making of "gnocchi" and "malfatti", with my Mum's "magic book" becoming whiter and whiter from the flour. This is certainly not a cooking class, but a lovely way to welcome people from all over the world, who have chosen to stay with us instead of all the other possible places in Italy.

Reviews are important
Thank you to those of our guests who took some time to write a review of their stay at Villa Mimma. Whether it is a line or a full account of their vacation or just a photo and a comment, it does help. Take your time to read what they say about us and if you have a spare minute maybe add your comments too:

Trip Advisor Website (you need to register)

Slow Travel (you need to register)

Italia Dream (Italian website)

Homelidays (you need to register)

Looking forward to next year
The year 2008 is starting with an event straight away: "La cantina dei presepi" (The cellar of the nativities) is opened again to the public with new creations by Andrea. It has been cited amongst other Italian presepi (nativities) in a national brochure. This year we will lengthen the time it is possible to view the nativities to the end of January, although only by appointment from the 6th of January onward.

At the end of March we are proposing again "Le quattro serate dell'Infernot" (The four evenings of the infernot". Each evening a party of minimum 5 people is introduced to the secrets of wine making by visiting major wineries in the Monferrato region. Wine tasting with a professional sommelier is accompanied by food, with a final evening at a proper restaurant where entertainment will also be arranged. If you are thinking of a special long weekend with friends, consider that this is a really excellent and unique opportunity (it can be arranged at different times too). Do not hesitate to ask for further details.

The month of May will see us busy again with "Riso & Rose", although plans are going to be clarified later on in the year. It is normally the second or third weekend in May. Keep an eye on our website for further news.

Finally, we are always open to new ideas and initiatives to make Villa Mimma a special place. Please do get in touch if you have any particular need that you would like to be met while on holiday.

Special offers
If you are thinking of coming to Villa Mimma next year (2008), you may be pleased to know that we have decided to freeze our apartments' prices through the next season!

Check our website and our offers because we have several discounts for people belonging to different groups or associations (families who have children in schools in the UK, TCI, ANBBA, Surrey Alumni, etc.)

I think I have summarised an exciting 2007 year for Villa Mimma. We are now looking forward to the festivities and the year to come.

From Paola, Alberto and Andrea I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2008!


Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Nebbia by Daniele Finzi-Pasca

Last October we organised a surprise party for my parent's 40th wedding anniversary at Villa Mimma. As part of the surprise I tried to get in touch with all my pareents' friends and one in particular was Fabrizia Pasca, who used to be a very dear friend of my Mum in her youth.

I managed to find her and she stayed at Villa Mimma for a couple of days, with my Mum's greatest delight because it was over 15 years since they saw each other. Fabrizia's son, Daniele Finzi Pasca, is a great artist and theatre director and has just launched his latest production called "Nebbia" (Fog) in Geneva, last weekend.

My parents and my sister's family went to see the show and they were really enthusiastic because the message is lovely and deep. The music and the coreography allow the adults to enter in a magical world, while the children are fascinated by the circus acts.

Daniele met with my family after the show and said that he will be coming to the UK in a couple of years time. In the meantime he will be touring Italy and the world, so take some time to check the website of the Sunil Theatre and in particular take some time to read about Nebbia.

If you have been to see the show, please do post your comments as I am really looking forward to taking my family to see it too.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The tradition of Nativities at Christmas

As Christmas approaches, I though it would be nice to say a few words about the tradition of preparing Nativity scenes for Christmas, which is a real thing in Italy, but also in Germany, Austria and I believe in Switzerland too.

This tradition was born in Italy when in 1223 when Francis of Assisi met a noble man called Giovanni Graccio who asked him how he could follow our Lord. Francis told him to prepare for Christmas, so Giovanni decided to prepare a real stable. Many were coming to see the stable, so Francis asked the Pope permission for introducing a new rite to celebrate Christmas. He sent for a priest and while there, amongst the hey, the ox and the donkey, with the many people who had turned up, they celebrated Mass.

Francis sang the Gospel and after it - while really emotionally involved in the story of Christmas - he said "This is the night when God makes himself small like a baby at his mother's breast" and then he started to speak like a toddler himself. The crowd saw Francis holding a wonderful baby in his arms and that miracle was source of peace for many. Other miracles are narrated and reported, which are associated with this event.

Today at Christmas every church and house has a nativity scene or "Presepio". Much time is dedicated to make this representation of the nativity special every year and there are also exhibitions like the one at Villa Mimma ("La cantina dei presepi") that open to the public for most of December and January.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Grapes Harvesting

I always thought that Grapes harvesting was something for September/mid October at the latest, but when we went to Villa Mimma during the end of October half term School Holidays we had a great surprise and managed to help a friend with one of his latest crops of organic grapes!!!

It was a beautiful day and we could see the Alps and in particular the pointy top of the Monviso mountain where the River Po starts and that you can admire from most of the Monferrato.

We started with a couple of hours harvesting. I remembered going to pick the grapes when i was little in my Grandfather's vineyards near Villa Mimma, but I was worried that my three boys (aged 9, 7 and 6) would have got bored. I was surprised to see how much effort they put into it and how much fun we had.

Leonardo and Isabella, our friends, really treated us to a lovely afternoon because after the hard work we went to the cellar and pressed some of the grapes that were picked a couple of days earlier - I learnt that one of the tips of organic wine making is to leave the grapes to die completely for a couple of days, hence we could not press the one we picked ourselves.

Anyway, we had great fun watching the cores being spat out by the machine and the kids thought they were drinking wine when they were given the juice off a massive "dustpan" type of thing :-)

As it wasn't enough yet, we went to see what was happening in the big "botti" and the kids climbed up the ladder to go and look inside to their delight.

Tired and hungry at 7pm we had a "merenda" of "salame", "focaccia" and the most delicious onion quiche that you could have ever tasted, all made by Isabella, accompanied by a couple of Lorenzo's delicious organic wines.

As soon as I have some photos reformatted, I'll post a few for everybody to envy! It was a lovely time and a grate memory for me.