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Later… with Carlo Zarri!

Cortemilia is one of several small borgo autentico ('authentic hamlets') set amid rolling vineyards and hazel groves in the province of Cuneo.

Here, in the heart of Piemonte (or Piedmont – ‘foot of the mountains’) the inhabitants today are as fiercely proud of their local traditions and customs as their forebears always were.

The rich soils of the Bormida river valley and the sun-drenched hillsides proved ideal for the cultivation of vines and hazelnuts, and two competing hamlets soon began to flourish on either side of the river. San Michele and San Pantaleo were later linked by a bridge to create one industrious agricultural community which retained the traditional values of each.

It is here that the River Bormida sweeps in a majestic loop around a small hill on top of which stands the Castello di Cortmelia with its distinctive round tower (one of the first of its kind in Italy), harking back to a time when the region’s agricultural produce was thought well worth protecting. Today, Cortemilia remains a quiet, small town, its economy still based on agriculture, from livestock to wine production and the cultivation of hazelnuts. Indeed, the town is renowned as the centre of hazelnut production in the world – the local growers supply Turin-based Ferrero Rocher! – while the excellent wines from the valley come under the well-known Barbera d’Alba umbrella.

Traditions are very important in this rural wine-making region, and this can be seen today in the colourful festivals and other celebrations that take place with regularity throughout the year. Take New Year, for example. Or rather the festival of San Silvestre, as it is known in Italy. In the 3rd century, Pope Silvester I cured Emperor Constantine of leprosy, converted him to Christianity and slayed a dragon – certainly worthy of canonisation by anyone’s measure – and he is remembered to this day on a night when fine wines, music, fireworks and lentils all play a big part.

New Year breaks in ItalyLentils? I hear the uninformed cry (me being one of them). Well, yes. Lentils (lenticchie) are used in both savoury and sweet dishes as they symbolize money and good fortune for the coming year. Add that to a fine dining experience and a few nights in a stylish hotel under a cosy blanket of warm hospitality and a flamboyant hotelier, restaurateur, chef, sommelier, bingo-caller and piano player – and you have all the ingredients for a memorable New Year’s break. You will even be invited into the kitchen to help this master chef prepare a four-course dinner on New Year’s Day. Sound too good to be true? Well, I suppose there’s only one way to find out… 

New Year breaks in ItalyThe Hotel San Carlo in Cortemilia is run by our good friend Carlo Zarri who has been wowing his patrons – many of them Inntravel customers, some of them revered stars of the silver screen – for many years.

A stay at his hotel at any time of year is a fabulous experience, but at New Year affable Carlo and his hard-working staff pull out all the stops to ensure it’s just that extra bit special.

New Year is a wonderful time for us in Italy,” he told me recently. “It means spending time with the family and our loved ones – and enjoying special moments around the dinner table with a roaring fire in the hearth, while we relish good food and great wines in a magical atmosphere!

New Year breaks in ItalyWe feel privileged to live in this remarkable place”, he continued, “and we are determined that any guests staying here at New Year will feel not only welcome but also like one of the family. We provide the setting for an intimate, romantic candle-lit dinner; we endeavour to create the highest quality dishes; we open up the best wines from my cellar – the local wines of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato hills take pride of place – and then we party!

But what he enjoys most, is to tinkle the ivories – take it from me, he’s a bit of a Jools Holland – before celebrating the midnight hour with a glass (or two) of bubbly – Asti spumante of course! – and the obligatory game of bingo – a long-standing San Carlo tradition! “88 – Due signore grasse”? Maybe – after such delicious food…

New Year breaks in Italy
Posted: 16/10/2013 08:11:35 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: festivals, gastronomy, heritage, Italy, lifestyle, opinions, snow


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