Starting anything at 2.30am has never seemed a good idea to me, however J likes to make an early getaway whenever we travel. This road trip was no exception see here for previous post about why road trips are a good idea! After the ease of the Eurotunnel, we sped along motorways into Belgium (50p for a pee in the service stations 👎) and Luxembourg (or Luckybourg as J nicknamed it), then back into France for our first overnighter in Nancy. We were well into our comfort zone being veteran Francofiles and soaked up the funky decor, delicious food and familiar sounds of church bells… night night.
Refreshed we drove off to new adventures in Switzerland on lake Thun. Stunning was the word we kept coming back to. J insisted that he could ‘smell the fresh mountain air’ in the car! After dropping our bags at the hotel, we took a much needed stroll around the town and then out along the lake’s edge. Half an hour sitting on a park bench staring at the mountain and lake views was the best mindfullness either of us had done in a long time.
Dinner was interesting, with the menu in Swiss, but with the help of some very friendly staff we ate a Gurk & Wurst starter (gherkins and cured sausage) and then a spicy sausage with spätzli (Swiss style dumplings) for J and goats cheese for me. Driving out of Switzerland the next morning, promising to visit again, we noticed how they stuck to the speed limits, this was not the case over the border in la bella Italy!
Modena was our first stop, staying at a balsamic producers for three nights. First we needed to see some fast cars at the Enzo Ferrari museum. The exhibition housed in a fairly small and sculptural building (shaped like a car bonnet roof, in yellow), was dedicated to women and their love and connection to these beautiful supercars.
Across the courtyard was another exhibition, this time dedicated to the “prancing horse” engines. It took you through the years of each engines evolution. Brilliant for men and engineers, wasted on me if I’m honest! We were recommended by other guests at the B&B to visit Mantova, which has a museum of Chagall’s work, beautiful buildings and it was delightful. On the way back to the B&B we stopped off for more cars at a farm that produces parmesan cheese. Wow! A private collection of 40 cars mostly Maserati’s and classic motorbikes. We were blown away and we had the place to ourselves, €5 for a guided tour, or free if you just walk around on your own like we did, brilliant. Next day with no fixed plans we headed off to Parma, which turned out to be a bit too busy and a bit disappointing, it was a Saturday and market day, but Mantova was better (for us). A lazy afternoon by the B&B’s pool (a refreshing 18 degrees, no I didn’t go in) set us up for a traditional local style meal that evening. The restaurant served 16 different ‘types’ of meat boiled or roasted, we were told to go hungry. I was one of only 4 other women eating there that night, so it gives you a clear idea of their typical client! Great fun. On the last morning near Modena and before we headed off to Florence, one the owners of Il Borgo del Balsamico, Cristina, gave us a tour and tasting of their balsamic vinegars.
What an eyeopener, unlike other liquids aged in barrels, such as whiskey, sherry or rum, balsamic vinegar casks can last a lifetime, as apposed to 3 or 4 years for the former. Being taken through what started as a passionate hobby of her fathers 50 years ago, she and her sister Silvia now run a successful business. Patience is the keyword with balsamic vinegar as it takes at least 12 years before you can bottle anything to use or sell! We both felt privileged to have a better understanding of their craft, we will never be able to look at another bottle without checking the ingredients (any colourants and it is not a true aged balsamic, whatever the label says!). And that the heart of this road trip was going to be the people we would meet along the way.