Tag Archives: Bormio

Return to Bormio

My birthday present this past weekend was a trip to Bormio, to indulge in the natural hot spring water as we have before. Enrico and I left Saturday morning, while Ross was in school – we are thankful that she is now old enough to be left home alone from time to time! To get Read More…

My birthday present this past weekend was a trip to Bormio, to indulge in the natural hot spring water as we have before. Enrico and I left Saturday morning, while Ross was in school – we are thankful that she is now old enough to be left home alone from time to time!

To get to Valtellina, you head north from the top of Lake Como and turn right. It’s a deep valley surrounded by high, rocky mountain faces.

As we neared Sondrio, where most of Valtellina’s wineries are headquartered, we debated whether to try visiting any, though I knew from recent research that none offered Saturday visits without advance reservation. But we decided to try Nino Negri, the area’s biggest wine producer, whose offices are a recently-refurbished 14th century castle.

The lady at reception was willing to sell us some wine, but, as expected, said we couldn’t have a tour of the cantina without a previous reservation. While we were choosing a dozen different bottles (including some new to us, one completely new developed to celebrate the re-opening of the castle, and the Novello that I enjoyed so much a few years ago and never was able to find again), I mentioned to her that I had emailed recently about the possibility of a visit. As I suspected, she was the same woman I had corresponded with. I talked about my website and how we had met Casimiro Maulé, the enologist and managing director of the Nino Negri winery, some years before.

“I’ll go see if Dr. Maulé is still around,” the lady said. “He was here just a minute ago.” He was, and gave us an hour-long tour of the cantina, with a head-spinning recital of facts and figures.

What I took away was that Valtellina before the 1900s was one of Italy’s chief wine-producing regions – da Vinci centuries ago mentioned that the area produces “wines that are very strong – and how!” The phylloxera plague that destroyed most of Europe’s vines took a heavy toll on this region as well, from which it has not yet recovered its previous glory. Nino Negri, founded in 1897, is the largest producer in the area now, thanks to Dr. Maulé’s talents as both enologist and businessman… and I will write more about all that when I have time to go into the details.

barrique barrels

wine being aged in wooden barrels (barriques) for additional flavor

The winery goes several stories down, covering a city block or more underground in cavernous vault-ceilinged rooms and long, sloping tunnels. On a Saturday, no workers were around, and an eerie silence reigned in which it was easy to concentrate on the all-pervading odohuger of wine – unfamiliar and sour at first, then overwhelming and heady in the room where the first “cooking” of the grapes takes place in big fat stainless-steel tanks.

Other rooms contain rows and rows of wooden barrels two or three meters in diameter, or rows of stainless-steel fermentation tanks, and other equipment, all of which Dr. Maulé explained in every kind of detail – the tour was an education in both the art and the business of wine-making.

You can arrange your own tour, including tasting (and, of course, buying), Monday through Friday from 8 to 12 and 14 to 18, Saturday from 9 to 12:30. Call the winery in advance on 0342 485211 (or write to negri@giv.it) to arrange it, especially if you will need a tour in English as they have to get someone in for that. Nino Negri is located in the town of Chiuro, just outside Sondrio, in Via Ghibellini 3.

(NB: I hope to be able to report on other Valtelline wineries in the next few months.)

wine barrique

As we prepared to leave, it was nearing lunchtime, so we asked Dr. Maulé to recommend a restaurant on the way to Bormio. He said that it would have been easier to recommend one in the other direction (Chiavenna): Lanterna Verde, Passerini (where Enrico and Ross have eaten once before – they tell me it’s good) and il Cenacolo, which we hadn’t heard of and will have to go try sometime. He was less pleased about the options on the way to Bormio, until he remembered a place in Grosio, a hotel called Sassella with “Ristorante Jim” attached, which proved to be an excellent choice.

giant pumpkin

Jim (named after found Jim Pini), in addition to a very interesting general menu, was offering a “Festival of Pumpkin”, which made me very happy – I adore pumpkin. The little welcoming taster was two different yummy pumpkin-based spreads, with a basket of very good whole-wheat bread. I then had a mixed platter of pumpkin based antipasti (some good, some a bit strange).

pasta

For our first course, we had a trio of local specialties (clockwise from upper left):

  • Toscanei di baita – a whole-wheat crepe with creamy melted cheese inside and out, toscanei being the name of the crepe while a baita is a mountain hut where cheeses are made.
  • Manfriguli alla Grusina manfriguli are another type of whole-wheat crepe (Grusina derives from Grosio, the name of the town), this time filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs soaked in milk and grated cheese. These are sliced into rounds and then gratined in the oven to a crisp brown.
  • Bastardelle di Fraina in Salsa Alpinabastardelle are whole-wheat ribbon pasta (I have no idea what Fraina means), in this case served with an “Alpine” sauce of pancetta (bacon) and wild mushrooms.

We were full after all that, but there were so many tempting secondi on the menu that begged to be tried. Jim is a Ristorante del Buon Ricordo (part of the “good memories” restaurant group) whose signature dish is cervo (venison). But the Piatto del Buon Ricordo was an expensive piatto unico (single-course meal) that included gnocchi, and I’d already had enough pasta. So I ordered a costoletta di cervo (venison rib steak), which was somewhat disappointing – it seemed very heavy. I might have enjoyed it more had I not already eaten so much.

Enrico made the better choice with a bastone (stick). This was a wooden rod wrapped in a thin layer of pancetta, then a thin layer of beef, and cooked on the piotta (or pioda), a heated stone – a local tradition. Designed to be eaten, as the waiter said, alla primitiva – primitive style:

Italian kebab

Seated by a window at street level, we were startled to see a procession of priests and other men/boys in vestments, carrying tall golden croziers – and one carrying a pair of loudspeakers on a pole. “Don’t be scared,” said the waitress. “It’s just a funeral. They’re going to pick up the body from the house. There are only 5000 people in this town and they all know each other so, since it’s Saturday afternoon, everyone will turn out for the procession to the church.”

Sure enough, we soon saw a parade of townsfolk going in the other direction. “They take the old people first,” explained the waitress, “to make sure they get seats in front.”

We finished off our meal by sharing a pumpkin-apple-chocolate cake with pumpkin ice cream and amaretto (dessert goes into a different compartment in the stomach, right?), then coffee to brace us for the drive on to Bormio. The whole meal, including a half-bottle of wine (Inferno; the entire wine list is from Valtellina), cost only 69 euros – a steal by today’s standards. There were many other intriguing items on Jim’s menu – we’ll be going back.

Another thing we’ll be going back for, leaving from nearby Tirano, is the Rhaetian Railway, a little train that goes up the Bernina Alps, reportedly the highest railway in the world (or something; at any rate, it should be a beautiful ride).

We reached Hotel Miramonti in Bormio around 4, and I immediately had to try out the big tub in our “junior suite,” which had a lovely (if somewhat head-endangering) sloped wooden ceiling with heavy beams. We took a nap to sleep off some of that lunch, followed by a walk around downtown Bormio – which didn’t take long, especially as some shops and restaurants were closed. Bormio is mostly a ski resort, and it’s not quite ski season there yet – even less so than usual as this month has been unseasonably warm and dry.

Return to Bormio Part 2

ceiling of a small chapel – this must have been recently restored, as we did not see it on our previous trips to Bormio, and there was no explanation anywhere in the room, though there were display cases seemingly ready to hold text of some sort In the evening we went out again for snacks Read More…

ceiling of a small chapel – this must have been recently restored, as we did not see it on our previous trips to Bormio, and there was no explanation anywhere in the room, though there were display cases seemingly ready to hold text of some sort

In the evening we went out again for snacks and beer at a pub, which got very rowdy with a large group of young men singing largely incomprehensible songs. We never did figure out what tribe they belonged to, but one song went “Ocker, ocker, ocker, viva i pizzocher’ !” Only in Italy would a drinking song be an ode to the local pasta specialty: pizzocheri, buckwheat pasta cooked with potatoes and greens, then baked with cheese, garlic, sage, and butter.

wooden Schumi

During our walk, we saw outside a restaurant called Rasiga these fanciful carvings of Schumacher with his Ferrari cavallini (horses) and Valentino Rossi, the motorcycling champion

wooden Rossi

The next morning we got up in good time for our included breakfast, then drove up to the Bagni Vecchi (Old Baths), a few hundred meters above the town. We had been warned to reserve in advance because the Bagni Vecchi were likely to be crowded while the Bagni Nuovi are undergoing restoration. We got there half an hour before our reservation time of 11:00, and then they couldn’t find our reservation, but they let us in anyway.

Bagni Vecchi di Bormio, external view

external view of the Bagni Vecchi showing the outdoor (hot water) pool next to the old chapel. To the right is the main spa and hotel building.

The price has gone up considerably: at 35 euros each, it’s well over twice what we paid on our last visit to Bormio, and a ten-percent discount voucher from our hotel did not do much to ease the sting. Oh, well. All good things must go up in price, I suppose, and, the once a year or so that we manage to go, we can afford it.

Once we had checked in and paid, we were given a token to get a locker key and a package containing tubes of bath gel/shampoo and body lotion. Then we went along to a desk where a lady gave us big white bathrobes and towels, and plastic flip-flops (presumably sterilized for our use); you pay a 5 euro deposit for these.

The locker rooms are unisex, with curtained booths where you change into your bathing suit (forgot your suit? apparently you can buy one embroidered with the crest of the Bagni Vecchi, though I did not inquire about price). After changing and stuffing our clothes, coats, and bags into the (smallish) lockers, we strapped our locker keys to our wrists, and away we went.

Our first stop was perhaps the oldest part of the baths, a dark, steamy, echoey tunnel carved into the living stone of the mountain. The tunnel splits, with one side ending in a spherical steam room with stone benches, the other trailing even further back and filled about four feet deep with hot water. In deep winter, due to some weird thermal effect, this water is almost unbearably hot (even for me, who adore very hot baths), but the surrounding earth wasn’t frozen enough yet last weekend, so it was merely pleasantly warm.

We then went on to Enrico’s favorite feature, the outdoor pool, which is constantly refilled with fresh hot water from an open wooden trough running along three sides, with close-fitting wooden spigots. It also has several kinds of Jacuzzi jets. But the best thing about the pool is that you’re floating in hot water enjoying this view:

view from the pool, Bagni Vecchi, Bormio

(There used to be a great webcam view of the pool, but it was taken down a few years ago, perhaps for privacy reasons.)

My own favorite feature of the Bagni Vecchi is “Garibaldi’s baths”, a long stone pool in a cavernous dark room, with three waterfalls crashing down five meters or so from near the ceiling. You can sit under these waterfalls and get an excellent massage on your head, neck, and shoulders, and the water was the hottest in the entire spa that day.

There are also saunas – two small, traditional dry ones, and one larger with a view (the “Sauna Panoramica”), and two new large ones which are more like wood-panelled sweat rooms – I liked these even better than the dry saunas. (I was also fond of the mud baths that these have replaced, but apparently I’m in a minority on this.) There is a “chromatherapy” room with stone walls, where you lie on a divan and watch colored lights change while listening to “soothing” music – I didn’t bother with this. Several other “relaxation” rooms are scattered throughout, but I have a bone to pick with whoever thinks that shrill pipe music, however New Age, is soothing!

Apparently the Bagni Romani (Roman Baths) that used to cost extra are now included in the package, but we forgot to go to them – they’re basically rooms five feet deep in hot water. We also never made it into the standard Jacuzzi-style pools; we managed to fill three hours going back and forth among the aforementioned features, plus some time just lying in the sun in our damp bathing suits and bathrobes (which we should not have been able to do in late November! global warming?).

By 1:30 or so we were thoroughly waterlogged and relaxed, and I was getting hungry. We showered, changed, returned out towels etc., dried our hair, and went to the spa’s café for a snack of fruit and yogurt.

The road to the Passo dello Stelvio starts just beyond the turnoff for the Bagni Vecchi, and it was already closed for the winter – which seemed odd, considering how little snow had fallen. So we were able to take a walk up the road, completely unmolested by cars.

I was puzzled as to why so many pine trees had turned yellow. Surely that can’t be normal?
yellow pines

As we returned to our car, we saw climbers practicing on a rock face nearby.We headed for home, stopping along the way to fill our water bottles with fresh spring water, and to buy apples from one of the many stands along the way. The minimum we could buy was six kilos, so we’ll be eating a lot of apples for a while!

apples in crates

Bormio: An Ancient Hot-Spring Spa in the Italian Alps

We took a family mini-vacation to Bormio again. This time we stayed at the hotel of the Bagni Vecchi (old baths), whose price includes unlimited admission to the spa, and breakfast and dinner. above: View from the window of the hotel restaurant Tourist information for Bormio Our previous trip ^ Ceiling decoration of a pharmacy Read More…

We took a family mini-vacation to Bormio again. This time we stayed at the hotel of the Bagni Vecchi (old baths), whose price includes unlimited admission to the spa, and breakfast and dinner.

above: View from the window of the hotel restaurant

Tourist information for Bormio

Our previous trip carved wooden building struts

carved wooden Ceiling decoration of a pharmacy built in 1555

^ Ceiling decoration of a pharmacy built in 1555

Bormio is a typically beautiful Alpine town, with ancient stone houses, their gray exteriors enlivened by bright flowers

^ Bormio is a typically beautiful Alpine town, with ancient stone houses, their gray exteriors enlivened by bright flowers

Tourist information for Bormio

Our previous trip