The Italian Alps encircle the city of Torino like a white crown. During our five days visiting my brother and his wife in northern Italy in early October 2015, the clouds lifted revealing this ring of glory standing high above the foothills which give the name, Piedmonte, to this region of Italy.
Cumiana and Torino, Italy
My brother and sister-in-law live in a quiet little town of Cumiana, Italy, a town of about 8,000 residents thirty miles west of Torino, Italy in the northwest corner of the country. The local church building were we went for worship on October 4, 2015, filled my soul with the grandeur of sacred architecture, with domed-decorated ceilings soaring more than 100 feet overhead. Most church sanctuaries of Old Europe are much taller than they are wide. Most church sanctuaries I’ve visited in USA are wider than they are tall. The lofty architecture of European church sanctuaries lift my soul into the mystery and wonder of our amazing, transcendent Lord God. After worship, we stopped for cappuccino coffee at Caffe Principe on the piazza in Cumiana. My older brother Mike has been designing cars in Italy for over thirty years. He’s a brilliant car designer, well-respected around the world for his beautiful, visionary, elegant, yet practical car designs, including interiors and exteriors. In 1999, he designed the Vatican limousine which Pope John Paul II rode in during 2000. In 2011, Mike was inducted into the Italian National Automobile Museum Hall of Fame in Torino, Italy. He’s worked as lead-designer for Lancia, Bertone, and now for ED Design, a design-engineering company based in Torino, Italy with over 500 employees. On our October 2015 journey to northern Italy, we were able to visit the new design studio for ED Design, which is still under-construction. Mike’s latest project, an autonomous racing car called TORQ, was present in full-scale model, an impressive vision of car design coming in our future. Mike seeks to build a world-wide community of designers who together will develop designs and technologies for autonomous cars, or cars without steering wheels, driven by computer guidance and navigation. 1.2 million humans die annually from car-related injuries or accidents. The move towards driverless cars is a move towards a safer world and will be the wave of the future for car transportation. For a brief summary of Mike’s amazing career, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Vernon_Robinson. While in Torino, we visited the downtown shopping district, walking along several of the 27 miles of covered sidewalks, a perfect activity on a rainy afternoon in October. Our dinner out was at a fine Italian seafood restaurant, with plates of mussels, sea-bass, and swordfish, all served with various kinds of fresh pasta, and locally produced Arneis, a delightful white wine from Piedmonte tasting of peaches and melons.
Barolo and Barbaresco
On our second day in northern Italy, we visited one of the best known regions in the whole world for red wine, the tiny villages of Barolo and Barbaresco, located less than an hour south of Torino in the northern Italian region of Piedmonte. Both villages are less than a thousand residents, yet are hailed around the world as making superb red wine. We toured two wineries, Marchesi de Barolo in the village of Barolo producing over a million bottles of wine annually, and Carlo Giacosa in the village of Barbaresco, producing under 10,000 bottles of red wine annually. Both wineries are family owned and run. We first went to Barolo to Marchesi de Barolo winery, located in a 19th century mansion on the hill overlooking the village of Barolo, a village which sits like an island in a sea of vineyards. See http://www.marchesibarolo.com/en/. This winery and vineyard was founded in the early 1800s by a newly married couple, Italian Carlo Tancredi Fanetti, the Marchese of Barolo, and his aristocratic French wife, Juliette Colbert de Maulevrier. The Marchese and Marchesa not only had a passion for excellence in winemaking, but they also poured out profits from their vineyard with the wine of compassion into the local community through founding several schools, a home for young mothers, a home for worker’s children, and a monastery. The guide who led us in our tour, Ilaria, expressed strong interest to my research project in which I am seeking to discover connections between vineyards and spiritual communities. I told Ilaria that I believed the good fruit and excellent wine of such virtues as forgiveness, compassion, and gentleness do not grow wild but need to be cultivated over years, much like the beautiful nebbiolo grapes still hanging on the vines around the winery where we were standing. Nebbiolo grapes are harvested later than most grapes, often in late October, during the season when heavy fogs roll into the Langhe region where these grapes grow. The Italian word nebbia give these dark purple grapes their name, though the grapes also form a fog-like veil over the berries as they ripen. Most of the grapes grown in Barolo and Barbaresco are nebbiolo grapes, producing a complex, multi-layered, brick colored red wine, aged in oak barrels for several years before being bottled. Even after bottling, most Barolo and Barbaresco red wines are aged for a year or more before going to market. We saw a large oak barrel of nebbiolo wine made from grapes harvested in 2013. Ilaria told us that 2017 would be the first year anyone could purchase a bottle of wine aging in that wooden barrel. The same day we visited Barolo, we also went five miles north into Barbaresco where we met Senora Giacosa, along with her daughters and grandson who were actively making wine from the nebbiolo grape harvest three days earlier. Senora Giacosa, a grandmother in her mid-70s, has been making wine with her husband Carlo for many decades. She still daily tastes and tests the wine quality produced in her winery. She also went row by row just a few days earlier, alongside her three-generation family, harvesting grapes.
Valley of Aosta
Another day in our brief northern Italian adventure, we visited the Valley of Aosta by car, twisting our way along high-speed Autostrada, up into the Italian Alps toward Mount Blanc. Grapes grow even in this mountainous region, along steep terraces supported by stonewalls dating back to medieval times (seen in photos in the gallery above). We journeyed up into the Valley of Aosta to visit a family member in her home in Chatillion to celebrate her birthday. She served a fabulous lunch of lasagna, grilled pork, and the classic Italian dessert of tiramisu, serving local Barbera di Asti red wine during dinner. We watched (on television at her home with her teenage son) Juventus, one of Torino’s professional soccer teams, beat Bologna. While there, we also took time to tour the stunning Fort of Bard, built high atop a hill in the middle of the valley, as one of a series of guard outposts leading up to the Great Saint Bernard pass by Mount Blanc. This Fort was used in the filming of the recent Avengers movie, but also was the site of a key battle between Napolean Bonaparte and the Austrian/Italian forces in 1800. After two weeks of being beaten back by these forces, Napolean finally cannonballed his way through the tough defenses, winning the fort and much of northern Italy in the process. The snow capped mountains stood as watchmen or sentinels along this ancient way, known as the Way of Francigena, a medieval pilgrimage path from Canterbury, England to Rome, Italy, crossing France, over the Great Saint Bernard pass, down the Valley of Aosta, down the leg of Italy to the eternal city of Rome. We continue our journey along this ancient way towards Rome this month of October, including visits to Siena and San Gimigniano, as we head south in our ongoing sabbatical pilgrimage journey these next few weeks.