Ormea is a comune in the Province of Cuneo in the Italian region Piedmont, located about 100 kilometres south of Turin and about 40 kilometres southeast of Cuneo. From above, the buildings appear to be in the shape of a heart.
With the Giro d’Italia coming to town and our friend Lorenzo owning a refuge up the road, what better place to visit than the mountain town of Ormea. Added to that, we met Majla and Marco, who live in a large stone villa that dominates the village of San Donato in Collina, about half an hour’s drive from Florence. They run a business called Accidental Tourist, providing cooking classes for people like us. To top it all, they they own a house in Ormea and know Lorenzo.
So off to Ormea we went to spend a week in their house. We were blessed to be lent a car by our friend Monica – a VW Up that now goes by the name Milly.
Travelling to Ormea
Having picked up the car the day before so that we could collect the house keys from Majla & Marco, we were able to leave home early Monday morning. Before peak traffic hit the streets of Florence, we were on our way to the freeway heading towards Bologna. The toll roads in Italy make for really quick driving, albeit they are very expensive. It is nice to get off them – in part for a break from the speed but also to be able to enjoy the countryside and little towns. Much as the coffee and food are surprisingly good at the Autogrills that line the freeway, visiting a bar in a little town along the way gives a small insight into the culture and environment in the area. That said, we chose to stop at the town of Maranello, home of all things Ferrari, so it was not what would call an out of the way place. There weren’t any tourists filling the streets yet as the Ferrari Museum was not open. That said when one orders a coffee and gets “do you want that at the bar?”, that typically indicates being back in a tourist location where it’s more expensive to take a seat. The staff were friendly, the coffee was good and the brioches were fresh, so all was good.
Having decided to stop off and have a relaxing lunch – it is the foodie Langhe region of Piemont after all – we had booked at a family-run winery just outside Alba. Sadly, we weren’t going to meet up with the owners of our Brisbane “home away from home” who live in Alba as she was back in Australia and he was too busy. So the two of us had a romantic meal accompanied by the local Barbaresco wine at a huge table overlooking the vineyards. Glenda even had a couple of red roses to add to the romance. Walter had bought them a couple of days before leaving Florence, not thinking they’d be transported across the country – no chance of leaving such beautiful flowers behind!!
One of the reasons we’d chosen to stop off for lunch was due to the fact that it was Monday. We assumed that many restaurants would be closed that evening. It was certainly a good decision! We ended up with chocolate & tea for our evening meal as all the bars, restaurants, bread shops and supermarkets were closed. During an evening stroll around the town to stretch our legs and get our bearings, we did notice that parking was banned from one of the squares on Tuesday because of markets. This meant that we were able to go there the following day to stock up on fabulous cheese and speck (meat). That was after visiting Bar Gemma for a brioche and a cappuccino – the latter was presented with coffee art, looking more like an Australian flat white than an Italian cappuccino.
Tanaro River & Hiking
Soon after breakfast and shopping, we decided to take a walk across the Tanaro River to follow the cycle path – thanks Lorenzo for your insider knowledge as the tourist information office wasn’t open yet due to the low season. After following the path along the river for a couple of kms, we decided to turn up into the more rugged bush paths up the hill. After some steep climbing, we were rewarded with beautiful views of the surrounding mountain peaks. As if we hadn’t had enough, before returning home we took a walk up the hill behind town – up, up, up some steep stairs.
We knew that Lorenzo was down at his coastal home in Poggi (Imperia) to visit his mum, so weren’t expecting to see him until later in the week. When we contacted him after our walk, we were surprised when he suggested aperitivi at Bar Gemma that evening. It was so good to see him! The last time we had seen him was when he spent a few days with us in Florence in 2018. https://mitchell.news/2018/09/28/week-4-23-28-september-firenze/
The guys had a couple of beers as Glenda sipped away on a pink cocktail – in honour of the upcoming Giro d’italia which has a maglia rosa (pink jersey) for the winner. In typical Italian style, they threw in a plate of snacks with the drinks. As if that wasn’t enough, at 930pm when the bar closed, Lorenzo suggested dinner at a pizzeria a bit out of town. We are never going to live down the fact that we eat dinner far too early! Suffice to say, the pizza was worth the drive and the late hour.
Revisiting old haunts
In 2017, we stayed in a restored village called Colletta di Castelbianco. We hadn’t realised that it was so close to Ormea and that the road we had driven on frequently was only a couple of kilometres away. During that time we had uncovered a special little restaurant in a tiny place called Ranzo. Ristorante Moisello is run by two brothers, Federico in the dining room and Ludovico in the kitchen. We couldn’t resist returning so had made a booking for Wednesday lunchtime, knowing Lorenzo was busy. The décor was just as lovely as we’d remembered and the food was even better. It was a bittersweet moment as the last time we visited, we were with our good friend Tracey who passed away in September 2021.
The following day we ended up back at another old haunt. The hamlet of Viozene is the starting point of the hike to the summit of mt montjoie, the first hike we ever did with Lorenzo.
This time we chose to do a short walk across the river and up into the forest as we didn’t know how long we had – Lorenzo was doing a recce for a hike he’s leading in June and we were meeting him to give him a lift home.
Our first trip up to Lorenzo’s refuge was after picking him up at Viozene. The winding road up to the hamlet of Chionea was little preparation for the magnificent views of the mountains and valleys, including the Pizzo d’Ormea at 2476 m (a climb for another time). We had a guided tour of the village, including a visit to the old schoolroom and museum. Following a drink at the refuge, we went home, knowing that we’d be visiting again a couple of days later.
We avoided the steep, windy road the next time by taking the steep walking path instead haha! The plan was to have lunch at the rifugio but as we were a little early, Walter was roped into helping out with carrying pallets up a steep path to the hobbit house that Lorenzo is constructing on the property. That said, we were rewarded with a yummy lunch prepared by Anna in the kitchen and served by Lorenzo.
The following day, we chose to go up late afternoon instead and as the mist rolled in, we were glad to have driven. After a brief shower, we did manage a late walk up to the Colla di Chionea and through the forest, getting back just before sunset at 9 pm. As Lorenzo was exhausted after serving 40 people for lunch, we took a drive down to Ormea for pizza.
Once again, we decided to get an early start so jumped out of bed, packed Milly and were on our way. Pasqualini Caffe is a prominent Ligurian coffee brand, and they have a café at their roastery which is a 10-minute drive from our old home in Colletta. As we were eager to buy some coffee and it was en route, we figured we may as well have breakfast there. The familiar mountain road was misty. At times we rose above the mist and it was a little like being in an aeroplane looking down on the clouds.
The Pasqualini Café was busier than we remembered, but the coffee and pastries were worth the stop. Staying off the freeway along the Ligurian Coast rewarded us with lovely views over the sea and the typical coloured buildings cascading down the cliffs. We did capitulate and go back onto the toll road to avoid Genoa before heading back to the sideroads for our lunchtime stop.
Carrara is home to arguably the most famous marble quarry in the world. Michelangelo is said to have only used marble from there for his sculptures. The quarry is actually about 10km out of town up the mountain. We chose to stop at a panetteria in town to refuel before climbing up to Fantiscritti. The speck & ricotta pizza slices were very yummy and so nicely presented.
The visit to the quarry was mind-blowing. We could not believe that we were able to drive all the way up the mountain and go toe to toe with the trucks carrying their load of huge marble blocks. We even ended up driving through one of the long tunnels – a little hairy as we didn’t know if we were supposed to and if there was an exit. Walter had visions of having to reverse a very long way back. Whew! We were glad to see sunlight at the end.
We chose to continue on the scenic route and took the coastal road all the way from Marina di Carrara to Viareggio. We were astounded at the long flat road containing miles and miles of beach resorts and bagni. There was a lovely path alongside the road but no view of the sea due to all the resorts and buildings. Very unlike what we’re used to.
We stayed on the alternative route, circumventing Pisa and catching a wonderful view of the Leaning Tower.
Arriving back in the big smoke
It was a bit of a shock to the system arriving in Florence at peak hour. Plus, we needed to go shopping for some groceries, wash the car, fill it with fuel and take it home. All before cooking dinner. Good thing we were used to late-night meals after our time with Lorenzo!
As if that wasn’t enough, the following day we had to visit the police station for the appointment for our residence permit. An hour there and back plus 4 hours waiting in the queue made for a long day! Glad that’s done – until 27 September when we can go and collect the residence card!
Although we shouldn’t complain as we did check out the beautiful Piazza di Santa Maria Novella on the way there. And going home we were rewarded with beautiful reflections as we crossed the Armon River. Glad that’s done – until 27 September when we can go and collect the residence card!
At the time of writing, I’m happy to report that the fridge and cupboards are full, the washing is almost done and the apartment is almost in order. A bit of effort but oh so worth it!!