Tales From The Road

Introducing: Piedmont – Italy’s great wine region

As you drive up and around the gently rolling hills of the Piedmont region in Italy, it becomes clear that the area is known for a specific key export:  wine.

Grape vines are everywhere.  AND if you have the pleasure of touring the area in the beginning of September as I did this year, you’ll be sure to spot several hardworking Italians tending their soon-to-be-harvested crops – just as their ancestors have done for centuries.

A Piedmont vineyard where a tractor has kicked up some dust while driving through the vines

A Piedmont vineyard where a tractor has kicked up some dust while driving through the vines

My boyfriend and I traveled to the region last month for a friend’s wedding and were shocked by the scarcity of American tourists. The region is about a two hour drive southwest of Milan and produces wines that rival those from Tuscany (in fact, the region’s famous Barolo wines are known as the “King of Wines”). The most famous of the Piedmont wines are from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, and we were lucky enough to tour both hillside villages while sipping their local products.

Tasting wine at Marchesi di Barolo

Tasting wine at Marchesi di Barolo

Vines in the Piedmont region

Vines in the Piedmont region

Because of the location of our friend’s wedding, we stayed in a very tiny town called Castiglione Tinella at the Albergo Castiglione B&B. While the hotel classifies itself as a B&B, I would argue that it is more like a small boutique hotel. Before the trip we decided to spend a little extra for a room with a shared balcony so we could sip our coffee in the morning while peering past the local buildings to the vineyards on the nearby hillside.

The door and window to our balcony at the hotel

The door and window to our balcony at the hotel

While the breakfast spread and friendly hotel staff were enough to justify the cost of our pleasant stay, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we wondered over to the hotel’s pool area on the outskirts of town! It looked like something out of a travel magazine.

The pool deck at Albergo Castiglione overlooking the neighboring hills

The pool deck at Albergo Castiglione overlooking the neighboring hills

Breakfast spread at Albergo Castiglione

Breakfast spread at Albergo Castiglione

They had an immaculately manicured garden area with an infinity pool that overlooked the surrounding hills. On one of the days we were there, the sky was so clear we were even able to see the Alps in the distance – roughly 100 miles away! If you squint, you can spot their snowy caps in the photo below. As someone who loves wine, scenery, and summertime, the scene felt like my personal Eden.

LOVING the view

LOVING the view

While the hotel experience and amenities were excellent, the location was about a half hour drive from the two aforementioned Piedmont towns that we were most interested in touring. Both Barolo and Barbaresco have their own distinct personalities, despite being quite close to each other as the crow flies. Barolo feels like a busy market town, complete with touristy kitsch, an old castle, and many enotecas (wine shops). Barbaresco is much smaller and more laid back, with the town running down a single road from the historic enoteca to the old tower (Torre di Barbaresco).

Marchesi di Barolo stores and ages its wine in these large oak barrels, which help add flavor

Marchesi di Barolo stores and ages its wine in these large oak barrels, which help add flavor

Wine bottles from the 1800's when the Marchesi di Barolo vineyard was first established!

Wine bottles from the 1800’s when the Marchesi di Barolo vineyard was first established!

Walking along the streets in the town of Barolo

Walking along the streets in the town of Barolo

View of the Enoteca Regionale from the main road in Barbaresco

View of the Enoteca Regionale from the main road in Barbaresco

After touring both towns, I find it difficult to recommend one over the other. When it came to wine, I preferred Barolo’s rich, luxurious reds. However, I enjoyed Barbaresco’s serene ambiance lacking crowds of tourists. While we were in Barbaresco, there was a point in the late afternoon (around 4:30pm) when we reached the top of the old tower and no one else was there – we had our own private 360-degree views for nearly ten minutes! How completely unfathomable to be alone at a tourist landmark in Europe in late summer!

Taking selfies on the top of the tower - because there was literally no one to take our photo!

Taking selfies on the top of the tower – because there was literally no one to take our photo!

View of the town of Barbaresco from the top of the tower (Torre di Barbaresco)

View of the town of Barbaresco from the top of the tower (Torre di Barbaresco)

We highly enjoyed our weekend in the Piedmont region, and recommend to anyone who loves wine that they should visit before it is “discovered” by more Americans.

Hotels:

Albergo Castiglione – Castiglione Tinella

Villa Pattono – Costigliole d’Asti

Restaurants:

Caffe Roma – Costiglione d’Asti

Verderame – Castiglione Tinella

Trattoria Antica Torre – Barbaresco

Divin – Barolo (good for a quick lunch)

Vineyards, Enotecas, and Tastings:

Marchesi di Barolo – Barolo

Ceretto – Alba (excellent tasting experience with great view)

Enoteca Regionale del Barolo – Barolo (automated wine tasting)

Enoteca Regionale de Barbaresco – (located inside a former 19th century church)

Our Celebratory New England Road Trip to Norfolk, CT

There was lot’s to celebrate last weekend – which called for a quick trip out of the city!

But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll divulge that the reason why I’ve been quieter on my blog this month is because I got a new job! Tomorrow I will start at a new media agency as an Associate Strategy Director for an international brand – which is a promotion. After working at the same company for five years, I am excited to start this new chapter in my career.

The two other reasons why my boyfriend and I planned a quick vacation are good, too! My boyfriend and I were celebrating our nine year anniversary AND he had completed a deal in his finance job! He had been working every day (including weekends) for a month straight, so we wanted to find a way to celebrate all three of those milestones and reconnect as a couple.

Thus, at the last minute we decided to book a quick trip that would be within driving distance from New York City for an overnight retreat. After getting several recommendations from friends for destinations within a two and a half hour drive of our urban life, we landed on a small town in northwest Connecticut called Norfolk.

There were dozens of these "welcome to Norfolk" signs throughout the town

There were dozens of these “welcome to Norfolk” signs throughout the town

Neither of us had been to this area of the country before, which is nestled in the hills below Massachusetts’ famous Berkshire Mountains. Norfolk was incorporated in 1758 (aka older than the United States itself!) and offered several things that enticed us. First, it contains easy and beautiful hiking opportunities at numerous nearby Connecticut State parks. Additionally, it has a small-town New England mentality (it hosted both a farmer’s market and library book sale while we were there – which we happily wound our way through while buying tons of souvenirs). Lastly, for a town of 1,800 people, it has a funky music and culinary scene that attracts folks from all over the region.

Common area near the front entrance at our hotel - Blackberry River Inn (huge fireplace!)

Common area near the front entrance at our hotel – Blackberry River Inn (huge fireplace!)

The hallways in the main building at the Blackberry River Inn

The hallways in the main building at the Blackberry River Inn

The breakfast room at the Blackberry River Inn

The breakfast room at the Blackberry River Inn

Our room in the cottage at the Blackberry River Inn

The cottage room at the Blackberry River Inn

Hiking: I am very enthusiastic about hiking, especially when there is a waterfall involved. My boyfriend and I were planning to drive up to Massachusetts to see Bash Bish Falls on Saturday until the front desk agent at our hotel (The Blackberry River Inn) recommended Campbell Falls State Park about fifteen minutes outside of Norfolk. Wanting to optimize our time, my boyfriend and I drove to the closer and recommended option. The hike was beautiful, and we meandered along a lazy stream until we finally reached the falls. I loved that I was able to scramble up one level of the waterfall to reach a landing where I felt isolated from the other hikers below. It was as if I had my own corner of nature. (Note: there are many other state parks within an hour drive of Norfolk, and we actually stopped at Kent Falls State Park on our way back to NYC on Sunday – it was more crowded and cost $15 for out of state residents, but it was VERY pretty!)

Hiking in Campbell Falls State Park

Hiking in Campbell Falls State Park

When Derek and I found our own private landing in the falls

When Derek and I found our own private landing in the falls

A bridge over the stream at Kent Falls State Park

A bridge over the stream at Kent Falls State Park

An easy hike at the base of Kent Falls

An easy hike at the base of Kent Falls

Food and Music: Norfolk may be best known for housing the Yale Summer School of Music as well as the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, but its music scene does not end there. We experienced Norfolk’s influence on local music via immersing ourselves in the crowd gathered on Saturday night to hear the Led Zeppelin cover band performing at the Infinity Music Hall and Bistro. My boyfriend and I popped into the neighboring Wood Creek Bar & Grill for some pre-dinner drinks around 7pm and could barely find a place to stand at the bar! Once the concert hall opened up and folks started wandering inside, we closed our tab and made our way next door into the Bistro attached to the music hall. There, we sat near six jovial New England couples in bright polos with popped collars while we all simultaneously chomped on delicious locally-sourced grub – an interesting contrast to the faint sound of rock music exuding from the other part of the building. That said, the food was divine and rivaled New York City quality cuisine. I had the free-range chicken while my boyfriend enjoyed the steak frites – very tasty!

Infinity Hall

Infinity Hall

Shopping: Along with the Farmer’s Market held on Saturdays as well as the book sale that the Norfolk Public Library that we stumbled upon, we also found several other noteworthy stores to explore. Along the main road (Rt. 44) was Freund’s Farm Market selling everything from fresh pies to local produce to gardening equipment. I can attest that the nectarines and plums we purchased were the tastiest we had eaten all summer! Additionally, there were several boutiques in downtown Norfolk. While I regret not pulling the trigger on buying a gorgeous locally carved butcher block cutting board at one of the artisan boutiques on Station Place, I did end up buying a beaded clutch  at another. There are many artists and craftspeople in the Norfolk area, and these local boutiques help you connect with their creative spirit.

Lastly, it’s important to note that there are copious antiquing opportunities in the area as well. We strolled through a high-end antique store in downtown Norfolk, which had a beautiful collection from historic New England and Europe. That said, the antique store we ended up making a purchase at (bookends) was found standing isolated on the side of Route 7, as if it was a checkpoint on the way to Kent. The older woman who owned the shop was incredibly chatty and even regaled us with the tale of when Meryl Streep came into her store and purchased several quilts!

Jars of jam for sale at the Norfolk farmer's market - I bought Strawberry Peach and it's delicious!

Jars of jam for sale at the Norfolk farmer’s market – I bought Strawberry Peach and it’s delicious!

Vendor tents and red wagons at the Norfolk Farmer's Market

Vendor tents and red wagons at the Norfolk Farmer’s Market

My boyfriend browsing the Norfolk Public Library book sale - one of the highlights of our weekend! We bought eight books!

My boyfriend browsing the Norfolk Public Library book sale – one of the highlights of our weekend! We bought eight books!

Rows of books at the book sale

Rows of books at the book sale

Gorgeous antique table in a shop in downtown Norfolk

Gorgeous antique table in a shop in downtown Norfolk

All in all, our two days in Connecticut were exactly what we needed to escape the urban masses and have a fun adventure as a couple. My biggest takeaway was how stunning and dynamic the countryside and its people are in that region – all just two and a half hours from the city! If my boyfriend and I are ever craving a hike or small town charm in the future, we now know just how/where to satiate that urge!

Fireworks, Friends, Family, and lot’s of FUN – Celebrating the 4th of July in NYC

The Fourth of July in America has always been a special holiday to me. I love the food. I love the friends. I love the family. And I love the fireworks.

Each year, the Fourth of July celebrates a federal holiday in the United States that marks the anniversary of our nation’s declared independence from the British Empire. On July 4, 1776, our American forefathers drafted and adopted the Declaration of Independence – a primary symbol of American freedom to this day.

But why do I care so much? This happened more than 200 years ago!

Well, on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family I am related to colonists. Several of my male (and maybe even female!) ancestors fought for the American rights we cherish and our freedom from the British monarchy’s rule. Being proud to be an American is in my DNA.

This year our July 4th celebrations were exceptional, and I had a fantastic time BBQ’ing with my close friends and family while viewing the NYC fireworks from my balcony in Long Island City. Hope you enjoy our photos below!

My super silly family and friends hanging out on the balcony before sunset!

My super silly family and friends hanging out on the balcony before sunset!

Kristin baked this adorable Pop Rocks flag cake, and Alexa helped decorate - so delicious and fun!

Kristin baked this adorable Pop Rocks flag cake, and Alexa helped decorate – so delicious and fun!

Everyone poised on the balcony last night to get a great view of the NYC fireworks!

Everyone poised on the balcony last night to get a great view of the NYC fireworks!

We had an amazing view

We had an amazing view

Empire State Building and Fireworks

Empire State Building and Fireworks

Colors bursting

The show had several fireworks colors and types bursting in tandem from four boats along the East River

Smiley face fireworks along the NYC skyline - so cute!

Smiley face fireworks along the NYC skyline – so cute!

Gorgeous fireworks

The fireworks show is sponsored and coordinated by Macy’s department store and is broadcast nationwide for all Americans to view on TV if they so choose

Pops of fireworks along the skyline

Pops of fireworks along the skyline

It was an excellent fireworks show! We played American classic rock on Spotify as the show continued

It was an AWESOME fireworks show! We played American classic rock songs while we watched the show on our Long Island City balcony.

We were so lucky to be able to see the fireworks that were let off from all four barges along the East River this year - which was a change from last years's show that was down closer to the Brooklyn Bridge!

We were so lucky to be able to see the fireworks that were let off from all four barges along the East River this year – which was a change from last years’s show that was down closer to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The explosions during the fireworks finale were so beautiful and impressive - we were very blessed!

The explosions during the fireworks finale were so beautiful and impressive – we were very blessed!