salvagnoThis trip we figured that seven weeks of changing hotels every second night might be just a little too arduous for the entire time, so decided to return to Verona for Easter. Home to Salvagno and close to Ferron who we were also going to see.

Verona...

Our little GPS did the trick and navigated us through the narrow busy historic streets, where you do have to be wary of cars whizzing out of what we would think of as side streets, without looking, right to the door of our hotel.

By now I was building a mental checklist of what was needed to survive, let alone enjoy, a hotel. This included: a bed that was not a board, pillows that were not so rock hard you woke with a crick in your neck, enough lighting to actually read and work by in the room and of a colour and intensity in the bathroom that you could actually see to put makeup on without too much guesswork; enough coat hangers, not all of the sloping kind that everything slips off onto the floor from, and preferably some with skirt clips; somewhere you can hang things to dry - as not only are hotel laundries expensive and sometimes take too long - but depending on what it is, they can also ruin your clothes; enough ventilation and some natural light, and also enough warmth. Free wifi is a preference as €20 for 24 hours certainly adds to the cost as often you are also paying that for parking as well, if staying in a city.

Pleasant, helpful front desk staff are a bonus (there are some drones out there )and breakfast included saves you from the artery clogging pastry and terrible coffee which is quite often the other alternative. I prefer to save my calories for the local fare at lunch and dinner!

Our hotel, a classic in Verona, The Accademia, scored well on most points - particularly when a porter rushed out to help with the bags and the front desk told us they had upgraded us to a bigger room, though it was not quite ready yet. That we could cope with as we'd driven only four hours, weren't straight off a flight and it was 2pm, so time to have lunch. Happily we were also only 5 minutes away from Piazza Erbe and Caffe Mazzanti, owned by Zeno (after Saint Zeno, the patron saint of Verona), husband of Cristina Salvagno, so off we trotted to order a large healthy tuna salad with lots of succulent greens dressed with Salvagno extra virgin olive oil, accompanied by a glass of Soave.

The following day we laid low as Phil had picked up some bug along the way and needed to collapse, so instead of anything arduous we checked out the Easter displays. Easter eggs are not cheap in Italy, quite often costing €15 or more for something quite commercial and we were really surprised that Good Friday was not a public holiday. Easter Monday, known as 'Pasquetta' is the big day.

buildingSalvagno...

Saturday we drove to Salvagno to see that the big hole in the ground which had a giant crane braced over it last year had become a solid impressive building. Eight years in the planning and permit seeking, once construction had started it was moving quickly.

The family were all there and we probably don't need to rave about the set up, the oil and the people again, suffice to say that all remains the same, if not better and Gianni and his daughter Francesca are aiming to visit New Zealand next February. They love to travel and Elena and Cristina love to stay at home, so that works!

riso neroWe had lunch with the girls at a cozy nearby trattoria, keeping it light with a plate of local cured meats and the popular Riso Nero - a black rice that is not actually from Verona. We have it under the Ferron brand (Venetians are quite keen on rice). This one had been boiled in salted water then sauteed with shrimps and artichokes and finished with a drizzle of Salvagno extra virgin olive oil.

The food staples in Verona, aside from pasta, include polenta, risotto and believe it or not, horse meat. We'd sort of assumed it was on menus just to horrify the tourists and more as a nod to medieval times, but the sisters assured us that it was a staple of the Veronese diet, there was rivalry between butchers and that being high in iron it was extremely good for you and really at least one of us had to try it if we were serious about food.

"What were we doing with such horrified looks on our faces? Did we not eat it in NZ? It is very nice you know."

boatVenice...

We had thought about visiting Venice since we had some time and Francesa advised us to go Sunday, as on 'Pasquetta' it would be too crowded; to catch the train rather than drive, to go early and that once you were there it was only ten minutes from the train station to the magnificent sight of the Basilica. Cristina advised us to stay the night as the place is soooo romantic in the evening after the day tourists have left. Unfortunately we did not have the time to do that.

The next morning we awoke early and got going, walking the half hour to the station for a bit of exercise and thinking that arriving 20 minutes before would be plenty of time. Not. Second class booked, first class booked - nothing for another hour after that and even then only in first class. So we booked those tickets and some back as well, found the coffee shop and spent the next while hearing three American girls in their thirties(eavesdropping was not the description as their voices were piercing) complaining about everything they had experienced so far: the service, the people, the accommodation, the food....not really terribly tactful as the staff understood English and Italians do rather like their own country. Then, God forbid, one of them discovered that she must have left her phone in the toilet and rushed off to find it, returning empty-handed and somehow the coffee shop staff thought she was accusing them of stealing it and offence was taken. Once that discussion started, we decided to exit stage left.

Love that European train system, it's so efficient. Just over an hour later we were delivered into the heart of Venice at Ferrogovia and descended into the...er...seething crowds!

Ok, where were the signs to San Marco? Ah, just to the left. The crowds were particularly thick around the vaporettoand the gondolas, so we thought we'd leave them to later and walk the ten minutes to San Marco. So we set off shoulder-to-shoulder with a million others, following various signs spasmodically placed along the way, looking at the hundreds of lovely historical shops and cafes all pretty much selling the same Murano glass and masks in slightly different versions (sometimes) alongside some pretty fabulous looking pastries and various restaurants all well placed for the hungry tourist - and finally - after many occasions of wondering at the sanity of parents bringing push chairs and toddlers to Venice on Easter Sunday and our own sanity and sense of direction, we arrived an hour later at the Basilica. Exhausted. Obviously Francesca had sensibly come in October, caught a vaporetto and that would have, indeed, been 10 minutes.

BasilicaThe Basilica is impressive, as is Venice, but the lesson would be to avoid Easter. The crowds to get inside looked to be half a day's worth. So we figured out the vaporetto system, caught a couple of those, found Hotel Cipriani thinking we might have lunch there, but everything looked to be closed, so ate a terrible meal at what looked like a local charming trattoria nearby, but wasn't, did not leave ourselves enough time to find the Guggenheim, had not done enough research to find anything else, so sat and had an Aperol Spritz instead and with some relief caught the efficient, fabulous train back in time for our booking at 'Bottega del Vino', a restaurant owned by Ferron and twelve Amarone makers. On their menu horse featured in two places: tartar di cavallo or stew.

Phil pleaded recent weak stomach, so the challenge was mine, and the stew description not really appealing and being no recent stranger to tartare having enjoy a great tuna one and equally good Fassone (Piedmontese beef) in the previous few days- and figuring most things could be washed down with Amarone, I took that option followed by Asparagus risotto.

horseThe horse arrived, not looking like one - it could have been beef, had I not known - though a deeper red (all that extra iron) drizzled with salsa verde and dressed with chicory. Quite bearable and would have it again except, as various kind friends have commented, you do think of Dobbin and Mr Ed!

The risotto arrived and it was delicious - made of course with Ferron rice.

We spent the next day being tourists and one of the places we did see was the rather wonderful Museo di Castelvecchio which has a combination of art and sculpture and some artefacts dating back to the 5th century. Think their civilisation was a bit ahead of ours...

When checking out the next day the woman on the front desk we had not seen before asked our travel plans and when I said we weren't sure where we would stay that night got on the Internet and printed me out some agriturismo options, so off we went - to go outlet shopping!

Now this, surprisingly, is where Phil comes into his own. As I write we have been to three of these outlet villages, as they handily located near motorways so easy to get to and his favourite is Fidenza, near Parma. This one is attractively built and set out and has a large selection of high end well known labels, all 50 - 70% off retail, great for shirts, shoes and jackets. And yes, we did have to buy another suitcase at one of them, which has its own story as when we went to pay the guy said he remembered us from last year - not just lip service as he also remembered what we did. Told us it was his job to. I tell you, it was only a one suitcase purchase. Impressive!

ferronFerron...

Ah Ferron. As pretty a setting as ever for the riseria where they now have a programme set up to to take parties of school children for a few months each year and teach them about rice. They teach the older ones how to make risotto and the younger ones make biscuits with rice flour. Very cute. There are 48 little stations set up with a pot and hob each and the very patient Maurizio, Gabriele's brother, who must put earplugs in his ears as the noise of the enthusiastic children is deafening, teaches them. They all sit down and eat the results afterwards. There were 150 going through the day we were there.

Although they now have some 500g bags of their rice certified as organic, all Ferron rice is grown according to same organic principles and is not highly processed. Terroir certainly has something to do with it as this trip we tried quite a few different Carnaroli rices from various producers and areas and maybe it was the cooking, or perhaps we are biaised, but none measured up to Ferron. The Ferron brothers, Gabriele and Maurizio have worked with 30 growers of both the Vialone Nano and Carnaroli for some decades now and pay more for only the choicest selection for which they practice strict quality control. You will notice the AA selection stamped on the top of their packets.

And - Gabriele has fond memories of his two trips here and is thinking he may pay another visit next year. Look out for the opportunity to be taught risotto making by the master!