|Benvenuti a Borghetto, Italy. All photography property of EuroTravelogue™ unless otherwise noted. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
As if there weren't enough reasons to love Italy, I have found a few more in bella Italia during a recent trip through the Veneto region about an hour and a half west of the timeless city of Venice. It was a journey that extended from the city of love, Verona, to magnificent Lake Garda and every rolling hill in between; visiting one charming village after the next, each unique in its charms and flavors. And oh what flavors they were! Along the way, I have stumbled upon one of the most picturesque villages I have ever visited in Europe, a tiny hamlet by the name of Borghetto, and the day proved to be a journey back in time, a connection with the culture and a sojourn through the visual romance of the verdant Po Valley. This is but the first of many chronicles through the Veneto region of Italy.
|Parco Sigurtà Giardino is flanked by Valeggio sul Mincio on one side and Borghetto on the other. Photo: Courtesy of Sigurtà.it.|
Our day began with a tour and train ride through the idyllic settings of the Parco Sigurtà Giardino (Sigurtà Garden Park), an idyllic oasis flanked by Valeggio sul Mincio to the east and the tiny riverside village of Borghetto to the west. Despite the gloom of the morning, the 150-acre park was vibrant in the subdued light of overcast skies. Fields of green, flowering blooms, towering cypress and grazing fauna greeted your eyes in every direction.
|All aboard the Parco Sigurtà Express!|
Dubbed as one of the most beautiful parks in the world, Parco Sigurtà Giardino dates back to the gardens of Villa Maffei in 1617. It wasn't until 1941 that the park assumed its present name when Dr. Carlo Sigurtà purchased the land for his family's private use. It remained in the family until 1978 when it finally opened to the public and today, visitors come from around the world to admire its exquisitely manicured gardens and to be one with nature again. I can relate after having seen its beauty.
|The Great Lawn at Parco Sigurtà Giardino.|
Among the highlights:
- Laura's Hermitage built in 1792 by Marquis Antonio Maffei houses a statue of the Virgin Mary.
|It was the Marquis Antoinio Maffei who built Laura's Hermitage in 1792. Photo: Courtesy of Sigurtà.it.|
- Avenue of the Roses is a pathway alive with the radiant colors of magnificent blooms.
- Romeo and Juliet Horizontal Sundial is a fascinating object of dazzling geometric design: the earth is represented by the outer circumference, 64 hyperboles represent sunlight, 32 points translate into life—revolving around a central sun—sun is the source of life; or so its creator had intended when he designed the object in 1990.
|A dazzling array of geometric patterns decorate the Romeo and Juliet horizontal sundial. Photo: Courtesy of Sigurtà.it.|
- Herb and Water gardens
- Bronze statue of founder Carlo Sigurtà carved by sculptor Dante Carpigiani is opposite the sundial mentioned above.
|Japanese Maples ablaze with fiery hues of autumn.|
- Stone of Eternal Youth conveys words of life and hope by Americn poet Samuel Ullman—a hymn to the young at heart as so vehemently expressed in one of his famous poems, "Youth."
- The imposing Scaligero Castle (Fortress) looms above the villages of Valeggio sul Mincio on one side and Borghetto to the other. While the castle dates to the 10th century, most of what we see today, save the horseshoe-shaped Tonda or Round Tower, was constructed in the 14th century due to a catastrophic earthquake that shook most of the Veneto region in 1117. When the castle was rebuilt, it boasted three drawbridges of which only one remains.
|The formidable Scaligero Castle aka The Fortress looms over the Parco Sigurtà and Borghetto beyond the ridge.|
- Built by Maffei, the Castelletto is a small crenelated structure with neo-Gothic windows and was used originally as an armory or "Hall of Arms" as depicted by the frescoes that decorate its interior walls. To the left of the Castelletto is a Roman tombstone with words inspired by Seneca inscribed on a pediment above the columns: "The Earth is one country, we are all waves of the same sea, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden."
Borghetto—worlds away and "one of the most beautiful villages in Italy"
|View of Borghetto as seen from Scaligero Castle. Just beyond the Visconti Bridge in the center right, is the medieval village. Photo: Courtesy of Sigurtà.it.|
Following our tour of the Sigurtà Garden Park, we descended into the village of Borghetto, an enchanting medieval hamlet so absurdly picturesque, it's as quaint as quaint can be. We first caught sight of the village nestled along the banks of River Mincio from above on the Visconti Bridge—an extraordinary dam built in 1393 by the Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Needless to say, I was captivated by the charm of the water mills once used to grind wheat and cereals and needed to go down for a closer look.
|Close-up view of the medieval mills, now a collection of seven B&B suites.|
Borghetto means "fortified settlement" and was established during the Lombard rule of northern Italy. To protect and control the Mincio River, medieval fortifications were constructed including Scaligero Castle, the Visconti Bridge and dam, and the 10-mile-long Serraglio defensive line. Eventually the area fell to the Venetians in 1405 and sadly what remains today, are vestiges left by natural disasters and wars.
|Visconti Bridge and Dam in Borghetto, Italy.|
|Gazing upon the village of Borghetto along the banks of the Mincio River.|
As we made our way across the bridge (as seen in above photo) spanning the Mincio River and into the village, we stumbled upon the statue of San Giovanni Nepomoceno perched in a little niche in the façade of the building to the left as we crossed. According to local lore, this patron saint of Borghetto protects all those who may fall into the river from drowning. Feeling protected now, we forge ahead to the Church of San Marco Evangelista, an 18th-century parish built upon the remains of a monastery dedicated to Santa Maria in 12th century. Inside are two well-preserved 14th-century frescoes.
|Look to the left as your cross the bridge into the village and there you will find the statue of San Giovanni Nepomoceno, the Borghetto's patron saint who protects all who fall into the river from drowning. Photo: WikiMedia.org.|
|One of three medieval mills perched above the River Mincio.|
Further into Borghetto, we discovered one charming building after another along the medieval lanes—cafés, bistros and the three mills we saw from above on the Visconti Bridge, which as it turned out, are now bed and breakfasts and all owned by same family. Imagine the enchanting evenings that await slumbering in this sleepy little village.
|How about a coffee stop at the Caffé Visconti?|
|Medieval shops still open for business in Borghetto.|
While the history is as fascinating as the village is quaint, it's the tortellini for which Borghetto is world renowned—nodo d'amore or "love knots," symbols of the golden handkerchief of love as told in "La Leggenda del Nodo d'Amore" or "Legend of the Tortellino." Only in the Veneto region do the Italians refer to their tortellini as love knots and after you learn about the legend, you'll see why.
As the story goes …
La Leggenda del "Nodo d'Amore"
It all started during the 13th century when the Viscount Giangaleazzo, also known as the "Count of Virtue," ordered military encampments along the Mincio River in Valeggio. One evening, he regaled the troops with stories of beautiful water nymphs who lived beneath the waves. Cursed to live out their lives beneath the depths of the river as haggard old witches, the mythical creatures would break free of their bonds to dance upon the water's edge by night.
One evening, the captain Malco caught a glimpse of one of them and followed her along the river banks. In haste to escape her pursuant, she dropped her cloak revealing herself to be Silvia. When their eyes met, they fell in love but aware of her fate, she knew she couldn't remain above the water lest she become an old witch. Instead, she left her beloved Malco a handkerchief tied in a knot symbolizing her eternal love and then she disappeared beneath the surface.
The following day at the Count's party, Malco recognizes Silvia as one of the dancers and once their gazes met, their affection shone a little too bright; for soon they were discovered by the Count's jealous cousin, Isabella, who also happened to be in love with Malco. In a jealous fit, she convinced her cousin to have Silvia arrested but Malco intervened, allowing Silvia to escape. Shortly thereafter he is imprisoned.
Later that evening while Isabella was visiting with the imprisoned Malco, Silvia suddenly appeared to reunite with her love. Sensing the bonds between the two, Isabella realized she could never have Malco and she helps the two of them escape. In haste, they flee to the Mincio River and just before their watery plunge, they leave behind a golden handkerchief tied in a knot—nodo d'amore—the symbol of their undying love.
|Aerial view of Scaligero Castle in foreground with the Visconti Bridge stretching behind. To the left, the River Mincio and Borghetto. Photo: Courtesy of Tourism.Verona.it.|
Ever since the days of Malco and Silvia, the people of the Veneto region have referred to their tortellini as nodo d'amore or love knots. And the tradition continues today especially on every third Tuesday in June during the Festa del Nodo d'Amore! This festival alone would be reason enough to visit this tiny hamlet of Borghetto because 550,000 tortellini are served up to 4,000 hungry diners from around the world. To accommodate everyone, two very long tables are stretched across the Ponte Visconteo or Visconti Bridge and it's Buon Appetito! Of course, "La Leggenda del Nodo d'Amore" is recounted to the delight of all who then raise a glass in a toast to our star-crossed lovers—salute!
|Every third Tuesday in June, the Visconti Bridge hosts 4,000 hungry diners at the Festa del Nodo d'Amore. Photo taken of framed picture hanging in the Ristorante Alla Borsa.|
After our tour through Borghetto, we ascended to the bridge and tossed coins into the waters below in hopes they would come to rest upon submerged foundation blocks that once supported a walkway that stretched across the waters. Luckily, my coin made it and once I saw its shimmering reflection, we were off to discover the art of making beloved love knots in the center of Valeggio sul Mincio at a wonderful pasta factory Al Re del Tortellino.
|Pastificio al Re del Tortellino in the center of Valeggio sul Mincio is where we connected with the centuries-old tradition of making tortellini.|
We arrived at Al Re del Tortellino, a small pasta factory whose mission is to preserve the traditional ways of making tortellini—by hand. Their motto: "There are things that machines cannot do ... that is the vision of Al Re del Tortellino." Little did I know that I would need the skills of an origami artist to fold these little love knots but it was the time of my life nonetheless!
|Hand folding tortellini in the traditions passed down by the generations.|
We made our way back to where six Italian women, none of whom spoke English, were hand folding the little knots of love—just as their ancestors have done for centuries. After washing our hands, we donned our aprons and we were off to the pressing machine where huge batches of pasta dough were being pressed into thin sheets and then laid out upon the table. One of the ladies proceeded to score the sheet into 2-by-2-inch squares and followed up with a small spoonful of filling, usually pre-cooked meat or fresh cheese, placed in the center. And let the folding begin!
|Humongous pressed sheets of tortellini dough are ready for the table.|
Carefully, we folded the squares in half sealing in the filling. Then with index fingers and thumbs, we grabbed the ends while we pinched the filling to the center and folded them one on top of the other until they resembled the beloved tortellini. My first few attempts didn't go quite so well, but after a few more practice runs, I was off and running! And just in time too, because the Tortellini King stopped by to congratulate us on our achievements!
|Determined to get this right!|
|The Tortellini King stopped by to praise our hard work.|
Finally the lunch hour grew near and with appetites whetted, we were off to a scrumptious little café at the center of Valeggio sul Mincio—Ristorante Alla Borsa. On the menu? Tortellini of course but a medley of flavors soon made its way to our ravenous table—spinach, pumpkin, cheese…as each new dish presented itself, I hummed "That's Amore"!
|Tortellini feast at Ristorante Alla Borsa in Valeggio sul Mincio. Photo: Valeggio sul Mincio Tourism.|
If you go:
Places to stay:
Il Borghetto—a charming collection of seven suites housed in the medieval grinding mills and located on the River Mincio. Dating back to 1400, Il Borghetto Mills are but a few minutes away from magnificent Lake Garda, Verona and Mantua in the Veneto region of Italy.
|Il Borghetto is a collection of seven suites located on the Mincio River in Borghetto.|
|The Attic. Photo: Courtesy of Il Borghetto.|
|The Rocks. Photo: Courtesy of Il Borghetto.|
|The Camino. Photo: Courtesy of Il Borghetto.|
La Finestra Sul Fiume—On the other side of the Visconti Bridge, you'll find the charming La Finestra Sul Fiume Bed & Breakfast, formerly watermills and also dating back to 1400s, 1407 to be specific. The larger of the mills was used to grind wheat and corn flour while the smaller was used to make oils. Breakfast is served every morning on tables by the river. How positively romantic does that sound?
|On the other side of the Visconti Bridge lies another medieval B&B, La Finestra Sul Fiume. Photo: Courtesy of La Finestra Sul Fiume.|
|Twilight at La Finestra Sul Fiume. Photo: Courtesy of La Finestra Sul Fiume.|
|One of the charming rooms at La Finestra Sul Fiume. Photo: Courtesy of La Finestra Sul Fiume.|
|Thank you Anna Paola and Alessandra for an unforgettable day in Valeggio sul Mincio!|
My heartfelt thanks to Anna Paola Antonini and her colleague Alessandra from Valeggio sul Mincio Tourism; Marianna from Al Re del Tortellino; Nadia from the Ristorante Alla Borsa in Valeggio Sul Mincio; Lorenzo from Visit Mantua; and the Verona Tourism Board for kindly hosting our company of bloggers on this cultural immersion in the traditions and flavors of the region!