The Country House Montali: Day 3 & 4

The third day began with another beautiful breakfast.
The daily, delicious meals were becoming habitual and routine. I had to remind myself that after tomorrow, I would no longer be feasting on such delights morning, noon and night.
But for now, breakfast was served!
The Country House Montali The Country House Montali After the usual spread of treats, warm, thin pancakes filled with fresh fruit arrived.
This time, I went out of my way to stuff myself with as I could as I would be needing the fuel for the day’s journey ahead.The Country House Montali We quickly changed, grabbed bottles of water, loaded up on sunblock and headed out for Lake Trasimeno.
The walk was 3miles through the forest-covered mountain, down past the olive groves, through the little lakeside town and out towards the lake.
Our only directions were to keep left at the fork in the road and to be back in time for dinner.
Alberto assured us that if we weren’t back in time, he would send Leo out to find us with a little bottle of wine strapped to his neck.

After about an hour of navigating rocky inclines and steep slopes, we could see our destination, Lake Trasimeno glistened off in the distance.

The Country House Montali We passed abandon summer homes. The Country House Montali We passed olive groves.The Country House MontaliAnd we passed vineyards.
The Country House Montali Until we arrived in the lakeside town of Sant’arcangelo.
This was a very sleepy town complete with washing hanging to dry on the line, dishes clattering in kitchens and of course three little old ladies gossiping from their chairs in the shade.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliThe Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali At the bottom of the town, we passed an original food truck.
This man pulls up in his truck every day to sell big chunks of traditionally cooked porchetta.  I planned on trying this on our way back, but had already filled up on something else… something amazing.  The Country House MontaliNearing the lake, we stopped quickly at a little delicatessen and grabbed a few vital ingredients.
Then, finally arrived at Lake Trasimeno. The Country House Montali

We sat down on a patch of grass, looked out over the lake and watched two men battling it out for the bigger catch of the day.

It didn’t take long for hunger to take over and we pulled out our treasure of a picnic.
Fresh Mozzarealla di Bufala, salty strips of prosciutto, crunchy ciabatta and the real gem, salsa di tartuffo. The Country House Montali We picked at it with our hands, creating perfect bites combining all the delicious ingredients. Each mouthful was more delicious than the last.

I sat there gazing out over the water, feeling incredibly small and very grateful to be indulging in such a delicious meal. It was one that I know my late Italian grandfather would have loved to share. I’m sure, however, he would have somehow managed to get his hands on a bottle of Prosecco to wash it all down. The Country House Montali As we finished up the crumbs, I noticed we had attracted quite a gathering of hungry friends. The countless stray cats continued to appear out of nowhere, so I tossed a few pieces of prosciutto fat and fled the scene before the cat fight.The Country House MontaliFull of delicious food and reenergised from our rest, we lazily began our 3mile journey back up into the mountain. The sun was really shining now and we decided to pace ourselves as we climbed up and away from the lake.

Having finally reached our destination, I quickly stripped and ran down to relax poolside. Before long, my new furry friend arrived for some love and affection.

The Country House Montali I’m sure if you follow me on Instagram @alessandra_ldn, you’ve already seen what I indulged in next.

Starting to feel hungry before dinner, I snacked on some ripe figs straight from the tree.
As you can imagine, pure bliss. The Country House MontaliNearly time for dinner, I quickly changed and took a starlit walk to the main house lead by several of my furry friends.

Wondering if the day’s luck could truly continue, we were presented with yet another evening of fabulous food.

To start, a beautiful caramelised onion in puff pastry, with melted parmesan cheese ice cream.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali Followed by ginger and lemon risotto. The Country House Montali The Country House Montali Then the show stopper: a melange of zucchini and ricotta on a beetroot coulis with a parmesan crisp and fried carrots.
I was delighted to find that beetroot in Italian is barbabietole.
Isn’t that fun to say?
I’m now giggling imagining you sitting their sounding this out to yourself.
Bar-bah-bie-to-lay

The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliThey say all good things come in threes – and when it comes to dessert, this rule always applies.
A trio of pear cupcake with white chocolate ganache, bitter chocolate & strawberry ice cream and a cocktail of banana & rum were the perfect way to end the night.
The Country House Montali

Day 4

Given our amazing day the day before, we weren’t necessarily prepared for today’s storm. It started in the night and continued relentlessly, becoming progressively worse throughout the day. But, I’ll tell you more about that later.

At least the day started with waffles.
This softened the blow that there would be no sunshine for the next 24 hours. But of course at this point, cutting into my fluffy, warm waffles, I was blissfully unaware that the sunshine would stop on my plate. The Country House Montali After a very drawn out breakfast trying to wait out the rain, we eventually ran for cover back to our rooms. Here we sat in silence, listening to the sky opening up overhead. This was the perfect time to write to you and catch up on reading.

Reading Mr. Bourdain’s book only succeeded in making me hungry. Which was perfect as it was now time for lunch.

Wrapped in a fluffy, white towel, we dodged raindrops down to lunch.

A beautiful bowl of fresh cauliflower pasta with olive oil and pink peppercorns was just the thing we needed.
The Country House Montali This was followed by a fresh salad with simple, but incredible tasting ingredients. The Country House Montali A winter melon and amarena compote was a delicious, light end to lunch. The Country House Montali We spent the afternoon chatting, playing Italian card games from my childhood and sitting outside watching the rain fall and lightning strike from the sky. Eventually we retreated back to our room, led by a very wet Piccolo and took shelter for the afternoon.  The Country House Montali The weather forced us to relax as we were trapped by one very angry mother nature. Water continued to bucket down from the sky, thunder and wind shook the windows and lightning struck the mountains. Luckily, The Country House Montali was not a target this time. Alberto entertained us with stories of previous disasters brought on by these storms and we considered ourselves lucky to only play witness the brilliant show. The Country House Montali Starving and stir crazy, we were more than excited, if not a little sad, for our final dinner at The Country House Montali.

To start, figs with roquefort cheese, toasted walnut and endive tempura.  The Country House Montali

Then, the ultimate comfort food.
Four cheese gnocchi with salsa di tartufo.
The Country House Montali A leek quiche with marinetti carrots and sweet & sour peppers followed.  The Country House Montali And a traditional cannolo alla Siciliana was our final treat for the evening. The Country House MontaliIn the morning we awoke to blue skies and Indian porridge.
The Country House Montali Sadly, we packed our bags into the taxi, said our goodbyes to our lovely hosts and The Country House Montali’s incredible staff and headed for the airport. The Country House MontaliMy four days at The Country House Montali were incredible.
The Italian hospitality makes you feel as if you are home, scenery is breathtaking and food is comprised of inventive dishes, each more delicious and exciting than the last.

They are now closed for the winter, but don’t worry! They open again in April of next year. I’ll post the website here for you to enquire more.

Promise me if you go, you’ll give a little cuddle to Leo & Piccolo for me!

The Country House Montali: Day 2

The first thing you notice having lived in a buzzy, bustling city for years once out in the remote Umbrian hills is the silence.

It’s the kind that leaves you alone with your thoughts and forces you to pay attention to smaller worlds living around you, such as those of the hundreds of different insects, creeping through the olive grove. It made me become incredibly conscious of sound and the peace that silence is capable of instilling.
Even though I have one of those minds that never stops talking.

We woke up early and tiptoed down the gravel path through the olive grove to breakfast. IMG_3415

A beautiful spread of fresh melon and fig jam, bread and butter, warm, apricot jam filled croissants and chocolate apple pastry decorated the table.

The Country House Montali

After picking through the pastries, a bowl of muesli with toasted oats, coconut, melon and apple was served. It was the perfect fuel for the long day ahead.The Country House MontaliWe hitched a ride with Alberto who was off to collect more guests at the airport.
We flew down the gravel roads leaving a trail of dust behind us. Our nerves slightly eased by Alberto’s endless arsenal of jokes as we overtook 18-wheeler trucks and little old ladies more concentrated on sharing the correct way to make pasta than the road.

We were left in the centre of Perugia and told to follow the escalators.
In the middle of this medieval city, the last thing you’d expect to find is a series of escalators.
But, there they were, and up we went.

The Country House MontaliWe headed towards the main strada, Corso Pietro Vannucci and ambled along as the sleepy, medieval town began to wake.

The Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAt the end of the strada lies Piazza IV Novembre. In the piazza is the Fontana Maggiore, a beautiful fountain built in the 13th century. The star of the piazza, however, is the divine Duomo towering over the square.  The Country House MontaliThe Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, also known as the Cathedral of Perguia, holds stunning intricacies present across many of Italy’s cathedrals. Endless detail in marble work, gilded frames and stain glass windows are truly breathtaking. Regardless of the building’s significance, it truly is an awe-inspiring masterpiece.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliWe left the cathedral and began to wander aimlessly around the town.
Up a road, down an alley and through beautifully constructed buildings, we came to the top and looked out over city. The Country House MontaliThe Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliStunning views of rolling hills and terracotta tiles stretched as far as the eye could see. The Country House MontaliAfter a little more wandering and discovering, we headed back down towards the city centre.
The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAs you can imagine, my favourite thing about Italy is admittedly the food. I spotted a delicatessen and popped in to see what was on sale.

Just look at the size of these grapes!
They were like mini plums and had such a beautiful colour. The Country House Montali I’m positive their packaged Mozzarella di Buffala is nothing compared to that sold at home and desperately wanted to buy boxes of it to sneak into my suitcase.
But, I figured this wouldn’t go over too well in customs and moved onto the meat. The Country House MontaliBeautiful prosciuttos, salamis and homemade sausages lined the meat counter, taunting me. The Country House Montali We left the delicatessen and found a little market selling rows of leather bags, clothes and antiques. More impressive than anything being sold, was the breathtaking view beyond the stalls. IMG_3606The Country House Montali And, this little guy!
Just look at that little face.
He was free to a good home and again, I mentally negotiated the chances of slipping through customs with “special goods” in my bag.
I decided to give it a miss.
The Country House MontaliSufficiently starving having been surrounded by people snacking on piadinis and pastas, we popped into a literal hole in the wall for something to eat. The tiny store sold slices for about a Euro and was filled with business men, tourists and students alike, all wanting a warm snack.

I went for a classic Pizza Margherita topped with fresh Mozzarella inspired by my craving from earlier. It was simple and delicious. The perfect mid-afternoon snack.

The Country House MontaliIn my opinion, no Italian meal is complete without creamy, sweet gelato.
We sought out Grom, a locally loved gelateria and I ordered my favourites: chocolate, stracciatella and pistachio.
The Country House MontaliThis was followed by another leisurely stroll down random passageways, killing time before our taxi was arranged to collect us.
The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAfter being collected and dropped back to our temporary home at The Country House Montali, we had just enough time to shower, throw on a dress and scamper through the grove to arrive in time for dinner.

Our lovely hosts greeted us and showed us to the same table we sat at each night.

To start another delicious evening of food, we were served a quinoa & cherry tomato cocktail with pepper cream and bites of Mozzarella di Bufala.

The Country House MontaliNext, a little mixed vegetable roulade with a saffron sauce. Rotolo di CrespelleTo finish the savoury dishes, a Brazilian inspired potato stuffed pastry filled with tender aubergine. This was served with fresh pesto and cauliflower foam.

The Country House MontaliFor dessert, a beauifully presented tower of almond crunches layered with fresh pistachio cream and wild berries. I can assure you this tasted as delicious as it looked.

The Country House MontaliA delicious ending to another day in Perugia.

The Country House Montali: Day 1

So, this used to be a little something called a lifestyle blog. Call it passion, obsession or go ahead and throw out the word greed, but this has slowly spiralled out of control down the rabbit hole of food porn. Albeit a delicious hole, it is a hole of lies. As often goes with the love of food, I am constantly consumed by wanderlust.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen I did a little traveling last month and have wondered where I was or what I was doing, so I’ve decided to share it with you.

As we pull in below the clouds, the rolling hills and symmetrical rows of trees instantly reveal the essence of the Italian countryside. Having grown up visiting Tuscany and Veneto, Perugia felt familiar in the way memories from a once visited place cling to the back of your mind, but still maintain enough of a foreign element to feel like an adventure.

We left the slow chaos that only an Italian airport could manage to function with and crawled into our taxi. We drove away from busy streets filled with drivers indicating left, but veering right, old men bickering using one hand for their phone and the other waving about in the air, and wannabe Formula 1 racers speeding past slower cars into oncoming traffic to overtake on single lane roads.

After following several hidden signs and turning onto various unmarked roads, we asked the driver what the beautiful building perched on top of the mountain far off in the distance was. It was our destination, The Country House Montali, which sat at a seemingly unattainable height atop a forest-covered mountain with no visible path leading to it.

The road was made of gravel and wound up steep, perilous cliffs with any signs of modern civilisation disappearing below us. Eventually, each turn led to the assumption that we must finally be there, this must be it. But, we continued to climb to the very top, 500km above everything else before we saw it. A beautifully painted sign at the gates welcomed us to The Country House Montali, allowing a sigh of relief marking the end of our journey.

The Country House Montali

Leo, a longhaired dachshund barked incessantly, grumpily welcoming his new guests who only pass inspection once loving pats are given out. Although he thinks he runs the place, The Country House Montali is actually owned by the lovely Alberto & Malu who opened the hotel 25 years ago. The hotel is completely vegetarian and is comprised of a main house with the dining room and kitchen, a games room complete with a billiards table and past the stunning pool and through the olive grove are the hotel’s guest rooms.

The Country House Montali

Before being shown to our room, like all classic Italian hospitality, we were fed. Our cases were left by the door and we sat outside under a shaded canopy with Leo standing guard against the property’s many wild cats. Most of which he has undoubtedly marked as plotting, miscreants carrying out some sort of evil plan.

The Country House Montali

We grazed on freshly baked bread before a beautiful dish of warm, cheesy faro with fresh vegetables arrived. It was such a simple dish, but was so full of flavour and ended up being the perfect introduction to our vegetarian journey.

The Country House MontaliThis was then followed by a delicious coconut tapioca topped with fresh whipped cream.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali

As the chefs were busy making dishes for the hotel’s next cookbook, we were lucky enough to sample a few extra treats, including warm biscotti with almond, chocolate and orange zest. The Country House Montali

Having taken my fill of delicious food, I ran straight to the room, stripped into a bikini and headed for the pool. As autumn falls upon London, the California in me has begun to panic. Flashbacks of snow pouring from the sky and London’s “longest winter in 50 years” have me shivering already. A dose of Italian sun was exactly what I needed to at least attempt to tide me over until the sun next decides to shine over the gloomy city I’d soon return to.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali

Feeling the sun soak into my bones, I felt a smile spread across my face.
And then, I felt something else.
Something furry rubbing against my arm and then cuddling against my face.
One of Leo’s rivals, a grey tabby I decided to name Picolo for his stubby, little legs, perched himself at the head of the sunbed and waited for some loving.

The Country House MontaliHe purred away, grabbing onto my hand whenever I pulled away from stroking him. Finally deciding he had received enough affection, he took off into the olive grove chasing one of the black cats. The Country House Montali

Not being able to sit still for any longer, I decided I needed an adventure. We walked out to find a medieval castle I had spotted on our way up the mountain.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliOnce we arrived, we discovered Castello di Montali is now private property with a beautiful home built inside the walls. We ventured round, marveling the architecture rich with history, framed by a stunning view of the scenery below.

The Country House MontaliWe came to the castle’s gate with a ferocious barking guard dog, who quieted down after a few stokes and tummy rubs.

The Country House MontaliAt the end of the property, we stood and looked out over miles of land with trees, lakes and mountains in the distance.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliHaving done enough exploring, we headed back as the sun set to get showered and ready for dinner, which begins promptly at 8pm each night.

The Country House Montali

There is no menu at The Country House Montali.
A series of four courses is presented each night and you are only expected to give everything a taste. This didn’t prove to be a problem as course after course never failed to please. Colourful, inventive, beautifully decorated plates arrived one after the other with all the attention and care from staff expected in a five star restaurant.

The Country House Montali

To start, pear and melon crudités with a balsamic reduction, slices of Piedmontese cheese, Prosecco jelly and a strawberry-grape jelly.

The Country House Montali

Next, homemade cannelloni of ricotta with salsa di pomodoro and lemon zest.

The Country House Montali

Then, puff pastry filled with spicy potato on pumpkin coulis served with sweet & sour shallots.

The Country House Montali

Last, but certainly not least, chocolate lava cake with fresh fig ice cream.

The Country House Montali Just look at that! The Country House Montali

We were the kind of full that makes you feel warm, tingly and happy inside. This is what I fondly refer to as food drunk. After some fresh mint tea and endless conversation, it was time for bed. We had been up and travelling since four in the morning and the 8.30am breakfast meant I was going to need at least a few hours sleep before the full day ahead.

THE PIG – in The New Forest

Recently I was invited on an adventure.
A train ride away from bustling streets and pushy Londoners, through rolling fields spotted with sheep, we eventually arrived in Brockenhurst.

Waiting for the group of bloggers and I were two Land Rover Defenders, each prominently marked with a golden pig. A short escort in the pig-mobiles down winding country lanes, past rolling New Forest ponies in fields and we had finally arrived at our destination.

A beautiful property with a great billowing tree welcomed us. The grand estate having once belonged to the Queen Mother’s Uncle was nothing less than breathtaking.

THE PIGTHE PIGWe entered the hotel, welcomed by gracious hosts handing out glasses of bubbling Prosecco to sip on our tour of the grounds.

Chef James Golding showed us through the darling, comfortable sitting rooms and out onto the rest of the property. Everything about The PIG exudes sustainability. The rustic wood oven blazing on the patio was created from a crumbling wall at the back of the hotel. To help with forest conservation, they fuel the oven with trees that have already died or have fallen in storms. I was incredibly impressed by each detail that has been taken into consideration for the sake of an ecological purpose.

THE PIG

He then excitedly led us to his very own smoke house with a gleam in his eye. Inside they smoke all their own products and even trade smoked salmon at the local Oak Mill in return for the smoke house’s fuel of Oak tree sawdust. THE PIGWe could smell the earthy smoke before Chef Golding even opened the door. Inside the little smoke filled room, pork belly was hanging to become a delicious dish on the menu and lavender was being smoked for an experimental cocktail. THE PIG THE PIGWe were then shown around the gardens where they grow ingredients that are put straight into their dishes. Chef Golding told us that during spring and summer months, most of their menu is comprised of ingredients that have been grown or raised on site.

THE PIG As we walked through the growth tunnels, he snapped off leaves, herbs and vegetables for us to smell and taste. The rocket was so peppery and fresh, I would’ve happily sat down and had my appetiser from the earth. THE PIG THE PIGTHE PIGWe then followed the rosemary and daffodil lined path past the converted stables which are now beautiful guest rooms of the hotel. Through a small gate was the rest of the vegetable garden. Here gardener Olli tends to the vegetables and ensures they grow properly to eventually become part of one of The PIG’s plates. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGAs we wandering past the daunting (charming) scarecrow, we came upon the tomato tunnel. Six different types of tomato are grown attached to strings to ensure the stalks grow vertically, which prevents any tomatoes from rotting in the soil. THE PIGA curious wall of flaps revealed hidden sea kale. A delicious, crunchy vegetable that tasted like a sweeter version of celery is grown in the dark to ensure its light white colouring. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGTucked into the back of the garden was a beautiful sage coloured greenhouse. Inside was an incredible assortment of herbs all in little, individual pots and trays. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIG

Tucked in the corner was a beautiful kaffir lime tree which gave off the most incredible verbena lime smell that filled the little glass house. These limes are used to make simple syrups and liqueurs for cocktails served in the restaurant.

THE PIGBehind the greenhouse was a cage where the darling looking quails lived. These quails produce fresh eggs each morning which become part of delicious dishes on the menu. 
THE PIGA tranquil spa treatment room is set off in the distance, which can only be reached by the bridge over the carp fish pond. I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful journey to receive a massage, although I don’t think I’d want to head back out into the elements covered in oil wrapped up in a robe. With the relaxed state of mind, I’d probably manage to end up going for a swim with the fish. THE PIGWe played with the piggies who came running like dogs ready for dinner. All ears flopping and noses oinking up to the gate for some love and affection. THE PIGTo our enjoyment, we watched Olli chase some chickens to show us their collection of six different breeds before he gave up and settled for a display of eggs. By now we had thoroughly worked up an appetite and decided to head up for lunch. THE PIGWe went past the Wellie lined hallway, available for those going on a foraging trip with The PIG’s very own forager, and into the breathtaking dining room. THE PIGThe room was so serene with doors open onto the patio, fresh herbs placed around tables and sunlight pouring in from the roof. It really was a nature haven perfect for digging into fresh ingredients from the grounds. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIG

We pored over the delicious looking menu, each excited to taste what Chef Golding would create from the many ingredients we had just seen growing organically.THE PIGA selection of cocktails were passed around the table with Kaffir lime syrup or home infused bog myrtle vodka.THE PIGTHE PIGThen came the piggy bits.
A selection of tasters from the menu made for sharing and sampling.
First to try, the most delectable scotch eggs with perfectly cooked quails eggs nestled inside tender pork.
THE PIGThen, crispy smoked pork belly, which had been marinated in spiced honey. This was absolutely divine and incredibly moreish. There was also long strips of crackling served with fresh applesauce, which everyone happily crunched whilst chatting about our adventure through the garden. THE PIGOur starters then arrived. I shared a delicious artichoke salad with greens from the garden. The artichokes were served warm and were perfectly tender and sweet, contrasting nicely with the fresh bites of lettuce and sharp cheese. THE PIGThen a sample of smoked salmon which had previously been smoked just outside in the smoke house. The salmon was delicious. Smokey flavours paired with a sweet honey mustard sauce and topped with the acidity of the lemon made for a delightful mouthful. The fish was garnished with edible flowers and paired with a pile of fresh leaves and pickled cucumber. THE PIGAnother diner had the most amazing smoked meat platter garnished with pickled radishes and soft quail eggs. Isn’t that beautiful? THE PIGThen came the main event.
The Bath Chap.
For the faint of heart and veggies out there, look away now!
There was only one left in the kitchen and I happened to be the one lucky enough to get it.
The waiter checked with me to ensure I was aware of just what Bath Chap consists of. I can only imagine the surprise on many a diner’s face when, well, a face arrives.

Although it appeared to be rather intimidating, behind the layer of crackling was delicious meat. It went well with the tangy applesauce and had a lovely salad of fresh greens and butternut squash to accompany it. It was incredibly different to anything I’ve ever had, but I’m always one for trying something new.

THE PIGAfter sampling all the delicious food, I was ready to go roll around in the mud like the stuffed piggy I had become. 
THE PIGThe grounds of The PIG in The New Forest are incredibly peaceful and comforting, leaving you with a sense of tranquility far removed from fast paced city life. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to escape the city for a weekend away or a week of pure bliss. If you’d like to book a room, of course you’d like to book a room, click here.

If you’re in the area and fancy a piggy bite, I can’t recommend stopping for lunch enough. Make sure you book in advance as the dining room is always packed with piggies. To book a table, click here.

If you’re in Hampshire and fancy staying in the wall – yes I said in the wall – you have the option of the lovely PIG in the wall hotel as well. And for those wanting to stick your piggies in the sand, a PIG in the beach location is opening in Dorset later this year.

I can’t wait to book a peaceful, piggy visit back to The PIG! Oink!