Italy plus Borghi: Where small is better and tourism is large

It is almost unnecessary to make a sales pitch to encourage people to travel to the major Italian cities (think Rome, Venice and Florence). For those who have been to these Class A destinations there is a desire to return (again and again).

In 2012 Florence registered 16 million tourists, Rome registered approximately 12 million tourist arrivals, and in 2013 Venice counted 9.8 million visitors. Italian brands and people dominate our global world: Think cars (Ferrari), furniture (Missoni), fashion (Gucci, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, Fendi, Prada, Pucci, Versace and Zegna), food (pasta and pizza), politics (Mario Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio), music (Frank Sinatra), entertainment (Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Kelly Ripa and Joy Behar), cooking (Mario Batali, Giada DeLaurentiis, Rachael Ray and Lidia Bastianich).

Ponder Small Tourism

It is likely that we “think” (and may even “believe”) that we know Italy. What we know is “squat.” What we need to know are the parts of Italy that have been “waiting in the wings” and known as Borghi’s.


A Borghi is an Italian village, hamlet or borough. The association of Borghi’s was started in 2001 by the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) and established as a nonprofit organization, I Borghi piu’belli d’Italia (The most beautiful villages of Italy). The mission of the organization: Preserve the identities of the small villages and introduce them to visitors. Each Italian village has its own unique cultural heritage, delicious wines, culinary recipes, and artisanal products.

What You Get

When visiting a Borghi what you get are old fortified villages surrounding noble palaces or castles and churches that date back to Medieval and Renaissance periods. Visitors to the Borghi’s get up close and personal with wine and pasta makers, restauranteurs, artists and designers, furniture makers and historians – all who are absolutely enthusiastic to share whatever they have – stories about their lives, historical facts of the village, recipes from grandparents and great grandparents, their homes and cars and bicycles; whatever they have is offered to visitors with a spirit that has nothing to do with money but everything to do with being Italian.

Protect the Borghi

Currently there are 250 Borghi’s in Italy. To protect the Borghi way of life, the Borghi Italia Tour Network (BITN) has been designated as the exclusive Tour Operator for the Association I Borghi piu’belli d’Italia with the mission to “promote the heritage of the hidden parts of the country through the development of new and fascinating trip itineraries creating unique travel experiences.”

BITN was started by Rosa Maria Musco (2014) with the exclusive rights to promote the Borghi. In light of the current government review of the Borghi, Musco has an enormous challenge facing her as the Italian government is considering creating a mashup of Borghi with large municipalities in order to streamline operating budgets. Michael Day recently reported that poverty is causing some these villages to be abandoned, while others are disappearing because of natural disasters. Italian bureaucrats want to merge the villages into the larger towns and nearby cities. In March (2016), 112 Borghi mayors convened to “declare war” on “proposed legislation that will see all towns with a population under 5000 merged with larger municipalities.” The general consensus is that this move would be the “death knell” for this “important part of Italian culture and tradition.”

Visit a Borghi. Start in Milan

On recent travels through Milan, Italy I had the good fortune to visit Peschiera del Garda and Castellaro Lagusello.

The journey started at the Milan train station (via Rail Europe). Take an early morning train (Frecciarossa) to the Peschiera del Garda train station and in less than one hour the city of Milan becomes a memory and the green, lush and beautiful landscape of a Borghi becomes a new (and wonderful) reality.

Tourism is Important

Davide Raja, Assessor, Council of Monzambano

Elected to office in June 2015, Raja is responsible for tourism development in Monzambano and Castellaro Lagusella. Working closely with Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia, his office creates events and opportunities that highlight the attributes of the locale (i.e. history, agri-tourism, environment, culture).

1. History in Abundance

The village of Peschiera del Garda is in the province of Verona, Veneto, Italy. During the Lombardy-Venetia Austrian rule, Peschiera was the northwest anchor for four fortified towns that were part of the Quadrilatero. The fortress is on an island in the river Mincio at its outlet from Lake Garda. The Romans lived in this area making it an economic hub for fishing and trade and a military center. The land transitions through the Romans to the French and by the 19th century was dominated by the Austrians. The mid-19th century is marked by the construction of a railway; however, by 1866 Pescheira was no longer an important focal point for commerce or government projects.

Near Peschiera is the village of Castellaro (fortified enclosure) Lagusello (lake) which dates back to the 12th – 13th centuries. It is located on a hill that overlooks a heart shaped lake. The Castellaro Castle was built in the same time period and commissioned by the Scligeri family, bequeathed to the Visconti and Gonzaga families and finally presented to the Republic of Venice.

The castle is in a unique strategic position and is defended by walls and ten towers that are divided into two areas: one faces the lake and the northern area was used to defend the drawbridge entrance to the fortified village. The nearby Parish Church dates to the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 18th century. The building contains a 15th century wooden Madonna and works of art from the 17th -18th centuries. For additional information, email.

2. Olive and Honey. Harvests Beyond Delicious

Today this area is incredibly important for its outstanding regional agriculture and agri-tourism offering visitors wine, olives, honey and cuisine unique to the destination. This is a locale for creating food and wine memories that can be savored long after the bottles are empty and the plates have been cleared.

AZ Agricola Muraglie-Cascina Muraglie. Simone Bianchera. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Producer

For more information, click here.

From the trees to the bottle – the “magic” or artisanal olive oil. A reward for visiting!

Olive Oil DOP (Protected Designation of Origin)

The science, the skills and the palate associated with making of extra – virgin olive oil can be compared with the making of a fine wine. Starting in 2002, the European Union decided to “protect” olive oil produced at the furthest northern latitude with the DOP label, creating the Garda DOP extra virgin oil brand. The Garda DOP is distinctive as a result of the Mediterranean micro-climate, mild temperature and perfect humidity for growing olives.

There are approximately 70 DOP extra virgin olive oils made in the region. Most of the businesses are family-run oil mills. The DOP designation links the oil to the area and to the specific pressing techniques. The olives are hand-picked and, before milling, they are allowed to rest for 24-48 hours on crates through which air circulates. The oil is cold pressed and filtered through cotton cloths before it is bottled.

Only 2400 hectares of land are dedicated to growing olives protected by the DOP label. Garda DOP extra virgin oil accounts for 1 percent of olive oil production. This oil is light and fruity with an almond finish.

3. Grapes + Olive Oil + Honey = Love

Simone Bianchere and Paolo Ferri experiencing wines, olive oil and honey: Case Vecchie

Olive Oil. Now that I have tasted Garda DOP I am no longer able to enjoy other olive oils. I recently tasted the olive oil presented at Per Se (considered to be one of the best restaurants in New York City) and a private university club and both were returned to the chef because they tasted awful. It is worth the flight to Italy – just to have the opportunity to savor this deliciously mild and flavorful oil that brings memories of fresh grass, herbs, hay and artichokes and a perfectly delicious way to get a daily dose of Vitamin E. The casaliva olive trees can be “visited” as they are growing nearby on the Morainic Hills of Mantua. For more information, click here.

Honey. For 6 years there has been a concerted effort to maintain bee survival in this agriculture-focused locale. The company mission is to redefine the role of the beekeeper to include the preservation of bees and to protect their wellbeing in a hostile environment. The honey is so exceptional that travel time is get here is an investment and not an expense. For more information, click here.

Wine. The organically cultivated Case Vecchie vineyards are surrounded by clover and herbs that have never been treated with herbicides and are fertilized with organic materials. The grapes are harvested by hand. The wines are low in sulfites. The end result is extraordinary. For more information, click here.

4. Ricchi Winery. Locally Produced. Globally Distributed

Located in the Morainic Hills, south of Lake Garda, Ricchi wines are maximizing the exceptional quality of the land and climate to turn out memorable wines. The family has invested in new technology but carefully selects grapes that are unique to the region. The sparkling wines are produced by the classic method and aged in wood barrels.

The Ricchi cantina offers an informative tour of the vineyard and a walk-through of the cellar and production area. After the tour wines are available for tasting and purchase. Premium wines include Meridiano Chardonnay, Carpino Merlot and the very unique Expression 8 Spumante.


Spumante is a sparkling white wine from the Piedmont region of Italy. Expression 8 Spumante grapes are 85 percent Chardonay and 15 percent Pinot Noir. At the end of August, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are very carefully (skins cannot be broken), hand- harvested (definite balance of acidity and sugars), in a cool temperature (in the early morning).

First the base in prepared by white vinification method. After a few months the must is bottled with added sugar and yeast for refermentaton in the bottle with a crown cork. It is left for 24 months in rooms without light at a specific controlled temperature. The next step is to eliminate the lees from the bottle by remouage, digorgement and finally capping with cork.

Tasting Notes

The very special Expresion 8 Spumante is a brut sparkling wine that appears bright straw yellow to the eye, with a fine (but consistent) tosty fragrance and hints of yeast and crusty bread – ending with suggestion of hazelnuts. Elegant and soft to the palate the finish is fresh and crisp. Sip as an aperitif or accompanied with smoked or freshly baked salmon. It has won the Gold Medal from Forum Valdobbiadene Sparkling Wines of Italy (2009) and Special Mention from the Internation al Competition Vinitary (2010). For more information, click here or email.

5. Ristorante La Dispensa. Castellaro Lagusello.

Small, Boutique Dining Makes a World of Difference

Dining is an art form at La Dispensa Ristorante in Monzambano, Italy. The “smallness” of the Borghi is found in every aspect of life in this picturesque locale. Dining is not only about eating, it is about admiring the beauty of each dish and experiencing the personal care that is part and parcel of a chef and his kitchen as he prepares and designs each signature experience to delight his guest.

La Dispensa Ristorante (Castellaro Lagusello) is not just a small village restaurant a few miles from Lake Garda it is a dining experience that is integrated into an area that is so delightful there is no clear demarcation between living and dining.

Although the town traces its roots to the Neolithic age the restaurant was started in 1946 as a food shop, morphed into a tavern with a kitchen and then expanded to become a dining spot with a gourmet focus. Most of the ingredients are sourced locally and the menu changes as the seasons offer unique opportunities for fine cuisine. La Dispensa has an excellent wine cellar with a focus on Italian varietals.

Selected Menu Options:

• The Antipasti selections run from I Salumi (cold cuts) and Anguilla Marinata (marinated eel with polenta) to Insalata Primaverile, Oilio e Limone (spring fresh salad with flowers, oil and lemon).

• Primi options include Crema di Cipollotto, Riduzione d’Aceto, Sprassata di Testa e Pane all’Origano (spring onion soup, vinegar reduction, cooked salami and oregano bread) to Minestra di Riso – Rosa Marchetti – al Luppolo e Limone (hops and lemon rice).

• Secondi selections include Piccione Arrosto, Castagne e Raperonzoli (roast pigeon, chestnut and rampions) to Capretto Nostrano e pure alla Menta (local Kid and mint pure).

• Dolci tempting indulgences run from Ricotta di Capra, Crema Inglese, Ciligie Cotte pasta Sforglia (ricotta, cream cherry and puff pastry) to Pere Cotte al vino Rosso (pears cooked in wine and sugar with chocolate chips) and Torta delle Rose con la Crema (rose cake with cream). Reservations are recommended.

The wine at lunch:

• Prendina Pinot Grigio. Located in Monzambano in the province of Mantova in the Lombardia region, the estate was acquired by the Piona family in 1958; however, La Prendina dates back to the times of Gonzaga, Lords of Mantova (14th century). Originally released as La Cavalchina, the first wine with the La Prendina signature was a 1980 Merlot that was bottled for the famous chef Gualtiero Marchesi.

– The wines currently available are Merlot Garda DOC and Alton Mincio Pinot Grigio IGT. The vine training system utilized is Cordon spur and Guyot with grass left on the aisles between rows of vines. The grapes are harvested in September – October. The Agronomist is Luciano Piona and the Oenologists are Franco and Luciano Piona.

The Pinot Grigio displays a fine concentration of flavors with a refreshing character. Succulent and zesty hints of lime with a clean, almost mineral finish. The wine is unoaked. The fruit comes from a single estate near Lake Garda in the Lombardy region of north-east Italy from 100 Pinot Grigio – a very popular variety grown in Italy. For more information, click here.

6. Where to Stay

B&B. Il Gallo Delle Pille

Exploring the Italian Borghi’s requires “small” thinking. Do not look for globally branded hotels with glass exteriors and designer interiors. Here the goal is cozy, small, quirky and personal. A TripAdvisor winning B&B, Il Gallo Delle Pille is the only property in Lombardy to have achieved this recognition. (Reservations are also available via AirBnB). From the moment you arrive the owner/manager is actually delighted to see you. Forget being a number on a credit card, this is a part of the world where it is YOU (and not your wallet) that is important.

This historic B&B is perfect for visitors who adore visiting friends and family and gush over handmade crafts and vintage – everything. The good news is that guests can arrange wedding and anniversaries that include the owners’ collection of vintage cars or even excursions to nearby wineries in turn-of-the century transportation. This is a delicious experience that includes homemade dining options, personalized travel information, Wi-Fi, a small swimming pool, a/c and hosts that are delightful. For more information, click here.

Palazzo di Monte Oliveto. Manor House Living. Stepping Back in Time

Palazzo di Monte Oliveto with Church of St. Joseph

Located south of Lake Garda the Palazzo di Monte Oliveto is near Catastellaro Lagusello and Borghetto sul Mincio. In the 17th century the Palazzo was home to Count Giovanni Battista Moratti and his wife Isabella Canossa. House guests included Counts Montanari, Micheletti and Trezza.

Easily reached by train and car from Milan the Palazzo is surrounded by grape vines, olive trees and farms offering fresh kiwi, peaches, cherries apricots, plums and vegetables are nearby. Palazzo guests can enjoy a salt water pool and access to the church for private reflection. The area is perfect for long walks and cycling as the bike path funs along the Mincio River and through the National Park. The path extends to Manua and Borgi known for its history and natural beauty. Bikers can also reach Castellaro Lagusello and Peschiera del Garda. For more information, click here.

Silver the New Green

According Horwath HTL research on megatrends in the tourism industry there is a growth in the market segment tagged as “silver hair tourists.” This group is expected to spend more than all other age groups on holiday travel. They have the desire to travel and explore and 45 percent of the group surveyed are planning at least one international trip.

Highly personalized services combined with soft experience-driven adventure are in demand while material goods are unimportant. Comfort is important but luxury is not necessary; there is a preference for adopting the local lifestyle in order to have the experience.

This group is also interested in sustainability. Horwath defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that respects both local people and the traveler, cultural heritage and the environment.” “The economic, social and environmental pillars have to be balanced in order to ensure the long term sustainable development of tourism.” For more information, click here.

Peschiera del Garda, Castellaro Lagusello and the other Italian Borghis’ clearly are the right destinations for this growth market. For additional information: Rosa Maria Musco. Borghi Italia Tour Network. For more information, click here or email.

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