Our day had begun with an architecture and history tour in the city of Forli (more to come about that) and we were on our way to what our blog project leader, Italian blogger Alessandra Catania, said was a “surprise” for lunch. It was a rainy day in Romagna and along the way on the main road that goes from Forli to Florence, it started to rain very heavily. Behind the wheel, Alessandra turned the wipers on full speed and slowed down our van to better navigate the road in such a downpour.
I just barely made out a road sign indicating that Portico di Romagna was about 20km ahead. I had a touch of longing to keep driving to that little village where Mr. TWS and I had spent a wonderful four days feeling like part of the family. I speculated that a return visit might be our surprise. But soon, we made a turn off the road and headed into another small village, Dovadola, a town of about 1700 residents 20km southwest of Forli. Although I assumed we’d be stopping at a place in town, we continued on, climbing a winding road through a forested area in the hills. As we climbed, the rain subsided and we took in our surroundings.
We were soon slowing down on a driveway leading to our destination and an experience that I savored at the time and remember fondly.
Even at first glance, Trattoria Montepaolo appeared to offer warm, welcoming comfort, especially inviting on a chilly, rainy day like this.
The trattoria has a lovely, secluded location in the Apennine hills, with a pastoral view even beautiful in the rain. The building looked like a perfect spot to spend a little time on such a day, so peaceful and out of the way that I wondered how anyone would even know about it. But the secret is out!
Although it was very quiet outside as we approached the entrance, the restaurant was bustling inside and all the tables appeared to be filled with diners. The aromas of the food were enticing and I couldn’t wait for lunch. The restaurant turned out to be larger than it first appeared as we were led to a smaller dining area where a table had been set for our group of bloggers as well as our guides for the day, Lisa Rodi and Dovadola mayor, Gabriele Zelli.
The cozy ambiance
Chef Franco Gamberini had been attracted by the beauty of this location on Monte Paolo and decided in 2001 to open his trattoria here. He and his wife Eleanor warmly welcome guests and serve creative culinary specialties of the Romagna and Tuscany regions, including homemade pasta and bread.
Our group left the food choices up to our Italian friends who chose delicious courses of which I’ve just got a few photos to show you. My mind is usually on digging in to the food before I take a photo! The courses included both meat and vegetarian varieties and were accompanied with select, carefully chosen wines, including of course, the region’s signature Sangiovese.
This beautiful and innovative salad of mushrooms, arugala, fossa cheese and pomegranate shown above was a big hit with me. Fossa cheese (formaggio di fossa), special to the Romagna area, is a sharp, firm sheep’s milk cheese that literally means “pit cheese” as it is aged deep underground in straw-lined pits. The pasta dishes below were warm and hearty — perfect comfort food.
After our ample family-style meal, we were happily full and ready to take a drive back into Dovadola to explore the village led by our local guides, Lisa and the mayor. There will be more to come in a future post about the extraordinary experience there.
But as a bonus, we were invited back later in the day to Trattoria Montepaolo for a special activity arranged just for us. When we returned, the restaurant was closed for the late afternoon so I was able to take this photo of the main dining area with its beautiful view through the picture windows.
Our treat was a chance to learn from the chefs as they made pasta and piadinas. I didn’t have the hands-on experience that I got making pasta fresca in Santarcangelo in June, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching and appreciating the experts.
And perhaps the best part was sitting down at lovely tables set for us to sample the freshly made piadinas with delicious regional meats and wine.
Always follow your heart
As we entered and left the trattoria, this heart-shaped sign was visible above an archway offering a comforting and lovely message — ” Segui sempre il tuo cuore” meaning “Always follow your heart”.
For more information: Trattoria Montepaolo
Foodie travel tip: If you are in the Emilia-Romagna region during October, Dovadola is hosting their annual Truffle Fair and Festival on two Sundays, October 20th and 27th, 2013. The festival has been held there for over 40 years and is dedicated to the “Tuber magnatum pico” (white truffle) that is so abundant in Romagna.
I’m linking this post to Marcia Mayne’s “Foodie Tuesday” series on Inside Journeys and Nancie McKinnon’s Budget Traveler’s Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday. Check out links to more travel inspiration on their sites.