Each time we visited a place as tourists, we always liked to organize the itinerary in advance by getting information on culture, local customs, interesting things to do and see. Now we consider the Oltrepò Pavese as our next destination as “permanent tourists” and for the last few months we have had fun in organizing our journey and sifting information from the web and the traditional tourist guides.
So far, from the information collected we gather that the first thing that comes to mind when we say Oltrepò is… wine! Even the shape of the region itself is roughly triangular and resembles a compact grape bunch!
In the Oltrepò Pavese they produce and drink a lot of wine. We can not call ourselves experts in the topic, but we like to drink and educate ourselves. We found out that, according to the local Consorzio Tutela Vini (a committee that protects and promotes wines) the Oltrepò Pavese with its 13,500 hectares of vine is the first wine region of Lombardy and one of the top five largest historical Appellations of Italy.
Here vines are grown since prehistory (near Casteggio there was a finding of a vine dating back to prehistoric times), and the first historic document mentioning wine dates back to the year 40 BC.
The most popular wine here is the cheerful and bubbly red Bonarda, found in any local restaurant or wine bar. It is produced in huge quantities and it sells about twenty million bottles per year. Its quality and price may vary considerably… which means, better select what you taste and definitely discard bottles on the cheap end.
Among the reds of the area we must mention the more prestigious Buttafuoco, while Pinot Noir is vinified in both red and white. The white version is the basis of the DOCG Oltrepò Pavese Spumante classical method. In addition to Pinot Noir you can taste sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Riesling Italico.
Thinking of wine, there are two beautiful aspects that make us tourists so happy.
First: how lovely is to wander around tasting!
In the province of Pavia and Oltrepò Pavese you drink and you eat a lot and well. There is such a density of wineries, farms, cottages and restaurants that it is impossible to get bored. Since we live just a few kilometers away we have already done some tasting and, without pretending to do a real review, for now we recommend two restaurants (but we do not stop here):
Il Montù (Historical cellar of Montù Beccaria): precisely located in Montù Beccaria, the historical cellar produces wines, grappa and spirits to suit all tastes and wallets, even those quite demanding. Attached to the Cellar there is the excellent restaurant La Locanda dei Beccaria where we ate and drank always very well. The menus are traditional but always contain an element of reinvention and the example I remember most is a delicious gorgonzola ice cream combined with their “late harvest” Ambrato del Notaio. Over time, the Ambrato, along with some wines, sparkling wines and grappa, have moved from the cellar to our pleased palates.
Ristorante Selvatico: Their name translated is “Wild Restaurant” but it is in fact the proprietor’s family name. The restaurant is in Rivanazzano, not far from Oltrella, and is a landmark in the local restaurants. Their style is based on the careful selection of ingredients and the promotion of local produce. When you are at Selvatico, you can eat and drink very well and then just pay and leave happily, but in this way we think you would enjoy only half: instead, starting a conversation with the owner, finding the origin of the bottles and the ingredients, listening to the stories behind the recipes, clearly perceiving the passion that fuels their menus, all these emotions have been priceless.
Second, the wine landscapes are really cool!
Several times in our past holidays we drove for kilometers through the vineyards in Chianti (perhaps the most famous red wine in the world), or the Langhe (land of the mighty Barolo). Those wines are famous and those landscapes appreciated by tourists for their beauty.
But to our surprise, our first kilometers in the Oltrepò vineyards have given us such harmonious views that equal or exceed in beauty other touristic wine sites.
The Oltrepò wine-growing hills are beautifully authentic because almost uncontaminated with ugly architecture. They are an unbroken expanse of pure, green, curvilinear land combed by straight rows of vines. If you fancy these landscapes you can’t help falling in love with the winding hills covered with vineyards, where the roads are narrow and curved and impose a slow pace, where every turn reveals a new, unexpected view, where a photo taken in a hurry can not enclose the breadth of views, where the navigator sometimes misfires, but it does not matter because it’s intriguing to get lost over here.
Luckily (both to our eyes and our orientation), the hill tops are often dotted with villages or castles, some of them massive and recognizable from a distance.
Strolling through those hills around September, during harvest time, is like stepping in a live performance of a centuries-old ritual: the hills become hives and tractors are like buzzing bees carrying grapes to the wineries. But the stars of the show are the opulent grapes that pop up and almost overflow from trailers.
If Oltrepò means grapes and wine, it’s easy to enjoy it. Even with eyes.