In Italy, Magari Tours

Last year, through a mutual travel colleague I was approached by Tony and the team at Magari Tours, a new tour operator who sells tours to the more authentic parts of Italy many tourists rarely see. It was a concept I loved straight away, with the ethos that we should support the communities we visit, and that’s at the heart of everything Magari does. I have been working with Tony for the last six months, giving an agent’s perspective on the product, of which Magari Tours is only available through a select group of expert travel agencies in the south of the UK, and it’s not possible to book directly.  I was invited to see it for myself recently on a shortened version of their ‘Essence of Lombardy’ tour, based around the Imagna Valley, between Lake Iseo and Como.

On all Magari Tours, you’ll fly on British Airways from London. The majority of these are from Heathrow (Sardinia and Puglia are from Gatwick), of which ours varied from the standard tour. We flew in and out of Milan Malpensa on the west side of Milan, which meant a longer transfer to the Imagna Valley, with the standard flying into the more convenient Linate. The flights are quite early, but on our tour, that means you can get to the hotel at a reasonable time.

Our Tour Manager Wendy met us at the airport and explained there was a train strike in the centre which meant not only were there more coaches than normal at the airport, but it was quite a frenetic journey for her to get to the airport on time. Originating from the Lake District, she now lives most of the year in Southern Tuscany with her Italian partner and takes two trains and a bus to get to the airport. More on Wendy later.

The ride up through the valley is very pleasant, as you head up not far from the famous San Pellegrino in the next valley. The last part of the journey up to the hotel in Rota D’Imagna does have a few winding turns, but there are only a few and it takes just a couple of minutes into the village which lies on top of a hill. The Miramonte Resort Hotel & Spa is located right in the centre of the village, and due to the narrowness of the roads, the bus leaves you at the top of the road and you just a very short walk to the hotel. You don’t have to worry about your luggage though, at that’s collected by the excellent staff at the hotel, and is taken to your room.

Hotel Miramonti, Rota D'Imagna

Hotel Miramonti, Rota D’Imagna

Having just 35 rooms, the family-owned Miramonti Hotel is a true delight. As you enter there is a lovely bar/reception area that has expensive views of the valley below (and the Cornabusa, but more on that tomorrow). To the right is the breakfast room with a decent selection available in the morning, with the usual things you would expect from a buffet (and fresh coffee to order from the bar). Downstairs is the main Gritti Restaurant, which is very busy in the evening serving authentic, traditional dishes made with ingredients from the local area – supporting both local farmers and producers. There are other touches to being more sustainable, such as lights being on a motion sensor, not having miniature products in the room and guides in consuming less water. For downtime between the trips, there is an excellent spa at the bottom of the hotel, with an indoor/outdoor swimming pool and a lovely garden looking over the valley below.

Casoncelli Making, Hotel Miramonti

Casoncelli Making, Hotel Miramonti

When we arrived at the hotel, our first ‘challenge’ was pasta-making with owner Giampiero. He usually does it with his mum, but she had an operation on her shoulder and wasn’t long out of hospital. The local dish of the region is Casoncelli, a variety of stuffed pasta not too dissimilar to Ravioli. It’s made up of two pieces of pasta, sandwiching a filling (which varies from location to location in the Lombardy region), cut into a rough circle and then rolled to look like a sweet wrapper. They are then cooked in the usual way and are served with a butter and speck sauce. It was interesting to see how the professionals do it, and how difficult it was to start – although I got there quite quickly with some practice!

Finished Casoncelli Dish

Finished Casoncelli Dish

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