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DAY 5 - April 9, 2024 – Pont Saint Martin – Tabiano Terme

Alberto looked a little wistful this morning as he said goodbye, shook us warmly by the hand and, from behind the firmly closed door, watched us mount up in the pouring rain and squelch our way off his drive. Crikey, but does it know how to rain here. We rather rapidly realised some gear choices were perhaps not the best for these conditions. On the recommendation of a fellow biker we’d purchased lightweight waterproof trousers called Mac in a Sac which turned out to be more like Crap in a Sac as the waterproof properties lasted precisely 10 minutes after which the incessant trickle of rain fed it’s way down the shins and into the boots. Only 160 miles to go. It’ll be fine. After all, we’re on country roads so all should be nice and quiet.

Now, the Italians have a thing about roundabouts. They really love them. I mean a lot. They must have a huge budget for building roundabouts. We think it’s because they’ve worked out that you need to slow down for a roundabout in a way that is not strictly necessary for a crossroads or other junction. Roundabouts take a degree of care to negotiate and the Italian Authorities seem to use them as traffic calming measures as, in between the roundabouts, the speed limits are seen more as a suggestion than anything to be regarded as that which must be obeyed. Consequently, we are constantly being passed by very busy Italians who clearly have somewhere to be very urgently. In the dry this is fine. In the wet, it’s interesting, to say the least.

Continuing gingerly on our way we arrive in Ivrea – it’s still pouring with rain. Ivrea, according to Wiki, is a town and commune of the Metropolitan City of Turin in the Piedmont region on the road leading to the Aosta Valley (which were leaving), it is regarded as the centre of the Canavese area. Here the town authorities decided to use their massive roundabout budget to do something completely different. Roundabouts were clearly seen to be unworthy of such an important town,

“Hey, we’re the centre of the Canavese! We need something to say, “Oi, Oi, we’re the centre of Canavese!” ”.

“Brilliant! What do you suggest?”

“Cobbles. Let’s cobble all the main streets – that’ll be fun!”

So they did – every main road running through Ivrea has been block paved with highly polished, shiny black cobbles with the coefficient of friction of an ice rink. Lovely in a toasty warm Audi but lethal on a heavily laden motorcycle in the pouring rain.

They then spent more of the budget building lots of cafes as kind of grandstands for the toasty Audi drivers to sit in, sipping an espresso and taking bets on how far along the Corso Costantino Nigra anyone on two wheels would get before they kissed the cobbles.

Fortunately, by riding like a pair of nuns at the speed of a sloth we successfully made it out of the town and to the relative safety of being passed at speed with the resulting spray off by toasty drivers eager for the next espresso. Cobbles? Really? Put a bloody roundabout in and stick a statue on it.#

Soggily, we continued on our way and arrived at the spa town on Tabiano Terme. Interesting day.

DAY 6 - April 10, 2024 – Tabiano Terme

After a surprisingly good supper which, given the general state of the place, really was a not just a very pleasant surprise, but nothing short of miraculous as well, we went to bed and listening to the rain and wind howling outside and decided to take the day off. A very good decision.

We had arrived late in the day so hadn’t had the chance to look around very much or even be very aware of our surroundings so once the rain had stopped, we went for a wander. The town virtually deserted – boarded up and abandoned hotels at every turn – we must have counted at least 25-30 in various states of disrepair.

We asked our host, Leornardo what had happened. With a combination of his broken English and our tortured Italian, the story emerged: Tabiano Terme is known as the City of Breathing – it has a Thermal Spa that once supported over 50 hotels in the town. All but two or three of these are now abandoned, all the shops are closed, there is one Café, Roxy Bar, which is still limping along even it mortally wounded by the change in fortunes of this once prosperous town. 

The whole place has an air of abandonment and it is amazing that the hotels that do still operate are able to do so at all.

We asked him slightly different questions to our standard climate related five:

1. What happened here?

Back in the 70’s and 80’s the Italian Government subsidised thermal treatments to a great extent. No one needed a medical referral, you could just book and the government would pay for your treatments and your hotel bills – it wasn’t even classed as holiday so you could take the time off work and come here, be paid as if you were at work and not pay anything for being here.

2. How did that affect the town?

It was like a gold rush, hotels sprang up everywhere, we had nightclubs, bars, restaurants – it had a real party feel – every day we were full as were all the other hotels. They were the good times. Now, it’s all changed. The subsidies are all gone and only a few people can afford to come and take the treatments.

3. What effect has that had?

We are one of the last few hotels left. Each year we see fewer guests.

4. What next?

I’ll probably be the last manager of the hotel. It won’t need one soon.

5. The future?

A new career, somewhere away from here.

Riding away the following morning it felt a little sad.


DAY 7 - April 11, 2024 – Tabiano Terme to Acetaia Leornardi

At first it was rolling countryside, green and lush, refreshed by the rain and now dried by the early morning sun – lovely roads, almost completely free of other vehicles and nice to be riding in warm, dry gear again. The hills gave way to flat plains of agricultural lands and straight, tree lined roads taking us east into Emilia Romagna towards Modena, the home of Balsamic Vinegar. We were due to meet the owners of Acetaia Leornardi – one of the oldest Balsamic producers in the region. 

Now in the hands of Francesco Leornardi, the 4th Generation of the original founders, they still have some barrels of their original Balsamic Vinegar dating back to 1870. We were shown around by Sara, who took us from room to room where barrel after barrel after barrel were arrayed in rows and racks that went on forever.

They have well over 4000 barrels of various woods; oak, chestnut, acacia, cherry, ash, juniper all arranged in Bateria – 9, 12 or 15 different sized barrels going from largest to smallest. Each with a date card giving the date of when the Bateria was started and the age of oldest vinegar inside each barrel. Every year, some is drawn from the smallest barrel to be bottled and sold. This barrel is then topped up from the preceding barrel which, in turn, is topped form the next one and so on until all the barrels receive a top up and so the original quantity is maintained. Each time this happens it’s called a Traversi – a traverse from one barrel to the next.

Over lunch with Sara and Francesco we were introduced to 30,40 and 60 Traversi Vinegars that got richer and richer and thicker and thicker – each one the perfect complement to the dish they were dribbled over. Asking Francesco the questions of climate and how it was affecting his business and the industry as a whole, he shared with us the fact that the Leonardi empire also produces olive oil from it’s estate in Sicily.

“Down there,” he said, “it is increasingly challenging – hotter every year, less rain, more extremes and no pattern or seasons anymore. Here with the grapes for the Balsamic, it is similar but different. We used to be famed for fog in this region. Now, that is gone but we have storms like never before.” He points to an area of freshly dug land about the size of a football pitch just outside the window, “That used to be full of vines but we had a hail storm that was so bad and lasted almost 40 minutes and completely destroyed the vines – that never used to happen.”

We continued to chat and compared the Olive and Oil industry to that of the Balsamic. With the Balsamic, it is a product that ages and matures over many years and his attics and rooms are full of stock that would keep him in business for years. The Olive Oil is more fleeting – it doesn’t mature with age and really only lasts from one year to the next so a bad harvest really is a problem. We pondered that as we went on our way.

DAY 8 - April 12, 2024 – Formigine to Chioggia

Travelling, as we are, on a limited budget, means we get to stay in some interesting places. is our friend here and the filters are set to the lowest value we can physically select. Were we to stay in the large, anonymous chain hotels or anything towards even the mid or lux end of the market we would be denied the opportunity to stay in such places as Caldin’s 1 Star hotel in Chioggia. Chioggia is known as “Little Venice” which probably pisses the locals off who would probably prefer to be known just as “Chioggia”. It boasts one of the largest fishing fleets in the Med and is based on a series of canals, bridges and old buildings that, to be honest, do indeed resemble Venice if you squint a bit. Probably smells the same, too.

Our chosen residence, Caldin’s, is on a quiet street and looks out onto one of the canals where various craft are moored on tree trunks rammed into the bed of the canal. Our room, however, does not look out onto the canal – it looks out onto the “Inner Courtyard” which could be glamourous; strung with fairy lights, wicker baskets and gingham tablecloths – ours wasn’t. Equally unglamourous was the bed, bedspread and other fittings including the notice, “Respect the Lingerie – all damages to Lingerie will need to be paid for in advance.” That suggests a degree of clairvoyance or at least pre-meditation is needed if you have to pay in advance. I looked at Annie but it was clear that no such damage to anything was likely in those surroundings. Turns out they meant the bed linen and not what we had been contemplating.

They say the mark of gentleman, or a lady, is someone who gets out of the shower to take a pee. At Caldin’s, gentlemen and ladies can stay in the shower with no fear for their reputation as Caldin’s have, most thoughtfully, placed the loo inside the shower cubicle.

Genuis! What a time saver and somehow way more hygienic. Just need to remember to remove the loo roll from the loo roll holder which is positioned immediately below the shower head. Somewhat surprisingly, the bidet is outside the cubicle on the other side of the sink. Good for washing socks in which is what we did.

Going outside for a stroll, there was a chap servicing his boat in readiness for the season. He greeted us like long lost cousins and became very animated and eager for me to, “Take my woman to beach – we go in boat. Very pretty beach – woman will like. We can go together – you, me, your woman.” Well, as a proper gentleman as previously described, I gracefully declined. He shrugged and went back to his bilges.

You don’t get that sort of experience staying in a Marriot or Four Seasons. No sirree.


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