‘Oh let’s just pack and go’ we said, last Saturday morning…’let’s be spontaneous and see where we end up’. For me, born and raised in England, one of the joys of being in Europe is knowing that we don’t have to book planes or ferries, we can just climb in a car and in a few hours be in a different country. But as it happened we didn’t need to go as far as another country.
We stopped in Pergine at the beginning of Valle di Valsugana near the Dolomites to study the map, looked up at the mountains and there it was, the majestic, medieval fortress of Castel Pergine, once the seat of Emperor Maximilian I of Austria but now, as we discovered, in the capable and creative hands of Swiss couple Verena Neff and Theo Schneider. The sign pointing up the mountainside seemed to beckon us up….so up we went.
It was Saturday evening, we had no booking but the gods were smiling down on us. We took the last available bedroom – perhaps the very space where Albrecht Durer allegedly slept – a simple but delightful room overlooking a grassy inner ‘keep’ surrounded by ivy-laden crenellated walls.
This inner courtyard was where we gratefully sat after our drive, savouring the last rays of the sun sinking over still-snow-covered mountain tops, inhaling the heady evening scent of flowering shrubs, listening to a gentle hum of bees and sipping a local ‘Nosiola’ white wine.
Sundown and drinks finished, we were shown into a large airy wood-beamed dining room and seated at a table with ample space to talk and move freely – what a delight! Another delight was having a ‘menu fisso’ instead of spending hours over a long list of dishes only to spend the rest of the meal worrying whether we had made the right choice. Candles were lit and wine poured – my partner chose to continue with his white wine, I chose a Pinot Nero from the nearby Valle Cembra, once home to the Cimbri people, the original German inhabitants of the valley.
The starter’s arrival elicited a gentle ‘ooooh che bellissimo!’ from both of us. This delicate arrangement of a silky yoghurt, cucumber soup (emulsione tiepida) topped with a crisp piece of fish, a trail of mushroom powder, some chive flowers and crowned with a still foaming cassis froth looked so fresh it could have just been plucked from the sea. Or in this case one of the local lakes. The chef sources all his ingredients locally from the nearby rivers, lakes and forests.
A fillet of salmon followed studded with coriander seeds that popped spicily in the mouth and supported gallantly by ‘squeezed’ (their translation) turmeric potatoes and broccoli. For a final flourish we shared a superior tart of lemon vanilla cream topped with almonds and a scattering of fresh berries.
Retreating to the intimate bar afterwards we finished with an espresso coffee (decaffeinato) serenaded by live piano music and plotted the route back to our bedroom. It’s no easy matter finding your way round a strange rambling medieval castle….but somehow we managed!
Highly recommended for somewhere a little special or different without being pricey. Check the internet for availability and prices: http://www.castelpergine.it Closed from November to April.