Well, our first season is unofficially over-- we had the pool covered last week, shocking me out of my denial that the summer has long past. Michael has been diligently working on cutting wood. He and Franco had actually cut the trees down last summer, but before we knew it, spring was upon us, the B&B had officially opened and all foresting activities had to be terminated quickly. So now he is out there by the barn, sawing, axing and gathering, preparing our house on the hill for the colder months ahead.
We have two "stufe", or wood burning stoves, which need to be fired up almost every day. Mind you, we do have a heating sytem which involves pipes and radiators, but that one also involves propane, alot of it, so we try to heat in a way which is frugal, and in all honesty, nicer. What a nice heat the house has when the stufe are going... and you can step outside and smell that " This is Italy " smell of burning acacia wood.
Our first season was a delight. We had guests from America, Germany, Austria, England, Switzerland, Tunesia and Italy. We laughed, we baked, we drank wine, we stayed up too late, we cleaned and changed sheets. We learned alot about other people and about the business we have chosen to be in. We saw what their interests are, and how they responded to the area around Acqui Terme.
Most of our guests were amazed at how "genuine" Piemonte is, how beautiful it is, how little tourism there is in this area, and how nice the locals are. They wanted information about our area, about the cuisine, the artisans, the wine and local customs. We brought our guests around to local wineries for degustazione and tours, ate pasta and porcini at the Festa di Feste in Acqui, and tried to answer all of their many questions.
The fact is, they loved it and wanted to know far more than we were able to tell them. We had obviously been spending too much time obsessing on the gardening and the rooms and not enough time touring outside our immediate area. So, in an effort to improve our customer service, and to have a little fun in the slow season, we have decided to take three day trips a week and visit all the small towns within an hour and a half of our bed and breakfast. This is a huge undertaking. There are over a hundred small towns to visit, thousands of brochures to collect, countless bottles of wine and grappa to be tested, unimaginable quantities of cioccolata, amaretti morbidi, torrone, baci della nonna and dolce nocciola to be tried, catagorized, rated, and tried again. It is a tough job, but we feel motivated on behalf of our guests, and will report back on our findings from time to time.
The best place to start, of course, is at home in Acqui, where we actually take the quality and selection of gourmet foods for granted. That will happen to you in Italy. Which is why it is a good idea for us to visit our favorite shops with a camera...it reminds us to appreciate what we have only a short walk from home. Oliveri, for example. This is a shop with mountains of dried Porcini at the entry way - walk in and you almost faint from the fragrance. It is a family business and farm, where a large variety of cheese and salumi articles are produced, as well as a vast array of prodotti tipici acquese, such as confettura di cipolle rosse, a red onion jam, and mostarde, a mousse made from a base of fermented grapes, hazelnuts and cooked figs. These are two samples of a group of fruit and vegetable jams which are traditionally served with robiola cheese, small rounds produced from goat, sheep and cow milk.
The ladies at Oliveri are so pleasant and sweet. We just like dropping by to say hello, and invariably we end up buying a new type of confettura to serve to our guests.