Mondovi, Italy, is unlikely to be on anyone’s Italian itinerary.
In fact, it’s not even mentioned in most guide books on Italy, including the usually very inclusive Lonely Planet.
We went to see our good friends Giovanna and Antonio get married in a small mountain village not far from there.
The couple recently opened a restaurant, Ezzelino, a bright, splash of color and light in Mondovi, an untouched, Medieval town set high on a hill top.
Mondovi’s a hidden destination of sorts, virtually untouristed, where 15th and 16th century plazas, faded frescoes and quiet spaces embrace the traveler with a timeless if faded elegance.
About an hour south of Turin and maybe an hour and a half north of Genoa, the town is in the heart of in Italy’s less-visited Piedmont (Piemonte), the northwest crescent of fertile valleys and foothills curling at the feet of the nearby French/Italian Alps.
Guests came from Australia, Germany, the United States and other parts of Italy to the tiny village of Bartolino Soprano for the wedding.
This is Giovanna’s home.
Here, in this village of barely ten families, is where she grew up, among the handful of houses that huddle into each other on the side of the mountain.
There are roosters, and huge tomatoes grow in every little garden.
Deep purple eggplants plead to be picked, and fig trees are heavy with fruit.
Probably the village never saw as many visitors as it did that day, the day of the wedding.
Guests drove up the one road and walked the few feet to the freshly scrubbed church, no bigger than a living room in an American home.
But it was a sweet and innocent church with a portable organ that sang in a surprisingly courageous voice.
Next to the church was a simple, granite marker naming the handful men who died in the two world wars.
Most had the same last name, and died as fathers and sons; brothers and cousins.
And here came the bride…dressed in a modest white suit, radiant as a bride should be.
Then the groom…in red pants.
And then the guests crowding into the church or listening from outside.
Never did the cycle of life seem so vivid as it did here, among the trees and simple homes and the lovely flowers Giovanna had decorated the church with.
The guests ranged from infants to people who may have never left the village for close to a century.
They came out of love for the couple and to celebrate.
And celebrate they did.
The wedding lasted for three or so days, and it felt very much like a Fellini movie.
The wedding party moved to another mountain village Vicoforte, for the reception, in the courtyard of an impressive cathedral.
It looked like a painting: a huge open courtyard was surrounded on all four sides by arched colonnades beneath which tables were covered with bottles of wine and gleaming dinnerware.
The tables were full of the best a moveable feast could offer.
One held meats of all kind.
Delicious, spicy meats rich in smoky flavor or delicate enough to melt on the tongue.
Then the cheese table with maybe twenty or so regional kinds of cheeses, most of which were far more robust, deep and more complex than I have ever tasted.
Another table held fresh figs still misty from the evening dew. Kiwis, melons dripping flavor, salads, and fresh crusty breads.
The actual dinner of veal and things was nearly anticlimactic.
But we ate, talked, laughed.
A few people danced in the open courtyard.
No one, not one guest, drank too much.
The conversations spiced with German, Italian, French, English soon blended together and we understood each other, as we formed a wedding party of the caring and the committed.
For the next three days we picnicked in an Alpine lodge, wandered together along the Ligurian Coast, wading in the water, drifting, stopping for coffee, forming and dissolving into smaller groups of conversations and camaraderie.
As the days slipped by, the group got smaller until only a few of us were left for an alfresco dinner with the bride and groom.
Our table overlooked the night lights in the fields.
We ate, and we laughed, and we became aware that the end was approaching.
And then, a morning cappuccino on the last day.
There were the tearful good bys.
Embraces among people who arrived as strangers and who were leaving Mondovi as partners in an event that’s the stuff of memories.
Kindly, it rained that day.
Headline: One of Italy’s hidden destinations has 15th and 16th century plazas, faded frescoes and quiet spaces. Where is it?