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Posts Tagged ‘Arta Terme’

Note: Like much of the world, Italy has been on a nationwide lockdown due to the devastating coronavirus COVID-19. Although the activities and events listed below will almost certainly be closed or cancelled this spring, I’ve decided to go ahead and post this piece to remind us of the abundant beauty of the Friuli region. As new cases of the virus are beginning to slow down, we can look to the future, when life will eventually return to normal, albeit a new normal, and people can once again attend food festivals or concerts, visit places such as the butterfly house or spa, and dine in restaurants throughout the region and beyond. My heart goes out to all who are suffering during this catastrophic time. Andrà tutto bene.

1. See the butterflies at the Casa delle Farfalle in Bordano

Casa delle Farfalle, BordanoThe town of Bordano, located in the foothills of the Carnian Alps, is home to the largest tropical butterfly garden in Europe, the Casa delle Farfalle (open from late March through September). The microclimate of nearby Monte San Simeone has attracted over 650 native species of butterflies—550 of which are nocturnal—making this town the ideal location for entomological studies.

Inside the Casa delle Farfalle, three greenhouses contain over 400 species of butterflies from Africa, the Amazon, and Indo-Australia. The butterflies are free to fly, surrounded by exotic vegetation in a miniature rainforest setting of vines, rare palms, and colorful orchids. The air is damp, filled with the echoes of mist and fluttering wings. Indigenous birds, reptiles, fish, and other insects complete the realistic ecosystem.

2. While in Bordano, stroll the streets decorated with butterfly murals

BordanoBordano pays tribute to its butterflies in yet another way. It began in 1996, after the publication of a book on the region’s native butterflies sparked interest among locals. Building on that idea, Mayor Enore Picco established a mural contest, inviting artists from all over Italy to participate. The instructions were to use buildings throughout Bordano and the neighboring hamlet of Interneppo as a canvas for the artists’ interpretation of the theme “butterflies.” Since the contest’s inception, more than 200 homes and public buildings have been painted with vividly hued, fantastical butterfly murals, transforming the streets into a kaleidoscope of color.

3. Attend the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna, e dei Funghi di Primavera in Piano d’Arta

Every May, the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna, e dei Funghi di Primavera is held in the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta in Friuli’s Carnia mountains. Celebrating all the local bounties of spring—wild asparagus, mountain radicchio, and spring mushrooms—the festival’s main event is the Sunday street fair, where the roads are lined with tables displaying all sorts of arts and crafts: hand-knit scarves, copper kitchen utensils, and lavender-scented soap and potpourri. Wildflowers seem to be a particularly common theme, appearing on hand-painted ceramic plates, beaded ornaments, and wooden plaques for the home.

The festival’s food stands are naturally the biggest attraction. To the tunes of a live band, you can indulge in such local specialties as herb fritters, frico (crispy fried cheese), frittatas made with wild asparagus and mushrooms, grilled sausages, and cjarsòns (a sweet, cinnamon-laced filled pasta).

4. Take a spa day at the nearby Terme di Arta thermal baths

In a region scattered with Alpine chalets and onion-domed church steeples, one Japanese-style pagoda stands out as a symbol of health and well-being. Located alongside the Bût River in Arta Terme, the Terme di Arta spa has been attracting guests since the late 1800s. The original structure was destroyed in World War I and later rebuilt in its current style. The thermal baths are fed from the waters of the ancient Pudia Spring and have a high concentration of many minerals, particularly sulfides. Even the Romans, who settled in nearby Zuglio in 52 BC, took advantage of the sulfuric water’s supposed healing properties. In addition to thermal baths, the spa offers a complete menu of mud treatments, facials, and massages, as well as a gym and swimming pool.

5. Attend the Sagra dei Cjalčons in Pontebba

Every year on the last weekend in May, the town of Pontebba—or more precisely the nearby hamlet of Studena Bassa—hosts the Sagra dei Cjalčons, a festival dedicated to the Friulian filled pasta (alternate spellings includecjalsòns” and “cjarzòns”). There are countless varieties of cjalčons, as every town in Friuli’s northern mountains has its own unique recipe. Most combine both sweet and savory flavors, but the version from Pontebba is primarily sweet: sizeable pouches of dough stuffed with a mixture of dried figs and fresh ricotta, and tossed with melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon. While most cjalčons are served as a pasta course, these could just as easily be a dessert. In addition to the food stands, highlights of the festival include a 5km race, wine tasting kiosks, indoor games, and two evenings of music and dancing.

6. Go hiking at the Fusine Lakes

fusine lakesIn Friuli’s northeasternmost corner, near the Austrian and Slovenian borders and just outside the town of Tarvisio, is the Parco Naturale dei Laghi di Fusine, home of two beautiful glacial lakes encircled with hiking trails. The first lake, Lago Inferiore, is larger and surrounded by spruce trees and forested mountains. The higher one, Lago Superiore, is smaller but offers an even more spectacular view of the Giulian Alps. Monte Mangart is the highest mountain here, at 8,782 feet. A short walk along a secluded path through the woods to the far side of Lago Superiore will reward you with an impressive view of Mangart’s snow-covered, rocky peaks towering over the emerald green water of the lake.

7. Sample the region’s white asparagus at Locanda Al Grop in Tavagnacco

white asparagusOne of the sure signs of spring is the appearance of white asparagus on plates throughout Friuli, and there is no better place to sample this prized vegetable than Locanda Al Grop in Tavagnacco, a town located just north of Udine and the center of white asparagus production in the region. The restaurant dates back 500 years, when it was initially run by monks from the adjacent church, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate, for the sale of their wine. In the mid-19th century, Al Grop was taken over by Francesco Del Fabbro and has remained in the family for five generations. Today, owners Silvia and Simona Del Fabbro are well known for their preparation of many traditional Friulian dishes, but they have made white asparagus the restaurant’s specialty. During springtime, you may find the tender ivory stalks smothered in cheese sauce, dressed with creamy egg salad, topped with a mound of prosciutto and ricotta affumicata, or in risotto alongside peas and zucchini blossoms.

Tavagnacco is also home to the Festa degli Asparagi, an annual festival that takes place over three weekends in April and May. Food kiosks offer a wide variety of dishes made with asparagus, including risotto, frittatas, and crespelle (a lasagna-like dish made with crepes), as well as frico, grilled meats, and numerous desserts. In addition, you can attend wine pairing workshops, browse the Sunday market stalls, and enjoy music and dancing late into the night.

8. Attend a springtime music concert at Castello di Miramare

Castello di Miramare, TriesteThe starkly whitewashed Castello di Miramare perches on the tip of a promontory just north of Trieste, its wedding-cake façade glistening against sea and sky. The castle was built for Archduke Maximilian (brother of the Hapsburg emperor Franz Joseph), who lived there with his wife Carlotta until he was tragically executed while stationed in Mexico. Carlotta is said to have gone mad with grief, and the castle has since gained the reputation for cursing anyone who sleeps under its roof. Today, Miramare is open for visitors to explore the couple’s lavish apartments, all featuring the original 19th-century decorations and furnishings.

In the springtime, the castle hosts the music festival “Concerti al Castello,” a series of free concerts featuring classical musicians from all over Italy and beyond. The concerts are held in the Sala del Trono, a splendid Throne Room adorned in red silk. Before the concert, take some time to wander the castle grounds, fifty-four acres of perfectly manicured gardens, complete with statues, ponds, and walking paths.

9. Attend the Festa delle Erbe di Primavera in Forni di Sopra

For two weekends in early June, Forni di Sopra hosts the Festa delle Erbe di Primavera, a festival celebrating the wild mountain herbs of spring. Like other food festivals in the region, the streets are lined with booths selling all sorts of handicrafts, as well as gastronomic stalls that offer dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

In addition, you may participate in guided excursions through the fields and forests, during which experts will discuss the use of mountain herbs in food and medicine. Back in town, there are a number of scheduled exhibitions and conferences, with topics ranging from the history and tradition of wild herbs to the gathering of wild mushrooms and truffles, as well as cooking workshops, which naturally feature recipes using local plants, flowers, and herbs. For dinner, several of Forni di Sopra’s hotels offer special herb-centric menus that include dishes such as lasagne with dandelion, gnocchi with ricotta and nettles, barley with wild asparagus, frico with chives, and salami with grilled mountain radicchio.

10. Go hiking in the wildflower-strewn mountains of Forni di Sopra

Forni di Sopra sits at the western edge of Carnia, bordering the Dolomite mountain range. Here, the verdant hills and valleys are home to some 3,000 species of wild flora that come alive in the spring and summer, from yellow buttercups to red rhododendrons to purple anemones. From the town, head up into the mountains for a panoramic view of the jagged, gray Dolomites peeking up over the softer peaks of forested mountain.

On both sides of the Tagliamento River there are numerous hiking trails to choose from: easy paths through the woods and meadows bordering the town, to routes of medium difficulty to nearby refuges, to longer excursions for trained hikers into the Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti Friulane.

Across the river from the town is the Centro Sportivo, a large sports complex housing a gym, roller skating rink (ice skating is offered in winter), swimming pool, and spa, along with outdoor courts for tennis, basketball, and soccer. From there, walk a short distance to the south and you will find a lovely park known as the Pineta e Laghetti. Here, you can take a more leisurely stroll around three small lakes shaded by pine forests.

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This piece was originally published in the June-July 2013 issue of Dream of Italy under the title “Simple Pleasures in Friuli’s Carnian Alps.”

Hidden in the mountains of northern Friuli–Venezia Giulia are the seven valleys, twenty-eight villages, and 121 hamlets of Carnia. In this remote area where Italy meets Austria, Alpine farmhouses dot the landscape, cows graze in verdant pastures, and time almost seems to stand still. Rugged peaks and long, treacherous roads have served to separate Carnia from the rest of Friuli, and it is precisely because of this isolation that the people have maintained many of their deep-rooted customs.

We begin our journey in Tolmezzo, the gateway to the Carnian Alps. Known for its long-standing textile industry, the town is home to the Museo Carnico delle Arti Popolari. This ethnographic museum contains a collection of all aspects of Carnian life and culture—from weaving to woodcraft, clothing to cookware, and metalwork to masks. Many of these ancient traditions are still practiced by the people today, particularly when it comes to the arts and crafts. In addition, most locals still speak Furlan, a nearly obsolete Romance language with German and Slavic influences.

Venturing north into the heart of Carnia, we pass Zuglio, the site of an ancient Roman settlement whose ruins may still be seen in the center of town. Just a mile up the road is Arta Terme, where a tributary of the Tagliamento River supplies healing waters to the Terme di Arta spa. While the Japanese-style pagoda that houses the thermal baths catches the eye as a rather conspicuous manifestation of the modern world, much of the surrounding landscape has not changed for centuries.

Throughout Carnia, fields and forests are filled with the echoes of birdsong, the fragrance of pine, and numerous wild edibles that have become a part of the local cuisine. In the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta—located just above Arta Terme—Ristorante Salon has earned a reputation for its use of such ingredients. Its late owner, Bepi Salon, was an avid mycologist and was known to rise at the crack of dawn for his daily trek through the countryside. After returning with baskets of wild mushrooms, greens, and berries, his wife, Fides, would then transform these humble pickings into delectable meals for the restaurant.

Among the regular menu listings at Salon, one standout deserves special mention—the cjarsòns. A type of ravioli native to Carnia and having a multitude of possible fillings, cjarsòns (also spelled cjalsòns) often combine flavors of sweet, savory, and even smoky. Salon’s are filled with a complex blend of eighteen ingredients, including apple, pear, cinnamon, cocoa, and an assortment of fresh herbs. In traditional Carnian style, they are served in melted butter, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and garnished with smoked ricotta cheese.

Thanks to the ancient spice merchants called cramârs, exotic flavors such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, chocolate, paprika, caraway, and poppy seeds have made their way into the cuisine of Friuli. Many of these traveling peddlers lived in Carnia but spent the winter months trading spices, medicinal herbs, fabrics, and other goods throughout central Europe. The unsold spices that they brought home in the spring were then utilized in the family’s cooking.

Throughout history, the Carnian people were poor and often plagued by famine, especially during the region’s long, brutal winters. As in the rest of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, the foods of poverty—polenta, beans, and potatoes—are dietary staples, with pork being the predominant meat. Carnia’s cuisine has also been strongly influenced by its former ties to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as is evident in the numerous varieties of dumplings and strudels.

The restaurant at Hotel La Perla in Ravascletto is one of many to specialize in traditional Carnian fare. Toç in braide (polenta with ricotta sauce) and blècs (buckwheat pasta triangles) are two examples of dishes that have been around for centuries. Drawing inspiration from Austrian cuisine, La Perla also prepares gnocchi stuffed with apples and raisins, as well as a scrumptious apple strudel. Their local version of cjarsòns is a sweet one, filled with chocolate, ricotta, and raisins.

The town of Ravascletto, located in the center of Carnia, is best known as a wintertime ski resort but also makes a fine base for summertime hiking. Perched high in the hills, Albergo Ristorante Bellavista certainly lives up to its name—the hotel’s comfortable rooms offer a stunning panoramic vista of the Valcalda valley and the towering Monte Zoncolan.

Every June, throughout the rural hills of Carnia, cows are herded from dairy farms in the valleys to mountain huts called malghe. All summer long, these cows may graze in tranquil Alpine pastures, providing milk twice a day for the production of formaggio di malga (the name for any cheese made in a malga). Near the top of Monte Zoncolan is Malga Pozôf, one of the many malghe to also serve as an agriturismo. Visitors gather at communal wooden tables to sample not only the Gortani family’s homemade cheeses, but also dishes such as herb gnocchi and mushroom orzotto (barley prepared risotto-style).

In addition to making formaggio di malga, malghe are also established producers of ricotta affumicata. This cheese is made by leaving balls of fresh ricotta above a fogolâr (fireplace) to smoke until the texture becomes firm and the exterior turns a smoky brownish orange. Easily grated, it is used to top everything from cjarsòns to gnocchi and could easily be considered Friuli’s most distinctive cheese.

On the other side of Monte Zoncolan, the town of Ovaro hosts a summer festival called Mondo delle Malghe, where malgari (herdsmen) demonstrate cheese production and take visitors on excursions to nearby malghe. Of course, there is much cheese-tasting to be done: formaggio di malga, fresh and smoked ricotta, formaggio salato (salted cheese), formaggio alle erbe (herbed cheese), and formadi frant (a golden hued cheese made from mixing cheeses of varying stages of maturation). In addition, vendors offer tastes of such dishes as butternut squash gnocchi and Hungarian-style goulasch.

To the north near the Austrian border, the town of Forni Avoltri is home to another food festival, the Festa dei Frutti di Bosco. Countless craft booths sell everything from jewelry to woodworking to dried flowers, while food stands serve up treats such as crêpes, biscotti, and frittelle (fritters). Most enticing, though, is the festival’s elaborate spread of berry-themed desserts. There are cakes and pies of all shapes and sizes, from jellyrolls to fruit-studded tarts, each one featuring wild berries from the local forests. To cap off the festival, a parade takes visitors on a journey back to medieval times. Dressed in velvet gowns and brocade tunics, townspeople march through the streets accompanied by a band of drummers and minstrels.

At the westernmost point of Carnia, where Friuli meets the Veneto, Forni di Sopra presents a spectacular view of the Dolomites. Just outside town, the restaurant Polenta e Frico epitomizes the region’s cuisine with its eponymous dish: a decadent fried cheese and potato pancake served with a wedge of polenta and, in what many would consider overkill, smothered in another layer of melted cheese.

Of all the villages in Carnia, the road to Sauris is perhaps the most hair-raising, with dark tunnels boring through the mountainside, bridges suspended over a turquoise lake, and hairpin turns winding ever higher to the summit. More so than most, Sauris has retained a sense of otherworldly charm, its characteristic multi-story homes—white masonry below and wooden framework above—hinting at the region’s Austrian past. Throughout the town, chickens crowd backyard pens, while hay, deftly woven into the latticework, dries on the upper floors of rustic cottages. Potted flowers in a rainbow of hues draw attention to decorative balconies and railings, which are often embellished by intricate patterns and demonstrate the Carnian people’s time-honored skill at woodcraft.

Sauris actually consists of two towns: the upper Sauris di Sopra and lower Sauris di Sotto. The lower village is home to the Wolf Sauris prosciutto factory, which has been producing hams since 1862. Prior to salting and curing, the legs are smoked for several days using a combination of wood and herbs, which gives the ham its distinctive smoky flavor and aroma. Naturally, prosciutto di Sauris is showcased in all of the town’s restaurants, including Ristorante Alla Pace, whose signature dumpling, the gnocco croccante, is stuffed with prosciutto, sautéed in butter until crispy, and served on a bed of wilted greens. Every July, pastoral Sauris comes alive for the Festa del Prosciutto—two weekends of music, dancing, and food, all in celebration of Wolf’s prized ham.

During spring and summer, Sauris’s surrounding grassy meadows are strewn with wildflowers, and its steep, forested peaks invite hikers to explore the region’s endless mountain paths. Legend says that in these woods dwell some furtive and impish beings called sbilfs, who hide in tree trunks, shady thickets, and dense underbrush and play mischievous tricks on unsuspecting passers-by. An evolution of Celtic folklore, these fantastical creatures are said to be visible only to those humans who show a true appreciation for nature. Over time, sbilfs have become more than just an old wives’ tale; they have come to embody the spirit of the forest. As an integral part of Carnian culture, sbilfs may in fact be considered a symbol of Carnia itself.

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The Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna, e dei Funghi di Primavera—celebrating wild asparagus, mountain radicchio, and spring mushrooms—is held every May in Piano d’Arta, a hilltop hamlet just up the road from the town of Arta Terme. I arrived a day prior to the street fair’s scheduled opening, but there was plenty to keep me busy.

Several hotels were offering special tasting-menus for the entire weekend. For lunch at Albergo Ristorante Salon, I was treated to a series of small plates that showcased local wild edibles: herb fritters, marinated trout with wild fennel and greens, dandelion soup with delicate Montasio cheese puffs, orzotto (barley cooked “risotto-style”) with morel mushrooms, lasagne with hop shoots and wild asparagus, pheasant breast with marjoram and potatoes, and a wild strawberry spumone for dessert.

Fully sated, I spent the afternoon exploring the environs. Down the hill and across the Bût River, a Japanese pagoda housed the Terme di Arta thermal baths and spa. A ten minute walk further along the highway landed me in nearby Zuglio, where I could investigate the ruins of an ancient Roman settlement right in the center of town.

That evening at Hotel Gardel, I splurged on yet another tasting menu, only this time I barely made it halfway through the feast before I admitted defeat. After courses of breaded asparagus, pear and cheese salad, asparagus and potato tortino (layered into a “little cake”), asparagus gratinati (baked with melted cheese), and bleons (buckwheat pasta) with mushroom sauce, I had no room for soup, another mushroom orzotto, stuffed rabbit, or dessert. The banquet hall was packed, and the air buzzed with the hum of foreign conversation and the electric tunes of a live pianist—so I knew I would not be missed when I ducked out to pay my bill.

The next morning, I left my hotel to find the festival gearing up bright and early. In both directions along the wisteria-lined road, tables were being set up to display all sorts of traditional arts and crafts. Wildflowers seemed to be a common theme, appearing on hand-painted ceramic plates, beaded ornaments, and decorative wooden plaques for the home.

Tucked away in a corner near Albergo Salon, a couple of mycologists had arranged a display of local wild mushrooms. It was well known that the elderly owner of the hotel, Bepi Salon (who passed away several years after my visit, in 2010), was an avid mycologist himself and made daily excursions into the forests to collect mushrooms, herbs, and berries for his wife, Fides, to serve in the hotel’s restaurant.

Around noon, as the sun peeked out from behind a patch of ominous rain clouds and a big band struck up the tune “New York, New York,” I embarked on a self-guided tasting spree. Bypassing a grill station loaded with ribs and sausages, I headed first for the frico (fried cheese) cart. Frico was one of the first Friulian dishes I had tried many years earlier and may be given credit for sparking my interest in this region’s cuisine. There are two main varieties—crispy fried wafers (frico croccante), often served in the shape of a bowl, and pancakes prepared with cheese and potatoes (frico con patate)—but here in Piano d’Arta, I was introduced to yet another type called frico friabile. Instead of cooking the cheese in a skillet, the signora was dropping handfuls of grated cheese into a pot of boiling oil. After only a few minutes, she removed what looked like a porous sea sponge and draped it over a small rack of copper rods, where it quickly crisped up in the shape of a taco shell. Now while I simply adore frico made with potatoes, this disappointing version dripped with grease and tasted strongly of cooking oil.

I discreetly disposed of my plate and proceeded to the next food stall, where a young boy was handing out samples of frittelle (fritters) made with wild herbs and greens such as sage, acacia, melissa (lemon balm), sambuco (elderberry), radicchio di montagna (blue sow thistle), and sclopit (silene). I then spotted an array of frittatas and politely jostled my way into the line. When the woman ahead of me reached the table, she requested a piatto misto so that she could sample all three varieties: mushroom, asparagus, and sclopit. The server refused, explaining that it could not be done for just one customer. Eavesdropping on the exchange, I immediately piped in to express my similar wish, and we were each subsequently granted half a frittata sampler plate. Each slice was as thin as a pancake but loaded with savory flavor.

Finally, I ordered a plate of cjalsòns. There are dozens of recipes for cjalsòns (alternately spelled cjarzòns or cjalcions) in Carnia, and most contain some element of sweetness. These particular ones were half-moon-shaped ravioli filled with herbs, raisins, and chocolate and served with melted butter, smoked ricotta cheese, sugar, and cinnamon. After sampling nearly twenty versions over the years, my absolute favorite turned out to be the ones I later ordered at Ristorante Salon. Filled with a sublime combination of apple, pear, and herbs, they were the perfect balance of sweet, savory, salty and smoky.

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This review was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Dream of Italy. Since then, following the passing of its owners, Bepi and Fides Salon, Ristorante Salon has closed its doors.

In the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta, on a serene lane lined with shady trees and wisteria blossoms, Hotel Ristorante Salon has long been recognized for its innovative local cuisine. When Arta Terme’s thermal baths first opened in the late 19th century, the sudden influx of visitors spawned a proliferation of new restaurants and hotels in the valley. Salon was one of the originals, opened by Osvaldo Salon in 1910—first as an osteria and then expanding a few years later into a small pensione.

It was when Osvaldo passed the business down to his son Bepi, a budding mycologist, that the restaurant saw a significant transformation. In a tourist market where hotel menus typically featured “national” dishes such as spaghetti al ragù, lasagne, and tortellini in brodo, Bepi Salon pioneered the use of local ingredients and regional specialties. With his wife, Fides, commanding the kitchen, the pair introduced guests to such Carnian peasant fare as polenta, frittata, and goulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew).

Through the decades, nearly every ingredient has been raised, cultivated, or hand-picked by the Salon family, or at least procured from a local source. From the garden are fresh greens and vegetables, which are displayed on a rolling cart so that waiter Matteo can individually prepare each guest’s salad tableside. Chickens, ducks, and guinea hens are raised in backyard pens, while wild game is obtained from local hunters. Trout, fresh from the valley’s river and streams, are purchased weekly and kept live in tanks until ready to cook.

It is Carnia’s abundance of wild edibles, though, that has contributed most to the restaurant’s fame. With the sprightly nature of a sbilf (mythical elves that are said to inhabit Carnia’s woodlands), Bepi Salon would rise at the crack of dawn for his daily trek through Carnia’s forests and meadows, returning just hours later bearing baskets of freshly picked mushrooms, herbs, and berries. Signora Fides, drawing inspiration from her mother’s family recipes, would then prepare such creations as mushroom soufflé, risotto with seasonal greens, and crêpes with mushrooms and truffles. Daughter Antonella, who has recently joined Fides in the kitchen, specializes in pastries and has a particular flair for incorporating wild berries into her desserts. In his old age, Bepi has had to relinquish his daily hike, but Ristorante Salon continues to feature those indigenous ingredients.

Among the regular menu listings at Salon, there is one standout that deserves mention—the cjarsòns. Many experts have judged these to be the best in existence, and after sampling numerous recipes throughout Friuli, I wholeheartedly concur. Filled with a complex blend of eighteen ingredients, Salon’s cjarsòns offer the perfect flavor combination of herbs and fruit, sweet and savory, salty and smoky. The pasta is delicate, never doughy, and the cinnamon-laced butter is enhanced by just the right amount of smoked ricotta cheese. So even if you are not drawn to Arta Terme for the thermal baths or one of the town’s gastronomic festivals, the cjarsòns at Ristorante Salon alone merit a special trip.

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Frittata di Funghi (Mushroom Frittata), in honor of the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna e dei Funghi di Primavera. Held every May in the Carnian town of Arta Terme, this festival celebrates three local bounties of spring: wild asparagus, mountain radicchio, and spring mushrooms. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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Piano d'ArtaPassing through Tolmezzo earlier in the week, I had noticed a sign at the bus station announcing a transportation strike that was scheduled, most inconveniently, for today, the day I was leaving Piano d’Arta for Ravascletto. To my great relief, as I read the fine print, I learned that service was guaranteed between noon and 3:00pm—so it looked like I would make it to my destination after all.

I ate breakfast in my room again—another of those crostate from Paularo, this one a rectangular slice with blueberry jam and a lattice crust. After checking out of Hotel Poldo and leaving my bag at the reception desk, I strolled down the hill to a market, where I bought a small roll and a hunk of fresh Montasio cheese. Back at my hotel, I parked myself outside at a patio table in the shade and spent the rest of the morning nibbling on my meager picnic and waiting restlessly for my departure time.

At 12:30pm, I caught the bus heading north. My schedule, printed from the Internet, showed a connection in Sutrio, but the friendly driver urged me to continue on to Paluzza. It turned out that my bus to Ravascletto originated in Paluzza, and sure enough, it was sitting there waiting for me.

I arrived in Ravascletto and checked into Albergo Bellavista, where Mike and I had eaten lunch the previous year. Perched high in the hills, the hotel truly lived up to its name with a “beautiful view” out over the entire Valcalda valley. My room was quite spacious, with a slanted chalet-style ceiling, a large but rather firm bed, and a wooden writing desk. The bathroom had recently been renovated, although a few quirks left me somewhat nonplussed: the toilet had one of those uncomfortable square seats, the overhead light had burned out, and the door could barely open halfway before bumping into the sink. These slight imperfections melted away, however, when I glanced out the picture window at the imposing peak of Monte Zoncolan directly ahead.

Albergo Ristorante BellavistaShortly after settling in, I took a walk to orient myself. There was one small piazza with a market, an ATM, a tourist office, and a shop selling dishes, linens, and various craft items. Even though everything was closed at this hour, I did see a flyer that put a wrench into my schedule. One of my main reasons for visiting Ravascletto was to attend the Mondo delle Malghe festival in nearby Ovaro. The information mailed to me by the tourist office prior to my trip listed the dates as both Saturday and Sunday. Now, according to this flyer, it looked like the main events of the festival were taking place only on Sunday, when there was no bus service between the two towns.

My other goal in Ravascletto was to visit Malga Pozôf atop Monte Zoncolan. At least it looked like this might be possible—the sign in the window of the tourist office announced that the funivia (ski lift) would reopen tomorrow. I really didn’t want to have to tackle another hike like the one I undertook a few days ago to Malga Pramosio!

Despite the overcast sky, the air was warm and muggy. On my way back, I passed the tiny bar adjacent to the hotel. The door was open, though I found no one working inside. In the corner sat a freezer of packaged ice cream treats, and I took out a lemon Popsicle. I then seated myself on a bar stool at the counter to cool off and enjoy my snack. The cashier returned shortly, at which time I promptly paid my Euro. As I finished eating, we chatted—about the weather, my travels, the local cuisine—but when I stepped down to leave, she abruptly demanded that I pay for the Popsicle. To my polite reminder that I had in fact already paid, she let fly a flurry of impassioned Italian that I could scarcely keep up with. It was only when I pulled the receipt out of my purse that she grudgingly acquiesced.

Back at the hotel, I ran into the owner in the lobby. Surprisingly, he remembered me from over a year ago. He even recalled with remarkable specificity where Mike and I had eaten our lunch: at a corner table in the informal dining area on the ground floor. Upon his inquiry, I agreed to have dinner in the hotel that evening. As far as I could see, there was only one other restaurant in town, and it was located all the way down the hill in the valley.

By early evening, rain had begun to fall. Dark gray thunderclouds loomed in the distance, casting shadows across the mountains and valley. It was a relief not to have to go out in the storm in search of dinner. The drawback to dining as a hotel guest, though, was that I was restricted to the limited pensione menu. There were only a couple of choices for each course, with nothing sounding particularly Friulian. I started with the cannelloni filled with spinach and ricotta, served in a cream sauce. Next, I had a whole grilled trout with a side of baby carrots sautéed in butter. Dessert was a simple bowl of fresh raspberries.

All throughout my meal, as the thunderstorm raged outside, I felt a secure sense of coziness in the refuge of the dining room. Later, back in my top floor room, I sat glued to the window, staring out into the darkness, lulled by the sound of heavy rain pounding against the glass panes and mesmerized by the occasional flashes of lightning that illuminated the Valcalda.

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Tolmezzo's DuomoWhen I woke up the next morning, I turned on the news to hear reports of another heat wave sweeping Italy, with temperatures climbing once again into the upper 90s. I was glad to be in Carnia, cooled off by the refreshing breezes that swept effortlessly down from the mountaintops. For breakfast, I tried one of the crostate I had bought in Paularo. About three inches in diameter, the tart was made with a shortbread cookie crust and filled with raspberry jam. A thin glaze of gelatin glistened underneath the neatly woven lattice top.

My plan was to take the bus from Piano d’Arta into Tolmezzo for the day, but I had one errand I needed to do first. I wanted a photo of Albergo Ristorante Salon for my book Flavors of Friuli, but it was always too dark by the time I arrived there for dinner in the evening (I didn’t have a flash on my old SLR film camera). So I hiked up to the restaurant, where a group of older men sat lounging at the tables outside the entrance. I was relieved not to see the creepy guy who had tried to pick me up the previous night. The sun, however, was still low in the morning sky; the shadow cast across the front of the building meant that I would have to return for my photo later that afternoon.

With plenty of time to catch my bus, I ambled back down the hill to wait at the stop. Within minutes, a car drove by and parked across the street. It was the old sleazeball, stalking me again. He waved, got out of his car, and came to sit next to me on the bench. Had he spotted me at Salon and followed me? Or perhaps one of his cohorts had played the informer? This was starting to freak me out! Though he obviously didn’t speak any English—and I tried not to let on that I understood his Italian—he attempted to explain about the previous night, to make sure that I hadn’t misunderstood his intentions and that he hadn’t offended me. “Va bene,” I said, “non c’è problema. Arrivederci.” Instead of dropping the issue and moving on, he offered to drive me wherever I was going. Of course, I listened to my instincts and refused. But at the same time, I remembered overhearing him tell someone at dinner the night before that he was going to Tolmezzo today. With my luck, I would run into him there, too! Finally, my bus pulled up, giving me an excuse to flee.

Tolmezzo storefrontWhen I arrived in Tolmezzo, I spent a long while wandering around the town center. Most of the shops were located on one main street, and it was here I spent most of my time. I found the arts and crafts galleries especially fun for window shopping. My favorite featured a display of fantastical characters, such as fairies, gnomes, and sbilfs (woodland elves in Carnian folklore). Other stores showcased locally made furniture, jewelry, and textiles. But it was at the bookstore that I felt most at home, browsing through the cookbook section and adding four Friulian cookbooks to my growing collection.

Albergo RomaI was excited to see that the restaurant at Albergo Roma had finally reopened. Home to renowned Carnian chef Gianni Cosetti, it had closed for renovations after his death in 2001. But at lunchtime, I was the only guest in the massive banquet hall. With tables around me dressed in yellow and white linens and studded with crystal glasses and elegant china, I felt uncomfortably out of place in my casual shorts and hiking boots. When the menu arrived, I was disappointed not to find any of the traditional dishes that Cosetti was known for—little, in fact, that sounded even remotely Friulian. Apparently, the new chef had made significant changes to the menu. Feeling rather awkward, I tiptoed out before the waitress could return.

Cooperativa CarnicaTo this day, I still feel somewhat ashamed of myself, since the food at Roma was most likely very good. Nevertheless, it was my mission to scope out authentic Friulian cooking. There was not nearly enough time on my trip to visit every restaurant in each town—and therefore very little room for error—so I headed to a place where I knew I would find exactly what I was looking for: Antica Trattoria Cooperativa.

There, I started with the insalata di pere e Montasio, a salad of lightly dressed greens topped with pear slices and a pile of shredded fresh Montasio cheese. I didn’t recognize the spice that garnished the dish, but when I inquired, I learned it was, of all things, ground coriander. Next, I ordered the cjarsòns, which came in both savory and sweet varieties. I requested half a serving of each type. The savory cjarsòns were filled with herbs and ricotta, while the sweet ones contained ricotta, raisins, and cocoa. Both were prepared with a rather heavy potato-based dough and served in melted butter.

On the bus back to Piano d’Arta, I breathed a sigh of relief, as it occurred to me that I had managed to avoid running into that obnoxious guy in Tolmezzo. Whew! Before returning to my hotel to rest, I made another trip up to Ristorante Salon. The same group of old men was still sitting outside—and my “friend” had since joined them. Although the courtyard entrance was still somewhat shaded, the sun was in a better position, and I was able to get my photo within minutes. This time, I slipped away without being followed.

Fides & Bepi SalonSeveral hours later, I returned to Salon for one final dinner. It was the busiest I had ever seen it there. A large tour group filled an adjacent dining area, everyone seated at one long table. Shortly after I sat down in my usual spot, the proprietor’s wife, Fides Salon, took a brief break from her duties in the kitchen to come greet me. We were cut short as the regular guests—all the families, couples, and singles that I had grown accustomed to seeing over the past several evenings—filed in, as if on cue. Being the only server, Matteo began bustling from table to table, rattling off the day’s specials. Despite the frenetic pace, he never lost his boyish ebullience.

I couldn’t resist ordering the cjarsòns one last time. In contrast to the doughy ones I had for lunch in Tolmezzo, these were prepared with regular pasta dough, delicate enough to allow all the flavors of the dish to shine through. The first element to register on my palate was the undercurrent of sweetness—not rich but rather ethereal from a light touch of sugar and crushed biscotti. Apples, pears, dried fruit, jam, and lemon peel balanced the sugar with just the right amount of tartness. Hints of salty and smoky savoriness peeked through from the butter and ricotta affumicata. Finally, the cinnamon, cocoa, and herbs proffered an exotic complexity of tastes and aromas that lingered on my tongue long after the last bite.

As usual, I ordered a salad to go with my meal. The array of choices on Matteo’s rolling cart was beyond compare. In addition to the usual fresh ingredients—greens, radicchio, tomato, shredded carrot—there was always a variety of cooked vegetables as well. This time, I selected a mix of string beans, yellow bell peppers, and tomato. Unexpectedly, Matteo also brought me a small side of purè (mashed potatoes), a complimentary gift from the kitchen.

Even though I was too full for dessert, I remained at my table long after most of the original diners had left. My stalker had finished his dinner and was now sipping an espresso at the bar. Six tables—guests that had arrived much later—were still being served. I was hoping to have one more opportunity to speak with Bepi Salon, so I waited and waited. Finally, when I had a chance to get Matteo’s attention, I learned that Bepi had had to leave early. Despite my disappointment, I felt gratified to have had the honor of meeting both Bepi and Fides on this trip.

When I left, the sleazeball was now outside in his usual spot, smoking and chatting with the same cluster of old men. This time, he jumped up and started to follow me on foot! He caught up with me at the base of the hill and asked if I wanted to accompany him to a Latin American dance somewhere in town. This was the third instance he had followed me from the restaurant, and once again, I vehemently declined the offer. Tomorrow I would be leaving for Ravascletto—while I knew I would seriously miss Salon’s cjarsòns, I was greatly relieved to get away from this guy once and for all.

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Yesterday marked the 3-year anniversary of the passing of Bepi Salon, former proprietor of Albergo Ristorante Salon in Arta Terme. Here are some wonderful words in his memory, from http://fattoincasa.wordpress.com/. (Bepi’s wife, Fides, passed away just last month, November 2013.) Riposa in pace.

IN TAVOLA

Bepi Salon

Sabato 4 dicembre è mancato Bepi Salon, figura fondamentale dell’essere albergatore in Carnia. Molti articoli nei giorni scorsi hanno ricordato tutte le conquiste fatte in una vita di passione dedicata alla Carnia, territorio da vivere in prima persona e far scoprire ai fortunati che scelgono di visitarla. Di seguito alcuni ricordi.

Ci siamo ritrovate vicino al fogolâr dell’Albergo Salon. Quattro generazioni di donne, ciascuna con i propri ricordi, alcuni pronti per essere condivisi, altri intimamente conservati. Il fogolâr che Bepi Salon amava indicare come il luogo in cui era nato, simbolo che probabilmente rappresenta in maniera più diretta l’essenza stessa del suo lavoro: la calorosità dell’accoglienza che trasformava dei semplici clienti in ospiti, amici da accogliere nella propria casa.

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ZuglioDuring my three weeks in Carnia, I planned to visit at least one town in each of the area’s seven valleys. Today, I would be taking a bus to Paularo, in the Valle del Chiarsò, Carnia’s easternmost valley. But first, I wanted to revisit Zuglio. The town was within walking distance from Piano d’Arta, although the sharp turns and lack of shoulder along the highway made for a harrowing half-hour’s walk. Founded by the Romans between 58 and 49 BC, Zuglio still has a section of ancient ruins standing in the center of town. I stayed just long enough to take some photos before heading back.

Arta TermeThis time, I walked only as far as Arta Terme (Piano d’Arta was another 20 minutes further up the hill), so that I could catch the bus to Tolmezzo, where I would then change buses for Paularo. As I boarded my first bus, I immediately recognized the driver I had met the previous day on my way back from Timau. Even though it was his regular route, he was not driving but sitting toward the rear. With the comfortable familiarity that one quickly develops in such remote areas as this, I joined him across the aisle so that we could chat for the brief 10-minute journey. It occurred to me, in that moment, that I was just beginning to feel at home here.

Once in Tolmezzo, I transferred to the bus headed for Paularo. For some mysterious reason, this bus took an unscheduled detour through, of all places, Zuglio and Arta Terme! It stopped at precisely the bus stop where I had caught the earlier bus to Tolmezzo. If only I had known, I would have saved myself one bus ticket and an entire hour.

I arrived in Paularo with a bit of time to wander around before lunch. After spotting a bakery, I bought two types of crostata that I would save for my next couple breakfasts: a round tart with raspberry jam on a shortbread crust and a rectangular slice with blueberry jam and a lattice top.

Ristorante Al CavallinoFor lunch, I had one particular restaurant in mind, Ristorante Al Cavallino, and I was relieved to find it open. Given my current obsession with cjarsòns, I was excited to see the dish on the menu, but for the first time in my experience, it was listed as a dessert. So for my entrée, I ordered the gnocchi antichi sapori, which turned out to be tantamount to cjarsòns. Even though they were prepared with potato-based dough rather than regular pasta dough, the decorative pinched edges very closely resembled the shape of the cjarsòns at Ristorante Salon. The flavor, however, was not sweet but savory, with a complex filling of many ingredients. My palate detected pork, bread crumbs, and some herbs that I guessed might be oregano and mint. They were served in melted butter, with a topping of toasted cornmeal, dried herbs, and melted cheese. As I was enjoying my meal, trying to dissect the flavors, the waitress came by to check on me. As was my custom, I inquired about the recipe. Coyly, she replied that it was a secret. Pressing her further, I asked if I tasted pork. . Mint? . Oregano? No. Perhaps the dried herb on top was in fact mint, but her lips were sealed—I would never uncover the truth.

For dessert, I eagerly ordered the cjarsòns dolci. Also made with potato dough, they looked practically identical to the gnocchi, but with a topping of cinnamon, sugar, and ricotta affumicata. Letting my palate guide me, I searched for the flavors of the filling. It was smooth and dark and sweet—my first and only guess was chocolate. The waitress shook her head. The filling was in fact made with ricotta and pears—no chocolate! Even as I finished my plate, I could hardly believe that it was not chocolate I tasted. It seemed impossible for such richness to come from fruit alone.

PaularoBy this point, I had explained to the waitress that I was writing a cookbook. With sudden enthusiasm, she brought me a glass of homemade raspberry grappa—which I politely tasted, even though I found it too strong—as well as the gift of a hand-painted plate bearing the name Al Cavallino.

After lunch, I took a walk up into the hills above the town, admiring the rustic architecture typical of this part of Carnia: whitewashed masonry with dark wooden roofs and balconies. Outside each house, in row upon row of window boxes, bloomed a veritable rainbow of flowers. One 18th-century palazzo was now home to a museum called La Mozartina, featuring a collection of musical instruments and manuscripts. Unfortunately, the museum was open by appointment only, and I had not planned well enough in advance.

Back in Piano d’Arta that evening, I returned to Albergo Ristorante Salon for dinner. It was my third dinner there in a row, and I was beginning to recognize many of the same faces. It seemed that all the other diners were staying in the hotel, for they were ordering off the daily pensione menu, which Matteo recited at each table. Hearing only three choices of primi piatti and three choices of secondi piatti—all rather standard fare—made me feel grateful to be ordering off their regular, and more interesting, menu.

Matteo MaieronTonight, I went with the capriolo in salmì, along with my usual insalata mista. The venison was stewed with juniper berries and served with polenta. My choice off Matteo’s rolling salad cart was a mix of roasted yellow peppers, potatoes, and string beans. When I finished eating, Matteo asked, with his characteristic boyish smile, if I might like something for dessert. I couldn’t resist the enticing manner in which he suggested, “Forse un po’ di sacherina?” So I indulged in “a little sachertorte,” although it was somewhat disappointing compared to the traditional Viennese version. Instead of the customary apricot jam, this cake was filled with cocoa-flavored whipped cream. On a positive note the chocolate cake was kept nice and moist by a generous dousing of grappa.

I lingered awhile afterward, in hopes that proprietor Bepi Salon would make an appearance. When he had finished eating his dinner in the kitchen, he finally came out to greet me and all the other guests. He did seem to be in a hurry, for he didn’t have the time to sit and chat as we had on my first evening. I did, however, manage to wrangle Matteo away from his duties long enough to snap a couple photos of him behind the bar.

It was getting late when I left the restaurant for the short walk back to Hotel Poldo. As I reached the bottom of the hill by the gray stone Latteria Cjarsòns building, I spotted one of the guests from dinner. An older man, perhaps in his late 50s or early 60s, he was leaning casually against his car—which was awkwardly parked in the intersection—and smoking a cigarette. Although I paid him no attention as I approached along the other side of the street, he called out to me in Italian, asking if I would like to go somewhere with him. As I pretended not to understand, it occurred to me that he had still been sitting at his table in the restaurant when I had left, just minutes earlier. Had he seen me leave and then jumped into his car to catch up to me? Was he actually stalking me? Aside from the fact that I was only 35—not to mention engaged with a ring conspicuously on my finger—this man struck me as sleazy and obnoxious. I said, “No,” with as much conviction and disdain as I could muster, and continued on my way.

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TimauEven though it was mid-July, the weather in Carnia remained rather cool. In fact, my room at Hotel Poldo was downright chilly, forcing me to dig two extra blankets out of the armoire in the middle of the night. In the morning, my hopes were up for a fantastic breakfast—when I had checked in the previous day, the staff had described a spread of prosciutto, cheese, yogurt, and pastries. Alas, there was no prosciutto nor cheese, but there was yogurt, some pound cake, cookies, the usual rolls and packaged toast with jam, and an odd red juice that tasted like fruit punch.

Despite my failed attempt in Sauris, I was still determined to find a malga. My plan for the day was to visit Malga Pramosio, located in the mountains along the Austrian border. Also an agriturismo offering both food and lodging, this dairy farm was accessible by car from the hamlet of Laipacco. Without a car, however, I was obliged to undertake another hike.

Malga PramosioFirst, I took a bus from Piano d’Arta north to the town of Timau, where, after searching the treeline at the base of the mountain, I found the entrance to the footpath. Cut through the beech forest called Bosco Bandito, the trail was incredibly steep and almost nonexistent in the less trodden spots. Like the typical Italian hiking path, red and white stripes marked the trees sporadically, but this trail was so overgrown in places that I often feared I might be lost. Inevitably, I always came upon another faint yet reassuring stripe of paint. Ninety minutes and 2,300 vertical feet later, I managed to reach the summit, where the woods gave way to a rolling, green meadow. Gray clouds loomed over the towering granite peaks that surrounded me, so I hurried down the lengthy path to the red-roofed, stone malga. I was disappointed to find no cows anywhere in sight—they were grazing in a higher pasture during the day, I later learned—but this time, at least, the malga was open.

Malga PramosioInside, a fogolâr (fireplace) roared, filling the entryway with thick smoke. As I sat at one of the communal wooden tables, waiting for the waitress to come by, I overheard someone speaking English—a real rarity in this corner of Italy. I went over to introduce myself and found there to be an entire family: a husband and wife, their two young children, the husband’s cousin and his wife. The husband was in the military, formerly stationed in Vicenza for eight years and currently living with his family in Stuttgart, Germany. The cousin and his wife lived in southern California. The family’s ancestors were from a small town near Maniago, and the group was taking a sort of family heritage tour of the region, with a special focus on its military museums and monuments.

They invited me to join them at their table, and I ordered a plate of frico con polenta. Crispy on the outside and soft and gooey in the center, the cheese and potato pancake was served with a side of soft, freshly made polenta. The others all ordered the gnocchi. Stuffed with herbs and cheese, these dumplings were rather like a savory version of cjalsòns.

ricotta pressAfter lunch, the family arranged an informal tour of the malga’s cheese-making rooms, and I tagged along. On a shelf across one wall sat stacks of metal ring molds that were squeezing the liquid out of newly formed wheels of cheese. Nearby, ricotta—made from reheating whey and extracting the curds—was wrapped in cheesecloth and piled onto wooden planks; heavy iron weights sat on top to press out the excess liquid. In the next room, rounds of cheese were soaking in a vat of salted water to make formaggio salato (salted cheese). Many more wheels, in various stages of aging, were stacked high to the ceiling. A worker wearing a green Alpine cap gave each of us a sample of an 11-month-old formaggio di malga, which had a deliciously nutty yet mellow flavor.

As we were leaving, trepidation began to set in about my return hike. Hesitantly, I asked this family if I might have a ride down the mountain. There was just enough room for me in their rented minivan, so they dropped me off in Timau on their way north to Austria, where they were planning to spend the afternoon.

Timau's Chiesa di Cristo ReI missed my return bus by just ten minutes and had a full hour and a half to wait for the next one. There wasn’t much to see in the town—only the unusual, modern façade of the Chiesa di Cristo Re, with its three rounded, bluish arches—so I found a spot to sit by the curb and rest, my eyes gazing skyward toward the mountain’s summit.

As the bus was empty when I boarded, I sat near the driver. A young man with stereotypically handsome Italian features, he demonstrated none of the cockiness that so often comes with such good looks. As we chatted, he showed a genuine interest in my day’s adventure and told me how he went skiing on that very mountain every winter.

Albergo Ristorante SalonThat evening, I headed up to Ristorante Salon once again for dinner. I began by ordering the flan di funghi, a mini mushroom soufflé served with creamy Montasio cheese sauce and sautéed mushrooms. Next, I had the gulash and an insalata mista. Compared to many of the other versions I had tried over the past several years of research, this gulash was rather uninspiring. It didn’t help that the side of four small boiled potatoes was equally bland. As always, Matteo prepared my salad to order. From his rolling cart, I chose a simple combination of fresh greens, tomato slices, and shredded carrot.

I had hoped to speak with Bepi Salon again, but unfortunately he wasn’t there. At least I would have two more dinners in Arta Terme—I was counting on meeting the sprightly proprietor once more before it was time to move on.

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