Do you know of a place that seems to have saved you from some awful fate time and time again? I do. It’s a hotel and restaurant located in Villafranca Lunigiana. They’ve saved us three times. I suppose we should leave a special tip.
The latest time was just this afternoon. We had wanted to visit All’Antico Mulino Ristorante just down the street from the Manganelli—so we did. We were ushered into an empty room, given a menu, and left to our own devices. For a great long time I may add.
Now, I always think that if your restaurant is empty you would be kicking butt to see that your only two customers in the whole wide world that afternoon were properly cared for. But no. We actually walked out without a soul seeing us. And we walked out past the kitchen, where we could hear voices plain as day, chatting away.
So, we ended up at the Albergo Ristorante Manganelli. Starving. They were the one restaurant in the Lunigiana with tables set up outside. We had a good meal all’aperto. The Manganelli is one of those old-time Italian hotels, one star, and it’s been owned by the same owner for at least 17 years.
I know that because it was around 17 years ago that the Manganelli saved us the first time around. We had suffered an unfortunate lapse of sanity when believing the words written in a single guidebook—the web didn’t have so many people writing “the ten best restaurants with green tablecloths in the Northern Lunigiana” kinda lists, so we were a bit stuck.
And salivating. The guidebook promised us that the two little old ladies who ran the joint would wow us with their cooking prowess, one spending her evenings turning the spit upon which game animals were skewered and glistening in the heat and the other sauteing garden fresh vegetables and herbs in a way that would set our taste buds into a spittle-enhanced tango.
Ok, so we found the place and the two little old ladies who ran it were promising little morsels indeed. Until they rattled off the menu of the evening. “Spaghetti al pesto or pomodoro, chicken breast or scalopini.” We were stunned. Chicken is not considered game, even in California.
Not only that, but the pesto was from a bottle and stank of vinegar. It was also mounded in the center of the pasta rather than distributed within it. Blech.
But that wasn’t the last of it. The meal didn’t make us wretch. The after-diner antics of the only other family staying in the hotel did.
Perhaps they did not know that they weren’t alone, but the parents (!) decided to have a three hour game of hide and seek with the kiddies after we had gone to bed. Said parents, as far as I know from examining the evidence, spent most of the time in the public bathrooms smoking like chimneys (there were no en-suite bathrooms, it was down-the-hall or nothing). The kids ran amok, banging on doors, and were evidently so daft that they couldn’t figure out to look for the copious amount of smoke exiting from under the bathroom doors.
Now there were no actual ashtrays in the bathrooms, so the sinks became de facto ashtrays. The blockage would become a problem if this continued, so at around midnight I stood on the bed, cupped my hands and yelled “Stai Zitto!” at the top of my lungs. The only sound after that came immediately in the form of falling plaster. I can bellow obnoxiously at times.
So we retreated to the Manganelli for a decent nights sleep.
The third time the Manganelli saved us was when Martha managed to high-spot the car on a temporary curb at the entrance to a public parking lot near the Manganelli, meaning the thing wasn’t going anywhere unless it could be winched off the slab of concrete. The Manganelli became her sanctuary from all the Italians shouting random advice, and the owner came to her aid by arranging the tow and vehicle inspection and repair. Luckily nothing was terribly wrong with the car, and Martha didn’t have to pay a cent.
There’s something about that one star hotel that’s beyond lucky. Maybe it’s because their web presence is darn near completely absent. Oh, here’s something
So, hats off to the Manganelli. They don’t do gourmet food there, just reliable grub. Well, the boiled beef was pretty darn good, but you’d probably never order it, would you? Lookit that hunk o’ muscle sitting alone in its simplicity.
Before you eat though, head over to the Ethnographic Museum just up the street. It’s a great place to go to discover the historic uniqueness of the Lunigiana. Like everything else except most restaurants in Italy, they close for lunch.