A town called Pretoro, great pizza and an onion festa!

My parents had flown in to spend a week with us in Italy so we decided to visit our neighbouring town of Pretoro.

Pretoro is an old town right in the Majella National Park (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majella_National_Park) with around 1,200 inhabitants.  Half of the townhouses are abandoned and for sale.  The houses that are lived in, are stunningly restored with real love and care.  You can pick up a house needing restoration for around 30,000-40,000 euros.  Most have balconies and/or roof terraces.  Another friend of ours, Susan, lives there and her home is amazing.  She has the biggest roof terrace in the town and the views are amazing.  Pretoro is nestled on the side of the mountains and you can see the Adriatic very clearly.  It has a renowned snake festa every year where if you are standing in the right place and therefore (un)lucky, you will be draped in snakes!

We stopped off first to see our friend Maria, whose cafe is situated just before you drive up into Pretoro.  Maria makes the most fabulous pizzas and sweet pastries.  After a cannolo and cappuccino (boy, do the Italians love their sweet breakfasts!), we went for a walk around Pretoro with the hope of finding somewhere for lunch.

We had hoped to eat at a well-known restaurant, which is meant to be fabulous, called ‘La Torre’, but we found out it is only open for large bookings such as parties and weddings these days.  In the end we ate at a little family-run restaurant where we ate arrosto misto (mixed roast/grill), insalata (salad), patatine fritte (fries) and ravioli, followed by tiramisu gelato.


The temperature was 29 degrees that day, which sounds a lot to anyone from colder climes, but after spending our first day in 42 degrees, it was positively perfect.

We walked around the rest of Pretoro to burn our lunch off.

When we returned home, some of our lovely neighbours with the adjacent vegetable plot, gave us a huge basket full of tomatoes almost as big as Ralph’s head, white onions, aubergines (eggplants) and peppers.

On our travels we had noted that there was a festa on in a nearby town, an onion festa (Festa della Fara Cipollara).  That evening we headed off to a pizzeria called ‘Il Lago’ (the Lake).  The staff were so charming and made a huge fuss over the boys, particularly Ralph with his blonde hair and blue eyes.  It was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.  I had an Adriatica which is a ‘white base’ pizza, which means no tomato sauce, it had tuna, anchovies and onions on top.  Simple, but so delicious.  Even the chef was a really amiable guy and he waved ‘Ciao!’ to us before flipping another pizza base in the air as we left.
We were able to leave our car outside the restaurant and walk a few metres into the town hosting the festa.  Fara Filorium Petri (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fara_Filiorum_Petri) was absolutely heaving with people.  Many had visited from the surrounding area.  We didn’t know what to expect, but literally there were lots of stalls where you could eat all varieties of locally grown onion.  There were also stalls where you could take away sausages and other items to eat with onion.  We were full after our pizza and had no room to try anything!  A lesson learned for another trip.  There was live music and all the children were up.  It was nice just to wander round and take it all in.

the best way to groom the dog with wavy hair – tips

The double coat like husky shed every change of the season; in contrast, the special of the dog with wavy hair is they do not shed. So a dog with wavy hair is the best choice for people who suffer from allergies and the one don’t want to use the vacuum twice a day because their dog continuously shed. However to remain their coat, keep them health, grooming is essential for the dog.


Your dog needs to be well prepared

First take a look at crittersitca.com they have some useful articles that can help your dog.

Okay now remember curly and wavy dog’s coat requires a lot of work to remain the coat. When we deal with this type of coat, we actually have to deal with a lot of mats, knots, and tangles. To keep your dog coat clean and healthy, you should brush it regularly; spend about 15 minutes for brushing every day will keep the dog’s coat in good condition.

You should brush your dog as early as possible. The appropriate time to begin with a puppy is about 8 or 9 weeks old, right the time the puppy arrive at your home. At that age, the dog will easily accept and get used to it. Besides, it will make the bound between you and your puppy. The bound might be very important since it will pave the way for you to train your dog later.

To do the brushing, you will need a slicker brush and a comb. You can find two of these tools available in every shop. Conditioning spray is not obligatory, however, spray it on your lovely dog will much more reduce the breakage as this type of coat as it has a tendency to become dry.

You had better brush firmly and gentle as you don’t want your dog feels discomfort and have skin irritation. While do the brushing, you should make sure that you brush down the skin and remove all that hair and mats. One of your hands should hold all the hair (usually left hand). On the other, take the slicker brush and gently brush down.

Pay attention to the ears, legs, tail, and back end since it is tangle easily. You will need to move back that area to make sure that all the mats are completed.

We can use the comb to check if any knot is left, when the comb stops, it means there is a knot right there and we should re-brush that area. If we try to pull the comb, it will be painful for the dog, and believe me, they are not happy with that.


Thank to brushing, grooming your dog now easier

After you are satisfied with your brushing work, you can begin to clip the dog’s coat, be careful with this type of coat, you better find the right dog clippers for double coat,  but do not hurry, in case your dog seem to be tired, let them relax for a while before you go on the grooming.

crittersitca.com has some fun and unusual tricks that you can teach your dog.

Abruzzo? Where the focaccia is that?

Italy.  What’s not to like?  Love the shoes, love the bags, love the food, the weather….love it all!  I had been obsessed with Italy since watching Roman Holiday when I was a little girl then the Godfather 2 and Italian designers when I was eighteen.  I knew I would marry someone Italian or who looked Italian and I knew my life would take me to Italy in some way.  My friends didn’t really understand and nodded their heads as if indulging a batty aunt’s crazy conversations.  Luckily, I met Will when I was 26 and not only did he look Italian, but he loved Italy too.  This is my first blog post so I thought I would tell you how Will and I ended up with a house in Abruzzo, Italy.  We’ve all seen those tv shows where a couple buy a property in France or Italy, on the basis of one or two visits.  The property is usually a grand villa or farmhouse and a major project and said couple move out there whilst renovating with ensuing problems….that isn’t us, although we have had trying times. Our Abruzzo story starts in 2003, so I will write a blog each week until I bring you up-to-date to where we are today.

Our first holiday together was in 2002 on a Milan/Como combined trip.  Milan is a fantastic city for fashion and food lovers.  We ate in some amazing restaurants, our favourite being La Risacca for its excellent seafood, ambience and attentive staff. Milan has a buzz about it, like Rome and we loved wandering around the Duomo and the surrounding area.  Then Will hired a car and we drove to Como for a short visit.  It was love at first sight.

Will and I spent that year visiting the Valtellina region in Northern Italy. We had the intention of moving to Italy as Will had work out there and I had always wanted to live in Italy.  We had really fallen in love with Como, but it was so expensive.  During our visits we either stayed in a lovely little town called Morbegno in Hotel Margna  or near Sondrio at Hotel La Brace  both charming places to stay.  Como is the lake the Italians consider the most beautiful with good reason, it is vibrant, lush and green.  We spent a year looking and whilst thoroughly enjoying ourselves, the only properties that we could afford were too small, or needed too much work.

In February 2003, I was at work when Will called me to say he had found a company called House Around Italy.  They had a wide range of properties, new, needing modernisation or complete restoration, within our budget.  The only thing was, they were in Abruzzo.  Where is that I asked Will.  Will said look at a map of Italy, see where Rome is….well the region of Abruzzo is parallel to Lazio region, we would fly in to Pescara, on the coast.  I was intrigued to discover a new part of Italy, although my heart sunk a little knowing in reality that Como was out of the picture.  I had dropped my camera in Lake Como on our last visit, I think it was a sign!

We flew to Pescara in March 2003.  It was certainly hot, something that we had not encountered before in Como (beautiful, but boy does it rain there!) and it was definitely Southern Italy in appearance (even though Abruzzo is actually Central Italy).  I would describe Como as chocolate box in appearance whereas Abruzzo has a rough, wild beauty (see photo below, this view is from our house).  We spent a whole day looking at properties, ten to be exact.  They were certainly diverse.  At each viewing, the owners and/or neighbours would come and chat and offer a cold expresso, mint tea, beer or ‘vino cotto’ (cooked wine, an Abruzzen specialty).  I liked the first house we saw which was a town house in a village called Mannopello, but, although Will liked it, he was adamant that we wanted detached with some land (he occasionally regrets that, more on that later!).  We were getting hot and tired and were on our way to our final viewing, not sure if we would find the one that day.  As soon as we reached the house, Will had a renewed enthusiasm and we had a funny feeling in our tummies about this place.  Piana Domini was on the edge of a village, it had stunning views and was peaceful.  Will wandered about in the overgrown olive grove and dragged me around excitedly.  He certainly had a vision for this old shepherd’s house (pic below), which I may have missed by myself (that is the Engineer side of him coming out).  He then found a snake skin in the house.  Apparently, this is lucky in Italy.  Little did I know how our plans would evolve over the next few years with a few ups and downs on the way…..

Crazy heat, troppo pomodori crudo and a proposal

The two years running up to the completion of the snake house were a bit of a blur.


I do, remember when Will and I flew over to visit Enzo and the site in June 2005.  It was unusually hot for the time of year.  It is normally around 24-29 degrees, but we had arrived in a 40 degree heatwave.  We drove straight to the building site and felt terribly bad for the builders working in this insane heat.  We weren’t working and yet it was the kind of day where you felt like you needed at least three cold showers.  Anyway, we went straight to the shop in the village and bought the builders cold beers and gelati.  They liked us a lot.
After a couple of hours on site with Enzo, we left for Caramanico Terme where we were extremely glad to check in to the Hotel Cercone.  We headed straight for their wonderful pool, and spent the afternoon swimming and sunbathing on their terrace.   We met a funny little Italian boy of around seven, who told us he loved English music, especially Barry White and George Michael!!  I think his command of the English language was better than our Italian back then.
We had had an early start that day and I felt a little under the weather that evening when we went down to the restaurant.  Now, I have to tell you that I can’t eat raw tomatoes, which is crazy for a self-confessed italophile.  Cooked tomatoes, fine, but raw or barely cooked make me very ill.  Anyway, after our antipasti and two glasses of montepulciano, I foolishly decided that I would have some of the pasta with basil and (barely cooked) tomatoes for my primo piatto.  It was delicious, but sure enough about thirty minutes later I felt ill.  Will wanted to go for a walk and thought some fresh air might help.  He was really, really keen that we go for a walk.  No, I was adamant that I needed to leave, right then.  I scurried up to our room and was really ill.  Will went for a walk and then I slept for England.

The following morning, I felt fine.  It was a glorious day, the weather had cooled and the sky was blue.  Will was acting rather peculiarly as I stood on the balcony looking at the mountains.  Suddenly, he got down on one knee and proposed!  I said ‘Are you serious?’, Will said ‘Yes!’ and so I said ‘Yes!’, then cried, then phoned my Mum, then text my friends!  We went shopping for a ring that day in Pescara.  We found a lovely family-run, independent jewellers, where I chose a ring very quickly.  Will told me if I hadn’t of been ill the night before, he would have proposed to me whilst walking through Caramanico (hence the keeness to go for a walk the prior evening).  I really mucked that up didn’t I!

That evening we went out to celebrate.  The night had a magical feel to it.  The sky was an inky blue, the air was warm with a lingering smell of lemons and perfumed flowers and the cobbled streets of Caramanico had tea-lights, fairy lights and candles everywhere.  The shops were open and there were stalls selling fabulous local crafts and foods.  We found our favourite bar, but as we toasted our engagement with prosecco, it dawned on us that we needed to plan our wedding and we both knew we wanted to marry in Italy.  The next year would prove to be a trying time what with the wedding and house.

Return to Ladyhawke Castle

The weather on our Summer holiday had been insanely hot so, when the temperature dropped to 30 degrees, we decided it would be a good time to return to Rocca Calascio.  We visited for the first time last Summer and this gorgeous landscape and castle, which was actually a fortress, stuck in our memories.  Otherwise known as Ladyhawke Castle, as it was featured in the Michelle Pfeiffer/Matthew Broderick film of the same name, Rocca Calascio perches majestically in the Gran Sasso National Park, overlooking Navelli.

We had purposefully chosen a Tuesday for our outing because the Italians were not on holiday yet and we wanted to visit the castle when it would be relatively quiet.

As we turned right, off the main road in the valley, to start our ascent on the mountain roads, the journey was almost as beautiful as the destination.  Glancing below at the miniature towns, where fields appeared as a patchwork quilt of golds, greens and russet tones, the sky was cornflower blue and the landscape was, to put it simply, epic.  I kept expecting to see a bear or wolf, or a bear and wolf together, perhaps having a picnic (or so I told the children).  Our 7 year old insisted more than once that day that he was fairly sure he saw a bear.  I haven’t seen either yet, but I am sure one day I will.  Optimistic.

We arrived at the town of Calascio, parked our car and began our walk to the castle.

As we reached what must have been the original town, we noticed an outdoor seating area and what appeared to be a cafe.  We went inside to see if we could get refreshments and discovered it was indeed a beautiful restaurant (Rifugio della Rocca).  There are also rooms available, should you wish to stay.  We made a mental note to return for lunch on our next trip.


We have been asked how difficult the terrain is for children.  Our 7 and 3 year old both managed the hike up to the castle.  There are some uneven steps in the old town and some rocky paths, but our boys managed these just fine.  It was a little tricky in a couple of places when we reached the castle, where the steps/rocks were larger, so my husband picked our 3 year old up.  However, if you are watching your children, or holding their hand and taking your time, it is fine and perfectly manageable.  Good walking shoes/boots, or trainers are a must.

When you reach the top, where the castle is, the views are breathtaking.  This time, we were able to enter the castle.


We carefully made our way up the narrow staircase, all the way to the rooftop.

It was certainly worth the effort.  The fortress was interesting, but it is it’s setting that makes this place special.  The fortress changes when the light alters with the sun and the cloud.  I imagine this place to be stunning in the Autumn and Winter.

There is not a lot more I can say about Rocca Calascio, except if you have the chance to go, please do.  Some people think once you have seen one mountain or castle, you have seen them all, but I never tire of either and this quote sums it up for me:

“If one tries to think about history, it seems to me – it’s like looking at a range of mountains. And the first time you see them, they look one way. But then time changes, the pattern of light shifts. Maybe you’ve moved slightly, your perspective has changed. The mountains are the same, but they look very different.” Robert Harris


An Abruzzo Doggy Story

We British are a nation of dog lovers, so when travelling it is sometimes hard to witness how dogs are treated in other countries.  Whilst dogs are treated as ‘proper’ pets in most Italian cities and towns, i.e. washed, cared for, fed regularly, collars on necks, walked regularly and loved, it is often not the case in rural parts of Italy.  Over the years we have had to get used to seeing dogs chained up, malnourished, or let loose to roam far from their homes and looking quite manky.  They wag their tails when they see you, but when you get close enough to stroke them, they either cower or bare their teeth.  It is heartbreaking.

I wanted to write a post on a lovely doggy story though.  On our summer holiday, we spotted a new dog hanging around our land.  By day three, the dog had grown more confident and was sniffing around our driveway.  With trepidation, my husband and I went to check the dog out (we wouldn’t let our children outside near any dog that can’t be trusted).  With relief, the dog came bounding up to us, tail wagging and smiling (in my mind, they sometimes smile).  This dog was a cutie, but who did she belong to?


We eventually discovered she belonged to one of our young neighbours. He had gone to work one day and spotted a puppy who had been abandoned by the side of the autostrada, so he took her in and named her ‘Baionetta’ (bayonet).  He said it broke his heart that anyone could do such a thing and he couldn’t leave her.  What a sweetheart.


She hung out with us a little bit every day and I was sad to leave her behind.

I’m glad this super, affectionate dog had a happy ending.


P/s: my friend have a blog about dog, you will find some helpful tips about training or how to take care of your dog here.

A Six Year Old’s Thoughts on Abruzzo

My six year old son loves reading and writing.  He has always shown an interest in my blog and writes up his own thoughts and stories.  He asked me if he could write a post on Abruzzo, so I suggested he write what he thinks and feels about this lovely part of Italy.  I asked him some questions and here are his unedited replies.

Q: What is the first thought/feeling that pops into your head when you think of Abruzzo?

A: It’s always sunny and blue skies.  Our Italian house is yellow and we have lots of space there. I feel happy.  People are nice.  I have adventures.

Q:  What is your favourite food to eat in Italy?

A:  My favourite food is strawberry ice-cream.  I love tuna pizza and I love visiting Val [at Bar Ottavio, Pretoro] for her chips. Mummy is laughing at my answer!

Q:  One of your best friends, Molly, is coming on holiday with us this year.  What do you think she will like on this trip?

A:  I can’t wait to show Molly my Italian house, the waterfalls in Switzerland, the mountains, the icecream and Ladyhawke’s castle.  Oh and the pass at the top of Switzerland [the San Gottard pass], but it is cold sometimes when we are there.  I do like it though.


Q:  What is your perfect day in Abruzzo?

A:  My perfect day is breakfast at Maria’s [Bar della Poste, Pretoro] because she bakes lots of really good cakes and other stuff. She gives me bread.  Then, we can go to our house so Molly can look around.  We can go to Ladyhawke’s castle because I like history and castles.  We will have ice-cream.  We can have lunch at Val’s because we haven’t seen her for ages and I like her chips.  In the afternoon, we would go to Guardiagrele to the park with Molly of course.  We can go to the park in our village too.  For dinner in our house, we can have risotto.  After dinner we could have a very small water fight because up the road is where the fountain is.


Q:  How does Abruzzo make you feel?

A:  I feel relaxable and excited about everything.  I love it.  The wildlife is nice.  We have a wild boar that lives in our garden.  Mummy calls him Bertie.  I miss our house when we leave.

Well there you have it folks.  From the thoughts of a 6 year old.  Food other than ice-cream and chips are also available…..

Pause for Thought: Bocca di Valle

Taken from my 2014 travel journal:

We only have two days left of our summer holiday.  I don’t know where the time has gone.  It’s 8am and I’m drinking coffee on our balcony.  The valley is quiet, although I can hear our elderly neighbour having cross words with someone.  It could be her dog, her chickens, or her visiting grandson. It’s usually one of those three.  One of her crazy cats is swinging from the branches of our biggest olive tree.  I smile to myself, thinking how I will miss this when I return to England.

10am.  We stopped at Bocca di Valle (‘Mouth of the Valley’) on our way to Guardiagrele.  We have driven through here many times, but this was the first time we had decided to have a proper look at the war memorial.

As we exit the car, we notice what looks like a fantastic walking trail, following the ravine and we make a note to return here next summer, when Squidge will be older.

We hadn’t realised when driving past before that underneath the words carved in the rock face, there is a cave that is open to the public.

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Somebody had taken a lot of care over this memorial.  There were individually hand-painted tiles on the walls and floor of the cave.  Absolutely exquisite.


Seeing names of soldiers, photos and messages, was sad and sobering.  Even the boys were silent.  There is something about this setting, so quiet, you really have time to reflect on the futility of war.  I had a lump in my throat.

Rocca Calascio: Ladyhawke Castle

Day 11 of my diary from our Summer Holiday

Breakfast at Val’s (Bar Ottavio).  Off to try and walk up to Ladyhawke Castle again today, in the hopes that it is quieter…..

We made it!  Absolutely breathtaking.  We drove past the town in Rocca Calascio and parked as closely as we could because of the children.  It still meant a fair walk and a lot of ancient, steep stairs, rocky paths and rocks to climb up and over.

Rocca Calascio is in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park in the province of L’Aquila.  The ‘Ladyhawke castle’ (called so affectionately because it features in the film Ladyhawke) is actually a fortress.  The fortress is the highest fortress in the Appenines at an elevation of 1,460 metres.

The abandoned medieval parts of the town that still remain above the newer part of the town are beautiful.  There is something to discover on every corner.


Squidge was carried on W’s shoulders and I helped Padawan along the trickier paths.  I would say you definitely need proper hiking boots, or at least very good quality trainers for this trip. The boys were both very good, considering they had just turned 2 and 6 on this holiday.

Although it was fairly busy, no part was too crowded and we could take in the views and stop and admire the scenery when we wished.  It was lovely to see people of all ages out enjoying a walk.

I think Ladyhawke Castle is one of the most photogenic places I have been to in Abruzzo (along with Pacentro and Caramanico Terme).  All of these photographs were taken on my iphone, so you can imagine the images you would get from a decent camera.

As you reach the castle, on one side you look down from the mountains to the valley and it is quite agricultural, a sort of pretty patchwork quilt of fields of gold and green.  However, when you walk across to the other side there is a real bleakness to the beauty of the Gran Sasso park.  I imagine it to be absolutely stunning at twilight.

Padawan thought the fortress was amazing and loved the mountains and park.  He took in a couple of photographs to school for ‘show and tell’ and still talks about Rocca Calascio and asks when we can return.

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I can see why Hollywood wanted to capture this raw beauty in a fantasy film and I feel very lucky to have visited such a wonderful part of Italy.  We hope to return this Summer with our friends who are joining us on our holiday.

A relaxing day in the Abruzzen countryside

Continuation of my 2014 Summer holiday, from my travel journal.

Day 3 – Sunday

I wake up to the sounds of the Abruzzen countryside at 7am.  I wander on to the balcony.  It is 28 degrees already.  There are people strimming their land (in the distance) because it will be too hot to do later on, the tractor is whirring in the field at the farm opposite our house, an eagle cries as it circles over our house, our neighbour’s dog barks, a herd of sheep are on top of one of the hills.  I love these sounds because they are all part of the Abruzzen landscape.


After we’ve all showered and dressed, we go and visit Maria’s cafe in Pretoro.  She is thrilled to see us and gives us all a hug and kiss.  Maria is making a fresh batch of cannoli con ricotta.  She is desperate for me to try one and I don’t have the heart to tell her that I am not over keen on the ricotta ones.  I pretend my Italian hasn’t quite kicked in yet and motion towards the cannoli con crema, which I do like.  Maria’s husband (whose name we still do not know) appears and is happy to see us, particularly the boys.  We love Maria’s husband too.  He looks like Mr Frederickson from Up!  I promise I will take a photo of him one day to show you.

We go and sit outside and watch the world go by.  This cafe is a constant.  Whenever we visit, nothing changes, but the seasons.  It is an old, familiar friend and a great place to watch Abruzzen people carrying on with their daily lives.  Maria’s cafe is popular with people who live in Pretoro, but many patrons are cyclists who are venturing up (or down) the Passo Lanciano to Blockhaus and people from Pescara who spend their weekends hiking/skiing/mountain biking in the Majella National Park.

Maria appears with a ricotta cannolo.  I pretend to be really excited to try it and I have to take a first bite in front of her.  I do a really good job of pretending I love it (Academy Awards calling) and when she returns inside and the coast is clear, I pass it to Will and get him to eat it.  Will feels quite sick afterwards.  I feel bad for a couple of minutes.

After the cafe stop, which cost €14 for four capuccini (Will and I needed the coffee), 1 bottle of water for the boys, two cannoli, 1 pizza slice (Will) and two small pastries for the boys, we drive back to our village shop and buy prosciutto, apples, drinks and pecorino cheese.

At lunchtime we eat pasta with prosciutto and tomato and mascarpone sauce.  We always have bags of pasta in our cupboard ready for when we arrive.  It is quick and easy and the boys love it, thankfully.

It is 36 degrees.  Will has strimmed the land around the house and wants to strim the olive grove tomorrow.  I am starting to wind down after our fraught journey yesterday.  The boys are settled.  They know and love this house too.  In the distance, the sound of fireworks mildly interrupts the quiet.  Our 6 year old wants to know why Italians let off fireworks in the daytime.  Other than explaining to him that is always during times of celebration, I cannot tell him why they let them off the daytime because I do not know (if anyone could tell me that would be great).

Early evening and we have all had a siesta and wake up refreshed.  Everyone stays out of the sun from 1-4pm, generally.  That evening, we visit our friend Val at Bar Ottavio for one of her delicious frittata’s and a catch-up.  We watch the MotoGP too whilst we are there so the boys are doubly pleased.


I’ve really enjoyed our first day back in Abruzzo.  We all unwind so quickly whenever we return here.  Not sure what we will do yet tomorrow….