Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Prettiest Town in Abruzzo

.....and indeed, one of the prettiest towns in Italy.  Pacentro does not disappoint.

I had only visited Pacentro once, so was looking forward to returning.

In the heart of the Majella National Park, Pacentro rises majestically amid the mountains as you approach it.

We parked just off the side of the road, at the top of the town and decided we would walk down into its centre.

This town is like a bigger version of Pretoro with lots of labyrinthine alleys and steps, each holding some wonderful view or detail to make you stop and stare.

We were visiting with our friends and we had our children with us.  It was nearly 2pm.  The children were starving.  We had forgotten how long driving on the Passo San Leonardo takes. 

The last time I visited, with my friend, Laura, we went to lunch at a lovely little pizzeria.  We walked as quickly as we could to try and make it before they closed.  My husband went in and enquired about lunch, but we were told that we were too late.  We hadn't walked far down the road when the manager came running after us and told us that they would stay open for our benefit.  We thanked her profusely.  This is so typical of the kind, Abruzzese people we have met over the years.  

Ristorante Pizzeria Majella is cosy, pretty and traditional, in the best possible sense.  I love these styles of restaurants in Abruzzo.  The couple that ran the restaurant were friendly and charming.  Our food was delicious and the fresh bread was out of this world.

We all enjoyed our food and agreed we would definitely eat here again.  This lovely couple who kept open for odd British strangers who asked for lunch, after lunch definitely deserve to do well.

Afterwards, we meandered back to the top of Pacentro, stopping at one of the pretty piazzas on the way.  The town was mostly asleep as it was mid-afternoon.  It wasn't too hot because the streets were shady, so it was a perfect time for a stroll.  The children loved the fountain, especially my three year old who soaked himself at every fountain, when given the opportunity, on this holiday.

If I was visiting Abruzzo for the first time and I only had time to visit a few places, then Pacentro would be in my top ten.  There is something about this town that is magical, the atmosphere and location contribute to this, along with it's wonderful people.  This is Italy at it's best.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

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.

Rifugio della Rocca, Rocca Calascio, Aquila, Abruzzo

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.  

Ladyhawke 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.  

View from the 'ground' floor

Narrow staircase and collection of brooms!
View from the second floor, Rocca Calascio

Up on the roof

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

My beautiful Abruzzo

Saturday, 10 October 2015

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.

The boys with their new best friend

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

Baionetta, ti amiamo

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Wilderness Explorers

My darling Peanut,

You have been going to Abruzzo on your holidays since you were 8 weeks old.  You have always loved Italy and have a special affinity with the mountains.  When we are back in England, although you are happy to see family and friends, you always tell me how you miss the mountains.

For the first time this year, you got to share your adventures with one of your dearest friends, Molly.  You two have always shared a special bond from the moment she was born.  You are both like peas in a pod from your personalities, to your likes and dislikes.  You are probably unaware, but Molly looks up at you with adoration and hangs on your every word.  You also make her laugh an awful lot!

I wondered how you would both get on in a different environment.  I need not have worried.  You both thrived in the great outdoors and your sense of adventure and story-telling developed.  You are both quite cautious and sensible in daily life, almost to the point where I can see you both wearing a high-viz and hard hat whilst carrying a clipboard, yet you both strangely leap about on mildly dangerous mountain paths without a care in the world!

I loved listening to the two of you deep in serious discussions about your future wasp-killing business (wasps were a big issue on this holiday for the first time)....and laughed when you both ran as soon as a wasp got near you.

You loved discovering old towns, waterfalls and castles.  In fact, the waterfalls and forests were your favourite things.

Sometimes you just lay in the same hammock, in the quiet of the countryside, under the olive trees (pretending it was a boat) and talked at each other in unison.

Even on the ferry, on the way home, after hours in the car.  Neither of you complained, or got bored, you just decided to look out for pirates and sea monsters, along with seagulls bigger than France.  Apparently, they exist.

Every moment on this holiday was an adventure in your little minds.  In fact, you remind me of Carl and Ellie in Up!  I hope you will always be friends.

Love, Mummy xxx

Russell (Up!): "That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most."

Saturday, 11 July 2015

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.


The Majella in the Winter. Abruzzo

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!

Bar Ottavio, Pretoro.  Chips are available here.

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.

San Gottard Pass, Switzerland

Mountains, Abruzzo, Italy

'Ladyhawke Castle' Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo

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.

The ice-cream is good in Italy, apparently
The Gelateria in Guardiagrele

One of the parks in Guardiagrele

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.....