rosie55 (rosie55) wrote,

Back from hols! Lots of picspam, below the cut!

I have been doing very well for hols, this year and have just got back from Italy, my first visit there. It was hot. Very hot. But, apart from that, it was beautiful and I would love to  explore some more.
We flew from Bristol Airport, travelled by car North for two hours or so and stayed the first weekend in a tiny village called Preci in central Italy, in the Valnerina National Park. They were having their Annual "Pane, Prosciutto & Fantasia" weekend to promote local speciality foods - bread and ham -and fun. The village is beautiful, a typical hilltop town, built on a steep slope, pedestrianised since the paths are too narrow and steep for cars. The village was extensively rebuilt after earthquakes in 1979 and another quake in 1997. From the village there are wonderful views of the countryside around and we also visited the mountains and tried some excellent local food. Prosciutto - lots of it - antipasti, pastas, lentil soup, wild boar, gnocchi, cheeses, organic gelatos and sorbet - the melon flavour was exquisite! - tiramisu and,of course, we felt duty bound to sample the  local wines and limoncello liqueur! Just walking around the village helped to work off this excellent eating since every street sloped at an average of about 1 in 5 and since the hotel was at the very top of the town, what went down had to go back up! One of our party is a master baker with his own craft bakery with wood oven so he took a keen professional interest in their bread making and food generally. He and his wife had their delightful 9 month old daughter Josephine with them and the "bambina bellissima" rapidly entranced everyone we met and became the centre of attention in every restaurant we went into!
This was the display put on by the village baker  whose tiny bakery was just below the hotel . Another feature of the weekend was donkey rides around the village for the children and one of the donkeys is shown here on the steep path outside the bakery. Most of the paths have steps built in to them but they still need to be negotiated with great care as  the  stone or marble was quite slippery and at times I simply took my sandals off and went barefoot for safety! 
This was the view from the piazza outside the church and thiswas taken coming down the street towards the village square and church, showing the bell tower. Although the village had essentially been completely rebuilt  - the epicentre of the 1979 earthquake was only about five miles away,  all the little arches, twists and alleys had been restored and the rendered (some were natural stone) houses were all painted in those wonderful soft hues whose evocative names come from this part of the world - umber, sienna, terracotta - peach, coffee, apricot, cream - glowing in the sun. Glorious!
We were taken up into the mountain on the Saturday by a local architect On the way we stopped at the nearby town of Norcia where the local speciality is ham in various forms, as displayed in this fantastic shop ! And yes, those are boars' heads decorating the walls! Sadly it was too hot to try any of the best chocolate in the world,, which the shop next door claimed to sell. Some interesting flavours were on offer, though, including one claiming to have aphrodisiac qualities!
On we went, up the mountain roads (fortunately in Sergio's sturdy Range Rover!) via some hair-raising bends which our guide didn't appear to notice, of course! Though he did say that this road was only put in about twenty years ago - before that it was sometimes necessary to drop in fodder for the animals by helicopter in bad winters. Every road in this area had 6' high snow marker poles along the edges - I tried not to imagine using that road in weather when they were needed! Last year local people were skiing in this area until April - this year they had no snow all winter for the first time in living memory.)  Sergio stopped the car so that we could appreciate this view of the valley and the village of Castellucio,the little white town nestling in the distance, famous apparently for lentils which do not go mushy when cooked!  Sergio took our party to a very simple mountain top cafe for lunch which was packed with hikers, climbers and other visitors - this is also apparently the mountain rescue meet point and also a favourite spot for model aeroplane flying. There was no written menu and everything was served on disposable plastic plates with plastic cutlery and tumblers - every drop of water has to be brought up to the cabin. Disposable means no washing up! But, oh, the food - I had wonderful tasty lentil soup, Sergio pasta with asparagus, peas and cream cheese, M had ravioli with minced wild boar, others penne amaritriciana or pork meatballs, one had griddled aubergine and courgette slices tossed in parmesan cheese. Several of us succumbed to melt in the mouth amaretti flavoured chocolate cake - all with bottles of local mineral water, baskets of bread and all washed down with expresso. The bill came to something less than sixty pounds for the nine of us. Amazing in every sense!
Driving back through the plain to Castellucio, we were enchanted, to Sergio's obvious bemusement , by the flower meadows , brilliant with poppies, daisies, salvias, campanulas - dozens of different wild flowers. Presumably from local seeds, though different pastures had different combinations of flowers, some red with poppies, others blue with flax or linseed. We speculated that the richness of the resulting hay must be so much tastier for the animals and whether this could also result in tastier meat. We thought it probably did! Some of us couldn't resist wandering off after lunch to exclaim at the flowers, only to be told that we were too late for the best flowers - ah, well, we shall just have to go in May next time! Sergio was very interested that we English were so interested  - apparently we knew far more flower names than he did. It made him think that this would be a good thing to publicise the area to encourage English visitors. Like many businessmen he has an "agritourism" business - much encouraged by the government, the conversion of redundant farm buildings to holiday accommodation, mostly in glorious locations and with swimming pools and play facilities. (Guess where we want to stay next time!)
Back via Visso where the church had an amazing ceiling (though decidedly ramshackle looking when you looked more closely!) and dinner in the evening at a restaurant at the Abbey Sant Eustizio, just outside Preci. More excellent local produce though, by this time, we were all forced to admit defeat after four courses of antipasti, soup. gnocchi, and pasta. We simply didn't make it to the roast pork! We did sleep well that night though, after checking out just a taster of the tiramisu and my first ever taste of limoncello with the coffee!
On Sunday we had another day of wandering round the food stalls in Preci, admiring the donkey foals who trotted alongside their mums who were still giving rides. I duly purchased my packet of Casteluccio lentils (I shall be practising mountain style lentil soup very shortly!) and bought various local biscuits and sweetmeats, and being unable to resist a  couple of luscious oranges, still with their stalks and glossy leaves on though M thought they were probably from Spain, not Italy. (Later in the week, though, we did see oranges growing on the street in one part of Rome, on the roadside trees, so you could almost reach out from the open topped bus and pick them!) We sampled more thinly sliced prosciutto than you could ever imagine, since there were about thirty different producers represented there and one also had his speciality of home made lard topped with rosemary - delicious, I was told by our baker friend Tom, who seemed to be gathering recipes as he went. and we were generally feeling that we were seeing the real Italy and real Italians. And it was interesting to find that they too were concerned about global warming and using local food, local shops, reducing food miles, growing organic, supporting their local economies. We had a lot in common.
On Monday, we travelled back to Rome, via a short stop in Spoleto for coffee..., well, ok, coffee and gelati!.. and back to the airport where security was very much stricter than it had been when we arrived and the place was bristling with police who were now sporting sub-machine guns in addition to their pistols, thanks to the Glasgow airport attack. And our friends flew back to the UK and we took the airport bus into Rome! More of that in another post ... - how many pictures of Roman ruins can you cope with? *bg*
Tags: food, holidays, italy
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