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Tag Archives: Castelli

Kilograms, centigrade and convection, Oh My!

24 Nov

24 November 2016. We are celebrating this most-American of holidays in Seattle with pouring rain, but surrounded by family. I am the chief cook but thanks to two able sous chefs, Ric and my sis-in-law Deb, I am not spending the entire day in the kitchen. Our nephew is supplying excellent wine and Alexa, the digital assistant will play any music I desire on demand. She also sets timers. I have fallen in love with her and a few minutes ago ordered one for our house. 

We are grateful to be back in the U.S. for the first Thanksgiving here in 5 years, but cannot help taking a look back on a fun-filled feast we held in Italy in 2013, when Ric and I cooked for 11 Italians on Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy the look back and wish you all a very blessed holiday.

Thanksgiving 2013, A look back

I’ve prepared a lot of turkeys. A conservative estimate would be that I have prepared 40 over the course of about 36 years. My first was when I was in my mid-twenties and decided I had to be the hostess for Thanksgiving and my mom had to help. I was terrified of ruining the Butterball. The years we did not prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving at home I surely made one for Christmas or sometime during the autumn.  And I graduated over the years from frozen (Norbest with a built-in timer!) to all-natural farm-raised turkeys from an organic store. But the most satisfying turkey-venture was this year, in Rome.
Leonardo reads the menu - in English and Italian - as we start with the soup.

Leonardo reads the menu – in English and Italian – as we start with the soup.

Our friends, Alessandra and Francesco, invited us to prepare the feast in their beautiful apartment. They would provide the turkey and wine while Ric and I would prepare the contorni (side dishes). Knowing they had an Italian oven, which are smaller than most we have in the U.S., and since this type of meal is a bit unusual in Italy, we gathered over supper the Friday before Thanksgiving to plan our attack. I warned them that turkey takes time: I will be in your kitchen much of the day.  Since Thursday was a work-and-school day here for all but employees of the American Embassy, I worried it might be an imposition. But Ale and Francesco were undeterred and in fact invited a crowd to experience the American feast.  There would be 11 Italians at the table, plus Ric and I. We decided that if it would fit in their oven, a 7 kilogram  turkey would be a nice size, about 15 pounds U.S. Their friend Stefania would provide dessert.
Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Early Thursday we headed out to pick up artisan bread for the dressing and fresh green beans, managing to get in a 6 km walk in advance of the feast.  While we were inhaling the glorious smells at Roscioli, Francesco called and said “You need to talk to Ale. She has the turkey and it’s big.” Ale confirmed: her butcher has provided an 8 kg (17-pound) hen turkey and the butcher says it will take 5 hours to cook. Can we come earlier to start the cooking?
Ale's elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

Ale’s elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

We planned to serve the soup at 19:30 and the main course about 20:30, so we figured the bird needed to go in the oven about 16:30, if it weighed 7 kg. Now we had 8 kg to deal with, and (surprise!) a convection oven, which changes the cooking game considerably, plus the butcher’s recommendation to cook it in a low oven for 5 hours. Yikes!  Arriving about 14:45, Ric set to chopping herbs for my herb-butter turkey recipe. By 15:20, after calculating and re-calculating cooking time and centigrade-versus-Fahrenheit, we had herb-butter under the skin and put her in the oven trussed up as tightly as we could, just managing to squeeze her into the space available.  (Ric has a wonderful little app on the tablet that does all manner of conversions since our American-system brains have to constantly deal with length, volume, temperature and distance conversions.)  With any luck, she would be done by 20:00, giving 30 minutes for “rest” and to make the final prep.
Every good dinner starts with prosecco. Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Every good dinner starts with prosecco. From left, me (elbow), Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Whew! Deep breath, now all we have to do is monitor, baste, add broth, and prepare the contorni. Ric is a terrific sous chef and spent the next hour carving up butternut squash for soup, peeling potatoes, and various other tasks assigned, while the kids came and went. All-in-all Alessandra, Ric and I spent a compatible couple of hours doing prep, setting the table, chatting and enjoying the time immensely. At each check on the turkey, I worried it was getting too brown, but my research on roasting a turkey in a convection oven said do not cover with foil. By 17:30 I was nervous: it looked done. My brand new meat thermometer (Celsius, of course!) said it was done in most parts.  Can’t be! Two hours at 160C (325F) and it’s done!?!?!? The main event was still 3 hours off! We wanted the guests to see this magnificent beast, but how could we hold it safely not have it dried out like the scene from “Christmas Vacation?”
Ale said, “We must Google it!” We typed in “how to hold a turkey safely when it’s done early.” Amazing
Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco share the cranberries

Nello, Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco

number of hits! Who knew?  Survey says: aluminum foil, low low temp (about 200F), and moisture in the pan beneath the turkey.
Can I tell you this was the most beautiful turkey I’ve ever made? And the moistest? And the best-tasting? My updated recipe for perfection at Thanksgiving = The company of people you enjoy + Natural Italian turkey + Convection oven + Creativity and a little experience with turkeys.
Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

I think the only side dish quite familiar to the guests was mashed potatoes. Gravy is not normally made in Italy, nor dressing/stuffing as we do in the U.S. (mine is made with sausage, apples and raisins). We managed to acquire fresh whole cranberries (shipped in from Massachusetts)  and made sweet potatoes with gorgonzola.  Stefania’s tarte tartin and homemade whoopee pies made for a festive and tasty finish.  See the whole menu here. Multiple portions were consumed and even the kids were adventurous in trying foods they’d not seen before. No one seemed to miss pasta.
Everyone who has prepared a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic. Getting stuffing, Potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as he speeds to help!

Everyone who has prepared a  big turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic, getting stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as he speeds to help. Thanks to Ronnie, Ric was off clean-up duty for a change.

Dinner went off without a hitch. Except as usual, I forgot something, sending the sweet potatoes to the table sans the candied pecans on top, and I forgot the pepperoncini for the green beans. (I think I am the only one that noticed.)
Last year, our first Thanksgiving in Italy, we knew we would really miss the large crowd we tended to gather around our table in Portland, so we celebrated in a totally non-traditional manner. This year we had a memorable, wonderful day thanks to Alessandra, Francesco, their family and friends. We are very grateful to have been able to share the traditions and spend our holiday with them and to them for opening their home and kitchen to the American Invasion.
I am so getting a convection oven the next time we need to buy an appliance.
Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother's green bean casserole.

Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother’s green bean casserole.

I ragazzi doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giordano, Leonardo, Giuseppe and Sara, doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giuseppe and Giordano at table - even the kids liked the soup!

Giuseppe and Giordano at table – even the kids liked the soup!

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora., Francesco and me.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora, Francesco and me.

 
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Year in Review

1 Jan

The older we get the faster time seems to move. (It’s an actual phenomenon that has been scientifically proven: the older you are the faster time seems to pass.) Only yesterday it seems we were dying of the heat in Rome, taking refuge in the mighty Dolomites enjoying brisk mountain air and alpine meadows. But that was July. Looking back over our time in Rome – now 19 months and counting – we have experienced so much, and yet my list of to-dos in Rome (not to mention all of Italy)  has more things on it that we have not accomplished than ones we have managed to check off. There’s a wonder around every corner and we shall never get to all of them. Roma: Una vita non basta!

New Year's Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

New Year’s Eve Vespers with Papa F! We were right on the aisle. Ric snapped this pic with his phone.

We managed to see a bit more of Italy this year, visiting some old favorites as well as new territory.

  • March saw us in Sicily for our 28th anniversary, where we were constantly cold, but where we ate magnificent food and saw our first-ever Greek ruins. Stunning! Must go back in warmer weather.
  • In May we ventured to the heel of the boot, Puglia, with my brother and sister-in-law. More great food, a fantastically different Italy, and lots of kilometers covered. Can’t count the bottles of wine consumed. Rick & Jane, we had so much fun with you those 10 days in Rome and Puglia! And we “discovered” Abruzzo on our way back to Rome. Wow!
  • In fact we were so enchanted with Abruzzo we went back for a weekend in July. Not many North Americans (or non-Italians) go to Abruzzo as it is not chock-a-block with must-sees, but it is an amazing place to escape the city, practice one’s Italian, and relax.
  • Later in July was our week in the Val Gardena. If only we could figure out a way to live there all summer.
  • Like most Italians, we got away for Ferragosto but only as far as Orvieto for a couple of nights.  It’s always nice to get on a train, and only an hour away is this charming Etruscan hill town.
  • Our youngest son came to visit in September and we made our 4th trip to Venice in less than three years. Three days there flew by and in wonderment Derek observed we still had not seen everything we intended to. Venice has a lot to offer and so many people try to “do” it in 2 nights and one day. We’re going back for the 5th time in April with friends who have never been.
  • The Cinque Terre calls to us each autumn and we made our third trip there in October. Hoping we can squeeze in a weekend there again in 2014.
  • After the Marine Corps 238th Birthday Ball in early November, we made a trek to Ravello just as the town was closing for the season. This is a must-go-back location sometime during the concert season.
Kids, don't try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Kids, don’t try this at home. Our neighbor across the street shot off Roman Candles from his oh-so-tiny balcony on NYE. Note the Santa figure climbing a ladder hanging from the balcony. And this goes on all over the city!

Other highlights in 2013:

  • I turned sixty. Can’t believe it, but my mother is there in the mirror every morning, so I guess it’s true.
  • We had a blind date with Nigel and Carol, new friends from England that we met through the Rick Steves’ Helpline and this blog. Hoping to see them again in February!
  • Made Thanksgiving dinner for 11 Italians. We had so much fun doing this! I only hope they will let us do it again next year.
  • Seeing our youngest son (not very young anymore, but still il mio bambino al cuore) after 16 months away.
  • Getting fit(ter) in the gym. I’ve lost about 45 pounds since moving to Rome and had to buy a whole new wardrobe last summer and again this winter.
  • Becoming more comfortable speaking Italian. I am “advanced intermediate” (B2/C1 for those that understand the scale) according to my teacher. I should be fluent by the time I am 85.
  • Seeing Tom and Karen, our in-laws, when they visited Rome after their cruise.
  • Visits by Michael Horne for gastronomic exploration of Rome. (Thanks for the intro to Vino Roma!)
  • New Years’ Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica with Papa Francesco. He was right there, not 2 meters from me during the processional and recessional. The energy in St. Peter’s was palpable, the love for this man overwhelming.

As I wrap up this post, we are aboard a train that departed at 07:20 New Year’s Day, leaving

St. Peter's, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

St. Peter’s, NYE 2013. I read today that shortly after we left Papa Francesco came out in his Popemobile to see the Nativity in the square. Purtroppo we had left the scene!

Italy for the first time in 19+ months. The sun is just coming up, outlining the Apennine Mountains in gold. We are headed to Switzerland where, magari, we will do Winterwandern (alpine snow hiking) to wear off the cheese fondue we plan to eat. We have many trips planned this year including a return to Venice, the Dolomites, Florence, Lake Como, and Abruzzo. We have guests coming, too: Kim, John and Aubrey in April; John, Susan, William and Elizabeth (aka JSWE) in July; the Omaha Bartons in August; a return by Derek in September; Rick and Jane in November; and hopefully Helen, Eddie and Debbie will make it over too. Anyone else? Would love to see you!

Buon Anno 2014! 

Kilograms, centigrade and convection, Oh My!

30 Nov

I’ve prepared a lot of turkeys. A conservative estimate would be that I have prepared 40 over the course of about 36 years. My first was when I was in my mid-twenties and decided I had to be the hostess for Thanksgiving and my mom had to help. I was terrified of ruining the Butterball. The years we did not prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving at home I surely made one for Christmas or sometime during the autumn.  And I graduated over the years from frozen (Norbest with a built-in timer!) to all-natural farm-raised turkeys from an organic store. But the most satisfying turkey-venture was this year, in Rome.

Leonardo reads the menu - in English and Italian - as we start with the soup.

Leonardo reads the menu – in English and Italian – as we start with the soup.

Our friends, Alessandra and Francesco, invited us to prepare the feast in their beautiful apartment. They would provide the turkey and wine while Ric and I would prepare the contorni (side dishes). Knowing they had an Italian oven, which are smaller than most we have in the U.S., and since this type of meal is a bit unusual in Italy, we gathered over supper the Friday before Thanksgiving to plan our attack. I warned them that turkey takes time: I will be in your kitchen much of the day.  Since Thursday was a work-and-school day here for all but employees of the American Embassy, I worried it might be an imposition. But Ale and Francesco were undeterred and in fact invited a crowd to experience the American feast.  There would be 11 Italians at the table, plus Ric and I. We decided that if it would fit in their oven, a 7 kilogram turkey would be a nice size, about 15 pounds U.S. Their friend Stefania would provide dessert.

Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Beautiful butternut squash and fresh sage on the way to making a velvety soup.

Early Thursday we headed out to pick up artisan bread for the dressing and fresh green beans, managing to get in a 6 km walk in advance of the feast.  While we were inhaling the glorious smells at Roscioli, Francesco called and said “You need to talk to Ale. She has the turkey and it’s big.” Ale confirmed: her butcher has provided an 8 kg (17 pound) hen turkey and the butcher says it will take 5 hours to cook. Can we come earlier to start the cooking?

Ale's elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

Ale’s elegant tableware from Castelli, famous for ceramics.

We planned to serve the soup at 19:30 and the main course about 20:30, so we figured the bird needed to go in the oven about 16:30, if it weighed 7 kg. Now we had 8 kg to deal with, and (surprise!) a convection oven, which changes the cooking game considerably, plus the butcher’s recommendation to cook it in a low oven for 5 hours. Yikes!  Arriving about 14:45, Ric set to chopping herbs for my herb-butter turkey recipe. By 15:20, after calculating and re-calculating cooking time and centigrade-versus-Fahrenheit, we had herb-butter under the skin and put her in the oven trussed up as tightly as we could, just managing to squeeze her into the space available.  (Ric has a wonderful little app on the tablet that does all manner of conversions since our American-system brains have to constantly deal with length, volume, temperature and distance conversions.)  With any luck, she would be done by 20:00, giving 30 minutes for “rest” and to make the final prep.

Every good dinner starts with prosecco. Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Every good dinner starts with prosecco. From left, me (elbow), Rita, Valentino, Francesco, Eleonora and Nello.

Whew! Deep breath, now all we have to do is monitor, baste, add broth, and prepare the contorni. Ric is a terrific sous chef and spent the next hour carving up butternut squash for soup, peeling potatoes, and various other tasks assigned, while the kids came and went. All-in-all Alessandra, Ric and I spent a compatible couple of hours doing prep, setting the table, chatting and enjoying the time immensely. At each check on the turkey I worried it was getting too brown, but my research on roasting a turkey in a convection oven said do not cover with foil. By 17:30 I was nervous: it looked done. My brand new meat thermometer (Celsius, of course!) said it was done in most parts.  Can’t be! Two hours at 160C (325F) and it’s done!?!?!? The main event was still 3 hours off! We wanted the guests to see this magnificent beast, but how could we hold it safely not have it dried out like the scene from “Christmas Vacation?”

Ale said “We must Google it!” We typed in “how to hold a turkey safely when it’s done early.” Amazing

Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco share the cranberries

Nello, Eleonora, Stefania and Francesco

number of hits! Who knew?  Survey says: aluminum foil, low low temp (about 200F), and moisture in the pan beneath the turkey.

Can I tell you this was the most beautiful turkey I’ve ever made? And the moistest? And the best-tasting? My updated recipe for perfection at Thanksgiving = The company of people you enjoy + Natural Italian turkey + Convection oven + Creativity and a little experience with turkeys.

Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

Ignore the goofy-looking cook and focus on the bird: perfection!! Sara clearly finds me amusing.

I think the only side dish quite familiar to the guests was mashed potatoes. Gravy is not normally made in Italy, nor dressing/stuffing as we do in the U.S. (mine is made with sausage, apples and raisins). We managed to acquire fresh whole cranberries (shipped in from Massachusetts)  and made sweet potatoes with gorgonzola.  Stefania’s tarte tartin and homemade whoopee pies made for a festive and tasty finish.  See the whole menu here. Multiple portions were consumed and even the kids were adventurous in trying foods they’d not seen before. No one seemed to miss pasta.

Everyone who has prepared a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic. Getting stuffing, Potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as  he speeds to help!

Everyone who has prepared a  big turkey dinner knows that the final prep is chaotic, getting stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, veg, gravy and turkey all on the table at the same time. Ronnie is a blur as he speeds to help. Thanks to Ronnie, Ric was off clean-up duty for a change.

Dinner went off without a hitch. Except as usual I forgot something, sending the sweet potatoes to the table sans the candied pecans on top, and I forgot the peperoncini for the green beans. (I think I am the only one that noticed.)

Last year, our first Thanksgiving in Italy, we knew we would really miss the large crowd we tended to gather around our table in Portland, so we celebrated in a totally non-traditional manner. This year we had a memorable, wonderful day thanks to Alessandra, Francesco, their family and friends. We are very grateful to have been able to share the traditions and spend our holiday with them, and to them for opening their home and kitchen to the American Invasion.

I am so getting a convection oven the next time we need to buy an appliance.

Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother's green bean casserole.

Thanksgiving green beans with red peppers and American bacon. Not your mother’s green bean casserole.

I ragazzi doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giordano, Leonardo, Giuseppe and Sara, doing what kids usually do after dinner.

Giuseppe and Giordano at table - even the kids liked the soup!

Giuseppe and Giordano at table – even the kids liked the soup!

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Me with my friend and Italian teacher, Eleonora.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora., Francesco and me.

Kitchen action stops fo a quick pre-dinner drink. Ale, Eleonora, Francesco and me.

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Even further away…

13 Jul
Another cute Italian village, nestled in the Gran Sasso.

Another cute Italian village, Castelli nestled in the Gran Sasso.

Santo Stefano was only the beginning of our long weekend in Abruzzo.

Do you ever yearn for deserted roads? How about hiking trails with no oncoming foot traffic, nor any foot traffic at all for that matter? Have you encountered ponies in the woods? Or restaurants where you pay half of what you’d pay in the big city? Plus lovely people delighted to help you practice your Italian and artisans of magnificent pottery? Welcome to Abruzzo, in particular, welcome to Castelli.

Castelli is known for its ceramics, but is less famous – and less touristed – than the Tuscan destination of Deruta. We learned of Castelli quite by accident. In May, on our way home from Puglia we decided to spend a night in the mountains. On that trip, we selected a hotel in the tiny hamlet of Ornano Grande, right beneath the highest peak on the Italian peninsula, the Corno Grande.  Il padrone of the hotel told us we had to go to Castelli before we left the area. “Bellissima” he said, and he was right. It is rated as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.  That brief taste convinced Ric and I we had to return to Abruzzo and to Castelli. Then, in what can only be described as a happy coincidence, when we mentioned this lovely place to an Italian friend he said, “That’s my mother’s home!” So with an insider’s knowledge we were directed first to Santo Stefano and then to Castelli and environs for continued rest and relaxation.

Castelli is tiny: really tiny. A couple of restaurants, minimal lodging choices, a generous number of

Abruzzo is not the pizza capital of Italy, but this salmon, mozzarella and pistachio pizza was to die for.

Abruzzo is not the pizza capital of Italy, but this salmon, mozzarella and pistachio pizza was to die for.

ceramicists. The views are amazing and the town has a great “hang out” factor, but lodging is not abundant. There are a few agriturismos in the area, and the Parco Nazionale Gran Sasso has a resort hotel nearby, but we wanted to be more in town. Luckily we found B&B Vecchio Mulino (Old Mill). There Luciana made us welcome at her modest but pristine home. Originally a mill, 13 years ago it was remodeled into a five room B&B. A quieter place does not exist. Only the babble of the nearby stream and the occasional crow of her rooster provided background noise.  Old Buc, her dog, quit barking once he knew we were guests, and the new kitten kept us entertained.  Goats, horses, chickens, and bees round out the livestock, and Luciana puts her homemade acacia honey on the breakfast table each morning.  As it was in a jar equipped with a pump, I almost had to restrain Ric from squirting it directly into his mouth.  Once again, we slept for 9 hours each night.

Castelli ceramics institute: gigantic nativity figures. Absolutely stunning in person.

Castelli ceramics institute: gigantic nativity figures. Absolutely stunning in person.

We hiked, we shopped for ceramics, and we ate too much: A perfect getaway! The residents were only too happy to help us find our way and enjoy the treasures of the area. One man, a ceramicist, encouraged us to go to the Istituto D’Arte “F.A.Grue” Castelli  (Institute of Ceramics) just up the road. This is a 107-year-old institution that attracts students and artists from all over. When we saw him later in the day, he we very disappointed we had not seen it – yet.  In fact, when we tried to go there it seemed closed.  By now it was almost 7:00PM, but he phoned his sister, who works at the school and arranged a private tour for us. It was truly a highlight!

Only 2 hours from Rome, we’ll go back for fresh, cool mountain air. Forest hiking, beautiful views, and the welcoming Abruzzese people again when we get a chance.  Following are a few pictures from the region.

There are two Castel del Montes in Italy: a true castle in Puglia and this charming town in Abruzzo. It suffered damage in the L'Aquila earthquake.

There are two Castel del Montes in Italy: a true castle in Puglia and this charming town in Abruzzo. It suffered damage in the L’Aquila earthquake.

Lovely fresco in Castle del Monte.

Lovely fresco in Castle del Monte.

Mosaic inlaid in a wall in Castel del Monte.

Mosaic inlaid in a wall in Castel del Monte.

Roadside picnic stop in Abruzzo, on our way to Castelli. A herd of cattle relaxed, unencumbered by a fence, just around the corner.

Roadside picnic stop in Abruzzo, on our way to Castelli. A herd of cattle relaxed, unencumbered by a fence, just around the corner.

This little guy was looking for apples or carrots.... Acted more like a puppy than a pony.

This little guy was looking for apples or carrots…. Acted more like a puppy than a pony.

I didn't get a great shop of this work in progress. The pony kept getting in the way. Momma horse was hauling firewood out of the woods.

I didn’t get a great shop of this work in progress. The pony kept getting in the way. Mamma horse was hauling firewood out of the woods.

Away from it all

8 Jul

People planning a visit to Italy often ask how to get away from it all: How to get off that proverbial beaten track, or through Rick Steves’ magical back door. They want to see places without so many tours and tour groups. We’ve found some less-visited spots in Rome (Beyond il Colosseo) but I daresay we really had a true escape in Abruzzo.

A rustic interior, furnished as it might have been hundreds of years ago.

A rustic interior, furnished as it might have been hundreds of years ago.

July 4 we headed out for Santo Stefano di Sessanio on the recommendation of Italian friends. “One night” they said. “You have to stay here one night.” The whole town is under renovation having been literally abandoned after WWII. The hotel is called Albergo Diffuso  because the rooms are scattered about in former residences. Peace reigns supreme with quaint streets, simple cuisine, and rustic but comfortable accommodations. As in much of Italy, building code is not what one might expect in North America. Case in point, the “stairway” to the bedroom portion of our suite was really more of a ladder, reminiscent of something one would find leading to the hayloft in a barn.  We loved the rustic simplicity combined with modern conveniences: candlelight, energy-saving switches, but a soaking tub and bath fixtures to rival many hotels. All surrounded by this charming, under-renovation village. Our rate included a suite, dinner, breakfast and a picnic basket to take away with us for lunch on the road the next day. English spoken? Some, yes, especially by the hotel staff; not so much in the shops or restaurants. Other guests were Italian. We met only one American couple passing through and a Canadian couple

currently living in Pescara. Here are a few more pictures from the hotel and town of Santo Stefano.

Deep soaking tub. Clearly not the type of plumbing one had 500 years ago.

Deep soaking tub. Clearly not the type of plumbing one had 500 years ago.

Ladder to our comfortable bedroom. one of many things I love about Italy. In North America building codes would never let this fly.

Ladder to our comfortable bedroom. One of many things I love about Italy: In North America building codes would never let this fly.

Ric in our rustic bedroom. A terrific night's sleep awaited us.

Ric in our rustic bedroom. A terrific night’s sleep awaited us.

One of the artigianale shops in Santo Stefano.

One of the artisanal shops in Santo Stefano.

What has been restored is picturesque. With all the work in progress, it will become even more lovely as it is restored.

What has been restored is picturesque. With all the work in progress, it will become even more lovely as it is restored.

For entertainment and exercise, we made our way to the rocca, or fortress, above Calascio, just down the road a piece. Situated at 1460m (4790 feet), we ascended on foot from the village of Calascio, about 820 feet of gain.  While much of the walk was on a paved road, the last bit was a scramble over rocks that afforded an unparalleled view of the castle, and just might have worked off the lunch Geppetto served us at his bettola (in English we’d say dive but it really was a cute little café).  We were virtually alone at the rocca. A few people came by car to the rifugio just below the rocca and walked up the last little bit, but we were the only ones who made the entire trek, which afforded us an ever-changing view of the landscape.

The rocca (fortress) above Calascio, as seen from about 820 feet below.

The rocca (fortress) above Calascio, as seen from about 820 feet below.

On our hike up to the rocca, the view from just above the village of Calascio.

On our hike up to the rocca, the view from just above the village of Calascio.

Getting closer as we climb, the size of the fortress is impressive.

Getting closer as we climb, the size of the fortress is impressive.

The last bit is a scramble over narrow trails and rocks.

The last bit is a scramble over narrow trails and rocks.

Of course such an outing demanded an Abruzzese dinner, which was served in what we Americans might call a tavern, reminiscent of pioneer days. Dining is hearty in this region: lamb, porchetta, roasted potatoes, strong cheeses. At night there was no noise, no light. We slept for 9 hours, something we never do in Rome.

Old fireplace in the "tavern" where one finds Abruzzese cuisine.

Old fireplace in the “tavern” where one finds Abruzzese cuisine.

Breakfast room, rustic and cozy.

Breakfast room, rustic and cozy.

Elegantly packed by the hotel, enjoyed along the roadside in Abruzzo.

Elegantly packed by the hotel, enjoyed along the roadside in Abruzzo.

We moved on to Castelli, but I’ll save that for a following post.

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