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Sunday, 26 April 2009

Wednesday 15 April 2009

I wake well rested after the party last night and open the shutters to let in a blinding burst of Italian sunshine, the warm Abruzzi morning welcomes me and I sit on the step dressed only in underpants and a shirt (there’s an image) and lap up the view. I watch as a ball of mist bounces over the Teramo countryside before being dissolved by the sun. I look up at the small swollen buds on the fig tree; little green pregnant parcels of promise. I drink my tea looking out over the vastness of green that is dotted with the occasional farmhouse and olive grove. Straight ahead in the valley is the relatively new town of Castlenuovo, (new castle), it’s pastel coloured buildings standing out but not unpleasantly. My iPod plays in our bedroom, Marco Carta, a hairdresser from Cagliari who won an Italian TV talent show sings ‘Anima Di Nuvola’ his voice drifting out to join the landscape. After a leisurely breakfast including the best homemade marmalade I have ever tasted we begin a day of sightseeing. We drive through twisting lanes towards the town of Cellino Attanasio, sitting proudly overlooking Villa Collina. The roadside is strewn with swathes of yellow rape, unmoved in the stillness, until a car passes by stirring the acid yellow flowers into frenzied motion. From the town the view over the countryside is spectacular, you really feel as if you are on top of the world: To coin a phrase. Like many Italian towns it has graffiti and a mixture of ancient and modern but it’s beautiful none the less, a local inhabitant strolls over to enquire if we’re lost, when we explain that we intended to come here to see the town, she smiles and you can see the pride written across her ancient face. She bids us farewell as we climb back into the car and head off for Castelbasso, a town our friend Cilla has recommended we see. The car climbs up the almost vertical road, bends creep up on you and we continue upwards along this tarmac snake, occasionally the road falls away to the right, which can be heart-stopping at times. We arrive at Castelbasso and all we say is wow, the town is tiny and sitting high up somehow makes it appear smaller. The narrow streets offer some respite from the baking sun, as we meander through pockets of shade. It’s evident that a considerable amount of money has been spent on restoration, and at one point a portion of the town is off limits due to work being carried out. There’s a small bar in the town that sells hot shots of espresso, which we enjoy sitting outside looking over the Abruzzi vista laid out below us.
The weather today is wonderful and as we leave Castlebasso, we drive with the windows open, pod attached to the cars stereo system, ‘Somebody Told Me’ by the Killers pumps out as we weave our way downwards. We drive to Silvi and eat lunch sat on the beach looking out into the horizon. I can’t resist the temptation, the call of the sea is too strong to resist, so in true traditional British style I roll up my trouser legs and plunge my feet into the brine. It’s bloody cold, not yet warmed in readiness of the crowds that will be here within a few months. Photographs are taken as evidence of my paddle, and as I wait for my feet to dry in the sunshine I sketch out a picture of a Dodo in the sand, why? Because I can and I did.
We set off to visit the ancient Roman town of Atri, we wend our way up a single track following the instructions from the sat-nav, suddenly we see one of the immense bridges that we have travelled over. Looming over the land you can’t help but be impressed by the ingenuity of the builders, and also a little scared. When we arrive in Atri its streets are deserted and as we stroll through them it almost resembles a film set. It’s very clean and silent, almost like a model village in reverse; instead of silent miniature streets there are life size ones. Despite the tranquillity it’s easy to imagine it packed to the rafters with pedestrians during the height of the tourist season, we feel privileged to have it to ourselves almost. In Piazza Duomo stands Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, it’s exterior almost white in the heat of the afternoon, opposite stands a magnificent theatre and there’s always time to drop into Duomo Caffe for an afternoon espresso. Atri is well worth a visit, it’s relatively flat and ideal for an afternoon stroll. The inside of the Palazzo del Comune with its vaulted ceilings is a refreshing break from the heat. We continue our walk until we come across the pretty little church, chiesa S. Nicola, with its large circular window surrounded by inset discs in green and blue. Just around the corner from the church you find yourself standing looking out over the side of the hill, as the town gives way to the picturesque landscape. Atri is famous for the Calanchi that cut through the sides of the hills like large angry scars, magnificent in their rage.
Back at the Villa, we relax with a glass of red wine, I sit looking at the view, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could get sick of seeing it. Music again tumbles out of the window; Judy Garland sings ‘When You’re Smiling’, her warm chocolate tones lifting the heart. How can you not smile, sat looking out at olive groves, pondering over Italian meadows that come in every shade of green that nature has in her colour chart. A warm April breeze kisses me tentatively, then like a fickle lover is gone as quickly as it came. Secondo, the black cat strolls over for a stroke. Here time passes by slowly, every second brings something new to savour, a new delight to feed the senses. A sweet floral scent floats by as a dozen swifts dance in the air, black dots against the blue sky. Ducking and diving for insects, looking like ticks in a studious scholars exercise book. A new song plays out, ‘Halleluiah’, this time sung by k.d. Lang. I refuse to be drawn into any debate about produced the best version of this song, let’s just say Cohen wrote a bloody good tune, and leave it at that. Friends call over and in tandem the seven of us head off for dinner, we visit a recommended agriturismo , where most of the food and drink is produced in house and all the vegetables are home grown. The menu is superb starting with a typical selection of cheese and meats, pickled veg then joins these and dishes of hot courgettes with egg, beans with tiny little meatballs, then come peas and mushrooms and a delicious diced liver in a tomato sauce. Gnocchi arrives followed by three bowls of pasta; one a spinach and ricotta ravioli. The meat course follows with pork and lamb, then a selection of seasonal fruit. The conversation flows as liquid as the wine, that seems to keep appearing as soon as the carafe is empty. Dinner over and seven, yes seven litres of delicious homemade red wine later, we have lemoncello a popular Italian ‘digestivo’ and the local Abruzzi one genziana, which someone remarks on, as tasting ‘a bit like earwax’. Satiated, and bursting at the gills we wend our merry, (must be the wine) way home, grazie Italia.

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