Arriviamo a Roma, pick up the car and drive through Umbria to reach the Marches Region of Italy. We traveled again with our good friends, Chris and Carmen Grant. Carmen, Karen and Glenn flew from Vancouver to meet Chris in London. He was returning from his own three week vacation in Africa. A major accomplishment for Chris as he had just climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. No better way to celebrate being 50!
Once again we made our car arrangements through Renault TT. The TT-lease arrangement has proven to be very dependable and at a good cost. We picked up the car at the airport and drove towards the small town of Mont Alta Delle Marche in the Marche Region. There was a slight delay in Rome while we re-adjusted to the Italian schedule. After 12:30 things just stop while everyone has lunch. This includes the people you pick up cars from at the Airport!
It was a short drive - just over 280 km with the majority of the route via one of the great Italian Autostrada. So we seemed to make incredible time, but cnce off the Autostrada, it was a different experience. Staying at an agriturismo is a different experience than a hotel in a city. Much more relaxing. No street noise to keep you up. When planning the trip it is important to keep in mind an agriturismo is typically on small out-of-the-way roads and finding the place can be a challenge. In our case it was, but is was just a hint of what driving in the Marches would be like. Small roads that wind their way around the hills and take just forever to cover any distance.
For our first nights we stayed at the B & B Agriturismo San Francesco located between the two hill-top-towns of Montedinove and Montalto di Marche in the Provence of Ascoli Piceno. It is located just north of Ascoli Piceno and on the map it looked like it would be just a short drive. We found in the Marches Region, travel between the towns, unless you were on one of the main roads takes a long timer. We had an enjoyable stay, the hosts were very gracious and the grounds beautiful. We used this as our base for touring the area.
At the San Fracesco, breakfast starts at 9:00 am, a little late for my likes. But, It was only a 20 minute walk to the town of Montalto di Marche so each I would walk to one of the bars for cafe latte and then a walk back to join the others for breakfast. You won't find much written about the town, however, Montalto di Marche has an impressive church and an historic centre that involves steep hills and alleyways to climb. Other than the four bars, there really is not much going on in this town at any time of the day. Well the walk to town, and the views of the town of Montedinove, on the next hill, are wonderful and what better way to start a day!
|Very pleasant grounds of the B&B San Francesco||Montedionove||Montalto di Marche|
On the second day we went to see Ascoli Piceno - known as "The Piccola Siena" because of the harmony of medieval and Renaissance architecture, and also known as "The Traventine City" because of the traventine stone used in the buildings and used for the carvings. Traventine is a very hard stone, that increases the difficulty to work with, but for us today, the time span and its durability is greatly appreciated.
|Piazza del Populo is one of the more impressive in Italy. Architectural perfection.||Piazza Arringo with the Cathedral E. Emido in the background and the Sea Horse fountains build in 1884 to honor King Vittorio Emanuelle II.||Travestine stone used for carvings around the doors.|
|The erosion of the cliffs leaves striking landscapes, known as the Calanchi.|
It is a very scenic drive. Along the way we see numerous examles of what is known as the calanchi, the erosion of the cliffs leaving a striking ridge of sandstone clay.
Ascoli Piceno is very interesting. The centre is the Piazza del Popolo with arcaded Renaissance buildings. It was a piazza used by the people, rather than only tourists, and was packed with kids, and adults, riding bikes. On the Piazza is the church of San Francesco which was started in 1258 and not finished until more than 100 years later.
The other main piazza is the Piazza Arringo. Here the duomo is located. The outside of the duomo has never been finished and dates back to 1539.
Of course we had to have a tasting of the noted Aniesetta Meletti at the Caffe Meletti on the Piazza Popolo. Don't tell them it talks somewhat like Sumbuca.
We next visit Loreto. Great history here with the town holding significant religious importance. Pilgrims numbering 50,000 per year visit this site. It was where the Madonna's House was transported by angels from Nazareth to Italy. The Santa Casa, the Holy House, is kept in the Santuario della Santa Casa located under the dome of the Cathedral.
Parking is located in lots just down the hill, and once at the top, you walk through as impressive doorway into an impressive expansive piazza - the Piazza dell Madonna. The main buildings are on the four sides of the piazza: the college of the Jesuits, the Palazzo Apostolico, now Reale (designed by Bramante) and the cathedral church of the Holy House (Chiesa della Casa Santa). The loggia dates back to 1510. The large fountain in the middle of the piazza is designed by Carlo Maderna, one of the architects of St. Peter's in Rome. The church facade was built while Sixtus V ruled the area. A colossal statue of him stands in front of the church.
|Chris Grant standing infront of the impressive doorway into Loreto and The Piazza della Madonna.||Fountain designed by Carol Maderna.||Cathedral.|
|We headed off to the town of Sirolo, located on the coast, for lunch. We have a great meal in the patio restaurant with the blue-green water below. Karen and I have been to Sirolo before. We had to eat well during the days as there was a very limited number of restaurants in the area where we were staying. In fact we at at the local piazza restaurant until we could not take it any more, and then drove to the Pizzeria Mamma Rosa in Ortezzano for the next couple of nights.|
|Santuario della Santa Casa|
Offida is a walled town and an impressive church. The Santa Maria Della Rocca is on located outside the old walls of the town. It was rebuilt in 1330 on the site of a previous 11th Century church. The crypt is the entire first floor as you enter the church and has frescoes from the 14th Century. The second floor of the church has a single large nave and was also originally painted with frescoes, of which there are some fragements remaining. It is very bright inside, not what is expected after entering the fort-like church building.
The town of Ofida was at its height in the medieval times. In the 16th Century the town fell under the rule of the Church but joined other towns in 1860 in a revolt against the Papal State.
We were in the town on a Monday morning, never a time of great activity in Italina towns. The town was pretty much shut down so after a walk thrugh the streets we left to continue with our tour of the towns.
|The Santa Maria Della Rocca just rises out of the group and goes straight up.||Frescoes in the crypt.||Fragments of frescoes on the upper floor.|
|Main piazza of Acquaviva.||Not much happening in Acquaviv except some great gelato.|
The first week seemed to fly by. We had visisted many towns in the Region Mont Alto Delle Marche, Ascoli Piceno, Loreto, Sirolo, Offida, Acquaviva and Groltammare. Some were brief stops. A walk about and then to move on to the next. As we neared the end of the first week it was time to move further west as we prepared to return to Rome.
L'Aquila, in the Abruzzi Region, was founded by Emperor Frederick II in 1240 as part of his attempts to in his attempts to stop the Popes who were trying to infringe into his territory. The history is that people from 99 castles, situated in the Aquilan basin, came to form the city. Frederick just moved everyone to the location and started the town. Of course the town has great history! In the 14th Century, The House of Aragon attempted to take over the throne of Naples. L'Aquila, which at the time was loyal to the House of Anjou, and Queen Joan II of Anjou withstood a siege that 13 months. Queen Joan II thanked L'Aquila for its loyality giving it privilegies. The economy took off. L'Aquila became the second most important city in the Kingdom of Naples and propspered by commercial and cultural exchange with the most influential cities in Italy and abroad. It even produced its own coins. But the town got beat up in battles between France and Spain. As a result of that a large castle was built and remains. But worst of all in 1703 a serious earthquake destroyed much of the city. So there were 99 churches, and piazzas etc, there remain just a few today.
We stayed at the Hotel Duomo and were looking forward to arriving there as we had been told our rooms would have views of the Duomo. The hotel was located across from the Piazza Duomo but any view of the Duomo would require body extensions were were not able to make! Nevertheless, the hotel was centrally located and had its own parkade. A valuable asset. Parking the car mean driving into a car elevator, riding down to a lower level and then getting the car out of the elevator without taking off the mirrors and parking. Both Chris and I had one of those experiences and we are proud to report the car emerged at the end without a scratch!
The Duomo was closed for restoration, so we headed to see the impressive Basilica Santa Maria Di Collemaggio, located on the edge of a park about a 15 minute walk from the Piazza Duomo.
The Santa Maria dates back to 1297 and its pink stones give it a very bright appearance. The Santa Maria certainly has history. Built by a hermit, Pietro da Morrone. He was elected Pope (Pope Celestine V). His humble beginnings made him too trusting of others. Plots et. al. resulted in his abdication. The next Pope (Pope Boniface VIII) for his protection wanted the 'good guy" out of the scene and threw Celstine V in prison where he died. Seven years later Celstine is canonised and his tomb lies in the basilica.
The Castello, built after the French/Spanish battle to take over the city, houses a museum with a very interesting collection - easy to take and well worth a visit.
We end the evening with a very good meal at La Groffe di Aligi. The food was worth the Two-Fork Michelin rating but the atmosphere of the restaurant is questionable. Why they would have TV sets playing the restaurant really throws the overall rating of this restaurant in question. It was a restaurant of the locals and for the entire evening there were an endless procession of individuals all coming over to one table to meet one man. As Chris would say: "What's that about?".
Before we leave the next morning Karen and I head down to see the Fontana della 99 Cannelle.
It was built in in 1272 and in located in a corner of the city walls near the Porta Rivera (near the railway station). This is a long walk from the centre of town and down quite a hill. Water flows form the mouths of 99 heads and six spouts. Each is to represent the 99 hamlets or castels that were brought together by Frederick II created the city. It is one of the many orignal founds that were built in L'Aquila that has survived the 1703 earthquake.
|Pink marble and carvings on outside of Santa Maria Di Collemaggio.||Inside the Basical Collemaggio is a single large nave.||The evening stroll and very big in L'Aquila.|
We then return to Rome for the start of the Amalfi Event.