So here is our updated travel map. You can make the map larger by using the + sign on the right.
I promised Brian a visit to the Ferrari Museum and factory tour for his birthday in January, but my inner GPS was a little out of sync, truthfully it was my map reading, so he ended up in Verona. I know not a bad place to have a birthday, with a fantastic lunch in the piazza overlooking the amphitheatre, Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, lovely old city, etc, etc., etc.
But Brian being a ‘car guy’ was still waiting for his ‘Ferrari experience’ so after leaving the peace and quiet of Cingoli, we head north to the region of Emilia-Romagna, home to the famous cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan, and of course the Ferrari Factory and Museum.
We barely make it past the many touts trying to sell you a ride in a Ferrari, only 100 euro for 9kms or 10mins., all the way to 900 euro for 100 kms or 120 mins, whatever comes first, and this is just around the streets of Maranello with a co-pilot (security guard). There is of course on-track option with a price only to be disclosed on application, and once you have shown your Platinum credit card and passed over the deed to your house.. We need to eat this week so sadly Brian had to pass.
Once we do arrive at The Ferrari Museum it’s like a modern shrine, with the cars displayed on raised platforms and respectively spaced from one another to allow the visitors to worship in quiet awe. Around 80 cars are on display representing both the new innovations, and the cars from Ferrari’s history, including the first Ferrari which was built, raced (and won) in 1947.
To celebrate the life, achievements and 50th birthday of their most prolific driver Michael Schumacher, the man they call the “Most Successful Ferrarista in History”, the Ferrari museum has recently opened the Michael 50 exhibition. Which not only tells the story of his 91 victories, 155 podium finishes and seven-time Formula 1 World Championships, but also of his off-season charitable work in the areas of education, road safety and motivation. Keep fighting Michael.
One of Enzo Ferrari’s famous quotes was “Cars are only beautiful when they win”, I don’t think I can agree with that, winners or not, these are beautiful looking cars.
They call Cingoli ‘The Balcony of the Marche’ (pronounced Mar kay) as the town has a wonderful panoramic position at 630m above sea level, with views over one of the most beautiful, rich and rare areas of Mediterranean landscape and all the way to the Adriatic Sea, that on a clear day they say you can see the distant Croatian mountain tops.
We are fortunate to be house/pet sitting in this beautiful area for the next couple of weeks. Carina and Sienna, two lovely cats are in our care while their owners are off on a well-earned holiday, skiing in the Dolomites.
British expats, Linda and Tony own Villa Castelletta www.villacastelletta.com, a wonderful traditional farmhouse, where they have converted the ground floor into a lovely 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, self-contained apartment. That is where we will be staying, enjoying the space, quiet and wonderful views of the countryside and hopefully cat cuddles as well.
Villa Castelletta is surrounded by farms and in the distance hilltop villages, that in the evenings sparkle with lights. It is so peaceful we’re happy to stay in with the ‘girls’, sit on the sunny patio reading, or catching up on episodes of Spooks on DVD, and really don’t want to go out and explore the area, although we did make it to the local Cingoli market a couple of times.
It has also given us time to do some jobs on Hermione, rotate her rubber boots after the winter and those terrible roads down south, and give her a thorough Spring tidy up and clean inside and out.
Next stop is Maranello……the home of the ‘prancing horse’ ……. Ferrari
Italy has a long motoring history.
Some of the best high-performance vehicles -Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati – are Italian. But driving in Italy is challenging, a mix between Formula One and bumper cars. Road rules seem to be a vague suggestion rather than enforced law and tailgating is a way of life.
You see a friend walking down the road who you want to chat with but alas there are no parking spots. No problem, just stop in the middle of the road, put on your four way flashers, get out of your car and have a good catch up. No-one thinks twice about doing this.
Local roads were built to accommodate horses and carriages, not cars and especially not 3m wide by 6m long motorhomes like Hermione where it sometimes feels like you’re trying to squeeze a watermelon through a cannoli.
Where the road is falling apart, they just lower the speed limit, slightly, and put a road narrows sign ahead up, or another favourite sign of ours is of a group of bumpy lines or an exclamation mark and that could mean uneven surface, water on the road or watch out, big hole.
And there are some other unusual signs as well.
Not to forget the Sistema Tutor sign, which sounds more like a one on one tutor in calculus or something mathematical but is actually the most nefarious speed trap of them all, the average speed camera. Although in many instances the boxes are empty, camera stolen, vandalised, not sure but I’m sure that has saved us some money.
Today driving to the supermarket the traffic was stopped up ahead of us. Three or four trucks, a bus and a few cars all waiting somewhat patiently. The next moment one of the cars behind us decides that he’s tired of waiting and he’s just going to go around us all, then six or so cars decide to play follow the leader. This is a two-way road so of course, so cars coming from the opposite direction meet them head on, horns blow, fists wave and miraculously no one died, this time.
Or the other day waiting at a red light when the driver behind say’s enough of this, and just goes around us and through the red light, and sadly this has happened more than once.
I really don’t know how so many Italians reach old age.
Funny Italian road signs.
We arrive from Sicily into the busy city of Reggio Di Calabria, literally in the ‘toe’ of the Italian boot.
With the Ionian Sea to the east and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, both have scenic coastlines, mountains and national parks, crumbling fortresses and a history that dates to the Ancient Greeks in 1500 BC.
Sadly, it is also a land of poverty and corruption having their own organized crime group called the ‘Ndrangheta, and due to the geographical proximity of Sicily being in eyesight, there are often problems between the two separate clans.
Both coasts are popular with Italian’s as a summer holiday destination and there are loads of closed hotels and resorts and deserted beaches now, but in the summer, they say it’s ‘elbow to elbow’ on those same beaches.
There have been strong winds over the winter that whipped up the usually mill pond calm sea, so the beaches are messy with sea grass and more of the usual litter you see in Italy. The water is crystal clear though, and when the sun shines it looks aqua.
We decide to head north on the lesser populated Ionian coast with it’s snaking coastal road, through sleepy towns and villages, and most nights have found a quiet place to park for free next to the promenades that run alongside the sea.
Most of the land is cultivated with citrus, olives and vineyards, often extending right down to the shore line, and at present the citrus is being picked, it’s delicious!
Around the heel and up into the calf.
The Regions of Puglia and Molise heading north along the east coast. Blighted by shoddy tourist hotels and soulless stacks of apartments, with the occasional glimpse of aqua coloured sea or as we have renamed it, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’.
These past few days have been a hard go. The driving is hard for Brian as the roads are so bad, they just about shake your teeth loose and he’s nervous we are going to break an axle and damage poor old Hermione.
The weather also hasn’t been cooperating with bitter cold winds from the north and instead of rain we were pelted with sleet. But we do try to get out to see the sights everyday with our jackets, scarves and rugged up with tights under jeans for me, not Brian of course but he has been wearing his Irish hat to keep his head warm, so you know it’s has to be cold.
Martina Franca was a nice surprise, blindingly white houses with their curlicue ironwork balconies that almost touch above the narrow-cobbled streets, and all this is set on the top of the hill overlooking a valley of trulli’s and the town of Alberobello.
Trulli’s are strange beehive shaped dry-stone buildings made from the local white limestone often with painted symbols of religious or superstitious significance. Once this area and the trulli’s were home to peasant workers brought here by the local feudal lord to clear and cultivate the land, and being drystone constructed the dwellings could be pulled apart and moved onto the next area quickly and cheaply.
Now the trulli’s are mostly bars, restaurants and gift shops, although a few are still homes, even so, it’s still an interesting place to visit.
Finally, out of desperation to get away from these winds, we make our way up into the hills and to the town of Lanciano and what a lovely spot this has turned out to be. It even has a parking area for camping cars with a lift to take us up the few hundred metres to the old town. This was once an ancient Roman town once called Anxanum. Occupied over the ages and sacked by Goths, Normans, the Spanish and even the Germans during WW 11, where the local Resistance put up strong fight in October 1943, which led to the city being awarded a Gold Medal of Military Valour for the martyrs of that battle.
The town is so pleasant, with lovely buildings, easy access via the lift, and great bakery we stay a couple of days, and on the second night find a fantastic bar/restaurant. We order the Tesstarosa plate to go with our vino rosso on the advice of a fellow patron, and it was fantastic to say the least. A mix of hot and cold dishes, tiny prosciutto wrapped treats, anchovy and tomato topped focaccia and so much food it turned out to be our dinner. It was so deliciously tempting we finished it before I had a chance to even take a picture, and all for the grand total of 14 euro, or around $20.
Abruzzo is a welcome surprise from the economically depressed area’s south, it’s a more affluent area with larger farms, vineyards on the rolling hillsides and the roads have improved so Brian is happy.
We find an olive oil producer that will allow you to park overnight at her business in a town called Silvi. Elvira, who took over the business her grandfather started in 1923 was happy to show us around, and to explain the older more traditional method of how they extract the extra virgin olive oil using grinding wheels and presses with woven mats for filters and weights to compress the olive paste after grinding. We sample her delicious product and leave after a great night’s sleep with our own litre of Antico Frantoio Ciabarra olive oil.
The Apennine mountains and National Park del Gran Sasso is one of Italy’s largest National Parks, it’s a jagged rocky landscape runs like a spine that is always on our left, and now the Adriatic is on our right. Snow-capped mountains and a wildlife haven home to wolves, golden eagles and apparently the rare Marsican bear. It would be amazing to spend a few days here, but camping is not allowed in the National Park, and as I mentioned before there is snow and bears!
This is also the earthquake centre of Italy with towns like L’Aquila and Amatrice are literally held together with scaffolding after the most recent quake in 2016 when 300 people died. I feel for the people who make this area their home.
THE REPUBLIC of SAN MARINO
Is also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino this tiny landlocked country sits on the slopes of Mt Titano facing the Adriatic Sea.
Our interest in San Marino stems from it’s uniqueness and unconventionality.
San Marino is the 3rd smallest country in the world and the world’s oldest sovereign state, whose political system, freedom and liberty remain unchanged since its inception in 301 BC, by a stonecutter Marinus as part of a monastic community that sought refuge.
We parked Hermione in the public parking 10, so 10 levels down. Then proceeded to take 3 different elevators up, then walked further up the hill (these fortified hilltop villages make it difficult to get to, though I suppose that was the whole idea when building) where at the St Francis gate, the original entrance to the old city where there is a well-dressed (Italian’s love a nice uniform) traffic policeman that stands in a little box and who signals the cars to stop so you can cross safely.
Despite being one of the smallest counties in the world, it’s GDP is one of the highest, there is no National debt, in fact they are in surplus, have a stable economy and another interesting fact is that there are more cars than residents, which Brian thinks is quite normal. There are also more museums containing instruments of torture, ancient weapons and wax museums, and more shops selling real guns, crossbows, swords, knives and body armour which seems a little strange to me in such a beautiful town
Palazzo Pubblico is where San Marino’s parliament sits and is truly a most beautiful building. It also has a very interesting parliamentary process with two heads of state called Captain’s Regents, one from each of the opposing parties, so there is always a balance of power. They also only remain in office for 6 months at a time. Wonder how that concept would go in Australia?
Parliament is formed of 60 elected members of which 2 are the Captains Regent. This custom is the same as was used during the Roman Empire.
For those who like fairy tale castles, fortresses with towers, archways and narrow cobblestone lanes all nestled upon a mountain top San Marino is your living dream.
This area in the Marecchia Valley, in Romagna between the Marche region and the Republic of San Marino is such picturesque countryside, so is the imposing massif on which our next stop, the town of San Leo was built.
SAN LEO Built to be an impregnable fortress it is difficult to see how the walls perched defiantly on a huge outcrop of limestone could even be built in the 5th and 6th centuries, let alone that anyone would consider broaching those walls. But it was fought over and finally conquered in the 15th century by the armies of Federico of Montefeltro, who built the palace at Urbino, and who then went onto building what has been called ‘an extremely strong bulwark and marvellous tool of war in the region’
The fortress at San Leo in still virtually intact and was used as a prison until 1914 and an aircraft spotting tower by the fascists during WW 11. It also has rooms of most sinister collection of medieval instruments of torture including a nasty looking chair covered in spikes, a rack (with spikes to inflict a touch more pain), a chair with a ring at neck level that tightens to strangle the victim and various other evil looking objects too frightening to mention.
There is also a beautiful 12th century Cathedral built over a Roman temple dedicated to Jupitar. The village was quiet with only a few places open, but we did find la Butega di Cocc, and is where we met Michele di Cioli, a ceramic artist that does the most beautiful work, and where we bought a hand painted water/wine pitcher to take home with us.
Undulating countryside peppered with quiet and un-touched medieval towns and villages Le Marche is a little travelled band of land between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennine Mountains, and thinking back to the leg shape of Italy, would be high on the calf, nearly at the back of the knee.
Newly planted crops of what look like wheat or some type of grain, on steep hillsides that make you wonder how it’s possible to plant and manage the crop. It’s finally Spring and the land is waking from the winter, trees are budding with blossoms, baby lambs are prancing about, and the sun is out, well most of the time.
Le Marche is really one of Italy’s little known treasures, and if we were thinking of moving to Italy, this is the area we would seriously investigate.
This area was one of the first inhabited places in Italy, then later boomed during the 15th and 16th centuries to be one of the cultural centres of the Renaissance, and it was the powerful families like the Montefeltros’, that built the splendid fortresses, palaces and cathedrals, and gathered the great artists, architects and scholars of his day to this area.
Raphael’s father Giovanni Santi was a great artist, not the genius of his only son Raphael, but good enough to be the ‘court painter’ at the Montefeltro’s Palazzo Ducale, a beautiful palace that is now the National Art Gallery, or Galleria Nationale for the Marche region, and exhibits many of his paintings, as well as works from Titian, Uccello and also one of Raphael’s.
Urbino is a university town as well, so it also is very ‘alive’, cafés, pizza restaurants and gelato places are filled with students, it has a laid-back feel, and best of all and prices are low, and the pizza is great.
But what I like the most is the local speciality, olive all’ascolana or veal stuffed fried olives. We so need these in Caloundra.
The narrow streets seem to be that same as they were in the 15th century, with practically vertical brick pathways, lined by lovely 15th century buildings like the Casa Natale di Raffaello where Raphael was born in 1483 and spent the first 16 years of his life. There is a small fresco on the wall of the bedroom which is said to be one of Raphael’s first frescos.
We spend a couple of days in Urbino exploring the narrow streets and the 80 rooms Palazzo Ducale filled with tapestries, paintings, furniture, the Oratorio’s or small chapels with beautiful frescoed walls, staying just outside the fortified walls of this lovely city.
There were a quite a few reasons we wanted to visit this small hilltop town in the north east of Umbria with the unfortunate name of Gubbio.
There was traditional medieval streets with their pale grey stone arches and bridges connecting houses, a Roman amphitheatre that is still used to this day for concerts and plays, a fountain that a local myth states if you run around it three times you will go mad (Brian wouldn’t do this to test the myth though , and an adrenaline inducing cable car where you stand in a ‘basket’ to reach the top of the mountain, which was unfortunately closed due to high winds, or I believe, extreme risk of death!!!
Yes, all those things are interesting but mostly it was to see the Eugubine Tablets. Seven large bronze plates engraved with text, and like the Rosetta Stone, have been used to teach historians about the cultural history of Italy, Roman times, rites and religions, and they are beautiful as well.
So all these places have bought us to Cingoli, in the region of Marche, and our 10 day house sit looking after Carina and Sienna two lovely pussy cats.