14-16 June: Final days in Italy

Author: Mrs A

Location: Loro Piceno, San Ginesio, Sirolo, Ancona, Le Marche, Italy

Friday: Our friends Karen and Stuart left early for their flight back to the UK, leaving the rest of us recovering from the night before, chilling by the pool and generally relaxing. After lunch we jumped into the car and drove to San Ginesio, about a 20 minute drive from Loro Piceno.

San Ginesio was greatly impacted by the 6.6 magnitude earthquake that hit this region in 2016, and has sadly not yet recovered. There is a lot of debate at civic level regarding the types of materials to be used in the rebuilding as well as a lack of funds being distributed. Signs posted by the few remaining locals around the town square displayed their frustration at the lack of progress in rebuilding.

The church in the square covered in scaffolding – the sheet hung in the background displays a message asking for rebuilding to commence now!

Walking around the town which was once a bustling gem of a historical centre, it feels more like a ghost town, with closed shops, empty buildings reinforced with scaffolding, wire and wood, and hardly a single soul to be seen.

Putting up all these reinforcements would have been quite a feat
A precarious looking tower
Views from the top of the village

There were some signs of life, with the occasional sound of renovation, drilling and machinery behind the hoardings, and the local football pitch being relaid. But otherwise it felt like a sad place, somewhere where the heart and soul had been removed, abandoned shops and buildings still advertising menus and events with dates long past. We left hoping that something is done soon to relieve these poor communities and help bring them back to life while maintaining the history which makes these areas so unique.

There is still a heart here…it just beats slower than before…

Friday night was spent out in Loro Piceno – the town comes to life with its bars and restaurants, live music livening up the lanes.

Saturday: As our final day in Loro Piceno it was a relaxing one, with a lot of pool time and even a chance to catch up on some reading. Mark and I left John and Catriona in charge of the house and went off to do some shopping with Mel and Barney…some new clothes purchased (the all important new bikini!) and a lovely light lunch on our way home.

Looking across the well used pool towards the village of Loro Piceno

That evening, some of Mel and Barney’s English neighbours drove over for a barbecue. It was interesting hearing their stories of the earthquake impact – they too are still awaiting funds to restore their home and business. Their Italian cooking school will have to wait.

Barney finally fires up the BBQ – only took him a week! 😉
L-R: Lucy, John, Mike, Mel, Catriona, Barney, Mr A, Mrs A

It was lovely to meet more people from around this area and hear their perspective on life in Italy.

Sunday: John and Catriona left to fly back to the UK, while Mark and I took our chance to do some final washing before we moved on our way after lunch.

We farewelled Barney and Mel, secure in the knowledge we have made some very lovely friends there, ones we hope we remain in touch with and see again in the not too distant future. We are so grateful for them opening their hearts and home to us and our friends this past week, their generosity on all accounts.

And so we jumped into Truffy the Hymer and drove off down the motorway towards Ancona.

Our first stop was Decathlon to buy a table – we decided that eating off our laps and the odd box was not the thing to do. The princely sum of €14 bought us a table that fits neatly in our garage.

From there we drove to our campground for the night. We’d selected a location just south of Sirolo, a cliff top village I had read about. As soon as we were settled we got out the bikes and went for a ride along the seafront and up to the village.

Lots of boats out on this Sunday afternoon

Overlooking the Adriatic Sea, Sirolo used to be a castle in medieval times, but now is a very pretty bustling village. There are plenty of the usual tourist shops, but generally everything is beautifully presented, flowers everywhere and lots of shady trees to cool those who have hiked up the cliffs (or ridden their eBike!) to the viewing points.

The village retains the layout of the ancient medieval castle with the same laneways closed within the fortified walls. One of the ancient towers remains. Cycling down the narrow lanes you could feel the atmosphere of an ancient medieval village.

Well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Monday: We departed and headed a short way up the coast to Ancona. We had a few hours to kill before we were to catch our ferry to Croatia, so parked up along the coast at the war memorial for a few hours. We were grateful for the cooling sea breeze and fabulous views as we whiled away the hours before we left.

Stormy skies behind the WW1 memorial, paid for by the Ancona community

Parc Regionale del Cono – can anyone spot Truffy?

We reflected on our time in Italy – we had expected it to be full of crazy drivers and pickpockets, and instead found people full of warmth, always a smile, and roads which were not at all stressful. The food and wine has been delicious and affordable, and scenery just beautiful. Italy is definitely on our list to return to, there is so much more to discover.

13 June: Roman ruins brought to life

Author: Mrs A

Location: Loro Piceno & Urbisaglia, Le Marche, Italy

Thursday: For hundreds of years many of the ancient Roman buildings in this region remained covered by soil, a combination of earthquakes, floods, plant growth and decomposition and invertebrates gradually hiding away the buildings, artwork, pottery, coins, statues and jewellery which were left abandoned.

Barney had organised a private tour of the nearby Roman artefacts and a live archaeological dig with a local historian and guide…absolutely fascinating and definitely one of the most interesting things we have done.

We met up with Leonardo at a nearby village and commenced our tour.

Leonardo, our private guide, passionately shares stories of the Roman Empire
A scale model of the temple – Leonardo explains where we are standing

Urbs Salvia (nowadays called Urbisaglia) was settled around the end of the 1st century BC and unearthed by archaeologists during the 1800s. Our guide, Leonardo, took us around what was a large temple explained how a female archaeologist ignored directions from colleagues to dig in an area where artefacts had already been found, and decided to follow her instincts and dig here. She found one of the most important temples in Italy.

Many of the wall paintings are still visible, decorated with lions hunting and killing antelopes, bears, wolves and other powerful symbols, demonstrating the strength and how far and wide the Roman Empire had travelled and conquered. So much is excellently preserved, with bricks imprinted with the manufacturer’s name still clearly visible and mosaic tiles that could have been laid in the last decade.

Perfectly clear a thousand years after being manufactured – how much of what we see today will still be here in a thousand years?
Mosaic tiling and evidence of a floor beneath

The stories kept on coming, with cattle skeletons under a collapsed row of archways showing that animals were once kept in this area, probably killed during an earthquake.

A collapsed row of archways, likely to have been earthquake damage
A Roman side street – in better condition than many roads in the UK we travelled on!

The tour then continued to the nearby amphitheatre, in which there would have been gladiator fights, both males and females – women fighting ‘dwarves’ a favourite of the community apparently! It is estimated this amphitheatre (in its original state) would have seated more than 7,600 spectators.

Our little private tour group admiring the amphitheatre
You can imagine the gladiators entering down this slope
Spectators would have come in through these archways to take their seats

Tales were told of how one of the most gruesome of events held here would have been how the arena would have been flooded and a boat full of slaves or prisoners floated on, with the aim of tipping it over and drowning them in front of the audience. Apparently there is not much they enjoyed more than watching wild beasts or people die in front of them. Other than sex of course, with orgies and prostitution common among the Romans.

Our next destination was the in progress dig, with a mixture of volunteers, academics and students from a variety of universities involved. We turned up just moments after they had unearthed a Roman coin…it was fascinating to wonder when the last time this was held in a human hand, and by whom.

The coin is discovered by the dig team

The coin is fairly corroded from the use of fertilisers and suchlike in farming practices here

From here, we drove a short way up to the hilltop village of what is now Urbisaglia. Leonardo unlocked a door at the side of the road, and we entered an underground chamber. This was the water system, designed by a slave and built by more slaves, with two tunnels to reduce the water pressure and overflows to maintain a pocket of fresh air to keep the water pure. So much of the practices invented by Romans is still in practice today. These tunnels were only discovered in the 1940s and are in excellent condition.

Discovered in 1947, this doorway has been built to allow access to the tunnels
Water was gravity fed to here from a spring in the mountains. They are in excellent condition other than some limestone build up
Our usual stunning views across the countryside as we climb into the village

We continued on into Urbisaglia, and to the fortification Mr A and I had cycled to last week. This time we were allowed inside as Leonardo had the key. He told us stories of those that lived here (only about 12 people, all soldiers) with the purpose of protecting the area from invaders, It certainly had magnificent views.

Looking out across the rooftops
Our furry companion was impressed but warm
Leonardo’s passion for history and stories never wanes
Looking out across the countryside

I would highly recommend you do something like this if you’re visiting this area or anywhere with significant Roman history, it really brings the region to life.

We returned to Barney and Mel’s home for a relaxing afternoon before preparing for the evening. Two of our UK guests, Stuart and Karen, are off home tomorrow so we were to have a final group dinner out at a hotel restaurant on the other side of the valley.

Looking out across the valley towards the hotel

We had been looking out at the hotel all week, admiring the bright lights as it sits on top of a hill almost directly opposite where we are staying in Loro Piceno.

Dressed up and ready to roll, Aperol Spritz before we head off

Once over at the hotel, we enjoyed Prosecco while we ordered our food. What a gorgeous setting for a dinner.

Gorgeous evening light
A poolside table on the terrace
Fantastic food, everything delicious

A great spot to watch the sun go down

As we retired for the night we farewelled Stuart and Karen who were planning to hit the road at 7am…we all knew we would be unlikely to be awake to see them off!

10 June: Catriona has a birthday to remember

Author: Mrs A

Location: Loro Piceno, Le Marche, Italy

Monday: Catriona’s birthday is the event that had brought us all together on this occasion, and what a place to celebrate. Our friends’ spectacular house and grounds we are staying in has ever changing views over the the valley, buzzards and swallows constantly soaring overhead. At night, fireflies light up the undergrowth and there is a nightingale that sings beautifully after dark.

The terrace and pool have views to die for, and there are multiple zones to sit in and relax, surrounded by beautifully groomed gardens and an olive grove below.

A house and pool with a multi million dollar view

We had a lovely birthday breakfast for Catriona with strawberries and yoghurt, keeping it healthy in anticipation of more delights to come, allowing Catriona to open presents and cards and Mr A to read out a poem he had composed, in special birthday tradition.

After a little refreshing pool time I accompanied Catriona, John, Stuart and Karen back down to Abbadia di Fiastra to show them around there. We explored the church with its frescos dating back to the 1500s before taking a stroll along the avenue of mulberry trees and looping back around the fields.

The walkers

Birthday girl enjoying the serenity

Very quiet on a Monday morning

Returning for a light lunch it was a relaxing afternoon had before G&T o’clock.

Mel and Catriona

G&T to start…

Mr & Mrs A enjoying the view

Full team: Barney, Karen, Mel, Mr A, Catriona, John, Mrs A and Stuart
Karen and Stuart enjoying the view

Mark and I had bought Catriona a magnum of champagne from Pannier when we were in France, which she kindly shared with us all (given she would have to abandon all her clothes in order to take it home!) – deliciously good memories there!

Birthday girl with champagne

Before long it was time for Catriona’s birthday dinner, cooked by a private chef at the house. We don’t think you could find a better restaurant than this!

  • Full menu:

    • Warm asparagus salad, lemon dressing with crispy pancetta and crutons

    • Pappardelle, pork ragu with mushrooms and fresh herbs

    • Roasted beef with mixed vegetables

    • Chocolate texture with cherry compote and roasted hazelnuts

    Catriona’s private chef, Fabrizio preparing our entree of asparagus

    Fine views across the valley

    Surrounded by views and flowers, the table is set for dinner

    The village lighting up behind us
    Amazing menu in a great setting

    The fine wine flowed and the music got louder…there was dancing and laughter and I think Catriona’s next decade was entered into in fine style!

    Fabrizio joins us for a post cheffing beer before he heads off
    Catriona, Karen and I boogie on the ‘dance floor’

    8 – 9 June: Enjoying a little piece of paradise with friends

    Author: Mrs A

    Location: Loro Piceno, Le Marche, Italy

    Saturday: It was a dusty start to the morning after a fun Friday night out with Mel and Barney in Loro Piceno, with delicious food followed by dancing to a live band on the cobbled streets.

    Exploring the streets of Loro Piceno
    May explain the sore head on Saturday morning…Varnelli – similar to ouzo…
    Fabulous cover band at La Taverna, singing a wide variety of songs in English

    Mel had booked a haircut for me in a local village, and with none of the staff speaking English I was pleased Google Translate worked well enough for me to get the cut I wanted and not end up with a shaved head!

    Our friends from the UK arrived early afternoon, successfully finding the house and enjoying a light lunch as we all caught up on news.

    In the evening Mel and Barney had booked us a table at a local restaurant, Casa Azzurra. It is set around a pretty courtyard, with delicious food and wine.

    Pink Prosecco to commence the evening
    Enjoying our aperitif
    Casa Azzurra

    Sunday: The eight of us piled in to two cars and headed up to Mount Sibillini National Park, a hour’s drive away. It was a warm day, around 35 degrees in the valley, but as we climbed we were relieved as the temperature dropped to the late 20s.

    Our first stop was at Lago di Fiastra (Lake Fiastra), the main reservoir for the region. The turquoise waters look quite striking, surrounded by mountains and beaches. There were quite a few people swimming in the water and picnicking on the shore.

    John enjoying the view in a field of wildflowers
    Karen, Mel and Stuart enjoying the view

    Many of the buildings in this area are still damaged from the two major earthquakes in 2016. On the winding road up the mountains there was extensive evidence of work done to shore up the cliffs and prevent rockfalls and landslides, and many buildings remained abandoned, shored up by steel cables and wooden braces.

    Church and buildings unsuitable for occupation post earthquake

    We continued a short way up the mountains to Rifugio di Tribbio, a lovely rustic restaurant Mel and Barney had found. What a gem! There’s no way you would stumble across this as a casual visitor without the local knowledge. There we feasted on three generous courses and two litres of wine for the grand cost of about €160 between the eight of us (AU$33/£18 a head). We sat outside on a bench table with great views across the mountains.

    Views of the nearby ruins of Magalotti castle

    After lunch we wound our way up the mountains even further, found a shady parking spot and headed off for a walk. It’s a glorious time of year in the mountains, with wildflowers in every corner.

    Wild peonies (Paeonia officinalis) growing on a limestone slope
    Every square metre is covered in flowers – pinks, mauves, purples, yellows…so pretty
    Lovely orchids
    Wild Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus)

    We did a lovely circuit walk – steep on the way up and blissfully downhill on the return loop, helping us burn a few lunchtime calories and enjoy the clean mountain air.

    Wondering whether the last glass of wine was wise!
    The walkers – minus Barney – L-R Mrs A, Mr A, Catriona, John, Stuart, Karen and Mel
    Looking back at the lowlands which look rather hilly when you’re down there!

    We drove back down the mountains and into Loro Piceno for an evening cocktail at La Cantina, a bar with a terrace boasting amazing views over the valley and out towards Mel and Barney’s house. We then headed home for an early night in preparation for celebrating Catriona’s big birthday tomorrow, the reason for this gathering of friends.

    Enjoying the views and drinks
    Catriona tries out a swing chair
    Karen and Catriona try out their first Aperol Spritz
    Beers for the boys – Stuart