It was a perfect Spring day and this was to be our first visit to the historic town of Sezze.   We could see, as we approached, that it was perched high on a hill overlooking the Pontine Plain.

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We could just make out a queue of slow moving cars making their tortuous way up the steep and winding hill. Clearly this was going to be a popular event. Finding a parking place was very difficult because the town, which was larger than I had imagined, was already thronged with visitors from far and wide. In the end we had to park a little out of town and make our way back to the centre on foot.

April is the season when the artichoke is in its prime, and in Sezze this vegetable has become the symbol of the cultural and culinary heritage of the area. This was the 45th edition of this gastronomic event, Sezze’s Artichoke Festival or Sagra del Carciofo.

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The artichoke, is in fact, a member of the thistle family, and it’s the large compact flower bud that is for eating – they are high in fibre and iron and interestingly are also said to possess aphrodisiac properties.

In these parts it is the non prickly “Romanesco” variety of artichoke that is grown, which produces beautiful purple tinted heads.

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They thrive in the local micro-climate of the Pontine Plain where they are sheltered from cold winters and warmed by balmy sea breezes. The plain was originally just swamp land where people were plagued by Malaria.  However, during the 1930’s, Mussolini organised thousands of workers from the north of Italy to construct networks of dikes and canals to drain the land and transform the swamps into fertile agricultural land.  Today the local economy remains largely based on agriculture.

As we neared the bustling centre of the town we began to see stall after stall of proud farmers exhibiting and promoting their wonderful seasonal produce.

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Some had created floral arrangements with the artichokes.

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These had been spray painted to look like flowers.

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An artichoke tree !!!

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Makeshift camp kitchens and tented dining areas had been erected serving meals of several courses all based on artichokes, prepared and cooked in so many different culinary ways, such as raw, pickled, marinated, fried in batter, braised, fricasseed, barbecued, alone or in sauces and stews.  There is even an artichoke liqueur called “Cynar”.

The streets were full of music and dancers in colourful traditional costumes.

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There were street entertainers.

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Demonstrations of local handicrafts – basket making.

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Stalls selling arts and crafts.

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I would have liked to have further explored the old Medieval quarters of Sezze and taken more photos, but the town was absolutely thronged with visitors that day.

So I will just have to go back there very soon !!!   Watch this space !!!

All photos by me

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

Some Delicious Globe Artichoke Recipes

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Thankfully here in Italy Spring tends to come earlier than back home in the UK. It had been generally a mild but somewhat wet and windy winter so we were eagerly awaiting the first signs of spring. By mid February our almond trees were erupting into pale pink  bloom as the days became warmer and the sky bluer and the days longer and more optimistic.

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To follow this theme …. Each 19th March, around the time of the vernal equinox, an ancient auspicious tradition of building bonfires is celebrated in Itri.  The Fuochi di San Giuseppe mark the closing days of winter, the welcoming of Spring and the hope for a good year’s harvest.  Originally before the Middle Ages this was a Pagan ritual to scare away bad spirits, however it was later adapted into a Christian festival to correspond with the feast of St Joseph, or San Giuseppe the Patron Saint of Carpenters. In Italy this day is also celebrated as Fathers Day. 

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In the days leading up to this festival large piles of branches, donated by the local Forestry, are prepared in the squares of ten various districts of Itri, both in the higher and lower quarters of the town.

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We and Kay, who was visiting us at the time (yes again !!! we just can’t keep her away !!!) and other towns-folk gathered around the bonfire erected right in the centre of town in Piazza Incoronazione. 

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This was very conveniently situated just opposite Kay’s favourite place in Itri, the Fiocco di Neve Gelateria.

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The girls there are always pleased to see us and especially Kay. 

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They offered us all ice-creams on the house !!!  Thank you so very much !!!

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Kay was once again in Ice-cream Heaven !!!

Next to the ice-cream shop a stall selling cakes and sweets was setting up.  They looked absolutely delicious.

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There was even a chocolate fountain.

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Finally at 8 pm a booming firework signaled the simultaneous lighting of the bonfires across the town. 

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After a few seconds of minor crackling the fire suddenly took off with a whoosh and the vicious flames soon licked hungrily around the effigy which represented the fading winter.

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Bright orange sparks spiraled high up into the black night sky and then showered back down on us.

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Indeed the town was aglow.

Children ran around throwing more branches onto the fires their faces rosy and glowing from the radiating heat.

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During the evening each area of the town served an array of typical local foods and delicacies, such as traditional Itri sausages with “Scarola”, “Pasta Fagiole”, Itri olives and Itri Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  We wandered along the old original Roman Via Appia and passed a stall selling pork cheeks served with lemon and salt.

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We were tempted to try some of the freshly prepared “zeppole“,  traditional fritters made of sugar, eggs and honey.

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In addition there were numerous street venders selling sweets, toys and balloons.

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Also some colourful street entertainers.

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There was music to suit all tastes ranging from traditional folk groups to modern hip hop. 

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An delightful evening of food, wine, dancing and festivity – something for everyone, young and old.

All photos by me

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

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You may recall that last year our friend Pietro brought some of his horses to graze on our land at Tre Cancelle, to help keep the grass short in the olive groves.  Pietro has about 12 horses in all and has a small farm surrounded by the Aurunci mountains where he also keeps a herd of goats,  some chickens and sometimes a pig. 

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We have taken to visiting him often as we are keen to learn about keeping livestock.

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Pietro’s two teenage boys are amazing, they willingly help him with the daily chores on the farm, they are so hard working.  

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Each afternoon after school the boys, Mirko and Matteo, take the herd of goats out for a long walk so they can graze freely along the hedgerows.  

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One of our first visits was in January, while Emma and Aneurin were still here. 

Matteo, Pietro, Mirko and Aneurin

Aneurin was totally fearless amongst the goats.

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I, however, was a little more hesitant as I can recall visiting a farm zoo as a child, and becoming most upset when one of the goats started to eat the buttons off my coat !!!

However, slowly I am becoming braver. Each one has a different character, apparently some have horns and some do not.  They are very inquisitive, but they don’t really want to do you any harm.

 

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We were surprised to see that a young puppy was living with the goats in the barn.  He is a beautiful Maremma sheepdog, an ancient breed used for guarding flocks of sheep or goats.  As the dog grows up with the goats a strong bond develops and they become very loyal to the flock and will protect them against danger.

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Pietro told us that before long the pregnant goats would be giving birth.  We returned a week or two  later to see some of the babies.

When we arrived many of the mother goats were out on their constitutional walk so the babies were left bleating in the barn on their own.  They were so cute !!!

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This mother had only given birth a few hours earlier.

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Soon we could hear the clanking of  bells signalling the return of the flock and the babies bleated eagerly awaiting their mothers.

At first there seemed to be great confusion but we soon realised that the boys had already learned who belonged to who and deftly began pairing up each mother with its offspring, latching them on to their mothers’ teets.  The boys then helped put fresh hay into the racks for the adult goats to eat.

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We returned a few weeks later, and my how the babies had grown !!!

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They skittishly ran back and forth from one end of the barn to the other.

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Now they were no longer totally dependent on their mothers’ milk.  Pietro said he would soon think of making some fresh Marzolino goats cheese.

Here are some of Pietro’s cockerels and chickens.

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Hopefully before too long we will get around to getting some chickens of our own !!!

And I may have talked Paul into getting a few goats to graze on the hill and amongst the wood  !!!

Thank you Pietro for being such a good friend and for sharing your invaluable knowledge.

All photos by me

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

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Whilst researching for the filming at Campodimele we had the pleasure of being introduced to Maria and Fausto who run a bar and the village’s petrol station located at the foot of the ancient village.  Annexed to the bar is their little trattoria called La Casareccia. We had already heard by word of mouth that this was a rather good place to eat.

To be honest, the restaurant doesn’t look much from outside, but inside past the bar it is homely and cosy. In the warmer summer months one can eat “al fresco” in the tented extension.

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Maria and Fausto were very friendly.  

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Maria is clearly passionate about cooking and puts her heart and soul into whatever she creates. She explained to us that she uses fresh wholesome locally sourced produce to create authentic traditional dishes of this beautiful region. It could possibly be called “cucina povera”, which literally translated means food of the poor. It is rustic Italian country cooking at its best, humble yet packed with flavour.

On this morning she was going to cook “Ciammotte” one of the village’s local delicacies (snails flavoured with mint and other herbs). She showed me the snails that she was preparing.

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Maria showed us how she makes her own pasta including the typical “Laina” which is made with wheat flour, water and a pinch of salt, without the addition of eggs. The dough must be worked vigorously to obtain a uniform mass and then rolled out thinly. This is then covered with a thin layer of flour and allowed to stand for a few minutes. The it is then rolled up and then cut into uneven strips.

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It is typically served with a sauce containing fagiole beans or “la Cicerchia” (the grass pea), an unusual type of chickpea / pulse widely used during Roman times. 

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Maria also makes her own delicious Ravioli.

We booked a table for four for the following weekend to celebrate our friend’s birthday.  Maria and Fausto were very attentive and helpful.   We all ordered the “Antipasti della Casareccia” which was made from typical local produce and had a delectable range of flavours and textures.

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In addition we were presented with crunchy “bruschetta“, little fried dumplings ……

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and the typical “Zuppa di Cicerchia”.

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Then I ordered Gnocchi with Wild Asparagus and Mushrooms

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while the boys chose Tagliatelli with a Pork Ragu. Absolutely delicious.

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The prices are very modest and the portions are generous – so we recommend expandable waistbands !!!

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We have eaten here 4 times in the last two months and on every occasion we were very impressed by Maria’s dishes. It is soooo good – we just can’t wait to go back again !!!

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The last occasion was Easter Monday or “Pasquetta” and the place was full and buzzing with people.

During the winter months the restaurant is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings, but during the summer months it is open most evenings.

Highly Recommended !!!

The Casareccia reviewed on TripAdvisor

Bar Trattoria La Casareccia
Stazione di servizio Repsol, 04020 Campodimele, Italy
Tel:  07715980207

All photos by me

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

Read more about Campodimele The Village of Longevity here

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A little while back we received a somewhat unusual phone call from a young lady who was doing research for a British TV production company. They were planning to film a documentary regarding the search for the most healthy diets around the world.

The company was called Boundless Productions who we learned produce high profile documentary and factual programmes for British television including Grand Designs and Great British Railway Journeys and a BBC medical science series soon to be aired in conjunction with the Open University.

They were interested in producing a 90minute film for Channel 4, entitled the World’s Best Diet in which well-known presenter and farmer Jimmy Doherty (life long friend of Jamie Oliver) and co-presenter Kate Quilton of the TV programme Food Unwrapped, were to explore a selection of the most diverse traditional diets from around the world – examining the eating habits of different communities and uncovering what the British viewer could learn from these.

They were hoping to film in Italy regarding the Mediterranean diet and in particular filming in the small village of Campodimele in South Lazio, which is renowned for the longevity of its citizens.

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I, being very passionate about this beautiful region, did all I could assist Jenni, the Assistant Producer by sending lots of information regarding the typical local foods, diet and lifestyle of the people of Campodimele.

Campodimele’s rich fertile soil has meant that the local economy has always been based on agriculture. The village was once renowned for its production of honey (miele).

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Local produce includes “la Cicerchia”, an unusual type of chickpea. Then there are beans, sweet cornetto peppers, mushrooms, marzolinoa goats cheese, homemade bread, olives and of course wonderful extra virgin olive oil.

The film crew were interested in filming some of the still active elderly local inhabitants and talking to them about their diet and lifestyles.

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I contacted our good friend Florisa who has friends in Campodimele. We organised to go up there together to make tentative enquiries and find out if there were any old people who would be interested in being interviewed for the programme.

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We met up with Maria who with her husband Fausto runs a petrol station attached to a bar and a little restaurant called La Casareccia in the lower part of the village. I will write more about this eating place in my next Blog.

Maria kindly introduced us to an elderly couple, Natalina and Bernadino, who live nearby at the foot of the valley. They are both around 80 years old but still run their simple little small-holding in the old traditional way. They maintain a very active lifestyle. Bernardino keeps a number goats which he takes out for a long walk every day.

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He also keeps a sizeable orto or kitchen garden.

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Natalina tends the baby goats, which she told us she was fattening for Easter. Not sure why she had put them into the barells !

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She also has numerous chickens and geese, we watched her mixing up their food and then their feeding time.

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They lay lots of eggs and Natalina kindly presented us with some which were still warm to the touch. Wonderful !!!

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Their ramshackle farmyard is littered with old odds and ends, it seems nothing is thrown away in case one day it could prove useful.

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Well, finally the film crew arrived in Campodimele, and fortunately the weather was set fair.  The group were exhausted as they had just flown in direct from Seoul in South Korea, where they had also been filming. Prior to this they had filmed in the Marshall Islands, in the Pacific Ocean. They only had scheduled in two days of filming in Campodimele so it was all rather hectic.

Then Jenni sprang a surprise on us and asked whether we would consider being interviewed for the film regarding our move to this beautiful area of Italy and what we thought of the local foods available. We were a little apprehensive at first, but Paul and I decided to take the bull by the horns and agreed to do it. We were filmed with the female presenter, Kate Quilton, at Lo Stuzzichino restaurant in lower Campodimele, where we chatted whilst sampling some of the delicious local dishes. Kate and all the film crew were so friendly which put us at our ease, indeed it was a really fascinating experience for us both. Many thanks to all the team.

During the filming we remarked on the quality and freshness of the local produce, and that many families keep veggie patches of their own. Also nearby is the bustling town of Fondi, located on the ancient Appian Way, which runs as straight as a die as it crosses the expansive fertile plain. Fondi is a huge agricultural centre and its strategic position, being situated midway between Rome and Naples, has made it into one of Italy’s most important wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, namely MOF (Mercato Ortofrutticolo di Fondi), and is proud to call itself “Anti-transgienico”, that is against genetic modification, or as we would say a “GM free zone”. So many of the fruits and vegetables are grown locally.  The local produce tastes amazing, having benefited from being bathed in warm Mediterranean sunlight, for example the tomatoes and strawberries are so sweet, flavoursome and juicy.

Here produce is seasonal, which we like, we look forward to what is coming into season next. March is the time for artichokes and broad beans, then next come green beans, courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, peaches plums, and they all taste sooooo good!!!

We, like most Italians, prefer to prepare our food from scratch, there are still very few ready-made meals available in local supermarkets. Let’s hope it can remain that way for some time to come. Italians care about what they eat and I think in general would tend to spend a greater percentage of their income on their weekly food bill than the average British family, being prepared to pay a little extra for quality ingredients. Locals still habitually frequent small independent shops, perhaps where several generations of their family have shopped for many years. In the small town of Itri in which we live, which has a population of about 11,000 people, there are at least 6 butchers shops and at least the same number of green grocers and of course there is always a bustling market on Friday mornings.  You can probably see why we just love this place.

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In summary some of the contributing factors to the longevity of the citizens of Campodimele may be: the healthy mountain air, living an active life, a less stressful pace of life, the consumption of extra virgin olive oil as an integral part of a healthy “Mediterranean diet” made of good fresh wholesome local ingredients, eating less red meat and more pulses, eating home prepared meals which contain very few artificial additives.

We have been told that the film documentary should be aired on Channel 4 later this year, either in June or September. We will keep you posted.

Paul says with any luck he will be edited out and save the great viewing British public the delights of his broad West Country accent.  Well, you can take the boy out of Bristol. but you can’t take Bristol out of the boy !!!

All photos by me (except for the one in black and white which belongs to the Aurunci Natural Park)

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

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During January and February we were delighted to have Emma and Aneurin once again to stay here at Tre Cancelle.

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3 year old Aneurin really seems to love it here in Italy, he is very active boy and is keen to being outside.  Often he will say “I need to run!!!”  And indeed he does. !!! Fortunately here there is so much space for him to run around and let off steam.  Here he is at the top of our hill.

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A view of Tre Cancelle Farmhouse with an olive clad Monte Marano in the background.

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Another local view.

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Aneurin amongst the olive trees.

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He can get somewhat muddy however especially when playing in puddles !!!

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Aneurin has no fear of  the horses and enjoys taking them carrot treats.  Pictured here are Pino and Vinci.

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Our friend Florisa gave Emma an Italian cookery lesson – she prepared Poached Artichokes, Involtini di Tacchino, and a Ham and Potato Frittata.

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From Florisa’s house you can see in the distance the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Cività perched high on Monte Fusco.  The Madonna della Cività is the patron of Itri.

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As it was such a clear sunny day, we drove up into the mountains to show Emma the Sanctuary and it’s magnificent panoramic views. 

A view looking down on the Valle d’Itri  – you can just see the Gaeta penisula in the background.

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A beautiful view looking towards Fondi, Terracina and San Felice Circeo.

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You can read more about the Sanctuary and Itri on my  South Lazio Website

http://itri.shapcott-family.com/

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A while back I created a Group on Facebook called

“WE LOVE ATINA !!!”.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/62618687824/

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This is an English speaking Group for people who share my passion for beautiful Atina and the Val di Comino and who have family roots firmly planted in this beautiful little town in Frosinone, Italy.  We now have over 275 members.

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Brigida and I are currently organising a “Get Together” in Atina over the weekend of the 26th / 27th / 28th September 2014. 

Anyone with family connections with Atina is very welcome to take part.

For anyone who would might like to stay a few extra days – the Feast of Atina’s patron saint, San Marco, is held on 1 October.

Here are some ideas that Brigida and I have come up with

for the Get Together ….

The Friday Evening

Meet and Greet – to meet up with We Love Atina members of the group at a Bar in Atina. It would be great if we could find somewhere with a side room where we could all get to know each other, chat, show photos etc etc. and generally use as a base.

Saturday Evening:

All meet for drinks at a bar and on to Restaurant for dinner.

Sunday Morning:

Attend Mass at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.

Some other ideas ……

A Guided Tour around Atina, discovering the different districts, houses and palaces, learning about the history of the town.

A Visit to the local Museum and Library.

A Visit to the local Graveyard.

A Visit to the ruins of the old Paper Factory

A Wine Tasting at a local Vineyard and Tasting of local delicacies

If people want to stay on for a few days they could also …….

See the Monday morning Market held in Atina

For anyone who would might like to stay on for a few extra days – the Feast of Atina’s patron saint, San Marco, is held on 1 October.

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Well these are a few ideas, perhaps you can come up

with some new or better ones.

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like

to join We Love Atina !!! on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/62618687824/

and / or if you would like to attend this event in Atina.

This is my website about Bella Atina:

http://atina.shapcott-family.com/

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I always look forward to our visits back to the UK.  I love living in Italy but sometimes I do find myself feeling a little homesick and especially missing close family and longstanding friends.  This Christmas Kay, a special friend of ours, very kindly invited us to stay with her at her home in Barry in South Wales.

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Kay and Paul

Barry Island on a cold but bright December’s day …..

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Barry has once again become a popular destination, having gained notarity from the BBC’s very successful comedy series “Gavin and Stacey” – much of which was filmed in and around Barry and Barry Island.  It’s a tale of love between an “Essex boy” and a “Welsh girl”.  If you haven’t seen it I’d highly recommend it – it’s absolutely hilarious !!!  Nowadays you can even go on an organised tour of the area to visit many of the locations where the series was filmed, such as Marco’s Cafe.

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Recently Barry has taken on a new nickname, that of “Barrybados” !!! 

Here’s Paul sporting his new Barrybados T-shirt.

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We did a fair few miles driving around the UK during our visit.  First we drove to Bristol to visit Paul’s father.

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We then travelled down to Poole to visit Paul’s brother and family to meet the latest little “twiglet” on our Shapcott family tree – little Annabel.

Congratulations to Tim and Clare !!!

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Then up to North Wales to visit Emma and our youngest grandson Aneurin, who was allowed to open his present just before Christmas.

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We then drove back down to South Wales with Aneurin, who was able to spend a couple of days over Christmas with his daddy.

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Thanks to Kay for putting on a lovely Christmas lunch.  Kay and Paul worked well together in the kitchen.

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Ummmm – I think that perhaps Kay had one too many Prosecco’s !!!

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Then Boxing Day we went to Chepstow to visit Vicki and our older two Grandsons, Jamie and Tom.  I managed to snap a photo of our three grandsons all together.

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Jamie, Tom and their crazy but loveable dog “Bob”…..

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Then to Swindon where we had organised a gathering of our Italian family who now live in the UK (with family roots in Atina)

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After all that travelling around we felt that we could do with holiday !!!

But we loved every minute of it.

A big thank you to Kay in “Barrybados” for inviting us to stay and putting up with us over Christmas and New Year.

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We really enjoyed that a certain little boy, our grandson Aneurin, was able to celebrate his 3rd birthday with us in Italy this year. 

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In the evening we drove up to see our friends at the Bellavista Restaurant in Itri for pizzas.  Aneurin met up with Chiara once again. 

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You may remember that they first met last year -

on Aneurin’s first visit to Italy

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Ice-cream Cake from the Fiocco di Neve in Itri.

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Happy Birthday Aneurin

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All photos by me  Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

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