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It was an absolute delight to have my cousins Cathy and Jeff come and stay with us during the month of June. They had left Australia to visit family in the UK and spend to some time in Wales, a place Cathy loves dearly, where her parents were both born.  Then prior to coming to us they had spent a couple of weeks on a farm in Umbria visiting old friends and helping to look after their flock of sheep.  When they arrived here at Tre Cancelle they came with a wonderful Peccorino cheese which was utterly delicious.

It had been 16  long years since we had seen Cathy.  These photos were taken on her last visit with her mother. Sadly Aunty Betty is now is in her 90’s and in a nursing home.

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Aunty Betty and Cathy on their last visit

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Cathy doing her Boadicea impression !!!

However it seemed like no time had passed at all as we all got on so well.  Their visit coincided with that of our most frequent visitors, namely Kay and Elsie who are  always good fun to be around.

My Aunty Betty and Uncle John had decided to emigrate to Australia in the 1960’s at the time when there was a scheme which encouraged the British to relocate to Australia.  They were enticed by promises of employment and housing, a more relaxed lifestyle and a better climate.  For the assisted passage adults had to pay just £10 each and children traveled for free.  Such families became known as the “ten pound poms”.   

I can remember that they came to stay with us at Woodside before the set off on their new adventure.

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Andrew, me Louise and Cathy

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Cathy, Andrew and me Louise

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Me Louise, Cathy, Andrew

What an incredible experience it must have been for my cousins travelling around the world by ship. 

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The family eventually settled in Melbourne and there they made a good life for themselves.

So, back to the present …………..

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Cathy

Cathy is a superb cook and was keen to get into the kitchen. 

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She produced the most wonderful vegetable lasagne that I have ever tasted.  “Delizioso !!!” “Squisito !!!”  “Brava!!!

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Indeed we enjoyed some wonderful meals together out on the terrace “al fresco“.

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Jeff is a very talented artist and he took me and Elsie up to the Bellavista, where there is a marvellous view of Itri and its ancient castle, to do some sketching – it was really enjoyable.

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This is Jeff’s finished sketch.  Just Beautiful !!!

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 This is another that he did of the view from our terrace.

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Cathy and Jeff, Kay and Elsie kindly helped us around the place, weeding and watering the veggie patch, even helping to bath some of the dogs.

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One day we drove down to the nearby coastline and we showed them some of the wonderous delights that  Sperlonga offers.  This is one of my favourite places and I always make sure I have my camera at the ready.

Looking down to the Grotto of Tiberius

and the Roman excavations and Museum.

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Sperlonga’s beautiful sandy Levante Beach

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We came across a newly wedded couple who were having their photos taken in the romantic setting of the old town.

Che principessa !!!

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One evening we all went out to our preferred little restaurant that is tucked away in Campodimele – The “Casareccia”. 

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Elsie and cousin “Caterina”

 

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Me, Paul and Kay

Maria’s dishes never fail to satisfy us.

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Jeff

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Bella “Caterina”

So Cathy and Jeff, please don’t leave it another 16 years before we get to see you again. 

We really hope it will be much sooner than that !!!

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 !!!

In fact in the end they did cut us out of the film – no worries !!!  However I was a little disappointed with the finished product as in the film there was hardly anything substantial about Campodimele, even though it confirmed that the Italian Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world.

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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This year at Christmas-time we thought it would be good to take our friends, who were visiting us from Wales,  to see an Italian “Presepio Vivo” – a “Live Nativity”. 

The little medieval town of Maranola, near Formia, has become well known for this popular event, and this Christmas of 2011 was to be the town’s 37th edition, with presentations being held on several evenings: 26 December; the 1st and the 6th of January (the Epiphany).

This is a wonderful event where the locals work closely together as a community to put on a re-enactment of the Nativity story. 

As “this is Italy” the event was a little late in getting underway, so as the queue of people waited patiently, some Ciociaria zampogna players (wearing their typical form of footware – le ciocie) began to pipe their traditional folk music and carols.

Finally as we began to make forward progress and at last we entered the old Medieval part of town though an ancient gateway.

It seemed as if we were taking a step back in time. Throughout the labyrinth of narrow winding streets and alleys of Maranola, scenes of  typical village life of years gone by was being portrayed by the townspeople.

In old store-rooms and cellars along the way, costumed locals, both young and old, depicted characters carrying out their various trades, every day chores and typical handicrafts.

There were groups singing and dancing to traditional music.

There were also stalls handing out tasters of local produce to sample enroute.

As we meandered our way onwards and upwards through the old town there seemed to be something of interest around every corner. 

As we neared the highest point of the town we came to the square by the old Caetani tower, which dates back to the 1300’s.  Here there was a charming live tableau depicting the nativity scene, farm animals, a stable with Mary and Jesus and a real little baby lying in the manger.

The trail next lead us into the nearby church, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, who is Maranola’s patron saint. The church  has some ancient frescoes.

Next we entered the beautiful church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Martiri which is ornately decorated.  Here there was a beautiful crib with hand-made terracotta figurines which are said to date back to the 16th century.

Thank you to the people of Maranola and the Associazione Culturale for their hard work in putting on such a wonderful Presepe Vivo.  Well done to each and every one who took part.

For more information about the town of Maranola see my website:  http://maranola.shapcott-family.com

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The tiny town of Campodimele, near Itri, also put on a “Living Nativity” this Christmas. 

Sadly this event was severely marred by some very inclement wet and windy weather, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures. It was such a shame as the villagers had worked so hard to organise this event. 

I love their wooly hats – but it really was freezing cold !!!

I hope the villagers of Campodimele will try to hold this event again next year, if so we will be there for sure !!!

For more information about the town of Campodimele see my website:  http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com

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I made up my mind that we really needed to take our Australian friend Diana out and about to see some local sites.  So I planned a route, heading towards Cassino, taking the scenic road via Campodimele and Pico

However, in my moment of enthusiasm (or was it madness ?) I had forgotten to take into consideration, the tortuous ascending route, with numerous vertiginous hairpin bends, that leads up to the abbey of Montecassino

 

This could be considered challenging even for some confident drivers, especially when you find a bus coming at you on the wrong side of the road !!!)  I was somewhat relieved as we neared to top and the Abbey finally came into vision.  After a huge sigh of relief I slowly managed to prize my white knuckled hands away from the steering wheel.

I was wearing a sundress, so I donned a cardigan, as to be allowed into the Abbey you must be respectful in wearing appropriate clothing, ie shoulders must be covered, and mini-skirts and “mini” shorts are definitely frowned upon.

As you enter the Abbey you first walk through a peaceful cloister and standing in the centre of the garden is a bronze statue depicting the death of St Benedict.

From the balcony on the lower section there is a stunning panoramic view of the Liri Valley and to the right, on a hillside, the Polish Cemetery.

A wide stone staircase steps lead up to a higher cloistered area and the facade of the grand Basilica.

The inside of the Basilica is incredibly ornate and lavishly decorated with beautiful examples of intricate inlaid marble, gilded plasterwork and frescoes.

A vaulted stairway leading down to the crypt is adorned with tiny blue and gold mosaic tiles, and the chapels are also opulently embellished with beautiful mosaics.

There is a museum which houses many of the abbey’s ancient treasures (please note that this is only open on Sundays during the winter months).

There are also two shops where you can purchase souvenirs and herbal remedies and preparations made by the monks.

Nowadays, it hard to believe that this beautiful tranquil  location was once the site of a fierce battle that raged during 1944, resulting in the abbey being virtually destroyed. 

Click here for more details of Montecassino and the Gustav Line.

For more information and photos of the Abbey and Montecassino please take a look at our  website:  http://cassino.shapcott-family.com

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Changeover days are always busy days for us. On one such day, Paul came bounding down the outside staircase in his usual carefree manner, only to lose his footing off the very last step, landing awkwardly on the side of his foot – A truly “Oh Dear, Oh Bother” moment. !!! The discomfort was intense and forced Paul to sit on the ground in an effort to recover his composure.  It was immediately apparent that he had made a “really good job” of this.  Eventually he managed to hop over to the caravan to try and rest for a while, hoping that the pain would subside.

Meanwhile I began to run around like a mad thing in order to get the upstairs apartment ready for our next visitor, Diana, an old pen-friend and fellow Shapcott family researcher from Australia, who we expected to arrive around lunchtime.  She was travelling down from Rome by train, and we were to meet her at the station on her arrival.

Feeling slightly better, Paul tried his best to help me but was finding it very hard to put any weight on his ankle. By lunchtime we finally managed to get everything ship shape for our guest’s arrival, and decided to nip down to Itri to buy some provisions for lunch.

However somehow in the chaos we realised that one of our mobile phones had been left downstairs in the old cisterna, and when we went down to retrieve it we discovered, to our dismay, there was a  messages and a missed calls from Diana, indicating that she was due to arrive at 11.09 at Itri Station. In great haste we sped off to the station, which is situated a couple of kilometres out of Itri itself. A series of further messages arrived, saying that she had arrived at the station, and that she was still waiting at the station.  We immediately tried to phone her only to find that her phone was switched off. Almost immediately one of our phones ran out of battery.  On arriving at the station, it soon became clear that there was no sign of Diana, and we were left deliberating  as to what we should do next. 

Then, mercifully, we received a phone call from a friend in Itri, saying that there was an unfortunate foreign lady with a suitcase, waiting in the square in Itri, desperately hoping to find us. It seems that after waiting at the station for a couple of hours, feeling totally abandoned, poor Diana, who doesn’t speak any Italian,  had managed to accost an obliging elderly local to hitch a lift into the centre of Itri. We headed back into Itri and there in the square was a destitute Diana, patiently waiting for us . The look of relief on her face was immediately evident.  I don’t think Diana will forget the experience readily !!!  Sorry Diana !!!

After profuse apologies on our part, we bundled into the car and returned to Tre Cancelle, where over a soothing cup of tea Diana recounted her misadventure.  We then drove down to Sant’Agostino beach for a spot of lunch in an establishment overlooking the sea. Although we had only corresponded with Diana via the internet, we soon felt like true old friends, finding that we have so many things in common.

Meanwhile, having got Diana comfortably installed at “Tre Cancelle”, we thought it best to seek some medical advice from our local friendly pharmacist, who in turn strongly recommended that we went to the A & E in Formia’s hospital for an X-ray.  Thankfully, despite a 3 hour wait, the X-ray showed that nothing was broken, however the doctor recommended a return visit  the  following morning to an orthopaedic clinic to allow the experts to asses any muscle or tendon damage.  So early next morning Paul drove back to the hospital, and to his surprise soon found the damaged ankle held immovable by a plaster cast from knee to toe.  This of course meant that Paul that Paul could not drive.

Paul on Mum’s old zimmer frame !!!

Up until this point I had not felt confident enough to drive much in Italy, however with Paul incapacitated,  through necessity this was to be my baptism of fire !!!  That evening we had arranged to meet up with friends in Gaeta for a pizza, so we decided to leave early and take Diana for a quick tour of the old town.  To my dismay we found that the traffic was busier than I had expected, with cars and scooters weaving frantically around each other and double parked at the side of the road. However all went pretty well, I managed to park and we enjoyed supper. There was, however, one hairy moment when we were pulled over by the Carabinieri in Itri to be informed that one of our headlights was not working.  Thankfully they soon waved us on and I managed to get us all back home safely, where I soon treated myself to a stiff drink.

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One of the best things about what we do is meeting so many interesting people and making new friends from around the world.  At the end of May we welcomed our first visitors from New Zealand – a couple of lovely ladies, Rosie and Susan from Christchurch.

They had planned their trip well before the tragic series of major earthquakes had struck and brought Christchurch to its knees.  Both had been deeply affected by the quakes, but after taking stock, with careful consideration they courageously decided to go ahead with their holiday.  These plucky ladies had organised, all by themselves, a three week whistle-stop tour of many European countries such as Holland, France, Switzerland, Greece, Italy and Malta.

Rosie contacted us as, after having read about  the tiny little village of Campodimele. For several years she had had a burning desire to visit this location and see it for herself.  As she and her travel companion were lacking their own transport we agreed to put them both up at “Tre Cancelle” and personally drive them to Campodimele which is not so far from Itri.

One afternoon we pootled off and ventured inland, navigating the sharp twists and turns of the road that snakes its way up into the Aurunci  Mountains.  First, en route, we headed up to the nearby Sanctuary of the Madonna della Civita to take a look at some of the splendid panoramic views from this point.

View of Itri and beyond the Gaeta Peninsula and the Island of Ischia in the distance

We then continued along the meandering mountain road which finally led us to Campodimele.

The picturesque, medieval village is perched high on a hilltop overlooking  a sheltered fertile valley.  It is encircled by formidable turreted walls, which were built many centuries ago to protect its citizens from attacks by marauding Saracen pirates.

Rosie at Campodimele

A path, known by the locals as “Lover’s Lane”,  winds itself around the town walls, from which there are stunning panoramic views of the surrounding verdant countryside.

In the village square stands an ancient elm tree which was planted in 1789 to commemorate the French Revolution.

As I mentioned earlier, back in New Zealand, Rosie had read of the village’s renown.  This tiny little town has been awarded the European title of “The Village of Eternal Youth” as it is noted for the longevity of its citizens. It seems that they are a particularly hardy breed, who seldom have the need to visit a doctor, rarely die before the age of 85, and it is not uncommon for its citizens to attain the age of 100. The World Health Organization sent researchers to the village to try to discover its secret.

Some of the contributing factors must surely be:  the clean salubrious mountain air, the locally grown fresh ingredients that make up the typical good wholesome diet, which of course includes the excellent local extra virgin olive oil.  Also the fact that the elderly do not retire early, preferring to keep themselves busy and active as possible.  Campodimele’s senior citizens are not left to grow old alone, they are well cared for and supported by their family and others in the close-knit community.  Indeed, even here in Itri, our 89 year old neighbour seems to be living proof of this, as he is still fit enough every morning at 6 am to climb his ladder, with secateurs and pruning saw in hand, to lovingly tend his olive trees.

The locals of this area are indeed resilient people who have a strong connection with the land. The old folk have toiled relentlessly over the years and also had to overcome indescribable hardships during WW2. Thankfully they now can enjoy better stress-free times in their twilight days.

Leathery skinned, elderly residents can often be seen sitting in the town square under the shade of a tree, or on a chair outside their front door, where they watch the world go by, not that much does go by in tiny Campodimele !!!

However on the particular day of Rosie and Susan’s visit, which was a Sunday, there wasn’t even one aged inhabitant to be seen anywhere. Very strange we thought,  had they all suddenly died off ??? 

Then we came across an announcement that had been posted on the village notice board. -

“This Sunday  – A Special Coach Excursion  For The town’s  Senior Citizens To Visit Rome and See The Pope.”

  That explained it all !!!

Find more information about  Campodimele here at

http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com

Susan and Rosie at Sperlonga

Rosie and Susan, we continue to think of you all in Christchurch,

and of course all of those reeling from the earthquakes in Japan. 

It was a pleasure to meet you.  Keep safe girls. 

We hope you will return to Campodimele and Bella Italia one day .

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A recent article in the Telegraph Newspaper about Campodimele:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/8627933/The-secrets-to-a-long-life.html

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