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One of the things Kay really likes to do here in Italy is go around all the local markets.  Throughout this area of South Lazio in the various towns of the area, a lively open air market can be found each and every day of the week.

Friday is Itri’s special day, and it is transformed into a vibrant, bustling market place. Each stall holder has his regular pitch.  One section is dedicated to food and eager housewives set out early to shop for the best, freshest of ingredients for a hearty family menu.  Well stocked Salumeria vans offer tempting selections of: plump juicy olives, some stuffed or marinated, capers, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes and grilled vegetables preserved in oil or in vinegar, salted anchovies, “Bacala” or dried salted cod, and an array of olive oils and vinegars.  Then there are the numerous types of salami and also cooked and cured meats such as: Bresaola; Mortadella, Carpaccio, Speck  Pancetta, Prosciutto Crudo, Prosciutto Cotto,  Guanciale etc some of which are made from cuts of meat, and animal parts, that have long ago fallen from favour in the UK.

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Then there is the bank of diverse cheeses made from the milk of cows, goats, sheep and buffalos, some dolce “sweet” and some piccante “matured and strongly flavoured, some with hard rinds, some with soft, and some “sotto olio”.  Crumbly Parmesan and Pecorino, smooth Asiago,  Provolone, smoked knobbly Scamorza and Caciocavallo, sweet creamy ricotta, luscious balls of milky mozzarella, to name but a few.

The next “bancarella” has a fine show of silvery, glinting fish and seafood chilling on shavings of ice.

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Then there’s the first of the fruit and vegetable stands, which are full to overflowing with freshly picked, irregularly shaped, local produce, artistically arranged in colourful displays. The wide choice of goods, never quite the same each week, reflects the ever changing seasons.  Posies of parsley and basil, celery, carrots, beets, funghi, cabbages, cauliflowers, lush spring greens, spinach, escarole, sprouting brocoletti, asparagus spears, broad beans, garden peas, artichoke heads, chicory, radicchio, salad leaves and rocket, fennel bulbs, radishes, onions, shallots, spring onions, French beans, green runner beans, fresh Borlotti beans, aubergines, zucchini, zucchini flowers, peculiarly shaped squashes, corn-on-the-cob, peppers, and countless varieties of sun-ripened tomatoes on the vine. 

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Then the fruits … oranges, mandarins, clementines, lemons, wooden trays of sweet scented strawberries, nespole, soft furry apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, luscious plums, apples, melecotone, pears, kiwi, persimmon, succulent figs, juicy grapes, golden melons and giant thirst-quenching water melons. Often, as the market begins to pack up at the end of a session, especially if there is a seasonal glut, crates of perishable items can be snapped up for a song.

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The next stall has jars of local honey, bunches of dried fragrant herbs, tresses of onions, plaits of garlic,  threaded garlands of fiery pepperoncini, an assortment of sacks containing  dried  beans,  peas and various pulses.  Then there are peanuts kernels, chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and dried fruits.

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A further stall sells trays of vigorous vegetable seedlings for planting in one’s own orto, as well as potted plants, shrubs and fresh cut flowers. Another familiar face is an Indian pedlar who on fine days walks around selling strings of garlic, whereas on inclement days he tends to switch to umbrellas.

A wizened old lady, wearing a head-scarf and pinny, sells fresh snails from her bucket, which she weighs on an ancient hand-held balance scale. In between sales she shares her time between chatting to the local market goers and attempting to keep all her snails under control and from escaping out of their temporary home.

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The other section of market is ablaze with colour and has a fascinating array of wares on sale, rolls of  fabrics, flowing organza curtains,, bed linen and household textiles and furnishings, haberdashery, silk flowers, cosmetics, jewellery, accessories, toys, hardware and kitchen miscellanea, and garments of all shapes, sizes and descriptions, ranging from teeny petite to “big fat spaghetti eating Mamma dimensions”.

There is also a wonderful range of leather goods and fashionable footwear so if you happen to have a passion for shoes this is the place for you.  In China I learned the skill of bartering, the long ritual of negotiating the price, but my ability does not match that of our dear English friend who is renowned for being a “Hand-bag-aholic”, a habit which is easily fed during her visits to us during which she has spent many a happy hour browsing the local market stalls for unusual handbags and bargains.

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Most of the traders are Italians however, there are a few stalls that are run by Chinese, Phillippinos, Indians and North Africans.  We have befriended a young trader, from Senegal on the Ivory Coast of Africa, who specializes in selling handbags, belts and sunglasses and always offers us a good “sconto” or discount.  He positively stands out in a crowd as he is remarkably tall and stately, at a height that must be approaching seven feet.  Dressed in his flowing caftan, he enthusiastically rushes forward to greet us with a beaming toothy smile, a hearty handshake and a few words of English.

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By mid morning the market is buzzing as shoppers jostle between the “bancarelle”.  However, this is not just a place to shop but provides an ideal opportunity for the locals to mingle, catch up with each other over a caffe or a cappuccino.  A gnarled mustachioed Neapolitan accordion player routinely does the rounds of all the local bars.

As lunchtime approaches the hard working stall holders exchange lively banter as they set about packing up their wares and heading off back home for a tasty filling plate of delicious pasta.

On Sundays there is a huge market in nearby Fondi as well as one in Gaeta on Wednesday Mornings and Formia on Thursdays. Here you can buy a kaleidoscope of  merchandise. Kay especially loves the rummage stalls, where sometimes you can snap up a bargain. 

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In fact Kay now has a whole wardrobe of clothes that she leaves here when she goes back home !!!

But she can never turn down a bargain !!!

All photos by me 

© 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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Here at Tre Cancelle our Farmhouse and Olive Groves are immersed in the greenery of the Italian countryside.  Just behind us stands Monte Marano, which reaches a height of 516 metres.

We are so lucky to be surrounded by abundant wildlife including many species of song birds as well as Kestrels, Hawks, Buzzards and Owls.

Our favourite is our Hoopoe who visits every year and calls out its calming, reassuring and steady “Hoop-Hoop-Hoop” from the top of our tall pine tree.  He is a very fine bird, quite large in size with a long slightly curved bill, a pinkish-fawn head and breast, an impressive crest and black and white striped wings.

* photo by j m carg

We also have other regular visitors such as wild boar, porcupines, foxes, hares, and stone martens.

Indeed, this area of South Lazio is so rich in Natural Beauty – It is blessed with the best of many worlds:

The nearby Coastline with its sandy beaches, rocky crags and coves, hidden caves and sheltered harbours …

Yet closeby  here in Itri we have the dramatic Aurunci Mountains and their Protected Natural Park. Much of the rock is limestone, and the scenery is ever changing as the mountains spectacularly tumble down to meet the sea.

Also locally there are several more wonderful Protected Natural Reserves to explore:

Sperlonga has the Roman Ruins of the Villa and Grotto di Tiberio and Coastal Path

Fondi has the Ausoni Mountains and 3 Coastal Lakes with dunes which form a peaceful natural haven for diverse wildlife.

In Gaeta is the Parco di Monte Orlando which has dramatic rocky crags and cliffs overlooking the beautiful Gulf Of Gaeta.

In Scauri is the Parco Suburbano di Gianola e Monte di Scauri

In San Felice Circeo there’s the extensive and varied Parco Nazionale Del Circeo

There are also stretches of beautiful coastline which have been designated as Marine Natural Park, collectively known as the Oasi Blu, which is maintained by the World Wildlife Fund WWF, that ensures optimum water quality providing an ideal environment for an extensive variety of marine life. Therefore these areas are popular with scuba divers.

All of these nature reserves are an absolute paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers, providing tranquil habitats for numerous animal species, particularly a wide range of bird life ranging from birds of prey, to sea and water fowl.

All the parks have well signposted hiking trails which traverse wonderful varied terrain, providing magnificent  vistas and panoramas of the mountains, coastline and nearby islands. There are also routes suitable for mountain biking.  We have a selection of useful maps and local guide books.

So all in all Tre Cancelle

is an excellent base for discovering and exploring

the boundless natural beauty of South Lazio.

Perfect for True Lovers of Wildlife and Nature.

Come and see for yourself !!!


photo * j m carg Wikipedia

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On the 24th June we were very kindly invited to lunch by Filippo’s family in Formia and to watch the procession and celebrations of the feast day of Saint John The Baptist.  San Giovanni Battista is Formia’s co-patron saint, along with Sant’ Erasmo who’s feast is celebrated on the 2nd June. The annual celebrations are normally spread over a three day period between the  23rd and 25th of June and consist of various  religious processions throughout the streets of the city. One, held on the evening of the 23rd makes its way  down to the waterfront area known as La Mola, where there is a 13thcentury cylindrical tower . This was constructed to guard various water mills in that vicinity that were used to grind grain, and from which it derives its name.  Here the priest carries out a special blessing of the local fishermen and their vessels.

On the day of our visit we met up with our friends Pauline and Filippo in the centre of Formia.

The main street of Via Vitruvio was lined with copious stalls selling sweets and confectionery, toys and balloons and there was a lively atmosphere in eager anticipation of the main procession. We began to make our way down towards the harbour to find a good position to watch the spectacle.  Proceeded by a band, the long solemn reverent procession gradually wound its way through the streets, the two statues of Sant’ Erasmo and San Giovanni, were carried aloft by some of the local men of Formia, on ornately carved and guilded platforms. Near the harbour, at the Molo Azzurra, prayers were recited and hymns of thanksgiving were offered in praise of the saints.

The procession then continued along the quayside before the statues were carefully transported onto a waiting barge.

Accompanied by a cocophany of ships hooters, horns and claxons the vessel set off on a tour around the harbour, followed by a flotilla of other colourful smaller craft. A red fire-fighting boat of the Vigili del Fuoco sprayed plumes of sea water into the air.  A large wreath of laurel leaves was then cast into the harbour in memory of those lost at sea.

The event culminated in a ear splitting display  of daytime fireworks from the far harbour wall. Huge rockets were fired into the sky, each emitting a low thud, a trail of silvery stars,  a small puff of white smoke, swiftly followed by a massive deafening detonation, like a sonic boom, accompanied by its reverberating pressure wave.  The astounding  extravaganza was seemingly never ending.  Here is a You Tube Video of the proceedings by “ReporterMarco”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xp214FVLeA&feature=channel

We then realised we were going to be late for lunch so hurried our way back into the centre of town to our friends’ family apartment. Filippo’s  elderly mother, and his three sisters, namely Rosa, Patrizia and Pompea,  had prepared an exquisite  homemade seafood risotto, some delicious fresh prawns with a salad, followed by a selection of fresh fruit.

Pompea, Rosa and Patrizia

The family were also celebrating the birthday of Giancarlo with a bubbly toast of Prosecco and some delicious Italian pastries.

Suddenly the focus changed from wonderful fare on the table to the TV in the corner, as the Italian National Squad were playing a match in the World Cup.  As usual there was a vociferous mixture of opinions as to how good the current national side was and how they might progress in this latest match. Having performed poorly in previous matches a feeling of impending doom was prevalent.

Before long Italy went a goal behind to a chorus of moans a groans, muted swear words and of course much gesticulation towards the television.  The gestures got increasingly animated as technical transmission problems became apparent  as the picture kept breaking up on the screen,  probably due to the sheer volume of people who were trying to watch the match !!!

With the score standing at 2-1 to Slovakia the screen froze again just as it  appeared that Italy had managed to equalise, which was confirmed by the cheering and hooting from the street and surrounding apartment windows.  However the joy was short-lived because not only had the Italian goal been disallowed, but by the time the picture finally returned Slovakia had scored and the score now rested at 3-1.  Before very long  the TV transmission packed up  all together, and our friends then gathered around the radio in the kitchen to try and follow the commentary of the game.   Nine minutes from time Italy managed to score a goal,  but it was too late to save the reigning champions from being knocked out with the final score at 3-2.

“Oddio, che scema proprio !!!”

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In the evening there were further celebrations in Formia with musical concerts, a funfair and yet another spectacular firework display at midnight from the harbour. Here’s another You Tube Video by “ReporterMarco”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO_SqQyYmTw

You can read more about the interesting seaside town of Formia

at our  South Lazio Website:

http://formia.shapcott-family.com

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