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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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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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The highlight of Itri’s year is the festival dedicated to its patron – La Madonna della Cività held over the span of three days – 20th, 21st, 22nd July and it іs celebrated wіth several religious processions with strong townsmen carrying the silver statue of the Madonna and Child through all the quarters of Itri.

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The silver statue is normally kept in a secure side chapel of La Chiesa dell’ Annunziata for safe keeping. 

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By night the town is adorned with multi-coloured illuminations, and people flock to take part in the celebrations. 

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During such warm balmy evenings  people enjoy leisurely “passeggiata-ing”. The full length of Via Civita Farnese is lined with food vans, numerous noisy fair booths, and cosmopolitan merchants selling an diverse array of objects and knick-knacks.  For the youngsters there is normally a fairground and amusements,  and stalls selling sweets and toys.

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Toasted Sweetcorn

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Crepes

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Guinciale (pork’s cheek)

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Guinciale (pork’s cheek)

Each night there is a musical event, this year there was a classical concert by a Police band, a Pink Floyd tribute band and on the last night a “past their best ageing pop star” !!!

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The final night culminates in a spectacular firework display held at the castle.  We drove up to the Bellavista Restaurant which overlooks the town, with a perfect view of the castle.

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All photos by me © Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

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At the end of June we were invited to attend the Italian wedding of our dear friends, Raffaele and Nicole.  A few years back Raffaele was one of our English students.  He had a longing to travel to America and was thus  keen to improve his English language skills.  He went to stay with family friends in California and while there met is wife to be Nicole.  Nicole’s family also orignate from Itri.

They had recently married in California but the they were to then to fly to Italy to hold a second wedding ceremony here in Itri.

The ceremony was to be held in the old medieval quarter of upper Itri, which has an ancient castle and a warren of narrow cobbled streets, stone stairways and alleys.  At the top is the old 9th century church of of San Michele Arcangelo.

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The wedding reception was to be held in the most splendid setting of Villa Paola near Fondi.

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A huge range of delicious antipasti were served al fresco in the beautiful gazebo.  This was the bride and groom’s table.

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For the rest of the meal we were directed inside into the lavish banquet hall.

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The delicious meal that insued was fish based and of numerous courses served at intervals during the afternoon.

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In between there were pauses for those who would like a little twirl around the dance floor.  The fuller everyone got the harder it was to move, let alone dance !!!

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There were numerous toasts or “brindisi” wishing the happy couple happiness, good health and good fortune by family and friends alike.

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Finally it was time to step outside once again for the bride and groom to cut the wedding cake.

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Congratulations Raffaele and Nicole, may you have many happy years together.

Thank you both, and a special thanks also to Florisa and Franco for allowing us to share your special day.

Auguri !!!

All photos by me 

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

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In April Paul needed to go back to the UK to renew his passport, and to spend a week of quality time with his Dad.  So we asked our good friend Kay if she would like to come over to Italy to help and keep me company during Paul’s absence.  In fact we talked Kay into coming for 2 whole months !!!

On the first Sunday of Kay’s stay we all drove down to the seaside at Gaeta, to have a look around at the Yacht Med Festival that was being held there.

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Along the sea front there were many stalls promoting all things maritime and nautical. Of course there was an array of classy boats on show, with prices to match !!!

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There was also a very large model of  John Cabot’s sailing ship, it is believed that he was born in Gaeta, and the long road along the sea front bears his name – Lungomare di Giovanni Caboto.

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From here we watched two impressive teams of fit youngsters, ten per boat, taking part in a rowing competition, all skilfully sculling in unison to power the boats along at a fair rate of knots.

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There were other exhibition stalls,  some dedicated to tourism, nature and the local regional parks such as the Riviera di Ulisse and the parks of the  Aurunci and Ausoni Mountains.

You can see here how the beautiful Aurunci Mountains tumble down to meet the sea in the gulf of Gaeta.

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Some more of the stalls …… Wildlife

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Colourful ceramics

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Local crafts

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Stramme work

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Finally some music started up and several troops of young colourful majorettes performed their energetic twirling routines to the delight of the crowds.

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The tiny tots were really cute !!!

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All photos by me !!!

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

You can read more about Gaeta at my South Lazio Website

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(A Guest Blog Post by Diana Johnson of Bribie, Queensland, Australia)

Hearing my black Labrador dog, Cindy, barking vigorously under my bedroom window reminded me of the dawn chorus at “Tre Cancelle”. No, not the birds but the doggies of “Tre Cancelle” whose voices may be a little muted if Paul has overslept and they are still in their night kennels. By day they have free rein across a large yard and are quick to detect the slightest movement from the occupants of the downstairs unit who might just be bearing doggie delights to their yard.

“The Woof-Gang”

A shared interest in Shapcott Genealogy gave me a virtual introduction to Paul and Louise many years ago but it is only in the last two years that I‘ve managed to visit their idyllic Italian hideaway. This September I lured my husband as well to South Lazio to meet Paul and Louise and the Woof Gang!

Well what a week! After combing the supermarket shelves in Rome for dog treats, I found it was much easier to buy them in Fondi or Itri. Of course by that time I also had to add in cat food as well for the latest additions to the “Tre Cancelle” home for waifs and strays. We wasted much time in trying to coax a very shy little kitten out into the open although her mother, named Micha, was much bolder and more forthright in her demands for sustenance. Milk and biscuits disappeared rapidly every day and cat food was gone in a flash!

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Tinkerbell

Diana befriending Tinkerbell

Warning to anyone dispensing Dentastix to the “Woof-Gang” – be sure to keep you fingers out of range lest Lizzie mistake one for a Dentastick ….

Somewhere in between walking dogs and generally making a fuss of all the furry inhabitants of “Tre Cancelle”, we found time to do some sightseeing around the region. With Paul driving and Louise supplying the tour commentary we feasted our eyes on the beautiful fishing ports with their steep steps and narrow alleys and archways in the old parts of the towns.

Gaeta

We visited markets selling every kind of produce under the sun, watched a religious procession …

Feast of Saints Cosma e Damiano

drove up into the mountains to see elaborate churches, villages perched on mountain tops and of course the famous Abbey of Monte Cassino.

The Abbey of Montecassino

A special bonus was afforded to us in Atina, where Louise met some of her relatives and we were invited into one of their houses in the old quarter of the town.

Atina’s ancient Cathedral

An alley in Atina

Louise and Paul at Atina’s weekly market

Listening in ignorance to the rapid flow of Italian I knew that I had to improve my knowledge of the language of this beautiful and intriguing country. It is not enough to be able to buy a bus ticket or order some meat or cheese in the deli, you really want to know what is going on…………..

No visit to Itri is complete without a visit or two to the aptly named Bellavista restaurant run by Mamma Riccardi and her charming sons. The road to the restaurant is an interesting climb if you happen to be the driver but thankfully I was not.  Having made it to the top, we relaxed on the terrace in the warm evening soaking up the glorious views of Itri by night (no doubt improved by the jugs of wine that appeared regularly upon our table). The Italian wine goes well with the Bellavista pizza, which is just great, in fact I’ll find it difficult going back to Aussie pizzas after having the real thing in Italy.

Trevor and Paul at the Bellavista

And while I’m on the subject of food, how can I not mention the wonderful gelati ice creams that we downed on several occasions. Alas, it means several more hours in the gym to work those inches off the waistline but ….well…. it was worth it!

Sadly a week goes by too quickly and all too soon we were heading back to Rome for the next leg of our trip but I know we will be back one day in the not too distant future. That is providing our good friends can put up with their Aussie visitors again.

Diana

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In mid April I finally flew back to Bella Italia accompanied by our friend Kay, who had decided to fit in a week’s stay at “Tre Cancelle”.  Feeling happier that things had settled down in the UK, it was good to once again set foot on Italian soil.

In my absence Paul had been staying on his own at TC , keen to take care of the dogs and get lots of work done in and around the house and olive groves.

One evening we were  invited to Luigi and Ornella’s house for supper. They had kindly bought a little present for Kay.

Kay especially enjoyed her drop of Prosecco !!!

After the meal “Luigiiiiiiiiiiiii” dug out his old guitar and we shared a very jolly serata in such excellent company.

During her stay Kay helped out with a few jobs, such as preparing the pool.  Sadly the weather was not quite warm enough for her to have a dip.

At the end of her week Kay had to fly back home,  but was to return again just six weeks later with another friend, Elsie, one of the Belly-dancing group.  Kay has by far been our most frequent guest at “Tre Cancelle”.  She had come over last year in July, then again in November with the “Welsh Girls” (to help with the olive harvest) and again at Christmas with daughter Kirsten, and Elsie.

During this trip Elsie was very keen to visit the Giardini di Ninfa as their stay coincided with one of the garden’s open days.  We suggested first stopping off at Sermoneta, a picturesque medieval town set high on the edge of the Monti Lepini.

The majestic well-preserved castle dominates the town which is enclosed by formidable fortified walls of limestone.

Sermoneta  is a maze of narrow, winding cobbled streets, alleyways and steep flights of stairs.

The town still retains much of its medieval charm with its characteristic Loggia dei Mercanti or old Town Hall in the central square.

At the heart of Sermoneta is the 13th century beautiful Romanesque Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo.

From Sermoneta there are magnificent views across the Pontine Plain to the sea.

In the afternoon we headed back down hill to find the Giardini di Ninfa.  This was to be my second visit, the first having been in 2010, see my previous Blog entry: 

http://trecancelle.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/93-the-gardens-of-ninfa/

Ninfa is a real treasure – a haven of natural beauty and tranquility and a photographer’s paradise. You can read all about Ninfa and its history at my website:  The Gardens of Ninfa

Being early June many roses were in full bloom.

My favourite area is down by the gently flowing river.

More about the fascinating Medieval town of Sermoneta:

http://sermoneta.shapcott-family.com

More about the magical Gardens of Ninfa:

http://ninfa.shapcott-family.com

Closeby to Sermoneta and Ninfa is the clifftop town of

Norma

 http://norma.shapcott-family.com

and the Cistercian  Valvisciolo Abbey

 http://norma.shapcott-family.com/page7.html

which also definitely merit a visit.

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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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When Elsie, and two of her belly-dancing friends, Karen and Sylvia, volunteered to come and help us with the olive harvest, I begged them to bring their costumes, so that perhaps we could put on a little show. 

They have been attending belly-dancing classes for several years, perfecting the necessary muscle control and complex choreographed manoeuvres of this dance form. They belong to a dance troupe who perform locally in South Wales.

I organised for the “Belly-Dancing Extravaganza”  to take place one evening at the Bellavista Restaurant, which is run by our good friends – la famiglia Riccardi.

We had invited several of our Italian friends from Itri, some of whom have known Kay and Elsie for many years now, but in true Italian fashion, up until the last minute we had no firm idea of how many people would be able to attend.

We arrived in good time, so that the girls had time to dress and prepare themselves.

Then, one by one our invited friends started to come through the door and it soon became apparent that there was going to be a good turnout for the evening’s entertainment.  This resulted in augmenting  the girls’ pre-performance nerves, which were already running somewhat high. 

The girls looked absolutely stunning as they elegantly swished their way onto the dance floor.

Their glamorous costumes were richly bejewelled with sequins, glass beads and jingling coins.

Each had taken great care in putting together their exotic, eye-catching ensembles.

Sylvia dressed in rich purple …..

Karen dressed in vivid scarlet …..

and Elsie in opulent black and gold …..

As the rhythmic music began the girls began to gracefully undulate and gyrate, whirling and twirling, with a shimmy or two of the hips.  Their elegant flowing movements were seemingly effortless. 

The audience was totally captivated by their magnificent performance.

Especially Massimo !!!

Later members of the audience were invited onto the dance floor to try their hand at some of the typical moves.  Some individuals turned out to be somewhat more competent than others, which resulted in much hilarity !!!

The evening proved to be a great success, and was enjoyed by all.

A big Thank You to the Belly-Dancing Girls from South Wales !!!

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