249 – Christmas and the Living Nativity of the Village of Maranola

Maranola is a small medieval village overlooking the town of Formia on the South Lazio coast. Each Christmas-time the village puts on a wonderful “Living Nativity” known as the “Presepe Vivente“.  Many of the local people take part in this project, and ground floor rooms and cellars undergo a transformation. Here living scenes are created depicting the every day life of days gone by.  Some re-enact former occupations, ancient skills and crafts.










Many of the townsfolk are dressed in the traditional costmes of the ancient region of Ciociaria. This area takes its name from the word “ciocie“, which is an ancient form of footware, thought to date back to Etruscan times. It was a type of sandal, with a curiously curved toe, that was bound to the calf with leather laces. It was typically worn by the local shepherds and peasants of the area.



There are also scenes depicting the preparation of typical local produce.








Over the festive Christmas period Maranola has three editions of this event. These are normally held on the 26th December, New Years Day and on the day of the Epiphany, the 6th January.  Last year we attended the last event.

The sound of the pipes of the zampognieri heralded the arrival of the Three Kings bearing their gifts.


They all made their way to the stable when the charming Nativity scene was taking place. A local couple with a young baby played the roles of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.



We really are hoping to visit Maranola again this Christmas. This is a very special local event – not to be missed.


Well may we take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and Peace and Goodwill to all.

We also wish you all the very best in the coming New Year.

Love from us all at Tre Cancelle

Louie and Paul, the Tre Cancelle “Woof-gang” and our growing menagerie


All photos by me © Louise Shapcott



Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga’s Beaches and Historic Itri

Discover South Lazio




241 – Christmas Greetings 2016

Well as you can see we have had a busy full-on year here at Tre Cancelle.

We have welcomed guests from all around the world and have had many happy guests, and we’ve received some kind reviews on TripAdvisor

We’ve had the pleasure of meeting some really lovely people, sharing special times with family, friends and visitors, visiting some really beautiful places and enjoying the peace and tranquility of Tre Cancelle.

We are so lucky and we have so much to be grateful for.

Here are some photos of the Christmas decorations in the nearby seaside town of Gaeta.








Wishing you, one and all, Peace and Joy this Christmas

and also wishing you all the very best during the year ahead.

Ciao for now !!!

Louise and Paul


173 – Christmas 2013 Back In the UK

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.

Barry Island South Wales UK

Kay and Paul

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

Winters Day Barry Island South Wales UK

Beach at Barry Island South Wales UK

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.

Marco's Cafe Barry Island South Wales UK

Marco's Cafe Barry Island South Wales UK

Marco's Cafe Barry Island South Wales UK

Marco's Cafe Barry Island South Wales UK

Marco's Cafe Barry Island South Wales UK

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

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

Barrybados TShirt  Barry Island South Wales UK

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


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 !!!


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




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




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




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


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.


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





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







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.

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

137 – Il Presepio Vivo di Maranola

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


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

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

85 – Buon Anno 2010

Although this is perhaps slightly belated,

we would like to wish you, one and all,

a Very Happy New Year and All The Very Best During 2010.

We had a very enjoyable Christmas with a surprise visit by our eldest son.  On Christmas Day we were all kindly invited to lunch by our friends, Luca and Loredana at her family’s home in Gaeta.

We arrived a little early, so as it was such a beautiful day, we went with Luca to get a coffee at a local bar.


Then we walked down to Gaeta’s Serapo Beach and strolled on the sands.  The weather was so amazing mild, at around 18 degrees C.

Serapo Beach, Gaeta

The Christmas lunch, Italian style was superb, with so many delicious offerings that we were almost full to bursting.

We had agreed  to provide the dessert.  We decided to try Loredana’s family out on a traditional Christmas Pudding with custard, and some mince tarts that Louise had prepared. (In total Louie had actually made 15 dozen !!! as we wanted to give some as gifts to each of our special friends in Itri.) The pudding seemed to go down well, especially the custard which Loredana particularly loved.


Luca and Loredana’s son Lorenzo


Loredana with her nieces Elisa and Claudia

Loredana with her sister and parents

Our thanks to all the family who made us feel so very welcome.

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

84 – Buon Natale 2009

A cheery “Ciao” to you, one and all,

hoping each and everyone is keeping well

and getting into the swing of this year’s seasonal festivities.

I must admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Christmas, since at the age of 9 or 10 I became very disillusioned on abruptly discovering that Father Christmas was in fact not real.  I was absolutely devastated.  How I had been duped !!!

My dear mother, Tina, always loved Christmas. She seemed to forever see Christmas through the eyes of an innocent child.  When I was young she used to delight in taking me on trips to London to visit the large department stores with their glittering, alluring window displays.  Here I would be enticed to visit dear Olde Santa in his magical twinkling grotto.  However, so fervent was her passion, that in the period leading up to Christmas I was taken to visit Santa in several different stores.  Even at the age of 4 or 5 I must have had quite an enquiring mind, as I soon began to deduce that each of the Santas somehow looked subtly different, ie the colour of their gloves, boots and belts etc !!!

In Italy festivities begin on the 6th December with the Festa di San Nicola, followed by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th, which is marked by a Public Holiday.  The 13th December is the feast of Santa Lucia also known as “The Festival of Lights”. It seems that no expense is spared as each Comune stings up its extravagant sparkling, displays of Christmas street illuminations, on entering or each town one is greeted with the cheery message Buona Festa.

Outside their premises some shop keepers lay out cheery red or green felt on the pavements, and display Christmas trees decorated with ribbons and bows, and assorted dangling pasta shapes that have been gilded with gold spray paint, creating a jolly festive atmosphere.

One thing that it is not easy to find in Italy is Christmas cards.  Occasionally they are sold individually, and then choice is very limited, the quality very poor, and they very over-priced.  Last year the only place we were able to find packs of Christmas cards was in IKEA in Naples.  It seems that greetings cards in general have not really caught on in Italy.  The staff at our local Post Office often comment on how many letters are cards we receive, particularly around Christmastime.  I think that next year I will have to get busy and make my own greetings cards, perhaps this could be a new little cottage industry for me.

In Italy, in the weeks leading up to Christmas traditionally shepherd pipers, known as pifferai and zampognari, come down from the mountainous regions of the Abruzzi to herald the pending birth of the Christ child, by playing their traditional festive music.  The ciaramella is a wooden flute, and the zambogna is a type of reed bag-pipe, the air sacks of which are traditionally made of goat or sheep skin and the flutes are commonly carved of olive wood.  They musicians sport an unusual type of foot ware, known as the ciocia, which is said to date back to Etruscan times.  This consists of a rudimentary leather sole which towards the toe curves upwards.  This is held in place by long straps which are tightly bound around the foot and calf.  This type of foot-ware is part of the local costume of the people of Ciociaria, who take their name from this unique type of shoe.  My mother’s family originated from this region.

Each church erects a special Nativity tableau, called a presepe, many of the figurines that been hand crafted by traditional artisans. In certain towns it is possible to see a “living” Nativity scene, with real people and children dressed in costumes, acting out the traditional story.  I am told such an event takes place annually in the medieval hill towns of Maranola and Minturno and we are hoping to go and take a look this Christmas.

In their own homes families also strive to recreate their own nativity scenes, some more elaborate than others, and encourage their children to play their part in the family’s preparations for Christmas. Shops sell many of the essential crèche components to create a fanciful display.  These can range from the basics such as: cork, moss, bark and straw, to more extravagant additions such as snow capped mountains, caves, stables, bridges, lights and electrically driven streams and water-wheels.  Also there is a wide range of figurines on offer, Mary and St Joseph, glittering winged angels, lowly farmyard animals, traditional shepherds playing their pipes, people representing other common professions, and of course il bambino Gesù, to be laid in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve.  The exotic Magi are added to the display on the day of the Epiphany.  These figures range from decidedly tacky, mass produced, plastic specimens, to more tasteful, hand crafted statuettes.  Sometimes such nativity scenes are handed down through the family, from one generation to another.

I recall one year, many years ago, my aunt once sent over a parcel containing a basic crib, with an integral musical box.  It played the tune to the well loved Italian Christmas carol: “Tu scendi dalle stelle,  O re del Cielo,  E vieni in una grotta,  Al freddo e al gelo.” As a child I was transfixed by the enchanting scene and the delightful rhythmical tune.

My mother used to describe to us how my grandfather, or Nonno in Italian, used to create their special Nativity scene.  Being a skilled carpenter he constructed a splendid wooden crib and would work for many hours, painstakingly creating the display, with mountains made of cardboard and a night sky illuminated by tiny bulbs which ran off a battery.  He would use earth for the ground, and flour for the snow.  Then he would lovingly position the plaster statuettes of Our Lady, Joseph, the shepherds, kings, angels and animals to complete the scene.  Unfortunately one Christmas the poor family cat got somewhat confused and did a “whoopsie” in the middle of the scene !!! I am sure he would have paid for his error!   After this Nonno vowed never again to use real soil in the display.

Paul and I will be spending Christmas in Italy this year.

We would like to wish …..

Peace and goodwill to all men ( women and dogs !!!)

We hope that this year the true spirit of Christmas will enrich your lives.

We wish you  health, happiness and harmony for the coming New Year

Louise and Paul

and of course the “Woof-Gang”

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy


83 – Traditional Nativity Scenes / Presepi

Last week whilst in Minturno, we visited an exhibition of traditional “Presepi” in the old Baronial castle.  Such hand crafted nativity scenes are a centuries old traditional speciality of the Naples area.

Some tableaux featured the traditional group of figures, depicting the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and Magi, together with animals and angels.

Others had far more elaborate settings, such as realistic Italian village scenes, showing every-day domestic life, craftsmen and occupations of a time gone by.

For the artists who had painstakingly sculpted these intricate masterpieces it must have been a true labour of love, with such astonishing attention to detail.

I will leave you to wonder at the superb craftsmanship of these artisans ……

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy


43 – Fuochi di San Giuseppe – 19th March

The 19th March is the feast of the Fuochi di San Giuseppe, in honour of St Joseph the patron saint of Carpenters, and is also celebrated as Father’s Day in Italy.

Originally this was a pagan festival, full of mystic symbolism of purification. It celebrates the end of winter and welcomes the long awaited arrival of Spring. Prayers are said to grant a good harvest for the year.




This was our first opportunity to see how Itri celebrates this special evening.  Itri was thronged with people and the air was filled with the smell of wood smoke as large bonfires had been  lit around the town. Different neighbourhoods compete to build the largest bonfire.

Despite the slightly inclement weather there were long queues at the various stalls serving traditional dishes and zeppole, fritters made of sugar, eggs and honey.

In the main piazza by the Comune a band played folk music. 


I was particularly interested in the zampogna player, as this instrument is typical of the Atina / Villa Latina /  Ciociaria area, from which my Italian grandparents originated.


The zampogna is a type of rustic bagpipe that was traditionally played by local shepherds known as zampognari particularly at Christmas and other times of celebration. 

The evening came to a somewhat dramatic crescendo when a lively thunderstorm struck the town with a pelting of hailstones.  Thankfully it had held off so there were no disruptions to the San Giuseppe festivities.


37 – New Years’ Eve 2008

Our close friends Florisa and Franco had kindly invited us to spend New Year’s eve at their house.  In Italy New Year’s Eve is known as Capo d’Anno or La Festa di San Silvestro.

We arrived to find a house full of people, their family and friends.  Florisa doesn’t bat an eyelid about cooking for 25 or more guests at a time. She comes from a big family and is one of 7 sisters.


lent1A hearty fire was burning in the hearth and we noticed that there was a traditional earthenware pot simmering there on the side, our first indication that by the end of the evening we would have had our fill or fine fayre.

Indeed we were treated to a delicious meal,  which commenced with a seafood pasta dish made with both fish and shellfish, followed by fried fish and roasted potatoes.  Next, calamari (squid) was grilled  alla Braccia over the open fire and served with various vegetable contorni.  This was followed by a selection of  fresh fruit and nuts, and roasted chestnuts. 

Next came the delicious, hard, if potentially jaw breaking  Cantucci hazelnut  biscuits  and Rococco chocolate covered gingerbread biscuits, not forgetting the obligatory Panettone, Italian spongey Christmas cake of candied peel and dried fruit.

tombolaThen someone suggested playing the traditional Italian game of Tombola.  We duly purchased our cards for 50 euro cents a time.  Soon we were all sat, eyes down, anxiously scanning our cards for the numbers that were being picked and called out (in Italian of course).  There was a prize for the first person to get a full horizontal line, and of course for getting a “full house”.  Each game was incredibly noisy and boisterous, with much ribbing and teasing going on.  As the games continued the atmosphere became more animated, with the lucky winners yelling out triumphantly whilst the deflated losers muttered “Managia la miseria !!!”  and huffed and puffed sulkily.  It was all good clean fun, except for the fact that as usual, we managed not to win a single euro cent !!!  A cheap price to pay for such a wonderful evening of merriment and entertainment.

As midnight approached they put on the TV and popped open a bottle of “bubbly” and we gathered in a circle and watched the countdown to 2009. The New Year was enthusiastically greeted with lot of hugs, kisses and Auguri’s whilst Florisa threw herself into dishing up the evening’s gastronomic finale of lentiche stewed lentils and cotechino sausage.   Traditionally it is believed that the more lentils you eat, the more prosperity comes your way throughout the year. 

Perhaps there is really more to the phrase

“with luck and a following WIND” !