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During the summer months the population of Itri swells with holiday visitors and as families that emigrated abroad return to their beloved home town. Many come to attend Itri’s July festival which is held in honour of its patron, “La Madonna della Cività”.
The festival always culminates in a splendid firework display which emanates from the magnificent castle that dominates the old medieval quarter.
During July and August Itri holds a whole host of events and this year we ventured to see the “Festa Medievale” which was also held up in the old historic part of town. We arrived early, however the streets were already jammed with cars heading for the festival, and parking spaces were at a premium. So we decided to park in the lower part of town and continue by making our way on foot.
The old town is a warren of narrow cobble stone streets, archways, gates and stairways. It is full of interesting nooks and crannies, there is something of interest around every corner.
In the main square traditional games had been set up to entertain the children.
By the castle there was a display of falconry with live birds of prey – Such exquisite creatures.
As we wandered through the narrow alleyways amongst the jostling crowd we came across local folk dressed in Medieval costumes, acting as feudal lords, courtiers, swordsmen, archers, flag throwers and street musicians.
There were also stalls selling traditional gastronomic delights and arts and crafts …..
and an exhibition of gruesome implements of torture.
The authentic atmosphere of Itri’s historic old town was just perfect for such an event and I think an enjoyable evening was had by all.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
#Itri #Italy #MedievalFestival #castle
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:
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:
More about the magical Gardens of Ninfa:
Closeby to Sermoneta and Ninfa is the clifftop town of
and the Cistercian Valvisciolo Abbey
which also definitely merit a visit.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
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
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
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 !!!
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
The next day the “Welsh Girls” were keen to get back to work.
We threw down the gauntlet saying that the most olives ever gathered to take down to the mill in a single drop was 400 kilos. The girls were determined to beat this record over the next two days.
We all got into the swing of things, and worked really hard and efficiently as a team.
Yet there was also time for a great deal of joviality, general larking about and of course cups of tea.
That afternoon Moustapha, our 7 ft Senegalese friend from the market, also volunteered to lend a helping hand … he was ideal for reaching the loftier branches with the olive clapper !!!
The next morning the girls were up early and worked all day like crazy to fill more cases with olives.
By the end of that day we had gathered 408 kilos of olives, beating the previous record by 8 kilos.
Well done everyone !!!
We then loaded up the car with the 21 cases of olives.
Sincere thanks to Kay, Elsie, Karen and Sylvia, and not forgetting kind Moustapha for their hard graft and sterling efforts over the past week. We couldn‘t have done it without you. Well done !!!
You may have thought that the “Welsh Girls” would have been exhausted after their laborious day …..
But No !!! They went on to perform a Belly Dancing Extravaganza at the Bellavista Restaurant in Itri that evening !!!
See next post !!!
The Belly Dancing Extravaganza !!!
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
Two of our friends, Kay and Elsie, who are regular visitors to Tre Cancelle, volunteered to come and help us with this year’s olive harvest. Elsie also recruited two of her friends, Karen and Sylvia, who all belong to a popular Belly-Dancing group in South Wales.
Itri’s undulating hillsides are tinted with the silvery green foliage of olives trees, indeed Itri has been noted for the quality of its olives since Roman times.
The “Itrana” cultivar is exclusive to this specific area, thriving as a consequence of the unique environment, quality of the fertile soil, temperate micro –climate, sea breezes and fresh mountain air.
So for the last month the olive groves around Itri have been a hive of activity, with the cheery banter of workers laughing and jesting whilst preparing for the olive harvest, strimming grass and weeds and trimming and burning suckers. Little “apes” (pronounced Ah-Pays, which translated literally mean “bees”) – small three wheeler vans noisily buzz and rattle along the local lanes, sometimes with a husband and generously proportioned wife cosily crammed inside the tiny driving cab.
By November many of the olives have grown round and plump and are gradually turning from bright green to dappled pink. Those harvested in November / December produce the much sought after “Early Harvest” Extra Virgin Olive Oil and / or Green Table Olives.
Other farmers prefer to harvested their olives when they are fully ripe, during February / March, to produce the “Mature Harvest Extra Virgin Oil and / or Purple / Black Table Olives.
After the well received comments from our last years November oil, we elected to harvest our olives early in the season, which whilst it produces less in volume, yields a wonderfully green and intense olive oil.
The weather seemed to be in our favour being set fair for most of the week. The “Welsh Girls” were keen to get stuck in.
We started by carefully spreading out nets around some of the trees on the first terrace to be worked. Paul fired up the compressor to which can be fitted a variety of pneumatic tools, in this case a mechanical rake on a 4 meter telescopic pole, which is used to comb and vibrate the laden branches, causing the olives to cascade onto the nets below.
Some of the trees had grown very tall, and required pruning back, so Paul climbed up a ladder, and with his trusty chain saw, and lopped off the tops to a more manageable height of 4 meters, thus allowing the olives to be easily harvested at ground level.
This is done by hand either by using small rakes or by gently running one’s fingers over the fronds, popping of the colourful fruits, a task I find enormously satisfying.
Inevitably the odd stray olive manages to bounce off the net so we scrambled about under the trees collecting these up.
The nets were then carefully gathered up and the olives rolled to one edge, where stray twigs and leaves are pulled out before pouring the olives into the waiting plastic crates. The huge nets were then lugged to the next batch of trees to be harvested.
Ideally the olives need to be processed within 48 hours of being harvested, to preserve the very best of their natural characteristics.
The minimum batch size to take to the olive mill is 200 kilos, or 2 quintale, to ensure that your olives are processed in a single lot, and that you retrieve your own oil at the end of the process, and that it is not a mixed with someone else’s olives. We think this is very important because by choice we do not use pesticides and herbicides whereas some other producers are not so ecologically minded.
Therefore, in general we tend to work two days on and one day off. Our team of volunteers worked well and following the first 2 day harvest we were able to take 209 kilos of olives to the mill.
The following day the “Welsh Girls” deserved a well earned day off.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
In the seaside city of Gaeta, the festival known as “Le Vie di Gaeta”, is held over a long weekend at the beginning of October. This a popular event with people coming from near and afar to take part. It is a celebration of local ancient traditions, culture, history and gastronomy and there are informative guided tours of the town where one can learn more about Gaeta’s colourful history, art, culture and nature.
On the Saturday evening a wonderful Food Festival is held in the charming setting of Via Indipendenza which runs parallel with the sea front Lungomare Giovanni Caboto. Via Indipendenza is a quaint, narrow pedestrian alley, approximately half a mile in length, and is paved in dark volcanic stone, with many little adjoining alleyways known as vicoli. Here you can find many small shops selling fresh local food and an array of items, such as souvenirs, handicrafts, leather goods, clothes, jewellery etc.
The food festival is a gastronomic extravaganza of traditional local Gaetana food, recipes and where locals offer samples of their freshly prepared delicacies.
We arrived in the early evening, and watched as the locals were still in the process of setting up numerous colourful stalls along the narrow street. The participants are generally all volunteers, a great example of the locals coming together to keep alive their community and traditions, which they hold so dear.
There are small tables at strategic entry points to the Via with people selling vouchers which represent an ancient coinage of the old duchy of Gaeta known as the “Follaro”, which is valued at about 50 euro cents. With these vouchers you can then purchase samples of the various delicacies on offer.
Gaeta residents come together to offer the very best of their native ingredients and cuisine, for example Gaeta olives and freshly caught local seafood, cicinelli (tiny baby fish) octopus salads, cod or vegetable fritters, anchovy meatballs.
Then there is the renowned Tiella, which is a cross between a pizza and a calzone. Typical fillings include diced calamari with parsley, garlic, oil, hot chilli pepper and a little tomato sauce. Other fillings include escarole (a variety of endive) and baccalà (dried cod), egg and zucchini, spinach, and ham and cheese.
There was plenty of local vino on offer as well, as dolci such as Bignè made from a type of choux pastry filled with delicious crème patisserie, cakes made with honey and Struffoli, small balls of fried batter, rolled in honey.
Some of the stallholders had even taken the trouble to dress up in traditional costumes of the Gaeta area.
It seemed that everywhere along the route our tastebuds were tantalised by the deliciously temping aromas. By now Via Indipendenza was buzzing with throngs of people filling every nook and cranny of the narrow street, and forwards progress was slowed to a virtual standstill by people stopping and chatting with neighbours and friends every couple of yards.
Indeed it was an excellent evening of good food, conviviality and merriment.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
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.
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 !!!
All other photos by me © Louise Shapcott
At the end of August we were delighted to have our younger son Ben, his “other half” Emma and “Baby Bump” to stay. They are expecting a little arrival at the end of November and were both much in need of a relaxing holiday. This was to be Emma’s first trip to Italy.
Although their stay here was all too brief, Ben and Emma managed to fit in ….. a couple of days at the beach …..
some local sight-seeing (Sperlonga) …..
and a day in Rome.
We were all kindly invited to our friends, Luca and Loredana’s home, for a special meal to celebrate Luca’s 50th Birthday. Buon Compleanno Luca !!!
By the way -such a landmark birthday is shortly looming for
Paul this October !!!
One day we were also invited to San Donato and Atina in the Val di Comino and enjoyed another delicious meal with our Italian cousins.
Emma is a very passionate and creative cook and during her stay, delighted in preparing some srumptious food for us all.
Please come back soon Emma !!!
“Papa Woods” and Emma are about to move into their new home together in Cardiff, in time to get settled before the little addition to their family arrives.
We wish them all lots of love and all the very best in their new home.