The mountains are always close by. This area has an alpine feel.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Today, we drove to Santo Stefano de Sessanio, a 6-hour drive from Matera. We enjoyed beautiful scenery, but it seemed like we would never arrive!

Our hotel is very cool…historic reconstruction conserving all the elements of the original buildings and their uses.  Very rustic but loads of charm! It is called the Sexantio Albergo Difuso, because it has rooms in various buildings around the town.

We ate dinner in the Cantinone, one of three restaurants owned by the hotel. (The others are the “Tea Room”  and the “Locanda Sotto gli Archi.”)  The Cantinone had an authentic atmosphere.  The goal of this project (the town) is to conserve and preserve the heritage and history of the town.  When you are there, you find yourself experiencing life as the inhabitants of centuries past would have – so the walls of the Cantinone are dark from centuries of wood smoke and the tables and chairs are rustic and rough.

Our room in the Sexantio Albero Difuso – looking one way…


The food was very good, and basic.  Again, you can imagine yourself living in the time – big communal platter of local cheeses and cold cuts, great bread.  Lentil soup/stew was the main course. The lentils grown in this region are famous.

Our room is also authentic, though we have modern bathroom facilities, minus a shower.  The cement and paving stone floor is uneven, but spotlessly clean.

Our room in the Sexantio Albergo Diffuso looking the other way.

The walls are rough, the door wooden with a sliding bolt and a key the size of a handgun. It has a low beamed ceiling and though dark, is both warm and dry.  Something probably not so authentic, but nice for a paying guest! Especially because it is damp and rainy outside.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

I got up early and took a long walk around the town. The weather is changing so there are some dramatic photos.  The town has a lot of scaffolding – most of it protects visitors from falling debris.  Some of it is designed to hold up buildings that were damaged but salvageable from the big earthquake in 2009. There is restoration work underway, too. It would be fun to come back in a couple of years and see what progress is made.

We had breakfast in the Locanda Sotto Gli Archi, one of the three restaurants owned by the hotel.  This one has a lighter atmosphere thanks to windows along an open street that get lots of light.  The fare is simple.  Breads, pastries, cold cuts, cheeses, marmalade and dunking cookies.  Coffee is plentiful.

This morning’s group meeting is a presentation about the hotel and the town.  The meeting room is upstairs from the breakfast room (which is also the main dinner venue).  The room is well-equipped for meetings, which seemed an oxymoron – modern meetings in a medieval town.  We heard about the town’s history and the philosophy of Danielle Kihlgren, the man with the idea behind this town. Others have written extensively about it, so I leave you with a link.

In addition to restoring the buildings, there is a focus on restoring the people – not as hawkers of tourist wares like we saw in Alberobello, Locototondo or Cisternino, but people engaged in the trades of the inhabitants of a small village  – craft shops and tailoring being two that I actually saw.  I thought perhaps a washerwoman might find good business there as the nearest laundry was 35 minutes away, and we are in need of clean and dry clothes in this weather.

Ruins of Rocca Calascio.

View far down into the valley from the ruins of the Rocca Calascio

Gerry and I went out for a drive – just making a loop to cover some of the countryside and find some allusive spring wildflowers.  The next town to the east is Calascio, and its claim to fame is the Rocca Calascio, a fortress built on the top of the mountain behind it.  We drove as far as we could up to the Rocca.  We parked and walked the last half a kilometer to the ruins.  We had seen them the previous day as we drove into Santo Stefano. They made a very dramatic statement on the top of a tall, tall mountain surrounded by grey clouds.  Today, the weather was clearing and when we reached the top we had great views of the valleys far below us and the interesting ruins, with fabulous skies both blue and with magnificent clouds.

Santa Maria della Pieta on the Rocca Calascio

Also up here you will find a church, Santa Maria della Pieta, an octagonally-shaped church from the 17th century, which was not open.

We stayed in the little village at the ruins to have lunch.  Called Il Refugio della Rocca, or Taberna della Rocca, it is also a hotel. We enjoyed our meal very much. Afterwards, we continued our drive to Castel del Monte, the next town on the loop.  Everything was closed for the siesta so we drove through the town looking for a photo or two.  Just outside of Castel del Monte we were stopped on the road by sheep! The shepherd was talking on a cell phone!  I was watching the dogs.  There is a breed of white dogs that is famous in Abruzzo, and dedicated to sheep herding.  I think I saw some…

Castel del Monte

Continuing on, the fog settled in and for miles we could see next to nothing, except the side of the road and about 20 feet in front of us. Perhaps the bad weather contributed to my blah reaction to this area.  It was cold and rainy. It felt good to stay in the car, protected from the wind.  That said, the fog and drizzle did interesting things to the landscape… not least of which was adding saturated colors to our pictures. We had hoped to meet others from the group along the wildflower viewing part of the road, but we had it to ourselves.

Sheep…Is that one of the famous white dogs of Abruzzo?

One of the nicer features of this drive was approaching Santo Stefano di Sessanio from above and behind, a totally different view than the one we enjoyed driving into town a day earlier. We walked to another venue nearby for dinner, this one also a hotel and a restaurant,called La Locanda del Palazzo.  Our food was very good and we were the lone diners on that rainy evening which gave us a chance to talk at length with our server and the proprietors, where we learned about the rare flowers of the regions.

Wild flower plain

Monday, May 13

Faced with yet another rainy day, I opted to sit with Jean and Eddie to look at her pictures and to hear her questions. A review of basics and more is always valuable for me. Unfortunately, it was during that presentation that I began to have a problem with my back. I spent the next 18 hours trying to sleep through drugs that I hoped would kill the pain.

Tuesday, May 14

We checked out this morning.  My enthusiasm for the hotel wore off over the 3 days, and I wonder if it is the type of place you just stay one night to get the experience.  Trying to shower with a water pitcher in a tub in the middle of the room, was really not my cup of tea.  I also think the room was too small for two people. I loved the attention to the medieval details, but with a bad back, I just wanted out. On the drive to Tuscany, I slept most of the way thanks to those back drugs working their way through my system. I am going to pick up in Tuscany in the next section. Here are some parting shots of the hotel and the town.

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Even though my back was bothering me when we left this mountain village, I had my wits about me enough to catch this final parting shot.

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Next up: Tuscany and the Val d’Orcia