Recently, Jen’s family came to visit (HERE) and since we’re not the type of family that does well sitting still, we planned a couple trips within their trip. One of these week-long sojourns was an impromptu visit to Civitella in the Abruzzo region- Jen’s nonna’s (grandma’s) hometown. The official name of this gem of a village is actually, Civitella Messer Raimondowhich is home to less than 900 residents. Jennifer and Jessica grew up going to visit their nonna and family friends in Civatella during many of their summers abroad. Since I had never been to see such an important part of my wife’s family history – I was excited to go.
Civitella Messer Raimondo – the place where it all started!
There were only four of us that made the decision to go to Civitella because Jen’s sister, Jessica had gone off for the weekend to visit a friend in London. When we made the decision to go, we realized it would be easiest to pick Jessica up at the airport in Milan and continue the remaining four hours south (already having a one hour head start). We played out a few scenario’s in our head’s where we told Jessica we were going to whisk her immediately from a fabulous weekend of high-end parties with twenty-somethings in one of the world’s most fabulous cities to a small village in a rural part of Italy with her immediate family and a baby. Putting ourselves in her single, Sex In The City mindset… I think we all realized this would be a hard adjustment of vacation speeds for her. She’d most likely want to fly in from London and come home to Como for a day or two to decompress before re-packing. At a minimum, she would want to drive home and pack for herself before turning around and heading back out (all very understandable). Of course, this would add anywhere from 3 hours driving to shortening our trip by a couple days. We were not sympathetic to her anticipated needs and so we formulated a plan. We would pick her up from the airport with the car packed and ready to go. We would simply drive south and when she eventually realized we weren’t approaching Como, we would already be two-three hours in the wrong direction. We were all on pins and needles as we picked her up. I whisked her bag out of her hands and into the fully packed trunk. We peppered her with questions about her weekend so she wouldn’t notice signs heading South as opposed to North. Jen almost blew the whole operation when she burst out laughing so hard that she cried. Luckily, she covered with some lame excuse and Jessica’s usually razor-sharp intuition was dulled from a long weekend of fun. When we were about 20 minutes away from the airport a calm washed over us all… we pulled it off! Of course, the eventual earthquake of truth wouldn’t be far off from rocking the car and crushing Jessica’s plans of a relaxing afternoon at home. After being in the car for well over an hour, her suspicions could no longer be redirected and I delivered the news to her through choked back laughter. She was less than entertained…
“Five hours in the freaking car after flying all day!”
Even though my father-in-law, Dominic grew up in Africa; nearly all his Italian roots are traced back to this small village. So, it’s no surprise that so many years later he still has friends all over the region. Even though his mamma’s house was big enough to accommodate us, it was easiest and most comfortable to stay at a B&B owned by some family friends in the larger town “next door”, Fara San Martino. La Piazetta is owned and run by Pietro and his wife Antonietta – a beautiful B&B, perfect for our family. Once we got settled in, we visited a nearby town, Casoli before heading to Civitella and Jen’s nonna’s house – a home that has been in their family for at least five generations. We ran into the neighbors, Antonino (Tonino) and Maria across the “street” (really, more of a cobblestone alley) and they invited us in for a coffee. This somehow turned into a full meal with homemade salumi (various types of cured meats), fresh fruit, fried cheese and homemade wine. We were a bit full from a big lunch, but I’d like to see you try telling an Italian woman you’re not in the mood to eat! We were glad we did – it was all wonderful.
The view from Dominic and Diane’s balcony in La Piazetta
Jess and Jules at the hotel
A view in Fara San Martino – you’re quite literally next to the mountain
The fountain in the center of Fara San Martino, you can fill up your bottles with mountain water
Dom giving it a go – perhaps the best water we’ve ever had
Casoli from afar – where we went after breakfast the first day
Another view of Casoli
This dog came to say “hello” as we each snapped the above image – I think we can all read Dom’s mind here…
A street scene in Casoli
Me and Julia in front of the Castello Masciantonio
We asked these ladies for directions and they also gave Julia candy and biscotti in addition to the directions
Julia crosses the street, content after a lunch of pasta and lamb (her real shirt was covered in sauce)
Jen’s Nonna’s house
Three generations out front of mamma, nonna and bisnonna’s home
A wonderful makeshift lunch – well done when you have six surprise houseguests
Pietro’s cousin (also named Pietro) brought Dominic into the pasta business years go (nearly two decades ago). This Pietro (the pasta Pietro, not the hotel Pietro) ran Delverde (a large high-quality pasta company) for years before branching off and starting his own gluten free pasta company, Farabella. Their family owned company now makes wonderful pasta that fits perfectly within a quickly growing segment of the market. Their factory is nestled amongst the other three companies all sharing the precious mountain water that is a critical ingredient to their pasta. Along with Farabella, DeCecco (you’ve definitely seen it in your grocery store), Delverde (you may have seen it) and Giuseppe Cocco (you probably haven’t seen it unless you go to high-end Italian specially stores) make up the four corners of this pasta-prodcuing town. I would suspect that these four companies within close proximately to each other produce a large percentage of the world’s intake of pasta – to be eclipsed only by one company, the Wal-Mart of the pasta world, Barilla located all over Italy and the world.
Delverde pasta company
DeCecco takes up the most real estate, by far
When Dominic was working for Pietro and Delverde in the 90’s, their families grew very close. In fact, Pietro sent his son, Antonio and his daughter, Marilina to live with Jen and her family at separate times. They learned perfect English and a perhaps even a few of our American habits. Antonio was so excited to see us in his hometown, he happily adopted the role as our tour guide. He started showing us all over Abruzzo, starting with a tour of their amazing factory.
Is Julia in love with Antonio or his hat?
Oh, DEFINITELY Antonio!
Antonio starts the tour
I embarrassed him, taking pictures of his tour. I assure you, he was excellent under pressure
Some of the unbelievably clean and technologically advanced machinery
Antonio shows us some of their flower and explains it’s properties
They were making gnocchi that day. The mix goes through a long road on it’s way to become…
We could eat the gnocchi uncooked, right off the line. It was still warm from the dough mixing
Some spaghetti set aside to dry and properly form
Antonio, didn’t you learn not to play with your food?!
What a great tour for the girls
After the pasta tour we went to a nearby town, Guardiagrele for some sightseeing and shopping. Later that evening, we met Antonio’s parents for dinner at one of their favorite restaurants in that area, Villa Maiella. We had no idea what we were in for! I think there something like 10 courses (I missed photographing a couple) and each one was better than the last! The restaurant is mentioned in the Michelin Guide for Italy and Mario Batali praises it as one of his favorites in Abruzzo (HERE). It was nearly midnight before the bountiful cornucopia of food and wine stopped flowing.
Dusk sets in Guardiagrele
We went to a park
Julia loved this particular bridge
Julia reaching for something she shouldn’t… we’ve never seen that before!
View from Guardiagrele
Dominic, Diane, Rosanna & Pietro
Bistecca alla tartara (steak tartare)
Bianco di tacchino con finocchi, noci e arancia (White turkey with fennel, orange and nuts)
Riso, patate e baccala (rice, potatoes and salt cod)
Millefoglie ai porcini (puff pastry with mushrooms)
Manzo leggermente scottato (lightly seared beef)
Raviolo di burrata allo zafferano (homemade burrata ravioli with saffron)
Tagliatelle di semola grezza con porcini (homemade tagliatelle pasta with raw porcini mushrooms)
L’agnello: al ginepro e alla brace (lamb prepared two ways, with juniper and grilled)
Semifreddo al parrozzo (homemade parfait)
Various biscotti and other desserts served with the espresso
Of course we needed our cafe…
…then our grappa!
The next day, Antonio took us to his home in the beautiful beach town of Pescara (about 45 minutes away).
Group shot in Pescara
Spending time on the beach with dad
Sisters in the sun
After seeing Antonio’s home and spending a little time on the beach, he took us to a friend’s winery, Cantine Spinelli. Anotnio’s friend and owner, Carlo toured us through the existing facilities as well as through the impressive expanded facilities, currently under construction. I was awe-struck by the scale of it all – they produce wine that is shipped all over the world and they are continuing to grow. At the end of the tour, he presented us a gift of many different bottles of his wine, including several bottles of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – my favorite wine produced in this region of Italy.
View from the winery
Impressive new facility under construction
Julia on the roof of the new building
Wine ready to ship
They ship all over the world – these labels were in Chinese for their distribution over there
Inside the private cantina of some of the finer vintages
Everyone with Carlo
After being such a good tour guide, Antonio did have to get some actual work done – so we temporarily relieved him of his duties and made our own way to the beach for a day. We had lunch at the same beach-pizza place Antonio showed us the day before and spent some fun in the sun.
“I’m heeeere… let’s get this party started!”
“This sand needs to be moved from here to there, stat!”
“I’ve gotta take a break… have you seen my milky colored skin?”
“Our” new pizza place that Antonio had showed us the day before
At the end of the day, we went to Pietro and Rosanna’s home (Antonio’s parents) and had an exceptional dinner cooked by Rosanna. Pietro took Dominic and me into his private cantina (wine cellar), where he makes his own wine. He let us try all the various vintages and allowed both Dominic and I to each pick a wine to accompany dinner. Like so many other things with us, this became a small competition – each of us willing the group to drink the wine we selected (if memory serves, my decanter was emptied first). Pietro presented Dominic with a 1974 Barolo, a generous and exceptional gift.
The gang’s all here (at Pietro and Rosanna’s)
They had some fun playground equipment that Julia could’t get enough of
Jen caught us taking in the incredible view from their balcony
They had a traditional copper pot that was used hundreds of years ago to transport water
It wasn’t so easy to balance without hands
“It’s not so hard, see I can do it!”
Pietro shows me one of his prized cane… with a sharp surprise inside (a long blade)
Antonio’s grandmother, fresh from working in the yard and telling Dominic that she remembered him as a boy
Inside Pietro’s private cantina
Dominic enjoyed his free samples
Dom’s wonderful new gift
A beautiful table set by Rosanna
Pietro had an amazing old Leica SLR camera Antonio brought out to show us
A long a fun-filled week had past. We needed to get back to Como because we had an important birthday party to plan… Julia’s second birthday party!