Italy: Taking the Roads Less Travelled.

*****Hubby and I are camping this week, and I thought you might like to revisit some of my favourite travel posts. We’ve been talking a lot about travel in the past few months. Not planning… just reliving. Hope you enjoy this one from October 2018 … again.*****

Snow is falling this morning, the leaves that haven’t been raked yet are a sodden mess, and everything everywhere is melting and dripping. Hubby is up to his usual late fall tricks. It’s too soppy and slippy to walk, or golf, and not cold enough to ski, so he’s alternating between chopping wood for the fireplace, and cooking. I do love having a husband who is easily bored. Ha.

And I am… well… as you can see… venturing back to Italy.

Road up to Campo Imperatore, in the Gran Sasso d'Italia mountain range
Outside of L’Aquila, heading back down from Campo Imperatore

I left you last time just as Hubby and I were heading for the hills. Turning our attention away from the more popular places we’d been visiting, and venturing off onto roads that are far less travelled. Of course we’d been in the hills a lot since we’d left Florence. But nothing like the section of the Apennines we were headed for called the Gran Sasso d’Italia. Barren rocky peaks and high mountain grasslands, in particular the high plain called Campo Imperatore, or Little Tibet.

Once we left Amatrice we had no difficulties.  Hubby had worried for two days about roads, possible blockages, and maps (and people) that couldn’t tell us what we needed to know. But he awoke in Norcia the morning we left having convinced himself overnight to expect the worst. And after we left Amatrice behind, the devastation there having put our own small concerns firmly in their place, we were determined to just enjoy our drive wherever it took us.

As it happened we had a wonderful day. In fact, just being in this special place was well worth all the confusion and the angst. We stopped the car it seemed like a hundred times, just to get out, breath deeply, and goggle in wonder. We could have been alone in the world; just us two, a few sheep, some horses, and the sound of tinkling bells on the wind. Oddly enough, we heard the bells clearly, but couldn’t see the animals wearing them, until Hubby spotted their tiny profiles on the crest of a far away hill.

grassy pastures of the Campo Imperatore, in the Gran Sasso d'Italia mountain range
The view from our lunch spot on Campo Imperatore
Horses grazing on the Campo Imperatore, in the Gran Sasso d'Italia mountain range, Italy
Campo Imperatore, and the high peaks of the Gran Sasso d'Italia mountain range

Then a few miles later we spotted a herd of sheep and goats, a few dogs, and a lone herder, who was, ironically, yakking away on his cell phone. That made us laugh, and I got out to take a video. And as I was standing on the roadside by the sheep and goats, the sound of tinkling bells was broken by the roar of three motorcyclists who sped by, having, I assume, the ride of their lives. Then it was quiet again. Except for the bells and the sound of the herder’s voice.

This was a seriously magical place. We wanted to sit down on a rock in that field and just be there. But we’d many more miles to cover that day. So we climbed back in the car and went on our way.

Road down from Campo Imperatore, in the Gran Sasso d'Italia mountain range
The road back down from Campo Imperatore

Our road took us past the mountain town of Castel del Monte, below, a medieval town of fewer than five hundred people. We wished we’d not so far to go the next day or we might have stayed there, but it was far too early in the day to stop for the night. Next time, we told ourselves. Next time. Except that Hubby and I are too seasoned as travellers to imagine that the road not taken this time will be taken next time. What was it that Robert Frost said about “knowing how way leads on to way, [we] doubted if [we] should ever come back?” Sadly we usually come home from a trip with a longer list of places we still want to see than when we left.

Hillside town of Castel Del Monte, Abruzzo, Italy
Hillside town of Castel Del Monte

Besides, we had a pilgrimage of sorts to undertake the next day. I very much wanted to see Ortona where my stepfather fought in World War II. Well, not exactly Ortona itself, but the Canadian War Cemetery there.

We visited the Canadian War Memorial in Vimy when we were in France in 2015. If you’re interested, Canadian writer Jane Urquahart wrote a wonderful novel called The Stone Carvers, about the building of that monument to the Canadian soldiers killed in the WWI battle at Vimy Ridge. I’ve loved the poetry and literature of WWI for years.

Grave stones at Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Ortona, Italy
The Moro River Canadian War Cemetery which overlooks the ocean. A beautiful spot.

But Ortona has a more personal connection for me. I was moved to see, on the gravestones, the names of the Carleton-York Regiment based in Fredericton, and the West Nova Scotia Regiment which was my step-father’s regiment. To see the names of men, and boys, whose hometown is my hometown. To see surnames which are familiar to me. Hubby and I were alone in the cemetery that morning except for two gardeners who kindly moved off and gave us space. I admit I shed a few tears. Not because I have any real connection to those boys who are buried there. My stepfather did not die in the war. But still, I knew he’d been here. Or close by. And these were his comrades. And I very much wished that he were still alive so I could tell him of our journey.

 Monument at Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Ortona, Italy
Part of the monument at Moro River Canadian War Cemetery near Ortona

We didn’t linger too long at the Moro River Cemetery, but let the gardeners get back to work, and carried on down the coast. We were bound for a town called Vieste on the Promontorio del Gargano, a peninsula jutting out into the Adriatic Sea. Winding narrow roads, chalky cliffs, empty beaches, and a charming old town. We felt as if we’d washed up in travellers’ paradise. Well, paradise for travellers like us who were sick and tired of crowds, and who love old, quirky places.

Winding ocean road into Vieste, Italy
Approaching Vieste
Sandy beaches outside of Vieste, Italy.
Empty beaches just outside of Vieste.
View over the white washed building in Vieste, Italy
The beautiful white-washed  buildings of Vieste’s “new town” at dusk.

We found the hotel we’d booked a couple of hours before as we drove down the coast. It was nothing special, but the town certainly was. We parked on the edge of the old town, and set off to explore. Vieste was very much to our liking. We strolled through a lively market area that was just closing, past lots of small shops and restaurants, and up steep steps to the old town.
Steps up to the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria Assunta, Vieste, Italy
Steps leading up into the “old town.” At the top is the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria Assunta.

We wandered down narrow alleys, beside the tower of the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria Assunta, and eventually fetched up at the top of a steep set of stairs with a most wonderful restaurant halfway down. We could have eaten indoors, but we preferred the slightly tottering tables perched outside on a couple of wide landings. You can see the red tablecloths in the shot below.

Steps down to a restaurant in old Vieste, Italy.
Steps leading down to the coolest restaurant ever.

We ordered pasta and vino rosso, and watched the people. Some came and went up and down the stairs that started behind us, and continued on down past our table, and out of sight. A young couple heading home carried a stroller with a sleepy toddler on board. A few tourists, like us, looked for somewhere to eat dinner. A woman came out onto a small balcony to collect her laundry, and had a conversation with someone on the street below. Music played inside the restaurant, and crickets chirped. I could not believe how loud the crickets were. You have to love a place where you can hear the crickets, don’t you?

man and woman in a restaurant in Vieste, Italy
Quite happy with our night in Vieste.
Okay. Maybe you don’t have to love a place where you can hear the crickets over the music. But we did.  Don’t we look satisfied with old Vieste? And with our three or four days away from the madding crowds? Following our noses along the roads less travelled?
Hubby and I have talked and talked about our trip since we’ve been home. What we loved. What we hated. Which roads we were happy to have taken. And which roads we regretted not taking. What lessons we’ve learned, even at this late date, and how we plan to reassess what we want from our travels.
We left Vieste after just one night because we had places to be. Pompeii the next day. And then Agerola on the Amalfi Coast, and then, of course, Rome. But I think the few days I’ve written about here, as well as the time we spent in Urbino and Norcia, were our favourite in the three weeks we were in Italy.
I’m going to put Italy on the back burner for a while, folks. I’ve more to say about our trip, and about travel in general, but I need to talk about other things just now. Books. Clothes. Life. You know, the usual.
And right now, I have to close because dinner is served. Hubby has been slaving away in the kitchen. He’s made his special pot roast with beef, wine and tomatoes, onions, carrots, tons of mushrooms, and leeks. The red wine is breathing and there’s an episode of Vera cued up and ready to go. Ah, I love the fall. And not just because it’s sweater weather.
P.S. Apologies to Robert Frost for slightly misquoting his poem “The Road Not Taken” and for making so many lame allusions to it. I can’t help it. Old English teacher habits die hard. Or not at all:)
How about you, my friends? Any travel tales you want to share? Unexpected moments of beauty? Roads less travelled that turned out to be wonderful?


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27 thoughts on “Italy: Taking the Roads Less Travelled.”

  1. That was lovely to read Sue . You describe your travels so well & fill my mind with memories of our own trips . Perhaps because we look for the same experiences . The last time I went to Italy was two years ago with my sisters & a friend . We hired a villa in the hills of Liguria & a hire car to wander around . One beautiful morning I awoke before the others ( as usual ) & went for a walk alone . I left a note by the coffee pot so they knew I hadn’t been abducted & set off uphill through wonderful countryside & little old hamlets where the locals were happy to chat to me . I’m not sure what we discussed but there was lots of smiling . Most of the dogs were friendly too . I could have kept climbing up all day but after an hour & a half I turned & went back downhill . I’m not a big fan of major cities with their magnificent architecture . Sometimes it is overwhelming & , dare I say , quite pompous & intimidating – not to mention those crowds again . Give me greenery , busy little towns & sleepy villages where the locals have time to smile . So you see , I could have come with you !
    Wendy from York

    1. Thanks, Wendy. So lovely to have you back on the blog. I can just see you heading off up the hills, greeting each and every canine you meet. No language difficulties there, eh? We noticed a plethora of little dogs when we were in Agerola near Amalfi. Little dogs that looked like a cross between a chihuahua and a beagle, and were so fiesty. Warning us off their turf as we walked down the old stone steps to Amalfi and passed beside fences which protected the many lemon and olive groves. Lots of cats too. I guess you have to choose your pet depending on how much space you have for them. And the terraces and narrow roads of the Amalfi wouldn't work for big dogs.

  2. My best times have been when I was on my own in some magnificence. Over forty years ago getting up early to swim in a huge lake before the day hotted up. Trotting merrily through the foothills of the Himalayas surrounded by friendly yaks. Walking down to a beach before anybody else was up. But also: standing in the Pantheon and looking around. I could do that every single day and never get over my sense of wonder that people have been doing that for centuries and some were wearing togas.

    1. Yes! I love to get out by myself and will generally eschew the crowds in favour for a wander down a side street or a stroll along a country lane. But the Pantheon. . . Even the crowds were magical there, especially in a rainstorm. The voices rising to a roar until the P.A. system announced again Silencio, and the voices gradually dimmed, obediently, only to need reminding again a few moments late. Somehow, though, in that space, I didn't mind at all . . . (but I've never gone inside the Vatican, not in four or five visits to Rome, and have no inclination at all to fight the crowds for that. . .

    2. Me neither. I would like to go back to Florence and the Uffizi because I didn't fancy standing in a queue for three hours in 30 degrees of August sunshine with two children (10 and 8 at the time). I shall pick a cold, wet February and relish the experience. And take a book, just in case.

    3. I think that cool rainy seasons would be perfect for gallery time. And I would need to be on my own, I think. Hubby is totally done with galleries, he tells me. And having done the gallery thing a few times with friends, I find I'm always matching my pace to theirs, and feeling slightly pretentious when I just want to stand and stare… as if I'm pretending somehow that I know anything about art… which I don't.

  3. A sense of marvel and wonder is what I look to feel when travelling…a romantic nature has me thinking what a place/building looked during its heyday and my imagination tries to picture mannerisms, language, and especially the clothing worn. I studied the history of costume at university and loved learning about clothing in all its many forms over the years…it's still a big interest today and I enjoy trying to keep pace with the fast nature of fashion changes. Crowds are a nuisance in many areas and my husband and I try to balance the busy places with quiet spots for tranquil reverie. We embrace being "tourists" (as my younger sister used to get so excited to be labelled as one)…I love being in a location that is new so I can be a tourist in all its forms. There are really too many locations to mention that have inspired and made us wish we had more time to stay and soak up the ambiance…like the pizza and gelato on a quiet street in Assisi. Sometimes the very best times have come for taking a different turn than what was originally planned! My dad used to plan 'mystery tours' where we would back out of the driveway and he would say "left or right?"…that would continue for our entire outing and we never quite knew where we would end up and what the day's experiences would bring. I still love to travel like that to balance out our mostly carefully planned touring. Surprise is the spice of life….Cheers, Alayne (still waiting for snowflakes in Winnipeg)

    1. Oh… Alayne… what a wonderful subject to study. One of the best gallery experiences I've had was in New Zealand in a section on the history of costume and dress. Hubby was very patient and wandered off while I drooled over the exhibits.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. It captures all the fantastic small things about travel. And husbands dinner sounds delicious!
    Suz from Vancouver

  5. We are currently in the south of France enjoying back roads and stopping where we it’s interesting. We do visit cities, but it’s the small places that capture our hearts.
    Love your writing style. I always read, but very rarely comment.

  6. We visited my grandfather's grave in Northern France near Arras. A stone like the one in your picture, and RAF since he was with balloon surveillance. Thanks to the gardeners a red rose blooming – I hadn't thought to bring flowers (and I prefer them growing, especially at a war grave)

    1. We stayed in Arras when we made our Vimy pilgrimage. Lovely city. How wonderful to be able to visit your grandfather's grave. It's heartening after all the bloodshed of both world wars that countries like France and Italy tend war graves so carefully.

  7. Very evocative – coming back from a trip with a long list of future trip options sounds perfect. As does dinner, of course. Anything I don't cook sounds wonderful.


  8. Loved your description of less well known places. What a great variety of places you visited. And how lucky that your trip didn't extend to this week. Terrible weather and Venice seems to have had a terrible battering. Dinner at home sounded delicious too. Iris

  9. These are the times I wish I had a spouse… Traveling and exploring the off the beaten paths. I, too, am happiest away from the crowds and the cities. A country girl at heart. Hope you've ditched your cold. xoxo, Brenda

    1. I'm very glad that Stu and I are able to travel as much as we do. I learned last year when I travelled with a friend and it did not do well, to appreciate him even more.

  10. Your post reminds us that (if possible) it is good to plan extra days in a location during travels abroad. I too would have loved to spend time sitting in those open fields breathing in the fresh air and light wind and watching the grazing animals and just enjoying a sense of calm and relaxation. Too often our trip itinerary requires us to go-go-go and we miss out on the small stuff. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  11. The scenery in that area is just beautiful! I definitely need to explore the Italian countryside more. I am hoping to explore the areas in the north eastern part of Italy next summer. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  12. Sue – what fun this was to read! We have very similar travel styles. I loved hearing about the visit to the Canadian cemetery and your stepfather. This was to the be month that WE were going to make a pilgrimage to Italy, to the Futa Pass, north of Florence. The site of a huge WWII battle, it is where my German father-in-law was captured by the Allies, and then taken to a POW camp in Egypt, where he spent the rest of the war. My husband is dying to explore the battlefield, and there is a German cemetery there, as well as a museum. So we were going to spend time in Florence, explore hill towns in Tuscany, and work on an agritourismo. But not in 2020. I have such hopes of travelling in the future – if any country will have us, after such bungling of this epidemic.

  13. So you watch Vera! We always have an in depth discussion afterwards. Who was that guy, was he her brother or uncle? Why did that woman run off? What did that man say after the body was found? When finally we have compared notes and sorted it out, we can go to bed.

    Loved your trip notes.

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