A Travellerspoint blog

It all started innocently enough...

with a tour book entry

"...interior roads... offer peaceful drives past rocky coves and bays." (quote slightly altered for literary purposes)

Let me begin by saying that I had no doubt that Bob would be a great navigator. He was, afterall, a licensed pilot. Let me also say though that it became clear at around the second roundabout that the days of excellent navigation by Dan, Lylaine, Constance and Ben were over. Apparently this licensed pilot relied ALOT on instruments. That said, we did make it to our destinations, but not without some pulling over to check maps and making more than a few backtracking maneuvers. But enough about that.........

After visiting the sea at Maremma, we headed for Santa Argentario, Porto Santo Stephano, Porto Ercole and Orbetello. According to the tour book, S.A. was an island until the mid 1800's (ballparking the date...bear with me) when it became silted in. Today, the peninsula is reached by a bridge/causeway. We began our peninsula extravaganza in Porto Santo Stephano.

WOW. The harbor is small, but active. The town hugs the surrounding cliffs. The homes are grand and the boats even grander. We drove down to the harbor and took the road along the waterfront all the way out of town. It was fun being along the coast and feeling the energy of the tourists (Italian and international) as well as the difference that money makes in an area. The yachts were not only large (I'm not very good at estimation of length, but I'd estimate the one yacht at "honkin' huge") but impeccably appointed. There seemed to be as many motorized craft as sailing craft.

On our way out the harborfront road, I'd noticed a sign for a panoramic road. It, of course, pointed straight up.......you only live once! I took the turn and found myself on a very steep, narrow road up through the town of Porto Santo Stephano (to whom I was praying) and finally on a "high road" that overlooked the harbor and shore. I was pleased that I'd found the couragio to ascend the road. The views were well worth the moments of sheer terror.


After driving on this road for a bit over half an hour, we discussed whether we should just continue on, seeing if it came out at Porto Ercole, or whether we should go back. Since it was getting late in the day and I still wanted to visit Porto Ercole and Orbetello (interior roads offering peaceful drives....dancing in my head), we decided to go back.

We had a bit of a problem finding Porto Ercole (I say we with generosity....c'mon, Bob, it's a TINY peninsula for heaven's sake) but we found it. We drove around the smaller harbor's waterfront road and enjoyed the contrast of its marshy landscape before going to Orbetello (and the pictoresque drives).

On the road to Orbetello (sounds like a movie title) I asked Bob to look at the guide book to see if he could get a sense of where we needed to go to take these "peaceful drives". He said that the guide book named a road that was especially scenic. He said the name of the street, but I couldn't understand what he was saying (he has many admirable qualities outside of navigation and foreign languages). He said,

"Strada P-a-n-o-r-a M-i-c-a."

Being a language nut, I tried to decifer the meaning of the street name....thinking that I didn't know what Panora was, but Mica might mean small...........and then we were in Orbetello. (I told you it was a tiny peninsula!). We drove around the town looking at all of the road signs, but couldn't find our strada. Finally, I drove into the centro of the town (something I don't usually do because it is so easy to go the wrong way on a one way street or to get stuck at the end of a tiny, narrow street and have to back out...usually down hill). After looking for in vain for a while, I decided we should ask someone for help. Because he is not accomplished in Italian, Bob had avoided a lot of conversation with locals, but decided to bust out his best language skills and ask a lovely older man for directions to our strada.

Bob, "Dove' Strada Panora Mica?"

Nice man, "Oh. Strada Panora Mica............ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh (you know what's coming)............no."

Bob, "No Strada Panora Mica?"

Nice Man, "Ah...........................no. A Porto Santo Stephano si e Porto Ercole, si. Orbetello............no.

Bob, "Si. We were in Porto Santo Stephano. It is beautiful."

Nice Man, "Lots of Italian that we didn't understand."

This exchange (along with my many helpful interjections) continued for a bit but directions to Strada Panora Mica were not part of it, so we thanked the nice man and left. Bob started saying something about not understanding we had already been there and then something about hyphens. I, still focused on finding this road with the damned peaceful views, wasn't really listening. Then.............like floodwater creeping up the stairs.............it began to dawn on me..........


Strada Panora Mica was Strada Panoramica! The road we'd been on in P.S.S..............Of course, the nice man realized as soon as Bob spoke the words that Panora Mica was panoramica. It turns out that Bob figured out his error at almost the same moment. I was the only latecomer to the joke. Once I realized what had happened, the hysteria came. I had to pull over. I would no more than collect myself than it would build and hit me again. This happened for days, whenever I thought about it. I'm sure this nice man from Orbetello thought, "They must give a driving license to anyone in the US!"

Strada Panora Mica.................oh my.

Posted by Allegra51 15:40 Comments (0)

I'll take briney buds for $400...


Constance has conceded the great caper debate. Thank you, Constance.

While the word olive is mentioned several times in the description of capers (olive-colored bud and often used as an olive substitute, brined like olives), capers are not olives, small or otherwise. So, if

"The unopened flower buds of a Mediterranean tree."

Is the Final Jeopardy answer, you can correctly question any of the below for the win!

"What is....

Capparis spinos - capers are the unopened flower buds of a Mediterranean tree. Capers, like olives, are either pickled, or salted, and added to recipes...

The unopened, olive-green flower bud of the caper bush. Usually pickled in vinegar or brine and tarragon, capers are used to season sauces, cold meats and fish. Their flavor is peppery, sharp and salty-sour, with the finest flavor found in the smallest buds.

any of numerous plants of the genus Capparis
pickled flower buds used as a pungent relish in various dishes and sauces

The caper (Capparis spinosa L.) is a perennial spiny shrub that bears rounded, fleshy leaves and big white to pinkish-white flowers. A caper is also the pickled bud of this plant. The bush is native to the Mediterranean region, growing wild on walls or in rocky coastal areas throughout. ...

The pungent grayish green flower bud of the European and Oriental caper (Capparis spinosa), which is pickled and eaten, sometimes as an olive substitute; A plant of the genus Capparis; -- called also ...

Posted by Allegra51 14:55 Comments (0)

Enough of these...

...beautiful hill towns!

After 4 weeks of hilltowns and switchbacks, I was ready for a change of scenery. I had mentioned before in the blog, that Bob and I would be going to Naples and Capri. Those plans changed. We decided that adding a Naples run to the itinerary would be too much, so we took a couple of days and just hung out in and around Paciano and planned a day trip to the Mediterranean.

Before the trip we made a semi-plan (a la Dan)

Get up and out fairly early.
Drive to Maremma via Lago Bolsena http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Lake_Bolsena
Visit Maremma, a huge National Park/Wildlife Refuge for a bus tour and/or walk :

Reprinted from the 'Net:

Parco Naturale della Maremma. Also called the Parco dell’Uccellina, it extends along the Maremma coast for the entire length of the mountains of the same name. The park's appeal lies precisely in the diversity of its environments: the swamp area to the north that preserves the typical appearance of the Grosseto plain before its reclamation radically changed the landscape; further south, there is the Alberese pine forest and the Monti dell’Uccellina covered with a luxuriant Mediterranean thatch and the wild sand dunes of the coast. It is easy to find herds of Maremma horses and cattle grazing in the park or to see wild board, deer and roebucks. The Trappola swamp is populated by scores of migratory species and are famous for the opportunities it provides for bird watching. The area also contains evidence of a human presence, such as the fascinating ruins of the 11th-century Abbey of San Rabano, in a splendid panoramic position dominating the coast.

Visiting the Maremma always means visiting nature. The Maremma is bathed by a clear sea that, for 160 km, laps its varied coast of sandy beaches protected by thick pine forests, steep cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian and islands of rare beauty. The waters of the Maremma seashore are among the cleanest in Italy and its beaches have been winning the recognition of the Blue Flag for years. The seaside resorts of the Maremma are equipped for sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and canoeing and divers will find diving centers in the Argentario and the Isola del Giglio.

We would not be kitesurfing...
Go to the beach at Maremma.
Visit Santa Argentario, Porto Santo Stephano, Porto Ercole and Orbetello.

Reprinted from the 'Net:

Monte Argentario is one of the most famous spots in the Maremma and Tuscany. The promontory, which was originally an island, is characterized by a high, rocky coastline covered by a thick Mediterranean thatch, interrupted by olive groves and vineyards. It is now connected to the land by the Feniglia and Giannella sand bars, two strips of uninterrupted sandy beach and thick maritime pine. The sandy isthmuses are separated by the Laguna di Orbetello, an area protected by the WWF because it sits on one of the most important migratory routes and is one of the principal wintering sites for birds that nest in Europe. The serene tranquility of this lagoon contrasts with the high jagged Monte Argentario coast that hides small inlets in rocks that are inaccessible from the land.
Porto Santo Stefano is the largest town on Mount Argentario, and connections leave from here for the islands of Giglio and Giannutri. The town descends on large steps along the slopes of the promontory to a picturesque bay. Today, thanks to its splendid sea and beautiful landscapes, is it a famous resort with two ports, Porto Nuovo and Porto Vecchio. Every 15 August, they play the Palio Marinaro, preceded by a historical procession in Spanish costumes. In Porto Santo Stefano, you will also find the Acquario Mediterraneo dell’Argentario, with panoramic tanks that reproduce the typical ecosystems of the Costa d'Argento.A scenic road connects Porto Santo Stefano to Porto Ercole with breath-taking views. Porto Ercole is located on the eastern coast of the Argentario; it is a charming seaside village that overlooks a bay protected by a small promontory. It is a maze of lanes and staircases that descend tortuously from the fortress to the port. The principal works to visit in Porto Ercole are its fortifications that date from the period of Spanish domination in the 16th century: Forte San Filippo, Forte Santa Caterina, Forte Stella and the Rocca. But, most of all, Porto Ercole is a center of cosmopolitan life frequented by many tourists, with a wealth of stores and fashionable, always lively nightspots.

We would not be visiting the lively nightspots.

We did get up and out fairly early and we did drive to Maremma via Lago Bolsena. Bolsena is a breathtakingly beautiful lake and the homes around it are upscale. We took a nice drive along a lakeside road and agreed that it would make a grand overnight roadtrip were we to be in Umbria again next year.

When we got to the Maremma, it was a day that the touring bus was not running. The size of the Parco Naturale is overwhelming and we had not prepared for hiking (It may take me several months to prepare for hiking...) so we decided that Maremma would also be a destination for another trip. It had said in the guidebook (thank heaven for guidebooks) that there were kilometers of beach in the parco, so we decided to visit the beach instead. We were so glad that we did!

The beach there is unlike most other Mediterranean beaches that I've visited in Italy. Often, they are rocky and they have rarely stretched for miles. Like the other beaches I've visited though, the water was a spectacular blue, as was the sky.


The area adjacent to the beach was a beautiful cedar forest. There were clearings for parking and picnicking and relaxing in the shade. Grass-tufted dunes separated the wooded area and the strand. The beach was not stone, but soft,white sand and it was littered with driftwood, that beach goers collected and used to construct shade huts.


We took a long, leisurely walk along the water (Bob walked along the water. I walked in the water.) and had a picinc in the shade with some nice wine from Naples before leaving for our next destination, Santa Argentario, Porto Santo Stephano, Porto Ercole and Orbetello.

Posted by Allegra51 12:40 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

A day in...


Suzy offered Bob and me a day trip to Montefalco to visit her friend Sue that has a B&B there. We jumped at the chance to travel with "Magistra".

The mountains and farms are bigger in that region and so the green and brown patches of the landscape are bigger and the valleys more expansive. It was a beautiful day for a drive and the landscapes of lower Umbria did not disappoint. Neither did the destination or the company.

We began by visiting a winery whose wines Suzy enjoys, Fratelli Pardi. Montefalco is the area of the sagrantino grape and wine.


Deluca was our guide.


He was adament about practicing his English and requested that we correct him if his usage was incorrect or imprecise. What more could 2 language teachers want?! Deluca offered an infomative tour of the wine-making process, even running the foiling/labeling machine for us to see. We also took some time to walk out into the vineyard. Afterward, we were treated to tastings and we talked about the other family business, fine textiles.

After leaving Fratelli Pardi, we went to lunch in Montefalco.

Montefalco is a small, but beautiful town and the restaurant that Sue selected offered wonderful food. They serve traditional food made with the freshest ingredients, but with a bit of a twist. Memorable for me were my stuffed zucchini blossoms. They were prepared with a stuffing of fresh ricotta that was seasoned with fresh herbs. The flavors were delicate and distinct. Bob had a wonderful chickpea salad that we decided to try to replicate at home. Equally as enjoyable as the food was the company and the conversation. At the end of the meal, Bob unequivocally claimed the check and whipped out his credit card. What a time to discover the magnet fallout. What's the saying? "It's the thought that counts."

Next stop was Moretti's, another maker of sangrantino wines and a sfuzo vendor. Sue was mentioning that George Clooney had gone to Moretti's for 36 bottles of their wine for a recent party at his home near Lago Como.


This completes the E Entertainment Network portion of the blog, although there was also a Bobby Flay sighting on the same trip.........."It's uncanny. That guy looks EXACTLY like Bobby Flay!"

We arrived at Moretti's to find no one stirring. Sue called a friend and she said to honk the horn. Horn honking in rural Italy is not considered good manners. In fact, there are no horn road signs at the entrances to many of the small towns, but we had been assured this was ok so we made a little toot. It worked. A woman came down from the house and opened the sfuzo area for us. Sue and Suzy both got 5 liter bottles. Bob and I settled for tastings. Along with the sangrantino, sagrantino blend and a white available sfuzo, Moretti also had a fragolini (strawberry)wine.......but made with a strawberry flavored grape NOT strawberries.....hmmm.

Reprinted from another blog:

"I thought I'd give you a bit of background on Fragolino, just in case people are interested in how the grape came into being.

In the late 1800s phylloxera infestations had destroyed many European vineyards and it was discovered that importing disease resistant North American vines and grafting them with European varieties led to a phylloxera resistant grape. In Italy and Austria the Vitis vinifera was crossed with the American Vitis labrusca, a grape which contained heady strawberry aromas. Thus the Uva Americana or Fragola was born.

Fragola's origins have caused quite a controversy. Given the European Union's tough protection of traditionally produced wines and grapes, Fragolino causes an issue because of its American origins. In order to protect the production of European grapes, wine produced from Fragola grapes was banned from sale right up until the mid 1990s. Most of the consumption was private and localised to Italy and Austria (where Fragolino is known as Uhudler).

Well, after tasting the wine, we were sold on it as a dessert wine and intrigued that it didn't have any strawberries or artificial flavorings in it (color and flavor were distinctly strawberry). As stated above, sale is not permitted as it is not officially an Italian product, but we purchased an unlabeled bottle (which I enjoyed several nights later without benefit of dessert).

We all made a quick visit to Sue's B&B. It is spectacularly situated with astounding views. She has done extensive work on the home and it is a delightful blend of an Italian and Bucks County antique aesthetic. Then Suzy, Bob and I took off for a little more adventure.

Suzy took us to Bevagna, where Bobby proudly pointed out the reticulata on the wall outside the gates. Bevagna is home to several wonderful churches. Not being church fans per se, this is saying something. We spent over an hour in 2 of the churches admiring the Roman features and Renaissance features and admired several Franciscan facades where Magistra explained that they looked rough and unfinished to express the vow of poverty of the Franciscans. Before leaving for home, we enjoyed an affogato at the Column Bar (so named for the Roman column that sits in the middle of the outdoor seating area). Actually, Suzy enjoyed an affogato. I had a lemon soda paid for with our last Euro and Bob had a sip.

During our time that day, Suzy pointed out that we were traveling on Via Flammeus:

Fla·min·i·an Way Audio Help /fləˈmɪniən/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[fluh-min-ee-uhn] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun an ancient Roman road extending N from Rome to what is now Rimini. 215 mi. (345 km) long.


What a feeling to know that you are traveling a road the Romans trod. Note to Pennsylvania Department of Highways: "Why can't you do this???!!!"

The day was filled with information, beauty, laughter and food, fellowship and fun. Once again. Mille grazie, Suzy.

Posted by Allegra51 11:24 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

My time here is dwindling...

but the stuff of memories continues daily


When Bob went to get money today, he discoveed his card strip had been compromised. Since it was a new card, it was hard to figure out how that happened.

Flash back now to Bob packing for his trip. Packing list:

Deodorant (check)
Underwear (check)
Medications (check)
Button-sized super duper extra powerful magnet (check)

Riddle me this. What possible use could you have in a small Italian hill town for such a thing?!

We then tried my card and it wouldn't work either. thinking back, Bob had carried my card for me in Florence. We got in the car and drove to Moiano to try there and were able to get money from my account. Whew. It would have been hard to get from now until next Wednesday with NO MONEY. I had jokingly been calling Bob my gigilo....be careful what you wish for...........

After that little excitement, we came home and cooked and cleaned up and did a few crossword puzzles and ate dinner. As we were cleaning up from dinner, we heard music in the piazza.

The group was just 2, a keyboardist and a vocalist/clarinet player. The singer had a quintessential Italian tenor voice. It was evocative and expressive and rough around the edges when needed. He was wonderful and seranaded us (at least it felt like that) for 4 hours with just one 10 minute break.

At midnight, we stood on the balcony embraced by a cool breeze, entranced by the clear Paciano-blue night sky, empassioned by the music and magic of the experience. The singer finished with Bocelli and as he hit the last high note, we turned to each other and smiled in wordless appreciation for the gift of having shared such a delight.

Posted by Allegra51 10:59 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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