Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Adriatic

My first glimpse of the Adriatic was many years ago during one of our early trips to Italy.  We were heading to Urbino from Treviso and stopped off at Rimini to have a look at the sea.  Big mistake.  The industrial zone, the huge port and the ugly concrete apartment blocks didn't cast it in a golden light.  Granted, the overcast, damp and cold weather didn't help any either, but we weren't impressed.

Later, when we lived in Ascoli Piceno we frequented the nearby beaches of Porto d'Ascoli, San Benedetto del Tronto and Grottammare.  They were easy to reach with long stands of sand and some good restaurants, but with the railway line rumbling right along the shore and the overall modern feel of the area, we went to splash and get tanned but didn't really take to it as "our type" of beach atmosphere.

Then we discovered the Costa dei Trabocchi, down south of Pescara in Abruzzo.  This is the shoreline that has the charming fishing platforms, the locale of our now-storied seafood lottery feast.  The part of the Adriatic where you can find hidden coves with few people and pebbled beaches where the water is truly crystalline and where hills with stone villages rise above the waters.  It's where there is an appeal; where you can enjoy the water and the sun in tranquility.  And where my sister dipped her toes for the third sea of the Coast to Coast tour.

It happened sort of by accident.  We were traveling from Basilicata to Ascoli Piceno to spend a few days with friends.  Hunger hit.  We got off the autostrada to meander along the coast road and find a place to eat that didn't involve Autogrill panini (not to diss the blessed Autogrills, mind you; you know how much I love them).  But we had time, and we wanted a real meal.  And Sis wanted to see the third sea.

And so, as often happens when you're hungry in a place that you don't while traveling, you happen into a joint hoping for the best and expecting the worst.  We happened to find a surprise - Ristorante Zi Nicola, outside Vasto.  Zio Nicola was in the kitchen and lovely aromas were wafting out of it.  We ran for a table that overlooked the water, with the ruins of a trabocco below.  The guys at the table next to us heard us speaking in English and piped in a few words, asking Cara where she's from.  When she said, "Ohio," all broke into excited exclamations; they work for a company that is based in Toledo!  Ma come mai!  Che coincidenza!  And we had companionable chatter through the rest of our lunch.

Our lovely, delectable lunch.  I swear that Abruzzese cooking is some of the best in the country, and it holds true in their seafood dishes, too.  Unbelievably delicious stuff came our way.  Plate after plate of antipasto.  Then heaping helpings of homemade chitarra pasta with fishy-things.  And.  Well, we had to stop, much to the dismay of our new lunch-mates who hoped we'd keep pace through the next pasta and main course with them.  Alas, the girls had to give in and go.

But during the meal we watched the boats passing in the distance, and eventually saw a man and his son arrive at the fishing craft below.  He was showing the boy how to repair nets.  They saw us eyeing them and shyly waved.  I snapped a photo discretely.  It was such a tender scene, watching the man pass his knowledge on to his figlio.

After we ate, the restaurant owner showed us the path that leads to the water.  We scrambled down, past the fishermen, who greeted us warmly, and Cara peeled off her sandals to dip her toes in the water.  Colder than she expected, following our swim in Maratea.  I can't find her foot photo, now; sorry.  We got back in the car to reach our destination.

In the following days we visited Grottammare with my friend, Cinzia, walking along the Lungomare and looking at the Liberty style villas, but Sis agreed that the Adriatic's Costa dei Trabocchi is a special place.  A coast of enduring traditions, warm people, and fantastic food.

Me with dear friend Cinzia in Grottammare

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Med

Second up on the Coast to Coast to Coast tour was the Mediterranean.  The fabled sea that laps the shores of southern Europe and northern Africa, and flows out the Straights of Gibralter.  It is on the opposite side of Basilicata from the Ionian, and is opposite in character, too. 

Where the Ionian is shallow and limpid, the Med is deep and moody.  Steep hills tumble down to it, like they want to jump into the sapphire depths themselves for a splash in the surf.  The waves roll in with more force - the Mediterranean is felt

We actually made two forays to its shore - once in Agropoli, south of Salerno, where long golden sand beaches curve out from the town.  Here we parked ourselves for an aperitivo of local white wine while watching the sunset and listening to the water rhythmically make landfall.  Cara of course submerged her feet for a photo.

Cara at the Mediterranean in Agropoli
Later, we went to Maratea, the gem of Basilicata's coast, with its pastel houses, dramatic cliffs, pretty port, and unique black beaches.  Teensy opal-like pebbles -that are actually smaller than pebbles but bigger than sand grains- carpet the coves and make the water appear even bluer than blue. 

Beaches are wedged in between rock formations, involving a descent to reach them.  As such, they're pretty uncrowded.  We sunned ourselves, took a swim, and enjoyed a warm morning of beach-time in mid-September, a nice treat for my northern Ohio sister who knows that her hometown has only two seasons - Winter and Non-Winter.  September turns the tide on the interval between them.

Sunset from the hotel terrace

We spent the night in a gorgeous hotel above the sea, where the meal was memorable and the gourmet bath goodies made us swoon like the girly-girls we are.  We roamed around the delightful historic center, popped around the port (where the best gelato in Maratea is found), and took in the breathtaking views from the hilltop above.

The Mediterranean is my favorite, and the Cilento area, from Agropoli to Sapri, is the my favored destination.  Maratea is, in my Lucana-biased opinion, the loveliest resort on the coastline, with all the dramatic scenery you'd see on the more famous Amalfi Coast, without the crowds and high prices.  The road isn't quite as scary to drive, either.  My sister agreed it was the highlight beach for her, as well.

Black sand beach in Maratea