The last couple of years I have spent time in Campania, where the the town of Cerreto Sannita is known for its wondrous ceramics!  I had the privilege of meeting one of the great master ceramists there, Elvio Sagnella, whose own showroom is in the grotto that housed the workplace of  the esteemed great master, Nicola Giustiniani.  I purchased some beautiful pieces from his son, who showed us around the grotto and pointed out the new look ceramics that he and his brother were creating- breaking away from centuries old patterns.


Deruta -Famous for its Majolica – photo from Pinterest

This day we went on a tour of a ceramic factory in Deruta, in Umbria.  “Deruta is famous as a homeland of ceramics and pottery production  among the most beautiful and precious in Italy.   The cohesion between Deruta and its ceramics is indissoluble and it is the main characteristic of this little town. This production has its roots in  in the most ancient past of Deruta, forging its own historical identity…. Official documents establish  that ceramics of Deruta have been produced since the XIIIth century, although we have reasons to believe that activity such as this started one century earlier.  Anyway, at the end of the XIIIth century, Deruta produced  so many ceramics that it could pay the charges imposed by Perugia in vases instead of money…as early as 1358, Deruta exported more than one thousand vases to Assisi, the homeland of St. Francis….” excerpted from Wikipedia.


One of the many shops offering exquisite ceramics. Photo from Pinterest

We were invited to a private tour of one of the oldest, if not the oldest ceramic factory in continuous existence and operated and owned by the same family. The Grazia family has been producing fine majolica since 1500.   I believe there were over six generations represented in the ancestral photo gallery.


A photo of all the workers one year and the owners.

After walking through room after room of magnificent ceramics, none of which I could afford (and if I could I would be afraid to use them) I came across a small simple white dish with a raised concentric heart design meant for dipping oil.  Interestingly enough when I was in Campania, someone told me that only Americans dip Italian bread in oil and the restaurants in Guardia were mystified at first by the request.


The patterns were myriad. The intricate designs endless


This vase shape is a very old design.


A peek into the owner’s office!

I learned that majolica is really a process and all this time I thought it was a green leaves sort of pattern, so little did I know! That’s right, little!

To Be Continued…



You can see Assisi from a distance, it sits majestically up on a hill.  We arrived on a very hot afternoon, did I say this town was on a hill? Assisi is basically a small town   anchored by two magnificent basilicas. The first one we visited was the Basilica of Santa Chiara, home of the Order of The Poor Clares. No photo taking allowed!

We had a great guide who told us the story of Chiara d’Offreducci, a young woman from an upper class family. Devoted to prayer from an early age, at age 18, she heard of St. Francis and on Palm Sunday in 1212 she met with him and asked for guidance to live her life according to the Gospel.  She cut her hair and traded her fine gown for a plain robe and veil.  She went from a Benedictine Convent to living in dwelling next to the Church of San Damiano.


Home of The Poor Clares

Her sister joined her and eventually other women joined her to live a life of poverty of no money, no shoes, no meat.

Assisi is a beautiful town, the buildings are all pink and white, the stone is quarried in the the region.


Pink and white bricks almost look painted!


The artistry in using the shading of the stones is fantastic!


My “art” photo – capturing the top of a castle and the cupola.

Just one STRIPE photo


Much of Assisi has been rebuilt and repaired from earthquake damage.

Up the hill and thankfully making our way down, we head toward the Basilica of St. Francis.


The Basilica of St Francis

Again no photos allowed. The interior of this church was vast with two wings and a few altars. This Basilica houses the only known actual image of St. Francis.   St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order Of Monks, who live in poverty, own nothing and to this day wear the garb of the simple brown robe with a rope tie and sandals.  Barbara took these photos, (I think she liked the monks).


And there was a monk walking among us.


A Franciscan monk in the shadows


Facade of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

This ancient church in the photo above was built over a Roman age temple.

Italy doesn’t need a Landmarks Commission to protect their history, every Italian is proud of their heritage and when some piece of antiquity is discovered it is always preserved! Since Assisi has been reconstructed in certain areas over time due to earthquake damage, much of it is not medieval BUT here and there pieces of history exist.  Here is a wall that is still standing from about 300BC!!


Romans built these walls

Besides being the perfect frame for a beautiful Italian countryside view, the arch is part of earlier historical construction!


Historical Beauty

Now why the title of this blog? I was dismayed that the main road through Assisi leading you from one Basilica to the other is lined with tourist shops; statues and crosses carved from olive wood ( the town owns acres and acres of olive groves ), St. Francis and St. Chiara branded in every form imaginable, lots of embroidery, and Italian souvenirs of every kind. I thought it was sad and wondered how Francis and Clare felt about it?

To Be Continued…








Raffaella greeted us warmly over coffee in the garden and introduced us to,each other. Today there would be five of us to start and by lunch time we could expect another member of our crew.  Besides Barbara and me, there was Sue, a lovely young woman from South Korea, and a couple from Australia.

Raffaella described the menu which would be five courses, five courses! She divided us into teams and we marched into her kitchen. Not knowing what to expect I was surprised to find out we would be cooking in Rafaella’s family kitchen.  Have you ever seen an orange refrigerator?

Pretty Raffaella with her bright orange refrigerator

We sat around a long rectangular table covered with two smooth wide boards, wearing our Let’s Cook in Umbria aprons.


The key to good cooking – Mise en place! Making Apricot Galette

Five courses seemed like a daunting task to me!  However, organization, excellent prep work before you begin and Raffaella had an assistant who constantly removed bowls and washed and replaced utensils.  We started this morning with dessert – an apricot galette.  Not just dessert, the galette is considered breakfast food! Each team had a task; slicing apricots, making and kneading dough, creating the frangipane cream.  We even ground the almonds to make our own almond flour. When all the parts came together, it went into the oven and we cleaned the tables for the next project.

The next course we worked on was a fresh tomato sauce which would complement the potato gnocchi we would make later on.  I don’t think I ever found out the name of the tomatoes we used that day, they were not San Mariano which she explained would need to be skinned and seeded.  They looked like large cherry tomatoes.


I am a quintessential tomato 🍅 lover and this photo is making my mouth water!

On the farm so aptly named  La volpe e l’uvo ( the fox and the grape), Rafaella and her family grow olives and grapes as well as a large vegetable garden.  The olive oil we are using has been pressed from their olives, the basil grown in her garden, I’m not sure about the tomatoes.

First course coming up: we’re going to make Millefoglie di melanzane, which when they were finished looked like mini eggplant/tomato volcanos.  I know that’s hard to picture so I’ll describe the construction:  You thinly slice eggplant on the diagonal and bake them in the oven till softened but not browned. Then you cut cherry tomatoes in half equatorially,squeeze and juice them and cut in quarters, add salt and olive oil and toss. Now you create the volcano – Take a thick slice of eggplant, pile tomato pieces on it, spread some scamorza cheese (mild soft cow’s milk cheese lightly smoked)over the tomatoes, sprinkle some torn pieces of basil and a pinch of Parmesan. Then  put a second slice of eggplant on top and gently press down and repeat the process. Top it off with a big pinch of grated Parmesan and a basil leaf.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.  They were cute and they were good and you can make them ahead of time.  I think they would make a great first course at a dinner party. I don’t have a photo of ones that we made but here’s a couple of variations, so you’ll get the idea.


A few more layers than we made – Where’s the Parmesan?


I don’t think using sliced tomatoes is classic.

Time to make the main course, Chicken Cacciatore or Hunter’s Chicken.  Rafaella explained why this dish is called Hunter’s Chicken;  She explained that it is made with what the hunter could bring and/or find to add to his chicken while cooking it. She  listed the ingredients : chicken, herbs:sage,rosemary,thyme,fennel, garlic, white wine, 2 anchovy fillets, wine vinegar.  There always has to be one smartass in the class, so it might as well be me who asks, where did the hunter find the anchovy fillets?


Chicken Caccitore Hunter’s Chicken

The morning hours pass much more quickly than I thought they would.  We have sliced, diced, peeled and kneaded, measured and weighed grams and listened to some beautiful music along the way.  Rafaella’s husband is a professional musician, her daughter sings and composes piano music.

The last thing to make were the gnocchis, because you can’t make them way beforehand, and once they’re cooked, time to eat.


Gnocchi and fresh tomato sauce

A morning’s work deserves a delicious reward and so an alfresco lunch with the fruits of our labors awaited us in the garden.


And home made wine too!

There’s always room for dessert!


Apricot and blueberry galette

About an hour’s rest and we will be off to Deruta to a famous ceramic factory and then a winery!

To Be Continued…



We left Pineto in the morning, not quite sure how long it would take us  to drive from Abruzzo to Umbria, Pineto to Perugia.  Turns out it was about 227 kilometers and about 15 long tunnels.  I have to say that driving in tunnels is NOT my favorite thing especially the Lincoln Tunnel! BUT the tunnels going through the mountains of  Umbria were something else again;   Mostly they are one way with two lanes and of course speeding and passing are the norm, however the tunnels are wide, well-lit with high ceilings and big vent fans AND along the walls there were places to make an emergency call.  Driving through a tunnel at 94km with cars zipping past you at well over 100 was surreal.

I thought I was through with narrow winding roads, NOT! The road to la volpe e l’uvo (the fox and the grape), the farmhouse where Barbara and I were going to take cooking lessons and go on a couple of tours, was by far the narrowest, steepest, twistiest road I have ever been on, let alone drive on it!  Having driven about 3 hours at speeds I never thought I would,

116 KM omg

I was exhausted and this last leg was killing me.  It looked like we were going nowhere and at one point I stopped the car,  did one of the fifty 9 point K turns I made during this vacation, and said we were going back down the mountain.  Once we were at the bottom,  I asked Barbara to read the directions in the email again; Oh, it’s approximately 3 kilometers up? You didn’t say that before!  So back up we go, white knuckling the steering wheel when cars and even a truck came at us from the opposite direction!

We arrived- it was a beautiful setting and our little apartment was perfect.

The back of the farmhouse
la volpe e l’uvo

I love this kitchen! It is an updated version of the one in Nonna’s House

The pool looked inviting

Greetings and hugs from Raffaella, our hostess and teacher.  She explained that class would begin at 9:30am when we would meet for coffee in the garden.  Even though dinner was on our own, I told Barbara there was no way I was driving off this mountain and back up again. Luckily we had some food that we brought from Pineto and there was a strawberry galette in our apartment as well as apricots, yogurt and eggs.

What I really wanted was a hot shower and to go to bed early.  Good night.

To Be Continued….


A Little Bit Of This and That

We spent a week in Pineto supposedly at the beach.  However we were disappointed to discover the beach was not around the corner and too far to carry the necessary equipment to avoid sunburn.  We also didn’t have beach towels, probably something we should have remembered to bring!

Barbara broached the subject over dinner one evening and said she really wanted to go to the beach.  She had researched several of the surrounding hotels and found one nearby with a reasonable rate and with the prerequisite chaise lounge chairs and umbrellas.


Now This Was Living the Good Life!


And I got to realize a wish – to see and swim in the Adriatic Sea


View from our window

Parking in Italy is as much a pain in the ass as it is in New York City but one of our best parking spots was at The Abruzzo Hotel when the clerk said, “Just park under the lemon tree”.

Enough sun, it must be time for lunch.  Ah hhh Aperol Spritz, the preferred cocktail in Italy and our new summer favorite!


Sun, Sand, Sea and a Spritz Perfetto!

One morning we went out for coffee at a local Bar and were pleased that we didn’t have to go through elaborate explanations as how to make a Caffe Americano which is very different from ordering either caffe or American coffee.  So that part was great but we went crazy for the spoons!


Made in Italy


Look how clever this is!

So we asked Mr. Good-Looking Italian where did he get these spoons? Unfortunately he said he couldn’t remember because he got them a long time ago and hasn’t been able to find anymore.  Also he only had about 5 left – No wonder since the thought of nicking two of them fleetingly flew through our minds!

Pizza and Pasta are mainstays on the menus of most of the local restaurants in this little seaside town and we indulged in accordance.


Spaghetti Vongole per me


Pasta del’ la Mer per Barbara

And speaking of pasta, we took a trip to Rosetta degli Abruzzo, home to the Verrigni pasta company.  I had done some research on the company before our trip and had written to the firm asking if we could visit the factory.  Unfortunately due to insurance, the answer was no but we would be welcome in the showroom.  The GPS helped us get there along with some directions from a local man;  thankfully I understand destre and sinestre.


The Verrigni Pasta Factory

The Verrigni family has been producing artisanal pasta since 1898. What Barbara and I saw in that showroom was quite spectacular. There were bags and bags of pasta in all sorts of shapes, pasta made with whole wheat flour, pasta made gluten-free, pasta made with durum wheat flour and are bronze cut.  The company also produces a line of government certified organic pasta and a refined line of pasta cut with gold. Yes, gold.  I purchased a bag of chitarra, a unique cut of long pasta associated with Abruzzo.  The nice young man who spoke English tried to draw a picture for showing me the difference between linguine, spaghetti and  chitarra, but I’m still not clear. This year the company  came out with a new shape, calamarata.


It does look like calamari doesn’t it without the sauce?

Our favorite cute place where you could get gelato or an Aperol Spritz, two of life’s greatest pleasures and the owner was a friendly man who liked to practice his English with us.


A Great Little Bar in Pineto


Wine, Beer, Gelato, Caffe, Aperol Spritz -It’s all here

We stopped in the night before we left for a last Aperol Spritz.  When we got back to the apartment we had no lights! No electricity! I called our host, texted her.  We had two candles.  Good thing we had packed during the day.  Of course now the food in the refrigerator would be spoiling and worse of all we couldn’t recharge our phones which I felt would be essential for a 3 hour drive tomorrow.  We went to bed early like what else were we going to do?

By morning as we were packing up the car, the host had contacted the next door neighbor who came over speaking Italian (naturally), and even though we had flipped all the circuit breakers, there was an extra something in the closet that needed to be pushed or pulled.  Nice BUT we were outta here.

We were off on a long journey to Umbria and spent some of that trip deciding what we might write in our review in Airbnb.  If you recall…we had a morning of no gas, a half a day of no water, and a night of no electricity!

Perugia here we come!

To Be Continued…





We never saw the Duomo in Penne (I walked as far as I wanted to in the heat) nor did we get to see the famous Divine Judgement painting on the wall of the church in Loreto  Aprutino, a town very close to Penne. The church where the fresco resides, St. Mary in Piano, was destroyed in th last earthquake and has yet to be restored.  We walked around a bit to see if the Olive Oil Museum was open but it probably wasn’t and we didn’t locate it anyway. The town was very nice and clean and we rested in a shady piazza before we headed back.

SO, this day we decide to drive to Atri and perhaps we will see a few frescos.  It wasn’t that far, and we found a parking spot right away ( probably a bad omen ).  We walked into this huge piazza, with some shops (all closed naturally) on our left and on our right, a very large church with two open doorways,


We are in this huge piazza and only the gelato place is open.

Possible frescos? We follow a lady through one of the doorways only to come up against another old wooden door. I cautiously pushed it open and  in we went and weren’t we surprised to find the church absolutely filled!  We found two seats and sat in respectful silence not understanding the Italian.  We waited for the appropriate moment and then made a hasty retreat from the church, because we realized fresco or not, we definitely did not want to attend this funeral!!  Once we were back in the sunlight, we saw the hearse, well enough of that.  Let’s go into that other doorway. We did and found ourselves in a chapel at right angle to the funeral mass.


This impressive chapel was behind another old wooden door.

Once out in the sunlight again, we walked up a winding street looking in the windows of closed shops and pretty alleys.


It was tempting to wander down one of these streets.


Inviting us to wander down

We must have been on the main  road in the town because there were many smaller alleys branching off to the left and the right.


Flowers flowers everywhere

Being in Italy and visiting small villages, the vast amount of flowers everywhere always thrilled me as well as ancient or unusual doorways.


This brilliant color was glorious with flowers.


Blooming Color in Shades Of Rose


I find these doors intriguing – what lies behind them?


Barbara leads the way. Note how clean the streets are!


The amount of flowers surrounding this house was amazing!


We found this little shrine niche. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is universal throughout Italy

Barbara and I have our own Italian mantra, “It’s finally four”.  As in 4:00pm and the shops are open again.  We learned that Atri was famous for the production of licorice and some licorice liquors and when we came upon a store window featuring a lot of bottles with mysterious names, we went in.  Oh my, there were big glass canisters of licorice in various shapes, boxes of flavored licorices, strands of licorice hanging.  I bought a small bag of pieces on the semi-truthful pretense that I needed something to suck on for my wicked sore throat.  We hemmed and hawed and in the end Barbara bought some fabulous candy but neither of bought the liquor – why? Basically our suitcases are already pretty full!

However I did spot something in the store I thought photo worthy.  What with all the talk of racism at home and politically correct language, this jumped out at me.

Hard to believe in this day and age!

I found a jewelry shop and had to add another troll bead to my bracelet.  I like to take my part in boosting Italy’s sagging economy.  A quick gelato and a walk through a lovely park and then we went on the hunt for a particular restaurant.

I set the GPS for the address ( which is always a 50/50 chance of success). We went back and forth, she sent us down private driveways and actually in the wrong direction. When I was screaming that I was done with this because I was headed down a road directly to hell,  I looked across the road and there was the restaurant! You see she had us the wrong side of the road!!

The restaurant was just what we needed at that time. First of all it had a fresco ( of sorts)

Look a fresco!

And pizza!

Barbara LOVED her arugula pizza bianca

And I love my authentic Neapolitan pizza

Look no cheese!

Just another day of adventure in Italy.

To be continued…






A Day in Penne ( not the pasta)

Barbara and I were supposed to spend a week in Pineto with a few day trips planned but also we picked Pineto because it was on the beach.  The beach 🏖 was actually not around the corner.  Okay maybe if you went under the bridge and made a sharp right and followed a worn path it led to the beach….BUT since we couldn’t figure out how to get the car there and the chairs and umbrella that were stashed in the closet were really heavy duty- not like the light beach chairs we are used to taking to the beach.  So carrying them in the blistering Adriatic sun was out of the question.  I am a sun worshiper and rarely sit under an umbrella but even I knew this sun was too intense for my white legs and arms that missed April and May outdoors ( it was cold and rainy) to get a light base tan.  Barbara is way too fair to be in the sun.  So no beach yet.

We decided to go to Penne purported to be a lovely ancient village somewhat inland. It was more of a drive than I thought and included a fair share of twisting roads.


Beautiful golden orange color to much of the stone in Penne.

There were many narrow streets and alley ways typical of these hilltop villages.


Not sure this was meant for cars, maybe just Api.

Wherever we climbed we saw interesting buildings. No people as usual, because it was pausa, that maddening time for American who want to go and do and shop and spend but every place is closed!


Every building looks deserted but I think not.

I finally found a live person, it happened to be Barbara!


Barbara poses in front of an old church – I think!

There was one road narrower than this one that I did’t realize was going to get so narrow and I said I can’t turn here!  Yes you can. No I can’t, omg. Yes you can you have plenty of room, but there is a man on a bicycle and a car behind me! You have to turn!


I really can’t stand these roads or bicycle paths lol

And that photo doe not show the blind turn I had to make, of course not, everyone was too scared to take a photo!

Finally a last look at a somber Penne and a colorful Penne.

We had the city to ourselves!

We had been on the hunt for the Duomo but as we climbed higher and higher the signs disappeared and I had no interest in being out in the sun any longer and walking uphill!


Somber yet serene


Lovely bit of color

Time for gelato.  We head out and I have to tell you driving in Italy is exhausting, they pass you on the left and right, honk at you if you are going the speed limit, do no signal turns just to name a few. By the time we got back to Pineto I told Barbara it wasn’t gelato, it was time for an Aperol Spritz! I know I deserved one. We found a cute place and the man running proudly informed us he spoke English.  He was a gracious host and he made us Aperols the way I like them- not too sweet. Later he confided adding a bit of Compari was his secret!



To Be Continued…