Darling, we are going to the seaside! Don't forget to pack the ski
Monti e Mare - Mountains and Sea
We had always wanted to visit Ascoli Piceno in the Marche region, which borders the east of Umbria. So for a weekend in March we had booked a room in a historic villa close to Ascoli Piceno.
As the sea is not far from Ascoli, we decided to go also to San Benedetto del Tronto.
This would make a typical weekend trip - just see one of the many nice towns, visit a bit of the surrounding area and of course enjoy good food.
But Italy has even more to offer.
Skiing in the Appennine Mountains
Who would think for example that in Italy there are mountain landscapes south of the Alps with beautiful ski resorts?
On the way from La Rogaia to Ascoli Piceno you pass Forca Canapine, a small ski area above the plateau of Castelluccio. There are no large lift facilities as in the Alps and therefore the nature is unspoilt, it is never crowded and there are virtually no queues.
You can take wonderful trips on cross-country skis through the mountains. There are hardly any ready made tracks but you can do ski trekking without great effort and without the risk of avalanches.
Obviously I wanted to try out my new cross-country ski. On my last trip to Bavaria in February I did not get the chance to do so as all tracks had already melted away...
First, however, shortly before Norcia, a small snack in the "Bar Italia" in Serravalle, a mix of Italian Bar and specialty butcher, an offshoot of Moscatelli Tartufi Norcia.
Norcia is in fact THE Italian sausage metropolis and good sausages are known in Italy as "Norcineria". Accordingly, the best ham comes from Norcia and not from Parma (well, in Parma, they might see this differently :-). Hence we asked the sumptuous lady at the counter to prepare us two large ham panini, each of which made up for two meals...
Then it's back to the road, passing by Norcia and over a mountain pass. Up here at Forca Canapine, at 1.541 meters (5056 ft) above sea level, there are high walls of snow along the road.
From the highest point of the pass which is also the border between Umbria and the Marche region, we drive down for a bit until the turnoff to Refugio Colle le Cese (Refugio is a mountain hut, often with a restaurant).
From here I start with my cross-country skis. As I said, there are no tracks, but the snow is not too soft and I do not miss ready made tracks.
For about two hours I make my way through the untouched snow before I return to the Refugio.
Annette, who initially accompanied me a bit, walking by foot faster than me on skis, is now waiting for me.
A quick coffee in the Refugio and then we drive the 35 km from Forca Canapine to Ascoli. On the winding mountain road it feels a little more actually.
The old town of Ascoli Piceno is located in the Marche region, picturesquely situated on a rock between the two rivers Tronto and Castellano, surrounded on three sides by high mountains.
The old town is famous for its buildings out of travertine stone, and it is considered one of the most beautiful towns in all of Italy.
Ascoli is also called the city of a hundred towers because until today many of the "torri gentilizi" are still preserved.
Coincidentally the day we arrive there is the antiques market (every third Sunday of the month).
If we had come with a bigger car, very likely we would be tempted to buy the one or other exceptional piece for our holiday apartments. That way we can just admire the beautiful pieces.
One temptation we do not want to resist, however, are the "Olive ascolane". They are large fried olives with a crunchy crust and a fine soft meat filling. Here they are available freshly made at every corner and they taste much better than the deep frozen ones you find everywhere in Italy in the supermarkets.
Borgo Storico Seghetti Panichi
Our hotel is located in Castel di Lama, a twenty minutes car ride from Ašculë as Ascoli Piceno is mentioned in the dialect of its inhabitants.
Annette has booked a room at Borgo Storico Seghetti Panichi, an old villa. The surrounding park was designed in the 19th century by Ludwig Winter, in his time a famous German botanist and landscape architect. The park is one of the "Grandi Giardini Italiani", the hundred most important gardens in Italy.
It is noteworthy that only twenty kilometers away from the snowy, frosty winters of Ascoli Piceno, there is a microclimate that allows to grow palm trees and other tropical plants outdoors.
We finish the day in the excellent restaurant of the Villa, before we retire to our noble "Princess Suite". By the way: The villa is owned by a real princess, the Principessa Giulia Panichi Pignatelli, a nice, elderly lady whom we meet as she goes for a walk in the park with her spaniel.
San Benedetto del Tronto
San Benedetto del Tronto is the fifth largest city of the Marche region, with the largest fishing port on the Adriatic Sea.
We drive along the palm-lined beach promenade towards the harbor. There are lots of beach bars, one next to the other, some of them old-fashioned and nice.
On the landward side of the promenade there are hotels, most of which are not really pretty. Only when we approach the harbor, we see more of the old, relatively small and beautifully ornate hotels from the art deco period.
It is Sunday afternoon and therefore in the harbor all is quiet. The fishing boats bob up and down at the wharf, and except for a few tourists there is hardly anyone out.
With one exception: at a small harbor restaurant, actually more of a snack bar, we see many people, locals as it seems.
"Nudo e Crudo" "nude and crude" it is called. And actually this is also how it looks like from the outside.
But the freshly prepared seafood in the display case and the fried calamari, which mount up on the plates, seem to be delicious.
You can sit in a sheltered verandah, warm and protected from the wind. So we decide not to go for one of the more upscale restaurants on the beach promenade, but rather order some food at "Nudo e Crudo" and some cool sparkling white wine to go with it.
And we do not regret it. Everything is fresh, really good, the squid is crunchy outside and soft inside, and not at all chewy. And once again, we find that the Italians really have the right touch for food and enjoying life.
Dolce far niente? We definitely could get used to it.
Then the indispensable digestive walk on the beach, looking at the grey sea, and then we head back to Umbria. In about 2 1 / 2hours, of course with a short coffee break, we are back home to La Rogaia.