A view of Villa Santa Maria taken some time in the past
A few days ago I visited a delightful little village located at the foot of a vertical rock called La Penna. Two things made me want to go to Villa Santa Maria. Firstly, my best friend Wiesia had just sent me a cookery book called "The Food of Italy" by Claudia Roden in which Villa Santa Maria was mentioned in the Abruzzi and Molise chapter. Secondly, K had just read an article in Motitalia, a monthly magazine produced by The Federazione Motociclista Italiana, in which there was a full page spread on "La Panarda Abruzzese" featuring Villa Santa Maria. It seemed more than a mere coincidence that reading the chapter in the book and the article in the magazine both happened on the same day. I had to go.
An Awe-Inspiring Sight
It was a scorching day when we set off in search of the fabled , world-famous "Village of the Chefs". The story is that most Italian and internationally renowned chefs are trained in the Culinary and Hotel Management School located in the medieval village. We drove through beautiful countryside passing Alanno, Manopello Scalo, Guardagriele, Lago di Bomba until we finally set eyes on Villa Santa Maria in the distance, set amongst rocks and .....completely and unavoidably dominated by an enormously high, ultra-modern bridge. None of the reviews/articles had mentioned this fact nor indeed shown any recent pictures of this awe-inspiring work of humankind!
A Jewel of a Restaurant
We came across a delightful "agriturismo" called "La Casetta" which was tucked snugly under the bridge above. We had the most amazingly delicious food in the grand culinary tradition of Villa Santa Maria, served by a charming lady called Antonella. We were offered fresh, homemade "antipasti", gnocchi, roast veal and potatoes, lemon pie, red wine (for me) and espresso.
Picture above of typical Abruzzese "antipasti"
To begin with, we were the only 2 in the whole restaurant and the service was discreet and impeccable. After half an hour, the restaurant became completely full with the arrival of a very lively, joyful, talkative, ravenously hungry group of smartly dressed policemen, and voluntary workers in bright day-glo yellow uniform. Each of them very politely said "Buon Giono" to us in turn as they came in and we said "Buon Giorno" back about 20 times in the space of a minute. They were also served quickly and efficiently by Antonella and a co-worker. We enjoyed the rest of our meal with "gusto" in typical Italian fashion. I would highly recommend eating at "La Cassetta" as the food is delicious, the ambience welcoming and the staff are very friendly and charming. Its unique setting is a fascinating feature.
An Intriguing Question
We set off into the village and walked up narrow, cobbled alleyways. We were invited for a coffee by one of the villagers as we passed her house. We politely declined in true grand British reserved fashion but if we had accepted there would probably be a fascinating story to recount.... We walked up and up and passed a beautiful church. We marvelled at the beauty of this tiny village. Everywhere we went, we caught glimpses of the monumental bridge. How had the villagers reacted to it being built right over their homes? Why was there no mention of this bridge anywhere? It was as if this bridge did not exist at all.
San Francesco Caracciolo
The patron saint of Villa Santa Maria is San Francesco Caracciolo also known as "Patrone dei Cuochi d'Italia (Patron Saint of Italian cooks). He was born here on 13th October 1563. There is an annual "Sagra dei Cuochi del Sangro" ("Festival of the cooks of the River Sangro) every October. Another good time to visit is during the first two weeks of August when Villesi from all over Italy and the world return to enjoy the festivities of the Feast of the Madonna in Basilico.
The Remains of the Day
We made our way home marvelling at what we had experienced in this lovely village. The end of the day was fabulous with the most wonderful sunset captured by K just as we came towards home.
I would love to hear from any "Villesi" from Italy or abroad. I hope I have captured the essence of your delightfully unique village.