No really they did, and ordered three glasses of Prosecco Aperol spritz for the grand sum of €6 (A$8.70) all up.
Sounds like a joke doesn’t it? The joke is that we only had one each nestled in a little bar in the town of Portico di Romagna deep in the hills between Florence and Bologna, where earlier this year I was holed up for a week’s course in the Art of Storytelling hosted by the prosecco-drinking Italian actress, and an Israeli peace maker. Go figure indeed, I’ve done some out-there gigs.
The town is an ancient walled town built by one of the first civilisations, the Romans, and rarely if ever featured in any pretentious travel write ups.
In March 2015, when Bologna and Florence were already heaving with selfie-stick toting tourists uploading their spaghetti bolognese and Michaelangelo’s David to Instagram, there were none in Portico. Just a little group of random, crazy storytellers, our hosts the utterly gorgeous Marisa and the Cameli family, and the townspeople. Even more remarkable for its relative lack of visitors is that the area is rich in real-not-fake history that goes back further than 1770; stunningly, ripsnortingly beautiful and it’s perfect for hiking and road cycling if you’re that way inclined. Even hubbie and I could go there together and find something we both liked on top of the food and wine.
I stayed at the Al Vecchio Convento, owned by the said Cameli family; it’s a 19th century converted convent with rooms spread throughout the town.
My bedroom was quaintly furnished with original antique furniture, a bed that squeaked so much I had to put a pillow behind the bedhead to muffle my restless snorting and insomniac mutterings, and a view up and down the ancient cobbled main street where real Romans used to tiptoe in their sandals in the 1100’s.
There was even a laundry up the cobbled street, look:
Each morning I set my alarm for 6am and walked up the hills behind the town along the Camino, an old Roman way which winds all the way to Assisi if you’re willing to walk for ten days; I didn’t but I’d like to. Want to come along? I can arrange it.
This time though, my regular hill climbing companion was Ingo, a German sculptor who brought his stunning hunting dog, Layla too. While walking we talked ’til we ran out of breath and he told me his story, a rich history of the coming together and splits of his jointly Aryan and Jewish heritage, and the far reaching impacts WW2 had, and continues to have on his family worldwide. There are too many stories to tell of these conversations here but I promise I’ll share them later on the blog. He said I could, actually I was thinking of writing a book about it but that’s another thing on my too long list of things to do in life.
Once back at the Hotel just about ready to eat Layla’s leg, we were refuelled instead by Marisa’s incredible breakfast spreads, which she rises at 5am daily with her husband, two sons and their Danish wives, to prepare for their guests in the same way they prepare all of their fresh, local food; by hand. Bread, frittata, fruit, coffee, oh the coffee, yoghurt and cakes. Italian homemade cakes. Jee-zus, you can have chocolate cake for breakfast.
Around fifteen minutes drive over the hills through the National Park, there burns a series of volcanoes where Dante, himself a Florentine, was said to have been inspired to write his Divine Comedies (which I confess I haven’t read, before you think me ever so well-educated and spiffy). The one shown in the picture here has been recorded burning for five hundred years.
There are no ticket offices, no queueing tape, yellow umbrellas or really annoying guides yelling, just a gravel patch on the side of the road marking the spot to pull over, a wall with “Diablo” and a white arrow handpainted with a stick and a pot of Flamboyant White Duluxia, pointing the way. Not that you could miss it.
The day I went, wearing a wombat mask and a fur hood, (don’t ask, it’s a storytelling technique to get your mind in touch with your natural soul) it was howling a gale pouring with rain and yet, magical. I was moved and cried so much I had to go and eat and drink wine again to soothe my wombat soul.
Feasting is an integral part of life in Portico. Of the many life changing experiences I took away from my short time in Italy, the joy of living would be one of the most enduring.
These people totally know how to live, they eat simply, creating heavenly meals from local produce, they laugh like the joke’s on them, drink plenty of local wine, dance, love and sing together. I felt like part of the family from day one.
For more information on Portico and Al Vecchio Convento, you can watch this short video from the Cameli family. Tell them I sent you, they’re wonderful and no this post is not sponsored.