Our Italian Adventure Part 1

We had been planning our trip to Italy for the past year after we found out our wonderful friends were going to get married off the Amalfi Coast. This was my first time in Italy so I wanted to make sure to see as much as I could during our two week stay.

We bought our tickets about 7 months in advance but learned later that it didn’t make much of a difference in prices because I had been monitoring the tickets up until the day before we left San Francisco on the Hopper App. We went during one of the busiest tourist times but surprisingly were able to keep things under $5,000 for two people, traveling for two weeks, while visiting multiple locations throughout Italy and Greece.

June 30th and July 1st – Naples → Pacentro

We arrived in Naples Italy at 11:30 PM on June 30th and stayed at a little hotel in Naples called Kleopatra which was close to the airport and car rental place. The hotel was ok but we just needed a place to sleep, and within walking distance to pick up our rental car for the next 6 days. Naples was very dirty and we learned later that you have to be very cautious when walking around the streets because people get mugged there often. We also learned that Naples has the best pizza and coffee, which we didn’t try either!

The next morning we got up early and made our way to Hertz, getting our car was a hassle, for people on a schedule give yourself at least 30-45 minutes to process everything, and be sure to have all of your paperwork.

We got a manual mini fiat because it was a lot cheaper than an automatic, we paid $216 for 6 days which was a really great deal. After we were done checking the car we were off to Pacentro! Driving through the mountains to get to this small mountain town was a dream. The grass was so lush and green, the towns we passed through were charming and the people watching was unlike anything I’ve experienced (and we live in San Francisco so that’s saying something!)

We stopped in Roccarosa for two cappuccino’s and found out that it was a very famous ski town. When we sat down to relax for a minute we could see a storm rolling in the direction we were heading and decided to get back in the car to try and beat it. As soon as we started driving the rain and hail started pouring which made it almost impossible to see. After about 20 minutes it stopped and we came up on the tiny town of Pacentro. Pacentro is a quaint village in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Giovanni, Josh’s cousin who lives in Pacentro, told us to drive to the main piazza and ask Gigi for him. We obviously looked like tourists driving up and Josh rolled down his window to ask where the piazza was. The old man asked who he was looking for, Josh told him he was looking for Giovanni son of Luigi, the old man barely spoke English so he told his friend to come over and help. The other older man who came to the car was a man named Frank who we learned was also a distant cousin of Josh’s! He said he just saw Giovanni, but “Ah, Luigi is right there!” Luigi came over to the car gave us both a hug and got in the back to take us to Nino and Marie’s house.

We got to the house and gave the family hugs, then Giovanni came home and took us to the “Tabaccheria Gigi” where we had Tuborg beers and walked around the piazza. After we chatted for a bit he took us to the house we were going to be staying. He told us to get ready and meet at the restaurant at 7:30pm. The showers and toilets are so interesting in Europe, but more on that later.

We met the rest of the family in front of the restaurant that Margarita’s family owns, and Giovanni and Margherita work there when they are not in school. This restaurant was out of this world, I have never tasted food this amazing, if I lived in Pacentro I would eat here every day! The restaurant is called “Taverna de li Caldora” run by Margherita’s parents, who have had it in their family for years. We had cod fish “baccala” with pesto, lamb, mashed potatoes, cauliflower, tomato with croutons, pasta with truffle and saffron (they call saffron red gold, it’s more expensive than gold there), and lamb shanks with sausages. Then we moved to dessert, and tried three of their delicious dishes. We had an endless flow of red wine of course, and ended with espresso and a shot of single malt scotch. After dinner we made our way to Giovanni’s house where Margherita’s sister Gabriella and her boyfriend joined us to relax in our food coma in the backyard. We tried homemade Ginsana which is a type of alcohol you make from the root of a plant. I guess this type of alcohol is illegal to make because of the high alcohol percent, which can make you go blind if you drink too much! They sell it in the stores but we were told that it tastes different.

July 2nd – Pacentro

The next morning we met Giovanni, Margherita, and Mariana (their friend) at “Cafe de Martini’s” which is owned by two brothers and had “cappaccini” and croissants. After breakfast we explored the small winding roads of Pacentro and made our way to the castle which Marianna had a key to! The castle sits on one hill (“Colle Castello”) at one end of town and the other hill (“Colle San Marco”) is where the old Church of S. Marco used to sit. The medieval castle was positioned strategically at the entrance of the San Leonardo mountain pass to Pescara. The original castle was controlled by the Counts of Valva. The “Gualterio, son of Manerio, Count of Valva”, lived in the Castle in 1130. The current castle dates from the 14th century and was built by the Cantelmo lords. It has three of the four towers mostly intact and was sold by the Cipriani-Avolio family to the town government in 1957. It is currently being restored and will be opened as a tourist attraction, we found out that it’s only $300 to rent out and hold events! We enjoyed walking through the castle, and made our way to the roof and got an amazing view of the whole town!

After we were done exploring we went to Gigi’s to chat and have a beer, then we had lunch plans with Nino and Marie where we had homemade pasta, sauce, cheese and vino! Just when we thought we were done eating they brought out fried beef that was cooked in batter, it was kind of like cordon bleu but better! Then we had a huge bowl of fresh fruit for dessert. The wine and sun got to us so we took a nap until 10pm, and it was time to eat again! We met Giovanni and Margherita at the restaurant where they were finishing work and went across the street to the pub (“Ingresso Majella Ristorante”) to watch the football match against Italy and Germany. This experience was such a treat because for those of you who know how much Italians love their soccer this was a site to experience. After the game ended (Italy sadly lost) we walked up the road to a little bar and had a gin and lemonade drink. A few tables away from us was the town drunk, who used to be a bodyguard to the prime minister, after he retired he started drinking a lot and goes around buying everyone booze and calling them all his grandchildren! He gave Josh his Italian hat and told him he needs to wear it every time he comes back to Italy.

July 3rd – Pacentro → Maiori

On Sunday we got up at 7am, grabbed coffee and relaxed until lunch, for lunch we went back to “Taverna de li Caldora” (Margherita’s family’s restaurant) and had another feast! We had lamb, liver, beans, zucchini, cheese, mushrooms and prosecco. We ended up buying 10 bottles of wine because we knew we couldn’t find wine like this in the US and Margherita’s father Carmine gave us a bottle of locally made olive oil as a gift from his friends store.

Our next stop was to the Amalfi Coast for our friend’s wedding but before we left we made sure to say goodbye to the family. We wrote them cards in Italian thanking them for their hospitality and made our way to our next destination.

We thought this was the end of our time in Pacentro until next year, but decided to make alternative plans when we came home from Greece to end our amazing trip with family in the town Josh and I both grew to love during our stay. I will share more on this in my next Pacentro post!

Some other interesting facts and tips in Pacentro

The town’s population is just under 1300, most of the population emigrated after World War II. Many went to the United States, Latin America and Australia.

Pacentro is also known for being the village of origin of Gaetano Ciccone and Michelina Di Iulio, the paternal grandparents of the American entertainer Madonna.

The town is famous for its traditional Corsa degli Zingari (Gypsies’ Run), which is held on the first Sunday in September in honor of Madonna of Loreto. Many of the young men of Pacentro run bare foot through the rugged path that goes from Ardinghi hill (the start, to the little church of the Virgin of Loreto, the arrival.) The winner is awarded with a cut of fabric, used to make his first suit as a man, and young men still compete vigorously for the title, running barefoot across the rough terrain.

Check out The Piazza del Popolo which is home to the main church in town.

To eat you must go to the ‘Taverna de li Caldora’ which is the best pace to dine in town. George Clooney thought so as he ate here several times while filming ‘The American’.

Browse Hotels in Pacentro Italy

Secret places in Italy to escape the tourists!

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