It has been said "the point of travel is to get lost". If this is true, then our recent arrival in Ascoli Piceno was traveling at its finest. Steeped in a rich and storied history, today's Ascoli Piceno offers its visitors a wonderful look back in time to days of the ancient Romans. It's narrow streets, piazzas and medieval architecture weave an interesting tapestry of past cultures.
Having navigated the twists and turns of mountain driving (through the Maiella and Gran Sasso national parks), I felt somewhat triumphant on our entry into Ascoli Piceno's "Centro Storico". However, if you've ever been lost in a "corn maze" around Halloween time, you completely understand why the euphoric feeling of victoriously negotiating the Italian mountain roads dramatically disappeared as we entered the narrow stone-paved streets. We stopped to confirm directions only to find we were on a one-way street headed the wrong way. Help came to us in the form of two Carabinieri, a man and a young shopkeeper who provided assistance by giving Edie a virtual tour of the city on his laptop so she could see the streets which would take us to our hotel. While each was helpful in his own way, the final piece of our adventure fell into place when a lady in the shop offered to ride with us and show us the way to our hotel. As we drove down the streets of the city, we realized why the Italians build the Fiat Cinquecento. There's something to be said for their size and maneuverability through narrow city streets. We wished we had rented one.
With the help of our passenger, we arrived at Albergo 100 Torri (Ascoli Piceno at one time was a city with many towers), a lovely little boutique hotel and residence. This now beautiful palazzo had been a fabbrica (factory). After unpacking and taking a brief riposo, we began day one of our walking tour of historic Ascoli Piceno. Winding our way through the streets, we soon arrived at Piazza del Popolo. Constructed of travertine, it is arguably one of the most beautiful piazzas in all of Italy. The early evening sun gave it a warm and welcoming glow. We viewed arches and columns on one side and the town hall on the other side. Chiesa di Francesco stood tall and majestic at one end while a palazzo with shops and appartamenti closed in the south end.
Stopping at Caffè Anisetta Meletti,
we ordered glasses of Verdicchio (a local white wine) which was served with a plate of cheese, prosciutto, quiche, beef, bread sticks and a pastry pillow. What fun to relax, enjoy our wine and watch the piazza come alive as people began to gather in small groups
talking and sharing the day's events with each other. A "rollerblader" skated from one end of the piazza to the other, back and forth and in and out amongst the people. Families with young children pushed carriages as they strolled along. We enjoyed the tranquil setting while laughing about the early adventure of arriving in this beautiful city.
After we finished our wine, it was time for a passeggiata. We wandered a bit, enjoying the architecture, the shops, and the designs painted on the appartamenti. Dinner was at Caffè Lorenz (located on Piazza del Popolo near the Chiesa di Francesco). As we enjoyed the smooth flavor of our wine (Terre Cortesi Falerio 2012), we reviewed the menu. Orders for Spaghetti Carbonara and Spaghetti Ascoli (a sauce made of tomato and green olives stuffed with tonno) were placed to be followed by an insalata mista for two.
The dawn of a new day was welcomed with a breakfast of fresh fruit, a selection of meats and cheeses and cups of cappuccino. What a great way to start our hiking adventures through the "streets of history". One of the "must visits" on our list was the Ponte Romano di Solestà
built during the Augustan period of time. A short walk down a few side streets and we were treated to the site of this historic marvel of Roman construction, its single arch trancending the river Tronto. As we crossed the bridge, we happened upon a "medieval laundromat" - an area with stone basins and stone carved washboards.
How convenient next to the Tronto which must have provided an ample supply of water.
Returning to the central part of the village, we passed many nice shops and saw some of the remaining towers which once defined the city's skyline. The shops were lovely but how much can you fit in a suitcase for your the flight home? As we walked past the Casa del Parmigiano
we paused to savor the hearty aroma of the "undisputed king of cheeses" (according to Mario Batali). After enjoying the beauty of the stained glass windows and the architecture of Chiesa di Francesco we headed across Piazza del Popolo for an alfresco lunch of insalatone. The raindrops falling from the edge of our table's umbrella played a relaxing rhythm as they hit the travertine pavement. Following another riposo we decided to do some more people watching at the main square while enjoying an appertivo of "Olive Ascolane", olives stuffed with sausage and grated Parmigiana, then breaded and deep fried.. If you've never had olive fritte (fried olives) you simply must go to the Caffè Lorenz in Ascoli Piceno and order them. They are delicious and go very well with a glass of Rosso Piceno Superiore - Bergaio Villa Pigne! If that weren't enough, they were served with a plate of pizza, caprese sandwiches, cheese and prosciutto. What an absolutely delightful way to begin our last night in this historic city.
Having thoroughly enjoyed our respite at the Caffè Lorenz, we began our passeggiata, both to enjoy the beauty of the city, also to search for an osteria for our evening's repast. After a time of walking, window shopping, people watching and exploration, we came upon the Piazza della Viola, home to Osteria Nonna Nina. What a find! We were treated kindly and time was taken by our waiter who shared his knowledge about the many local dishes on the menu. Neither of us was overly hungry, having eaten all those Olive Ascolane. And so we ordered a serving of verdure grigliate and an order of Scallopina di Pollo. Both dishes were superbly prepared.
On our way back to Albergo 100 Torri we walked one more time through the Piazza del Popolo. The travertine stone glowed as if it had been waxed. Such a harmonious and majestic square. Tomorrow would be the beginning of a new adventure as our travels continued.
Dave and Edie www.fototoscana.com