Date: 2/21/09 (Saturday)
Location: Campania and Lazio Regions, Italy
In a rented Fiat 500 (cinquecento), we spent the past week on a culinary and wine tasting tour of the Campania and Lazio regions of Italy. We visited Benevento, Guardia Sanframondi, Castelvenere, Telese, Ceprano, Frosinone, Atina and Minturno. We also visited archeological and geological sites of interest in Naples (National Archeological Museum), Pompei (Pompeii Excavations and Mt. Vesuvius) and Pozzuoli (Phlegrean Fields).
A day trip by train to Naples a week ago Thursday to visit the National Archeology Museum was enough to whet our appetite for exploring more of the surrounding region. We rented a car the following day and set-out on Saturday morning for a visit to the volcanic landscape near Naples known as the Phlegrean Fields. It was quite a thrill to be on the roads on a busy Saturday near Naples. In hindsight, we should have picked any other day of the week to navigate the wild volcanic terrain that we went to see — it certainly added to the excitement of driving up and down the walls of craters.
Our destination on the first day was Pozzuoli. Lisa was on a photography assignment for a friend who wanted high resolution photos of three marble columns in the Macellum (ancient market) near the waterfront. Why are these important? It turns out that there are ‘worm holes’ about half-way up the columns made by marine mussels which led a famous geologist (Charles Lyell) to the discovery of a phenomenon known as “Bradyseism” — the effects of uplift and subsidence in active volcanic areas. The columns record the alternating rising and falling of the land — up to six meters in variation — from the 3rd-century to the present day. The columns are part of what is known as the Temple of Serapis because, according to our guidebook of the area, “…a statue of the Egyptian god Serapis to whom a macellum was dedicated was found here.” Of course, none of the ancient artwork remains at the site today. The Bourbon King Charles took most of it during the 18th-century to decorate his royal palace in nearby Caserta. At least one of the statues made its way to the museum in Naples.
We spent the night in Pompei and visited the excavations the following day — a chilly but gorgeous, sunny day. Then we drove as far as we could up the road to Mt. Vesuvius, reaching the point where you get out and walk to the summit, but it was far too cold at that elevation to attempt it. We were treated to incredible views of Naples and the Island of Ischia as the sun was beginning to set behind clouds to the west. The volcanic features wowed us as we rounded each bend climbing up and winding our way back down the paved road.
On Sunday evening, we continued on to Benevento for a night — a wonderful town off the main tourist track. Walking down the main street of a town known for its pagan roots and for Strega (meaning ‘witch’), a liquor made from aromatic herbs, we found a great restaurant serving cucina antica (ancient cuisine) called Locanda delle Streghe. Since it wasn’t busy, David asked the owner/chef to “bring it on” by giving us a sampling from his menu. All we had to do was to tell him when we were slowing down — it was a delicious meal of pasta served in the most unusual and mouth-watering ways — followed by a tasting of Strega served in a mermaid bottle.
After a walk around town and a visit to a shop to buy a bottle of Strega the next morning, we were off to a wine-making region nearby. David has been working on a project for some months to find the best wines south of Rome for under 4.00 euros a bottle. We visited winemakers in Guardia Sanframondi, Castelvenere and Telese, buying up a bottle here and a half-case there to take back to the boat for ‘evaluation’. Our favorite stop was at the Antica Masseria Venditti in Castelvenere where the owner greeted us in the driveway and invited us in. The grapes are grown on the property which has been in the family since 1595. David made a special exception on his per-bottle price limit which included one numbered bottle: he has No. 41 out of 300 of one of their nocturna reds (grapes harvested at night) which we are holding for a special occasion since a sailboat is no place to store such a thing. Lisa also scored a bottle of special olive oil for the growing galley collection onboard Gyatso.
We returned to the boat on Monday night and took a much-needed day-off from sightseeing. On Wednesday, we took a day trip in the Lazio Region, visiting the towns of Ceprano, Frosinone and Atina and returning back to the boat with an interesting collection of specialty foods and vini locale (local wines). On Thursday, we drove south from Gaeta to Minturno for a visit to the Villa Matilde winery and a Roman archeological site there. Before returning the car on Friday, we took a short driving tour in the area around Gaeta. The ship’s stores are now over-brimming, and our brains are totally saturated after an excellent whirlwind tour of the Campania and Lazio Regions.
See the photo albums of our visit to the Campania and Lazio Regions of Italy:
- Photo Album for Visit to Campania and Lazio Regions of Italy (20 February 2009)
- Photo Album for Visit to Pompei and Mt. Vesuvius (15 February 2009)