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davidx Santo Stefano di Sessanio - A travel report by David
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Santo Stefano di Sessanio,  Italy - flag Italy
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davidx's travel reports

Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a church and 2 meals

  19 votes
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This report could almost equally well be called L’Áquila but I’ve already done one under that title and Santo Stefano deserves to have one named after it. It is the place in my recent trip that I would put top if forced to give a preference order.

Residenza La Torre
Residenza La Torre
In my report on L’Áquila, my late friend and I were staying with his family and I visited Santo Stefano with the family for lunch while my friend lay very ill in bed.
This time Pam and I stayed with the family for 3 nights after 1 at Santo Stefano. We travelled there from Opi, via Avezzano and L’Áquila, taking a stupendously picturesque run through Abruzzo’s third national park [2 are covered in my Opi report] of the Gran Sasso. It was from this Park that Mussolini was rescued by Hitler’s Luftwaffe. The highest point, the Corno Grande, marks the top of the Apennine range and is the highest point in mainland Italy south of the Alps.
I had booked by phone at the Resideza La Torre [RLT hereafter] in the Via degli Archi. There were two points where the bus might have dropped us and we were advised that the first would be best. The direction was indicated. I saw nothing I remembered, no streets were labelled and there was nobody [literally] about. As for Archi, they were everywhere and steps were also in ample supply. Two young women appeared and didn’t know either the RLT or the street. We began to feel dismay. Eventually Pam left me with the luggage and shot up a flight of steps to look there. Meanwhile I succeeded in knocking up an elderly lady who gave me very rough instructions.
Pam had decided that a house with a massive dog outside was likely to be inhabited and, with customary temerity, she trod across the beast to knock. Nobody was in and the dog did not react but the noise fortunately drew a woman from the other side. She was kindness itself. Yes, she knew where we meant but – there was nobody there. However she phoned and assured Pam that ‘he was coming’ and would take about 15 minutes. Pam retrieved me and, not without some difficulty, returned with me to the lady’s house. She insisted that we come in and sit down. Shortly ‘he’ arrived – only it was a she – and let us into the next house [photo.]

[Continued under accommodation]

Favourite spots:
Via degli Archi? No - turn left!
Via degli Archi? No - turn left!
Santo Stefano is a very special place, truly a mediaeval village. I am only prepared to publicise it because I believe it to be sufficiently protected. What reconstruction has been done is immensely tasteful. It contains the narrowest street I have seen, and a watchtower apparently open for anybody to climb, though my recollection in the earlier report that these are adjacent was mistaken. I shall shortly put up some photos, which will serve better to describe it than anything I can say.
Upon seeing the Hotel Restaurant del Cavaliere, where C had booked our meal, I immediately recognised it as the place where I had eaten before and whose name I’d forgotten. Like then we had a most enjoyable meal. Lentil soup may not sound much [it didn’t really] but this tiny village specialises in lentils – can you imagine? – and we shall be glad to try to reproduce the delicious taste at home. The lamb was perfect.
Just inside the village on this side was a street sign – yes- Via degli Archi!

What's really great:
Below the castle
Below the castle
The two oldest boys in the family [15 and 12] are dedicated and highly talented swimmers. After our visit to the Collemaggio church, we went with our host to pick up one of them from the pool. He was late coming out and we were introduced to various friends. One was an ex Rugby international who now works at the castle.

Next morning we were able to visit the castle and see parts not normally shown, the balcony with a splendid view over the Gran Sasso and the underground passages, which were constructed with amazing forethought for the defence of the castle, including acoustic measures that I had never associated with the 17th century. The fort was built at the orders of Spanish overlords by Abruzzezi who hated them. Horses were ridden into the defensive area inside and we were able to see the specially constructed steps to prevent them slipping. To the delight of the youngest son [8] we also saw the dungeons.

It was an outstanding experience.

Fishing lake and beyond, Monte Reale
Fishing lake and beyond, Monte Reale
Meals overflow from the restaurant section and I’ll start here with an account of what was as much an experience as a meal. Our last full day with the family was the day of the swimming club outing – to an Agriturismo restaurant with fishing pools and play area outside Monte Reale, a small village near the border with Lazio. We went in to start eating at about 13.30, the younger people having a table of their own. We emerged at about 16.40 after a never-ceasing parade of dishes, starting with eight separate antipasti courses and going through two delicious pastas to two meat and a huge liqueur soaked sweet course. The waitress appeared to regard me as a sort of pet and whenever there were ‘extras,’ I got them – when there was a choice of liqueurs I got both.
Would you believe that I was replete? You’d be right! Ironically it only cost our host a little more [with one person extra] than the next meal described cost me!

Not the Via degli Archi!
Not the Via degli Archi!
[Residenza La Torre cont.]
C, as I shall call her, took us to a large upstairs apartment, beautifully restored with large living room and bedroom, bathroom and a small kitchen area. She left us some breakfast and went off to ensure that we should be able to get dinner at the local restaurant. Then she left us, having paid no money, until the morning. The RLT is a small family business involving an architect and his wife, C [their daughter] and her brother.
In the morning she appeared with a gift for us, biscuits and a jar of her father’s own honey. She had to tell us there was a national bus-strike that day but fortunately she was going to L’Áquila herself by car and seemed happy to give us a lift, letting us determine the time! Too good to be true? Maybe but true it is and the age of coincidence is not dead. As a University student, C had attended a lecture the previous day with the lady we were on the way to visit!
See travel tip for contact details.

Fontana Luminosa, L'Áquila
Fontana Luminosa, L'Áquila
This is a place where I am pretty well certain there was a total lack of anything that would be recognised as nightlife, though I’m sure the various age groups of the small community make their own arrangements

In L’Áquila the activities described in the next section blend into the night. It is a place where I can’t imagine younger people saying there’s nothing to do. It was still very much alive after midnight, when we finished the meal described below.

Having a rare bit of room, I'll insert the unrelated fact that L'Áquila now has a bus station, an absence of one being noted in my earlier report. The area of the Fontana Luminosa, where they used mainly to start, seems hardly less busy as a result. It is still thronged all day with tourist buses, taxis, cars picking up people and people galore waiting for cars to pick them up..

The Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio
The Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio
As we left the bus at Santo Stefano, before we actually entered the village, there seemed to be a small group of youngish people together outside a house, who could possibly have been deemed to be hanging out. After that we never saw more than three people together. In other words, if it’s social contacts you must have, this is not the place you’re looking for!

Conversely, if you go into L’Áquila early on a Saturday evening, it seems that most of the world must be hanging out, right up the main drag from the Fontana Luminosa to the Piazza del Duomo. People seem only to move a few yards before meeting another long [or usually short] lost friend and being envelop ed in hugs and kisses. The atmosphere is thrumming but at the same time it could hardly seem safer. Spontaneous community interaction, such as I can only associate with royal jubilees or great sporting victories, seem to be regular events in L’Áquila.

In Santa Maria di Collemaggio
In Santa Maria di Collemaggio
Prior to our anticipated meal next day [see below] we thought a pizza would be adequate, preceded by antipasto. Our hosts tried various pizzerie which they knew to be good. They were all full. Empty ones were suspect – why were they empty? – so we ended up searching for a pizza in the middle of Italy!! Luck arrived. A group left a full pizzeria and we took their places. Our antipasti and wine arrived promptly enough. Then as half an hour doubled and doubled again without our pizzas arriving – despite frequent reminders – youngest son blew. At the age of 8 he rivals his siblings’ swimming ability with a marked penchant for dramatics. We were treated to a full exhibition. Eventually he made a decree, ‘I warn you – and indeed I repeat – that I am in peril of falling asleep.’ He rapidly did so and then his father blew.
What a blow! You would never have known he was English! Our pizzas miraculously appeared and were followed gratis by a platter of fruit and liqueurs for the adults.

Other recommendations:
A colourful corner in Santo Stefano
A colourful corner in Santo Stefano
I mentioned the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Áquila before but it was almost obscured by scaffolding on my earlier visit and to see it again was among my priorities. It is a Templar church, started in the 13th century but not completed until the 1500s. Unusually outside the Vatican, it contains the tomb of a Pope, Celestine V. However it is the rose windows and the façade with alternating pink and white bricks that leave the deepest impression. From the centre of L’Áquila, it is reached by a lovely tree lined road and the early evening light of May it was simply wonderful to be there.

‘Everybody’ knows that Toscana, Umbria and then Abruzzo would be the order of rating for these three provinces and, in my opinion, ‘everybody’ is wrong. The one that could call me back again and again is Abruzzo, by which I don’t mean the praise lavished on the others is not justified.
We have been invited back. 2008 maybe?

Published on Wednesday June 7th, 2006

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Sat, Jul 08 2006 - 08:27 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Todos tus reports are 5 stars, invariabily!

Mon, Jun 19 2006 - 02:47 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

wonderful report

Sat, Jun 17 2006 - 06:38 PM rating by gloriajames

Anotherw wonderful report and some great pics!

Fri, Jun 16 2006 - 11:59 PM rating by downundergal

A very personal account of what sounds like a marvellous place to visit. I know where I will hope to stay if I ever get Santo Stefano. I love the picture of the fishing lake. The only reason I have rated a 4 star over 5 is that it just didn't flow as well as your reports normally do - lack of space I would guess.

Mon, Jun 12 2006 - 12:08 PM rating by eirekay

What a beautiful stay you must have had!

Fri, Jun 09 2006 - 10:25 AM rating by st.vincent

This is probably the Italian report that I have enjoyed reading most David. A nice personal story

Thu, Jun 08 2006 - 11:02 AM rating by bootlegga

You're doing for Italy what you did for the UK and Iberia (writing tons of reports)! Keep it up!

Thu, Jun 08 2006 - 06:29 AM rating by magsalex

Great report! Info packed

Thu, Jun 08 2006 - 04:45 AM rating by marianne

Interesting to read and good photos. I like the way how you make this into a very personal report.

Wed, Jun 07 2006 - 12:32 PM rating by murrayskinner

Fantastic... Dining at a all time level in Italy!!! I love it. I have a great restaurant recommendation with warm eccentric owners and a stunning view of Lake Como if you are ever in the area.


Wed, Jun 07 2006 - 12:30 PM rating by quikflikchiq

Very beautiful! Lovely photographs and a very interesting report. You seem to write with such love and admiration for the places that you travel to. Its wonderful to read.
Something to note - in New Zealand "knocking up" is not something you would want to do to every woman you come across. Its putting a bun in their oven :)

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