Saturday May 14 - I Know It’s Around Here Somewhere
We’re up about eight-thirty or so, dress and head across the courtyard for breakfast. They present us with a basket of assorted breads, jam and honey. When we ask for cappuccino, we’re given something more akin to American latte, warm milk and espresso that we mix together; we like it. After breakfast, we settle our bill, pack-up Claudio and hit the road. Le Macine would be a good place to stay with the kids to explore the immediate area and/or spend some time at the beach.
Today is one of our two big driving days. We’re heading from Silvi to Ostuni with a stop at Castel Del Monte along the way. We drive down from Silvi Paese, through Silvi Marina and within fifteen minutes or so, we’re on the A14 heading south.
There are some beautiful vistas along this route and you have the distinct impression of descending from great heights because you are. It’s amazing how mountainous Abruzzo is and yet how flat Puglia appears in comparison. It’s even cooler to see the heights of the Gargana jutting to your left as you continue the journey south.
After about two plus hours we see our exit for Andria but once we’re through the tollbooth, the Via Michelin directions that I’d printed from the Internet let us down (as in nothing we see corresponds to those directions). Luckily there’s a sign for Castel Del Monte, which we follow. It’s not long though before we arrive at a fork in the road with no sign for the castle and nothing that looks familiar on our Via Michelin directions. Our choices are left towards Bari or a right towards Andria. I make the executive decision to go towards Andria since I know Castel del Monte sits on a hill about fifteen kilometers from Andria in the opposite direction of Bari. Big mistake!
Our route takes us through downtown Andria, a small, modern, bustling city with some major league congestion as we try to follow the Castel Del Monte signs like Hansel and Gretel trying to follow a trail of breadcrumbs. Eventually, we emerge on the other side of Andria and some roads that at least correspond to our Michelin directions. On further thought, I agree with Chris’s thinking that if we followed the road to Bari, maybe we would have bypassed Andria and picked up a different trail to the castle but who knows?
We wind our way through the country and arrive at Via Castel Del Monte but there are some police blocking the road. Uh oh. Turns out not to be such a big deal it just means rather than driving directly to the castle, the local authorities direct everyone to a parking lot off the 170A (the road we’re currently on) at which point a shuttle will bring us to the castle.
We continue barely 500 meters down the road to the lot, pull in and pay three euro for the privilege of parking there and taking the shuttle. At least it’s a large air-conditioned bus that waits (temps for today are in the low twenties and sunny). By the time we park (it’s not that crowded) and Chris uses the restroom (a Johnny-on-the-Spot for which we pay 50 centismi), the bus has departed.
There’s a small mobile snack shack here with plenty of tables around, some under a tent, and I believe this to be the “trattoria” referred to by others and decide to enjoy some panini and beer while we wait for the bus’s return. We pay 10€ and get two panini with prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella and two cold Perroni, which go down way too quickly. As we finish, the bus returns and we climb aboard.
We do not have to wait long before we depart and within a few minutes we’re atop the mount. I have to give you an aside here. This is one of the Swabian castles of Frederick II, the Wonder of the World. Well, before I understood who Frederick II was or where he was from, I somehow got it into my dyslexic brain that Swabia was in Africa; I think I confused Swabian with Swahili and Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. And I could never understand how someone of African origin ended up being a Holy Roman Emperor! Duh!! Swabia is part of Germany. Well, at least that’s all cleared up in my idiotic brain. Now back to our show.
As we climb up the mount in the bus, I can understand why the authorities want to limit the amount of traffic to the top since the road is narrow and winding but judging by the cars in the parking lot up here, they must let some people drive up at some point during the day.
When we depart the bus, we spy the trattoria, bar and enoteca to which the others must have really been referring but it’s too late; we’ve already eaten, oh well. The panini were good nonetheless.
We walk up the path to the structure; it’s incredible, especially since they’ve restored the full marble façade some thirty years ago. We stroll around the outside and note several families enjoying picnics, good idea. Then we head inside.
It’s three euro each for us to enter, the ticket agent cannot change our twenty and we used all our change for parking and the bathroom. The next people come in to pay but they have a twenty too. Finally, we scrape together a euro to go along with the five we already have, made of 50 centismi and ten centismi coins and we enter. I’m not sure how long it took for the people behind us though.
Some of the rooms within the castle have descriptions of the castle’s history and renovations in multiple languages, so we read all the English ones we can find. The castle has gone through several iterations but lay completely abandoned and pillaged for many years before being restored during the latter half of the last century. Once we’ve visited each room on the ground floor, we head upstairs.
After touring the entire place, I think I agree with the historians who do not believe this to be a fortification, the arrow slits are too deep and there’s no outer perimeter (e.g., moat or wall) or a hunting lodge. The layout does not lend itself to a “separate” or private bedroom concept since you must go from any bedroom to the stairs by going through the next bedroom. I agree with those that think this was to be some sort of monument or astrological folly on Frederick’s part.
After we spend about an hour at the castle, we return to the lot next to the trattoria to wait for the shuttle. We do not wait long before it arrives and we return to the parking area. We enjoy a quick café and then it’s my turn to use the “restroom,” which I must now admit is quite clean and probably worth the 50 centismi especially after seeing the facilities at Ostia Antica, the Lucca train station, and Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
We hop in Claudio and attempt to follow the now suspect Via Michelin directions from here to Ostuni. We do pretty well until we get to the S96 where we’re again given two choices of directions to take (neither mentioned on Via Michelin) and of course, choose the wrong one. Only because of what happens later in the day do I want it known here that it’s Chris who chooses the wrong direction at this point in our journey. Anyway, after a few kilometers in the wrong direction, we find a place to make a u-turn and in a bit we’re back on track.
It’s a relatively uninteresting ride from here; I must say I find the landscape here to be a bit more industrial and not as pretty as our morning ride. It’s not long maybe another hour to ninety minutes before we reach Ostuni and what I hope will be the only major screw-up of the trip occurs.
Via Michelin has Il Frantoio listed in its guide on-line and before departure I used the “directions to this location” option rather than getting directions from Il Frantoio. Big Mistake!! Let me say that again, Big Mistake! Well not to bore you with all the gory details of how many times we drove around Ostuni, through Ostuni, above Ostuni and below Ostuni, lets just say a lot.
I must also note at this point that Chris, given the circumstances, remains surprisingly calm as we navigate down streets that dead-end forcing us to back-up to turn around, streets covered with cobblestones (a definite no-no in Chris’s book of driving), and past several businesses with the name Frantoio (turns out Frantoio means olive press), just not our Frantoio. Though, I am ready with several retorts if he should lose it.
He asks several times if we should stop and ask someone for directions and I say sure but he never actually pulls over. Man thing. I’m just shocked though for the thousands of signs for every Masseria, restaurant, and agritourismo we see, we see not one for Il Frantoio.
Finally, on about our one-hundredth lap around town, we see a big sign for Frantoio and follow it to this industrial complex, which obviously isn’t the place. Now, I must also mention at this point in our farce, Chris suggests we just call them and get directions, at which point I realize I do not have a phone number with me. I’d assumed incorrectly that the phone number was on the e-mail confirmation they sent me; it wasn’t. Not to mention, there’s a problem with our phone. Apparently, TIM does not have it registered to me and therefore we cannot load more time onto it and we must appear at a TIM store with my passport to fix this issue but we have yet to do that (I wanted to do it in Atri this morning but Chris wanted to hit the road). I’m not sure that TIM ever had my registration information since I bought the phone from Cellular Abroad three years ago but they want it now.
Anyway, Chris wants to use our precious few minutes left on the phone to call my Mom in the States and have her get on my computer to find Il Frantoio’s number rather than asking someone here for directions. That’s enough. I tell him to pull into a supermercarto we spied next to the industrial complex housing one of the other Frantoio and I go in to ask for directions.
We try to communicate our needs with the manager at the desk near the entrance but we make little progress. Finally, Chris asks if they have “un libro telefono?” Which he does and together, after searching three different sections, we find the number for Azienda Agricola Frantoio at SP872 on the S16 (we’d been on that road earlier but didn’t make it down that far). He calls them and explains he has two lost people looking for them and proceeds in rapid Italian of which I’m getting about every fifth word to explain it will be difficult telling us where they are because we do not speak Italian. After much going back and forth, he hangs up rights down the address and motions for us to follow him.
Through this entire fracas, Peter Kilby calls and Chris speaks to him for a bit but I’m afraid he probably came across as rather short. Anyway, we hop into Claudio and our benefactor hops into his car and for the second time in two days someone leads us to “la strada giusta.”
I ask Chris, as he works furiously to keep up through the winding cobbled streets of Ostuni, “What did Peter have to say?”
He replies, “Not much. We couldn’t talk long so he said he’d call later in the week but when I told him where we are, Peter replied, “Oh Purgatory!” This isn’t looking well for my choice of destinations.
Eventually, we’re through town and on one of the roads to which I directed Chris on our third or fourth circling of the town. Our benefactor pulls over, gives us the address and phone number and tells us to go to the kilometer marker 872 to find the place by pointing to the current kilometer marker, 879. We were so close earlier just didn’t go far enough.
We thank our man profusely, hop back into our car and drive off. About kilometer marker 875 we see a sign for Il Frantoio 200 meters ahead. Chris gives me a high five and prepares to turn. As he does though, I comment, “Yeah but the address says 872.”
“We’re turning,” he replies.
We drive down a white gravel road through olive orchards with the biggest flippin’ olive trees you’ll ever find until we come to a gate completely blocking our path. Luckily, a car pulls through in the opposite direction, so we move aside and then sneak through before the gate closes. We park in an area with other cars, in front of what appears to be a stable, get out and ask a passerby “Il Frantoio?”
“Si, si” and she motions us down the stairs.
We arrive at big green gates standing ajar within white walls that open onto a beautiful courtyard studded with small tables surrounded by cushioned chairs. This looks like the pictures I’d seen.
Some people linger about and there are children running and playing. It’s not long before a woman, whose name escapes me, rushes over to greet us. She grabs a key from inside the large white building to our right and takes us to our room, Gelseno (I think); all the rooms have names not numbers here because as we find out later, Armondo, the owner, believes his guests are people, not numbers.
Our room must be one half of the two bedroom apartment because in front of us is a small kitchen with a fireplace to our left, table for four in front, sink, stove and small under the counter refrigerator to our right. A door to our right, closed now, must lead to the second bedroom. Across the room also stands a hutch containing lovely serving pieces, dishes, glasses and underneath in the sealed wooden doors, some cooking pots. The room smells of burned wood from the tiny fireplace and immediately reminds me of our week in Tuscany in November.
Almost behind us and next to the entrance door (double doors actually with a screened storm door in front) is the narrow bathroom. It contains all your necessities: sink, toilet, towel warmer and smallish shower, which actually would not be so bad in size but for the sloping ceiling that cramps all six feet of Chris but does not squish my five-three frame.
Our bedroom door stands across the kitchen from the entrance door. It leads into a decent size room, with a cathedral ceiling that must reach twenty feet in height. It contains a hutch in which to hang our clothes, one drawer at the bottom, a bed (two twins pushed together), desk with television (no English language stations), a small lounge chair and along the far long wall, opposite the entrance, shelves, which hold various books and other decorative items, and also serve to hold our folded shorts and tops. It’s not grand or palatial but it beats most double rooms in the cities and will work more than nicely for us. I’m already thinking that this area, along with the second bedroom would do nicely for the girls and us.
Chris drives Claudio down to the green gates and we unload him. I unpack while Chris returns Claudio to the parking area and it’s not long before we’re settled in for our next six nights. We head out to the courtyard to relax, read and people watch. Within a few minutes, Armondo, introduces himself and offers us a welcoming drink. I’d noticed him when we first entered, sitting with what I assume to be his family at the far end of the courtyard, and also assume the children playing about, are his grandchildren.
Of course we accept and about five minutes later, Angela introduces herself and sets down a tray containing a small pitcher of white wine, a bowl of fresh local almonds, some local green olives and these small donut shaped crackers, which are truly addicting.
We relax and begin to unwind from the past two days of travel. Chris decides to go for a run so he calibrates the GPS watch I’d bought him at Christmas, and heads out to the S16. I relax and read, observe the French couple sitting at the next table (later in the week we find out they’re actually Swiss), and watch the children play.
Eventually Chris returns, after having run about seven miles and while he showers, people begin to arrive dressed to the nines. First two older couples and then more and more people, several generations, the youngest of which seems to be ten. I assume they’re here for the extravagant dinner that Rosalba, Armondo’s wife and partner, is preparing for that evening. They all know each other and at some point migrate from their end of the courtyard to mine.
I’m surrounded by them; swarmed. One or two even help themselves to my little snack of almonds. What can I do? I smile and offer more of the snacks. Finally, one of the older ladies asks if I must pay for these and I manage to convey that I do not know but she should feel free to help herself anyway. She declines as the group moves into a room in the large white building behind me.
I hear a man speaking at what I think must be some sort of wine or olive oil tasting arranged by this group before the dinner until I hear several hallelujahs. At that point, the French (really Swiss) man and I look at each other with wonder and both shrug our shoulders. Finally, I ask Angela what’s going on and she tells me they’re celebrating a 50th anniversary. The room into which they moved is a small chapel and they’re renewing wedding vows.
It’s not long before they finish and swarm out engulfing me again. Chris returns and they all eventually meander back to the other end of the courtyard. Chris sits and enjoys more of our snacks and tells me a funny story. Apparently, down the road, at kilometer marker 872 sits Azienda Il Frantoio, the one to which our benefactor earlier must have spoken to, not our Frantoio but the directions worked nonetheless! Good thing Chris was adamant about turning at mile marker 874 and not 872.
Around 8:30, Armondo summons everyone to dinner by ringing a bell outside the dining room. In the summer, they serve these meals in the courtyard, which must be beautiful, but since we still have cool evenings, we dine inside. At the doorway, Angela, now dressed in full Puglian folk garb, greets us and leads us to our table, marked with a small place-card. We join two other couples, David and Margaret, and Terry and Terry’s wife, but her name escapes me now. Both couples are English though they did not know each other before this evening.
David and Margaret enjoyed one of Rosalba’s feasts earlier in the week, so they clue us in. David starts by explaining it’s a free pour, drink all you want, they’ll bring more. Of course, we do. We start a rosè wine but later in the evening, Armondo switches us to a big Puglian red. Once everyone’s settled and the wine is poured, the antipasti courses come out one at a time. There’s no menu. Rosalba cooks in the kitchen and you enjoy what she makes in the evening. One of the waitresses brings the dish, tells us what it is in Italian and then Armondo stops by and explains the preparation of the dish in English (or whatever language happens to be spoken at your table), and highlights whichever local organic olive oil Rosalba used in the dish’s preparation. This occurs throughout the meal. So between good conversation with our new English friends, ten to twelve incredible courses of food, several bottles of rose and then red wine, we pass an enjoyable evening.
Somewhere though, between our primi and secondi (which feels more like our sixth and seventh course), we get another new bottle of red. Only Terry and then Chris pick up something wrong with the bottle. I’m still working on a glass from the earlier bottle, so I’m oblivious. Anyway, they decide it’s corked and ask Angela for a new one. She immediately takes the bad bottle and within a few moments, brings us not only a new bottle but also all new glasses (I keep mine though since it still has the good, earlier wine). I love the service though, no fuss, no muss.
As we unwind and grow more comfortable with our dining companions, Chris can’t help but share the story of our misadventure from this afternoon. However, I feel better as David explains that the other night, it took he and Margaret 90 minutes to return to Il Frantoio from Ostuni (after having driven into the city from Frantoio) because they got so lost. Then Terry tells of a story where he and his wife, while leaving Otranto I believe, actually had to decide direction based upon the setting sun because they were so lost. Now I don’t feel so bad.
At the end of the meal, we’re given the choice of one of Il Frantoio’s thirty-five or so homemade liqueurs. I have mandarin while Chris enjoys lemon (big surprise). Armondo returns one last time with a copy of the menu for the evening:
: Rosato del Salento and Jaddico Negroamaro
Antipasti (one at a time)
- Pizzelle col sughetto, ricotta di pecora e limo (Fried bread pasta with tomato sauce, sheep ricotta and lime)
- Borragine, salvia e lampascioni in pastella (Fried wild borrage, sage and wild onions)
- Orzo perlato con carciofi (Pearl barley with artichokes)
- Cicorielle selvatiche e catalogna con pure di fave novelle alla menta (wild chicories and “catalogna” with fresh fava beans pure and mint)
- Laganari con pomodori ripieni di nulla e olive schiacciate (“Laganari” hand made pasta with tomatoes filled of nothing and green olives)
- Agnello con patate in coccio (Lamb with potatoes in oven)
- Insalata Mista con nasturzi (mixed salad with nasturtium)
- Macedonia di frutta fresca (fresh fruit salad)
- Quando il sospiro è al rosolio d’olivia (when the sigh is out, olive leaves liquor – this is really a small pastry with a cream similar to zabaglione flavored with the olive leaf liquor – perfection).
After dinner, around 11:00 or 11:30, we stroll back to our room, grabbing two of the bottled waters placed on the picnic table for guests and head to sleep (of course I don’t, and am up until two or so reading Grapes of Wrath but that’s okay).
Castel Del Monte