We were planning our first trip to Italy. Without even realizing it at the time, we made all the reservations: air, hotel, car, etc., and then we realized we would be in Italy for Holy Week (the week before and leading up to Easter). Nothing could have been better as far as we were concerned. What better place to spend the Holy days than Italy? Leading up to the trip, I did my normal research: picking towns to visit, finding the best accommodations, finding the most inexpensive car rental. And planning our route, since I would be driving.
My original plan was to go to Tuscany, then Rome, then the Amalfi Coast. But after really looking into it, I didn’t think Rome was for us. Call me crazy, but to me Rome is New York City, with some ancient ruins here and there spread out here and there. And from what I learned of the city, traffic would be a nightmare and public transportation is just too stressful for me. So Rome was out.
Ok, now the dilemma. I knew we were going to be in Tuscany and I knew we would be on the Amalfi Coast staying in Positano. And looking at the maps on Google and figuring our distances and times, it was over a 6 hour drive from our B&B in San Donato in Poggio, at the Palazzo Malaspina. So what do I do? Rome was already ruled out, which would have been a nice stopover place.
I somehow remembered about this town I had heard about on a couple of travel shows, Rick Steves’ in particular. Now Italy is loaded with Hill Towns. Anyone and everyone knows this and I love them all. Civita di Bognoregio is not your normal hill town. You have San Gimignano, which is bephoto taken from the snack bar and at beginning of Ramp)
autiful. You have Volterra, which is equally magnificent. We had dinner one night in Monticatini Alto where you have to take a funiculare to get to. I am not putting any of them down for their charm and authenticity. But there is just something about Civita di Bognoregio.
So we spent the days leading up to Easter in Tuscany. Walked in a Good Friday procession in Florence that still brings chills to me. When we got back to San Donato in Poggio that evening, we ran smack into their own nighttime Good Friday Procession, where we almost fell on our knees crying over the emotion it stirred inside my wife Jaci and me. But now it is Easter Eve, the day before this huge Holy day. And we need to leave for Civita Di Bognoregio.
So it’s a Saturday and we drive the Autostrada. GPS is a wonderful thing no matter where you travel. But they don’t always have all the info you need, but can and will get you close to your destination. There is a town called Bognoregio which was the only one that came up on the GPS. And I knew from my research that this town was the “sister town” to Civita Di Bognoregio. It grew up a short distance from the original.
We arrived in Bognoregio and I stopped at a souvenir shop. I asked, as always, parla l’englise, do you speak English? They did, sort of, and I asked where this other town was. He just sort of pointed. I followed in the direction he pointed, driving thru another old and beautiful Italian town. My wife was wondering, are we on the right road? Where is this town you are taking me? I told her, sit tight, we are almost there.
I find a sign that leads to a parking lot. Next to the parking lot is a Café with coffee, snacks, souvenirs, etc. We decide to get some coffee and ask “where” is this mysterious town I am looking for? Never had to ask, as we came around the side of the building and looked off in the distance. There it was. Civita Di Bognoregio.
The history of the town goes back 2500 years to the Etruscans. I always use the analogy of “picture the Grand Canyon” with a mountain growing up out of it. This would be Civita Di Bognoregio. I have read that this is a dormant volcano, and is still monitored for activity. The sides of the town, periodically over time, have fallen away. One building in particular that still remains has the front façade intact, but if you look thru through the windows there is nothing behind them but sky.
There is only one way to get to this town. To walk up a quarter mile ramp. Not too steep, but at times it is depending on where on the ramp you are. The closer you get to the gate to the town, the steeper it gets and once at the top, you have some stairs to climb. On the day we arrived, the weather was threatening. And we knew we didn’t want to carry our entire luggage up the ramp. So my wife and I decided what clothes we needed for morning along with our toiletries, and put them in one small rolling suitcase. We were only staying there overnight.
So I left my wife at the start of the ramp and I drove down under the bridge to park the car. You had to find the parking machine, put in coins for how many hours you wanted to stay. I didn’t have enough coins to cover the stay, but had no choice but to take my chances that we wouldn’t get a ticket or worst case, have the car towed.
I met my wife and we started up the ramp. We were about halfway up when a storm broke out. I am talking heavy rain and wind of at least 40 mph. The umbrella must have turned inside out 3 times. I told my wife, “You hold the luggage. I’ll hold the umbrella with two hands.” Due to the weather and trying to stay somewhat dry, I couldn’t even look around. We just kept plugging along getting soaked, encouraging each other “it’s just a little farther”.
At the top, the few people in town were huddled in doorways, but I found the person I needed to meet to get our key. She was a clerk in a souvenir shop. Luckily she had another umbrella for us, since ours was small and in rather bad shape at this point.
The hotel was ancient, Locanda Della Buona Ventura. It was a restoration, rebuilt from rubble of the original. I am in construction and I could really not tell it was a reconstruction. It looked so authentic. The doors to our room looked original. Here are photos of the doors and the keys given to us. I must say I have never been given such BIG keys. And also inside the room.
So now it’s still raining, but I can’t resist the opportunity to explore. Our hotel is directly on the main Piazza. Across from our building is the Church of St Donato. Off I go to take pictures in the rain, umbrella in one hand and camera in the other. I am freaking out at the photo ops. Everywhere I look I see something I want to take a picture of. The light isn’t good, but I don’t care. Thank God for digital cameras. When I used to shoot film, I would have been changing rolls every few minutes. All the streets are dead ends leading to the valley. All the backyards and streets have a fence up so you can’t fall into the ravine. It is mid April and the wisteria is all in bloom. Such a beautiful sight. Some people have potted plants lined up. Everything is clean. Everything is neat. There really aren’t many streets. I am somewhat disappointed that the town isn’t bigger. Only because I can’t get enough of it.
I make my way back to our room and find my wife relaxing. She sees how excited I am, and I begin to tell her what I have seen. I go in the bathroom and find a window. It’s not just a window. It is a cut out in the wall with glass on the outside edge. The wall has to be at least 12 inches thick.
We decide to go to dinner. The closest place and one of the only places is the Trottoria Antico Forno. This is the place Rick Steves was in. We get there, ask if they are open, and they say yes, but not yet. On the wall is a collage of photos of Rick Steves in the hotel with the owner and staff, and of the town. Since we are already wet, and it is still raining, we ask if we can just sit and wait. They say sure. The girls are busy setting tables, and you can smell the food cooking in the kitchen. Then the girls sit down and have their diner. Then it is time to feed us. What did we eat? Pasta of course. Some wine, sausage, split and grilled. And for desert, a pana cotta with lemoncello over it. With our bellies full, but still wet we head back to our hotel, jumping over and around puddles in the Piazza.
We wake up to the sounds of the church bells ringing. Its Easter morning and the bells are signifying that Christ has risen. Now normally, and especially on vacation, I do not get up at 6:00 AM. But this day it doesn’t bother me. Look where I am, listen to what I am hearing and why I am hearing it. And even better, now the sun is out. The rain is gone. I can’t wait to get up and get dressed and take more photos. My wife Jaci says, “Don’t forget to find some coffee.” I say, “Sure thing.” Off I go, like a kid in a candy store. I pretty much go to the same places I was the day before, but it was gloomy and rainy then. The atmosphere added to some of those shots I’m sure. But now, now the sun is out. Up this street, down the other, going in backyards, looking into the valley, I am a happy man. I remember my wife’s words, get coffee. So I find a restaurant just getting ready to open. In Italian I ask if I can get some coffee. He says not yet, he is still opening. I tell him I will come back. I go out in the Piazza and walk toward my hotel. I see our window is open and call out to my wife to come to the window. I can’t resist another photo of her in the window.
I tell her what happened with the coffee and tell her I’ll walk around a bit and take more photos and then get the coffee. I make my way back to the restaurant and find the owner. He reminds me “he is not a coffee bar”, which is a common thing in Italy but he will sell me two cups. I gladly accept and tell him Grazie Mille and bring the coffee back to Jaci.
We talk about what a strange time it has been since arriving at the ramp. How amazing the view from the snack bar was and how much better it was to be inside the town. She gets dressed. We take one last look around the Piazza, and head for the gate out. We stop in shop that was open near the entrance. I taste some grappa, we buy some earrings made from Lava from the mountain, and I have to buy a coffee so much, something I always do when I find a place worth remembering.
We make our way to the ramp, this time downhill and in the sun, not the wind and rain. Looking around at the beauty in the valley and up at the town, sunshine and happy. What an experience. Now it’s off to Pompeii.