Olives: Drawing by Diana Leighton
I woke feeling very nervous. I had committed myself to something I never thought I would. To understand my fear you have to realise that at the age of 48 I had only just taken my driving test 8 weeks previously and passed with flying colours. I had also never driven a car on the left hand side and never in such a mountainous country. I was terrified and the butterflies were large in my stomach. Oh, to have someone drive me around Abruzzo in a sports car but in my case a Fiat was perfect.
Roberto took me in his old car along a very straight road for a few miles of the Cinque Milia to Sulmona (home of Ovid). On the road down to Sulmona we had seen a terrible fatal road accident which had shaken both of us. Eventually we went into a back street in Sulmona, Roberto negotiated a good rate for me, and I got a lovely new white Fiat car to drive. I thanked the man renting the car out to me and tried to follow Roberto out of Sulmona. A sort of fierce bravado came over me now and I drove back to Roccaraso. In the process, I went round a few roundabouts the wrong way but I made it back! I then picked up all my lovely maps of Italy and Abruzzo got into my car and drove off.
I went down the road back towards Sulmona and saw the road for Scanno. I had no idea what the route would be like or how long it would be but it looked interesting and off I went. Nothing would prepare me for the beauty of this route though. It was amazing. Very narrow roads with no room to pass another car - this was the Gole del Saggitario. It was a hair-raising drive but it was truly amazing! The sides of the ‘Gole’ rose either side of the road and then very slowly the valley widened out and I had a glimpse of a brilliant blue green lake. It lay there like a jewel waiting to be found. Surrounding this jewel were the oranges and gold’s of the leaves of beeches, maples and oaks. Along the lake, I pulled in off the road and just stood there in awe at the beauty of this place called ‘Abruzzo.’ The silence and stillness were almost unbelievable. All I could hear were the bells of goats and cattle and the occasional woof of the Maremmo shepherd’s dog. When I first came face to face with these magnificent animals I was quite scared but they were quite friendly and reminded me of our two Golden Retrievers back home. I wondered about their spikey collars but have found that they are to stop them being attacked by wolves – common in this region – as wolves mostly go straight for the kneck to kill so the collars protect the Maremmo dogs. The air was crystal clear and I decided to stop in Scanno and I took loads of pictures and had a look around but after saying a temporary goodbye I then decided to travel on to Barrea.
I think now that if I had known what the road to Barrea was like I probably would not have carried on but I did. It was a very scary route this Scanno to Barrea – very narrow roads with what seemed like villages clinging like limpets to the side of steep hillside. They looked like model train villages. The mountains were all red on the treeline and below – all the shades of brilliant autumn foliage. I remember Roberto saying this was one of the best times to visit Abruzzo other than spring or the skiing season. I hardly saw another car on my way to Barrea but I had stopped and pulled off the road at a viewpoint. I had not been there long when another drew up alongside me. The couple in the car were Italian and from Bologna and spoke a little English. They said that this part of Italy was the most beautiful. They were also astounded that I was an English woman on her own driving an Italian car I was ‘Bravissimo! Fantastico! I have to admit driving on those roads I felt the same about myself - that or I was mad. So finally, I reached Barrea. The lake was so green and blue in colour and I have no idea why. Barrea has such history and is such a beautiful fascinating place. The town clings to a hill and I park my little Fiat and walked down to the lake through all the little passageways and arches and stairs taking lots of photos in the process. It was a lovely day but of course I had to go back and climbing all those stairs back up to the top of the hill was tough going! I drove back to Roccaraso and arrived at around 17:30. At 20:00, I went down for my ‘cena’ which was Penne with 4 cheeses and Italian Zucchini and peppers and salad and of course the lovely wine. I was so tired but very happy and went to bed to write up this journal.
e così a letto…… fino a domani.