Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Contursi Terme, Italy

Thursday 3rd October 2013

Contursi Terme, famous for its natural spas, perched on the end of a hill

We set off from Diego's farm in Sicily on a lovely sunny morning to head towards the coast, pop on a ferry to Italy and head to my Grandads 'farmhouse' in Contursi Terme. I say farmhouse in quotation marks because that's what my family still call it as it did used to be a farm, with chickens and donkeys, vineyards and olive groves, set half way up Monte Pruno. It does still have the vineyards and olive groves surrounding it, among other worked fields, but none of my family live their full time to run it as a farm.

I've been longing to visit the farmhouse, and Italy, for years but it hasn't been until now that I have been able to. I had been to the house twice before when I was 11 and 14 I think, and my memories of those holidays are of having water fights and sitting in a paddling pool outside the front of the house, driving into the town to get ice cream and being stared at by the locals curious as to who we were in their small, rural town, going to a beautiful sandy beach about an hour away and also watching thousands of fireflies from the balcony at night. To me they were the most perfect holidays and I couldn't wait to go back!

The view from the house at sunset

Before we left England I had Google mapped the way to the house and made sure I knew where we were to turn off as the house is located off the main road, up a very potholed dirt track and just sits alone, I don't even think it has it's own road name. Turns out I hadn't needed to be so prepared as when we were driving through the town we started getting beeped at by a car at the side of the road and as we slowed down I saw it was my Great aunt Maria and second cousin Mario, who recognised our van, we stood out quite a bit in this tiny town full of old, tiny Panda 4x4's. 

They were keen to show us the way to the house but first they wanted us to stop off at their's for a coffee. Zia Maria had previously lived in England and I was amazed how well she still spoke English considering she probably never had the use for it where she lived now. We had a quick chat about family, a strong coffee and she wanted me to call home to let everyone know we had got their safe! She loaded us up with fresh eggs from her chickens and tomatoes before we left with a promise to come back and visit in a few days. It was great to see her again, I found it funny that she couldn't always remember my name (she is quite elderly now!), saying it was a strange name or getting confused with my sister or one of my many cousins, but she could remember Adam's just fine! 

The power cut candle and Zia Maria with her chickens

We went to see her a few more times during the week and it was great listening to her stories of my mum when she was younger, something else that amazed me was her ability to remember the exact date and year of when something had happened, every story had the year to go with it and I struggle to remember what happened a few months ago! It was also a massive coincidence that we found out she used to work on the same mushroom farm in England as one of Adam's old colleagues from Gatwick airport. It really is a small world. We also got the chance to ask some questions about Italy that had been bugging us, like why there were so many half built buildings around, like the one opposite her house. Apparently there were many reasons for this such as people starting to build before getting permission and then having to stop, running out of money, but also because sometimes they will build the main structure first and then leave it for a few years to see if it withstands any earthquake tremors. We had to drive pretty slow over some parts of the roads as you could see damage from previous earthquakes where it had just twisted the road up.

On Sunday we drove an hour to go on the Vollo Dell'Angelo (Flight of the Angel), a 800m high zip wire across the Lucanian Dolomites and suspended between two towns. It was amazing! We heard about it from Diego, our Sicilian host and knew we had to give it a go. The rest of the time we spent chilling at the farmhouse, we did a bit of painting on the balcony on one sunny day, which we've never done together before, I think there was some healthy competition of who could paint the best scenery! We went into town for a drink and some wifi, I went for a walk up the mountain behind the house which was delayed at first as there were a few very protective sheep dogs guarding their flock in the next field that I couldn't get past until the shepherd led them down the hill. Yes they still have shepherds! 

Painting on the balcony and storm clouds rolling in

There was also some pretty epic thunderstorms that rolled across the valley in front of us, some thunder actually shook the window panes which I hadn't experienced before! It made for perfect evenings reading or catching up on Breaking Bad though! We've decided that our next stop is going to be the ancient city of Pompeii.