It was a chilly and quiet Sunday morning as we pulled out of the parking garage onto the empty streets of Florence. Our Fiat 500 felt tight and images of the Italian job passed through my mind. It was still early so we had the streets to ourselves and in no time flat had buzzed across the Ponte Amerigo Vespucci and stopped in front of our flat to load up.
We had spent an incredible month in Florence over Christmas and enjoyed every inch of the incredible city. We had heavy hearts moving on but we had a road trip in front of us and for that, I was stoked!
Bidding farewell to the relatively shite flat, we nestled in for an epic drive south.
Our first stop would be a small town on the coast in Abruzzo called Pescara. It would be our stop-over on our way to Altamura in the province of Bari and Matera in Basilicata.
Seasoned pros now at navigating the sometimes tricky motorways the miles peeled away as we made the trip south and towards the coast. Driving around Perugia and passed one of our favourite towns, Assisi, we headed up and into the Parco Nationale dei Monti Sibillini area and the Norcian hills.
Through the hills and towns
Getting off the main highway we jumped onto a more interesting road that wound its way through the hills and towns offering up some snow covered scenery that was quite relaxing compared to the past month of urban living.
A sign for the town Amatrice reminded us of the terrible earthquake that basically levelled the town. We had already experienced two earthquakes so far this trip and unfortunately, also the large quake of 2012, while staying in Bologna.
Yellow tape near the turn off signalled signs of destruction, luckily we were headed for the coast but first, we had to get over the pass which was starting to get a little slushy and whiter. Hitting what looked to be our highest altitude, we pulled over for a breath of fresh air in the silence of a fresh snowfall.
Coming down slowly towards the coast the snow gave way to rain and more fertile land, some still green with winter crops. The grapes had all been harvested and the process of trimming the vines was underway.
Finally, we connected with the A14, the highway that runs down the east coast. We were not far from our stop for the night, Pescara.
Getting peeks of the azure blue waters of the Adriatic Sea, we were stoked to be heading towards what would hopefully be warmer climes but the weather was still pretty gnarly outside and there was a huge dark storm cloud that we were chasing down the coast.
Sitting just offshore, the storm looked like it was contemplating hitting land and when it did, it wasn’t going to be pretty.
Luckily we slipped into Pescara with the ominous storm still looming at sea and made our way right down to the waterfront.
The rain was still falling steadily, creating huge puddles and flooding sidewalks but after parking a few blocks away and walking back to our back alley hotel, we were rewarded with a wonderfully cozy and modern room. What felt like a brand new bed made the bed we had just slept on for a month seem like a barn door covered by a sheet and the bathroom promised endless hot water with a new full body shower. Our roadside grotto in Florence had enough hot water for 1/3 of a shower. The excuses not to go back outside into the increasingly shitty weather were piling up!
There was one thing on my list that I wanted to check off while in Abruzzo and that was to feast on a plate of Arrosticini with a nice bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Dinner at 7
Luckily the best place in town was only a few blocks from our digs so we decided to suit up and head out to explore the main strip and boardwalk swinging back around to finally end up at the restaurant for an early dinner at around 7 pm.
Thankfully, when we stepped out there was a break in the rain but a cold and strong wind remained. In no time we had taken in the main drag of familiar shops ending up at the beach.
Ponte del Mare
Pescara is a summer town set up for maximum beach enjoyment with multiple beach clubs lining the boardwalk. Unfortunately for us it was winter so just about everything was closed but we were only there for a quick peek at the scene and to continue our walk towards the town’s most famous attraction, the Ponte del Mare bridge, swooping across the inlet in two arcs and quite beautifully designed. As we started walking across the bridge the wind hit harder and colder forcing us to retreat and head for the restaurant.
The streets were deserted, dark and wet. We were now freezing from the wind and starving having survived the day on leftovers from our fridge in Florence.
Only a block away and the rain hit super hard verging on sleet or snow so we hustled it around the corner only to find the restaurant with darkened windows and completely shut. It made sense because virtually everything else was closed. Kinda pissed, definitely cold, soaking and hungry, we made it back to the hotel.
You are too early
The desk clerk smiled and asked how we were.
I told him we were disappointed the arrosticini joint he had recommended was closed. Looking at his watch he said, “Oh No. you are too early!”
“They open at 7:30”.
I told him we were just at their door and there was no light or sign of life but he assured me they would be open.
An hour later we emerged from our room to try again. The puddles were deeper and there was a layer of slush on the sidewalks but thankfully the lights were now on and the kitchen was open.
Trattoria L’Angolo d’Abruzzo
The owner of Trattoria L’Angolo d’Abruzzo approached us and spoke a little English. I told him he had been highly recommended for the arrosticini and we were looking forward to eating (and that we were starving). Proudly, he told us he had everything under control and walked away gesturing and giving us a sly grin. We laughed as the kitchen door closed and hoped for the best.Soon he returned with a nice carafe of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and an amazing antipasto platter made up of Prosciutto di Norcia, Abruzzo salami, a couple of chunks of Pecorino, mozzarella en carrozza, panzerotti and a pile of fried shaved vegetables.
A basket of what looked like fried bread balls was added on the side.
Dinner was served and we made short work of everything but the fried bread. A table of young students piled in behind us giving the place a little bit more life (and warmth). The kitchen was warmed up and next out was our arrosticini, wonderfully plated in a large tipped over ceramic stein that was keeping a quiver of freshly grilled skewers, of ultra savoury lamb, warm and moist. Along with perfect potato chips, 12 feet away from the fryer, still piping hot and seasoned with sea salt.
The fryer has seen some action tonight and we were already planning to eat only steamed vegetables the following day. The tender lamb bites doused with rosemary and olive oil and charred on the edges were damn good and the potato chips were so delicious we had to physically restrain each other from eating them all. It was a hell of a meal and worth the return trip.
Back out on the streets, it was ugly! Slush and puddles everywhere and rain coming down verging on snow. We tiptoed and ran back to the comfort of our room and tucked deep into the thick duvet for an amazing sleep.
Parting the curtains in the morning, things outside looked like they had piled up a bit but nothing this seasoned Canadian driver could not handle, so we strapped in and headed off towards Altamura our next destination.
Getting out of Pescara required climbing up from sea level into the hills and eventually back to the A14. Tunnel after tunnel cut into the hillside kept us sheltered from the weather on our ascent but with every tunnel end, the snow was noticeably deeper and heavier.
Slowed down considerably, we struggled to follow the signs as the road got exponentially worse with every mile. Still just making it through the snow we decided to crawl forward for however long it took to get south and in warmer weather. Finally, at the entrance to the Autostrada, it did not look good at all with truck after truck pulled to the side in deep snow and just as we were about to turn in a closed barricade was put across the road. Chiuso.
The snowfall was pretty crazy even for Canadian standards and piled up by the metre overnight. In fact, a terrible avalanche only kilometres from where we drove through two days before caused terrible destruction and death from the freak snowstorm.
Headed downhill again we slowly ploughed through rivers of slush and ridges of snow, fingers crossed that our hotel room might still be available and better yet our bed still warm.