Family roots in Castiglione

After putting on the show for us in Pescara, our good friend Paolo decided to join us on our journey to Rome and despite it being only 24 hours we certainly packed a lot in. Show nights are always very busy so it is great when you can share some downtime with friends and just catch up without the pressure of performing. We had breakfast in the cafe next to the museum where we played the night before and then took to the highway towards Rome.

My wife’s mother spent her childhood in a tiny mountain village in Abbruzzo called Castiglione. The village is not far from Pescara and just a short drive off the highway, so we took some time off to explore this place I’ve heard so much about.

Armed with a text message containing the directions to the family house as well as the details of the only restaurant in town – Giacomino’s – we made our way up the bumpy mountain road, taking in the snow-capped peaks, rugged pastoral land and towering granite cliffs on every side. You can’t help but feel humbled by the vast landscape here. Grand and imposing, the area seems untouched by the ravages of the modern age. You can picture what life was like for the peasants who lived here a hundred years ago.

Arriving at the edge of the village, we stopped to marvel at the scene in front of us. The town sits perched on a hillside like something out of a fairy tale, with sweeping views across to the nearby mountains and valley below. Ancient houses line the sides of the narrow road through town and the old walls tell the countless stories from the last few hundred years. Pock marked and cracked, patched and repainted, the houses prop each other up like a row of old teeth, and wrought iron balconies and wooden shutters jut out over the road from above.

The family house was badly damaged during the earthquake some years ago and is apparently still unsafe to live in, as are many other local residences. In fact the village is very quiet now, what with so many house unliveable and a large number of families migrating to Australia, America and Argentina over the last half century.

We found Via Colle Santa Maria and walked around trying to locate the house but had no luck at first. A man on a nearby balcony hadn’t heard of the family before and didn’t seem particularly inclined to help us in our search. Unperturbed, we ventured on and wound our way through the narrow back streets and walkways. Finally we circled back to the main road and found what we thought was the house. I happily took a picture and sent a message to Eli and her mum to say we’d found the house and then we took off in search of Giacomino’s restaurant hoping for a traditional Abruzzo lunch.

Giacomino is a 90-something Castiglione local who owns a restaurant on the main road. The only online reference to the restaurant is a trip advisor listing with a picture of Giacomino literally slaving over hot coals. We walked in and there he was hunched over the old stove, just like his online self. He welcomed us in and then his son showed us to a table in the dining room. And despite the revamped interior (his son now runs the show) it still had that special feeling of a place that’s rooted in the past.

We explained who we were and what our little pilgrimage was about and soon everyone was asking about family names and maiden names, nicknames and children’s names, trying to piece everything together. A couple that were visiting from Canada even came over to join the conversation. Their family migrated in the 50s and they share the same family name as Eli’s mum. They also have relatives in Melbourne, so the connections became even wider.

You don’t order off the menu in a place like Giacomio’s – food just starts arriving and you dig in and try to keep up. Pete, Paolo, Leonardo and I were all smiles as the biggest plate of handmade pasta I’ve ever seen landed on the table. We shared a bottle of local wine and reflected on family histories and the joys of travel. It was great to share the moment with Paolo too, who is especially passionate about Abruzzo’s cultural heritage and always takes the time to give us the background on the different places we visit.

During lunch I got another text message from home saying that we had actually gone to the wrong house so I raced down the hill to try and find the real family house while the guys finished up at the restaurant. I’m sure I raised a few local eyebrows criss-crossing the street and staring into all the different houses. Thankfully I eventually found the right place and managed to grab a few pictures before the tour van cruised down the hill to pick me up. So with bellies full of homemade pasta and local wine, and an hour behind schedule, we raced down the highway to Rome where we were plaything that night.

karl smith

Castlemaine, VIC, 3450