Day 89 - Dragoni
10 March 2022
We decided to stay outside of Naples. The buzz of a city wears on the senses. Our brief respite in Tuscany is a distant memory. I love Rome, it is dirty and busy, but the city has a soul. Absence makes you fonder. A change is as good as a holiday, even more so when it is in fact a holiday.
Up early, shower and pack. Our gracious hosts at Civicio 7 have once again allowed us to leave our bikes and luggage there until our return. We walk to the new regular for coffee. Empty when we arrive. Full when we leave. Only one person working the floor. She is happy at 8.30 am, stressed, and frustrated at 9.00 am. Thirty minutes can ruin a day.
“I lost my job. Well, actually I didn't lose it, it lost me. I am over-educated, under-skilled. Maybe it's the other way around, I forget. But I'm obsolete. I'm not economically viable.” - Bill Foster
Uber to Rome Termini to pick up the hire car. No third party costs savings. Lesson learned. We have a Fiat 500 today. It is a great little car. No offense Lancia, but you are not even close. Cruise out of Rome and we are on our way. No stalls, no wrong side of the road.
We decide to take the scenic route. It is a two-hour trip to Dragoni, our trip through the mountains will take us around four hours. Soon after we leave Rome we see the Campanian Apennines. Huge mountains capped with snow. They are majestic and massive. You don’t see mountains like these in Australia. You certainly don’t see snow-capped mountains like these. I feel like I can reach out and touch them they are so close.
“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.” ― John Muir
The mountains continue. There are villages with walls on the steep sides. It is early spring and they are below the snow line. I imagine in winter they would get snow. You see the entire village as it crawls up the slope. Every miniature villa and church. I think of Katoomba, but it is not even close.
Shell starts looking for a lunch stop. When you hit regional Italy the chances of something special, local, are good. I have not had a bad meal in a small village here. We head to Ripi.
We climb up and up. The temperature drops from 18C to 12C. We find a park nearby. The streets are too narrow for the Fiat. We walk the last three hundred meters. Twisting and turning through narrow cobbled streets. The villas towering above us.
We arrive at the Piazza Luciano but cannot find the Trattoria. We ask a friendly local lady and she points us to our destination; Trattoria L’Arco. Two other diners and Anna Maria, the cook, the front of staff and the only person working here. She tells us to wait a moment and disappears.
We chat with the two other patrons. Ask them what we should try. They both say the gnocchi. One gets up, walks into the kitchen, and brings out a huge tray of gnocchi. Made this morning by Anna Maria.
Anna Maria returns and speaks to us in rapid Italian. Our new friends explain we will have the gnocchi. This seems agreeable to everyone. She brings out some fresh bread and one of the diners gets us a bottle of vino Rosso. He is an actor, theatre. The other is in Finance. Odd combination. They depart.
The gnocchi is served with a rich tomato ragu. It has half a sausage and a shin bone with meat. Anna Maaria tells us what it is but I can’t work it out. The sausage is full of gamey meat, not minced, chopped, and very little lardo. The shin falls off the bone. It has the skin of a chicken but is way too big. Maybe a rooster? It is delicious. Rich and meaty.
“Today's orthodoxy thrives on someone else doing the cooking. The single-service packet from the supermarket has replaced the sit-down home-cooked meal as the most common food choice. Easy foodism disengages people from the process and creates a level of food illiteracy unthinkable just a few short decades ago.” ― Joel Salatin
Skip this next part because I am sounding like a broken record. Once again, the TV chefs are playing us for fools. I have lost count of the times I have heard ‘light as a cloud’ when describing gnocchi. Anna Maria’s gnocchi is firm and hefty. They are chewy and delicious. Light as clouds they are not.
Shell asks for dolce. Anna Maria ducks off somewhere and returns with a jam pastry and a little biscuit. The biscotti is flavoured with fennel seeds and is about the best I have tried. Shell asks if she made them herself?
Of course, she did. She shows us a video of her making them. This leads to another video of Anna Maria on morning television making her gnocchi. It seems she is a celebrity chef of some sort. All this takes place in front of an orchid-lined arched window with a view of snow-capped mountains. Honestly, I am not making this up.
We finish our drive to Dragoni. It is a tiny village nestled in a small mountain. In the distance are the giant ranges we have been following all day. We are perched high on a hillside and have 180-degree views of the mountains.
Check-in, grab some groceries at the nearby town. Run a bath, open the windows, and light some candles. I might not bother with dinner.
The sun is slowly setting over the valley and working its way over the Campanian Apennines. The windows are open. The temperature is dropping fast and I can smell woodsmoke.
Pompeii tomorrow. We are here for three nights. Probably won’t leave.