Monthly Archives: September 2015

A few weeks in Lanciano and beyond

Athena International Italian Language School

Athena Scuola Internazionale di Lingua Italiana – International Italian Language School

In this age of technology you should be able to have an electronic postcard within seconds of the writer completing the text. However, I am actually some kilometres from Lanciano, where I recently spent three weeks studying Italian and exploring the region around Lanciano with fellow students and the staff of Athena International Italian Language School. Just like a real postcard, this one has been written in one place and read some days or weeks later in another.

My primary motive for going to Lanciano was to attend Athena. I chose this school because it is in Abruzzo, a region with which I have a family connection, and because I had heard good reports of the school and its quality teachers.

Learning a language is never just about the words and the grammar. It’s a mix of words, culture, history, current events and daily life in a country where the language is spoken. I was fortunate to be in classes with students who were committed to learning and who had an interest in the local culture and history. It was a privilege to be in the care of Palma, Virginia, Marina and Paola, our teachers. Palma is a font of knowledge about local history and she encouraged us to join excursions with her and the Athena family. 

Together, we visited the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in the nearby town of Ortona. The battle against the German defensive line, known as the Gustaf Line, cost the Canadians dearly. However Ortona was taken after eight days of fighting. The Canadian War Cemetery contains the graves of 1615 Commonwealth soldiers, with 50 remaining unidentified and 1375 of them being Canadian.

IMG_1966 P1000478  

The composer Francesco Paolo Tosti was an Ortona native and we were given a tour of National Tosti Institute by the husband of one of our teachers, who happens to be a librarian at the Institute. One room in the Institute recreated Tosti’s London music salon and study. One of our students, a violinist, treated us to two Tosti songs to complete our visit.


A recreation of Tosti’s London music salon and study

After the business end of the visit, we strolled the remains of the Aragonese castle then feasted on a seafood lunch at a local beach restaurant.


Aragonese castle at Ortona

My time in Lanciano coincided with the Feste di Settembre (celebration of September) which includes various events, traditions, foods and public celebrations like rides for the kids and fireworks for all!


Arrosticini time


Porchetta panino


Fireworks – Fuochi d’artificio




Beer and Arrosticini


Everyone out on a hot, end-of-summer night

Lanciano’s Basilica (the church of Madonna del Ponte)is the focus of an annual tradition of ‘Il Dono’ or the gift. This is an important tradition whereby the local parishes in the Lanciano-Ortona diocese provide gifts of food and other items to the church for distribution to families in need. The celebration takes the form of a procession led by bullock-drawn carts, down the main street leading to the Piazza followed by locals of all ages, representing different communities. There are men, women and children in traditional costumes on the backs of carts and truck and on foot, carrying gifts to be donated. There are bands playing. Traditional breads and sweets plus plastic cups of wine are handed out to the crowd. It’s a real spectacle and a family event.

Another memorable excursion took us to the Abbazia di San Giovanni in Venere. Tradition tells us the Abbey was built over the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Venus. Possibly built around 540 AD, the buildings we see now were reconstructed in 1165 for Benedictine monks. The church and grounds are stunning as are the views from the lookout across the Adriatic. Click any photo to enlarge and view as a slide show.

So much happened during my three weeks in Lanciano and I can’t possibly fit it all in one post. I hope you enjoy the photos I’ve included and keep following for more (there will be more food of course).

Ciambellone – an Abruzzo specialty

The Ciambellone is the sweet symbol of every Abruzzese nonna (grandmother). Recipes vary from nonna to nonna.  Some incorporate a touch of sweet, citrus-scented liquor; some a spoonful of cocoa powder; and others a sprinkling of crusty, crystallised sugar on top.

This recipe is based on the recipe used by Lucia at my favourite B&B in Roseto degli Abruzzi. Grazie Lucia per la ricetta!

Lucia's Ciambellone with cocoa

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


Serves 6-8 people, depending on how hungry!

  • 300 g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 150 g sugar
  • 3 whole eggs
  • a drop of vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 glass of milk
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 packet of lievito per dolci (16 g) if you can find it *
  • butter and a little more flour to grease the pan

* Substitute 1 tablespoon of baking powder & 2 teaspoons baking soda if you can’t find lievito. See picture below.


  1. Add all dry and wet ingredients, except the cocoa, into a bowl.
  2. Using a hand mixer, mix for 15 minutes until blended thoroughly.
  3. Heat the oven to 150 centigrade (@305 F).
  4. Butter and flour a ring (kuglehopf/bundt) pan.
  5. Add half of the batter to the pan.
  6. Sift most of the cocoa onto the batter and gently run a skewer through in a wave pattern to mix the cocoa in (this will give you subtle stripes of cocoa, not a chocolate cake).
  7. Pour the rest of the batter into the pan.
  8. Sprinkle the remaining cocoa on top in a random fashion.
  9. Cook in the oven for about 35 minutes or until done.
  10. Allow to cool on a rack then turn onto a plate.
  11. When cool, sprinkle with a small amount of confectioner’s sugar to serve.

Delicious for breakfast, morning tea or afternoon coffee break (pretty much anytime, actually).

The ‘lievito per dolci’ is pictured below, along with a serving suggestion for breakfast! There are many brands available in Italy but I have never noticed it in Australia.

Buon Appetito!

Roseto degli Abruzzi – finalmente

Reaching Roseto degli Abruzzo is easy from Rome. There is a Baltour ticket window at Tiburtina Station. Buses depart in morning, midday and late afternoon and take about 2 and a half hours.

On departing Tiburtina, you’re soon out of the built up urban area and the scenery changes from light industrial to rural. The Apennine mountains appear quickly in the distance then suddenly you are amongst them, going through tunnels and coming out to a different world on the other side. It’s wild and rugged and lush and green. After a while, the scarred city of L’Aquila appears with more cranes on the horizon than I can count. Signs of the ‘terremoto’, earthquake, of April 2009 are clearly visible.

Soon the mountains give way to hills and I get my first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea. My grandfather, Giovanni Pergolini couldn’t talk about the bounty of the Adriatic without welling up with tears. I smile remembering him.

I am greeted by my great friend Lucia at the station where the bus me off, and we go to her B&B for an aperitivo and spuntini (a glass of wine and some nibbles).

After a swim and a shower I wander up to the centre of Roseto to see my cousin Walter at his shop, the Cartolibreria D’Ilario. Near closing time, Adriana, Walter’s wife, arrives to ride home with him. We chat. I ask her where to get the best gelato in town and she points me in the direction of her favourite, a family business that is pumping with holiday-makers, even at 10.30 on a weeknight.

At Gelateria Mario Magrini, undeterred by the crowd, I wait until my number comes up. I choose lemon, a classic benchmark for gelaterie everywhere, and a local seasonal flavour called Fichi di Montepagano which is fig from the local hilltop village where my grandfather and generations of the Pergolini and De Angelis families were born. The lemon is perfectly tart and the fichi rich and creamy, but not overly sweet. I ponder the number of trees that must be on that hillside surrounding the medieval village of Montepagano.

Walter has told me that his sister is in Roseto for a few weeks to enjoy the end of summer with her daughters and granddaughters. I have never met Gabriella and I’m excited at the prospect of meeting more cousins.

The next day I pedal up to see Walter again and Gabriella arrives at the same time with her charming and cheeky little granddaughter. I promise to go to the house later and meet the rest of the family who were holidaying together.

I have now met six more cousins: Gabriella, who is my mother’s first cousin’s daughter, plus her two daughters, two granddaughters and a son-in-law. We share family stories, look at old photos and dine on pizza and beer. I return to Lucia’s tired and happy after a short stroll along the beachfront. The moon is full and I have a stupid grin on my face. I really like these new cousins and I’m more motivated to continue to improve my Italian.

It’s so comfortable staying with Lucia, who makes all her guests feel at home with lovely touches like cake on the breakfast table! ‘Il ciambellone’ is a typical ‘dolce delle nonna’, a real nonna specialty. The recipe varies in each family. Lucia’s is divine. I’ll post a recipe soon.

Click any picture for a slide show.

I’m ready to settle in happily for a few days. But I’m registered to attend Athena International Italian Language School and the Abruzzo town of Lanciano is calling me…

Return to Italy

Flying across to Rome

Flying across to Rome

There’s a sense of excitement when you look out the window and can clearly see the place where you are headed, like flying into Sydney and seeing the iconic Opera House or into JFK and seeing the Manhattan skyline. And two weeks ago when I flew to Rome, we crossed over southern Greece then headed up the Adriatic coast of Italy.

The heel of Italy was clearly visible and I could see small settlements where all of the building looked white. Soon I could make out the Gargano Peninsula which is in the northern reaches of Puglia near the border with Molise. Just north I could then see the mountains of Abruzzo as the plane banked left towards Rome. My face broke into a grin that I couldn’t wipe off. I thought, “Che fortunata”, how lucky am I.

My sweet cousin Marina and her daughter Giulia met me at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Giulia had to go to work soon so we dropped her at the train and continued to Marina’s apartment on the ‘periferia’, the outskirts of Rome. Their apartment is large and airy and so welcoming after the long journey.

Flying across to Rome

These trees tell you that you’re in Italy

As luck would have it Marina was able to settle me in before she had to go off for a late shift at work. She needed to pick up some groceries so I went with her to the supermercato. I was like a kid in a lolly shop, checking out all of the pasta brands and salume and cheeses.

After a good night’s sleep and a strong cup of coffee, I headed into the centre of Rome to buy an Italian SIM card for my phone since I am in Italy for 2 months.  Then, after enduring the 36 C heat (102 F) I managed to cool down for a bit in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, the National Gallery of Modern Art, just to the north and west of Villa Borghese.

Amongst other things, the gallery includes Renato Guttuso’s black and white study for ‘La Vucciria‘, a painting that evokes all the colour, sights and smells of the marketplace of the same name in Palermo. I was temporarily transported to Sicily.

On the way out I spied another painting, this one quite sentimental in its style and subject, Gli Emigranti or The Emigrants, by Angelo Tommasi. The picture represents the great era of Italian Emigration when millions of Italians were desperate for a new life due to poverty and political unrest. My mother’s parents were both part of this great exodus from Italy and it’s easy to imagine the little girl in the centre of the painting as my nonna Anna Mezzacappa from Morro d’Oro in Abruzzo.

I felt profoundly sad looking at Gli Emigranti and rested on a bench in the museum until I could contain my tears. Part of that sadness stems from the knowledge that there is another crisis for young people in Italy today. I have spoken with many (including young Giulia in Rome) who are looking to leave for mostly economic reasons. We in the new world have a romanticised view of life in Italy.

So here I am in Italy once again, on a voyage of discovery of the language, food, lore and traditions of my mother’s family, but also to better understand modern Italy. A few months will not give me a deep understanding, but I know this isn’t my last trip…

Andiamo. Let the adventure begin!