After being surprised while dressing by a buzz at the door and a couple of Italians with a Torre di Guardia (they have Jehovah’s Witnesses here too – Watchtower), we set off on a jaunt around the neighbourhood. Such jaunts start with the road described by our host as the zig zag road, which heads south from Calitri and drops several hundred meters from the start to the finish – going up is a Panda-liscious festival of gear changing from 1st to 2nd and back again. Coming down is lock-to-lock fun.
1st target for New Year’s Eve was the small hamlet of Pescopagano, considerably higher than Calitri and reached by a narrow road through forests and across mountains – this is one of the towns we can see from our bedroom lit up at night. Still a light spattering of snow along the edges of the roads. Yet another pretty little hilltop town and cold and, thankfully unlike other pretty little hilltop towns, Mariah Carey Christmas Tunes being piped through the town on tinny civic speakers. After Mariah drove us out of town, we steered past the ancient fort (apparently from something or other BC, not AD) and up into the snowy hills. Next town was ridiculously steep – Castelgrande – with an enormous quarry on the next hill.
No stopping at Castelgrande – we motored on to Bella. Quite a cross-country, windy, b-road traverse, guided by our masochistic GPS which delights in sending us down dark tracks into forests and single lane paths. We emerged from a overgrown track into what appeared to be the back end of a bunch of shops, and after an hour of white-knuckle rallycross, we weren’t hard to convince that coffee would be a good idea. Coffee was a good idea, but as every good traveler in rural Italy knows, cafes have other facilities equally as important. 60-80 euro cents for a macchiato is a wee price to pay. Like all these towns, Bella had an old part with narrow streets heading up the hill towards a castle. I drove part way up, but chickened out as the road tipped up to 45 degrees and became wide enough for two bicycles to pass if the riders hunched their shoulders. Chickening out in these situations is not the easy option – an eight point turn on a steep slope in a laneway barely wider than the car was long was a test for both driver and clutch.
Back into the forest and headed via cow tracks to San Fele. These are extremely high and bucolic parts and every so often we’re surprised by extremely large dogs darting out and chasing the car – just like dogs used to do at home in the 60s and 70s. The dogs are either Italian shepherds, like dark, large Alsations, or small horse-sized Retriever looking things that should be tending flocks rather than chasing Pandas. While the roads we’re directed along are filled with unexpected subsidences and wheel-sized holes, the country is spectacular and high. Rocky mountains with enormous cliffs, views for miles, a mix of crazy and spectacular buildings, snow, villages on every hilltop and the ever-present wind turbines – hundreds of them. San Fele sits in a rocky cradle between two peaks.
A few more hills and a couple more tracks brought us past Rapone and back to the zig zag road and home in time to contemplate a venue for NYE dinner. After a quick trip to the supermercato to stock up for the New Year’s Day closures, and trying to get into a couple of restaurants, we finally found a place at the bottom of the borgo in the strangely named, Golden Mill – a spaghetteria of some renown locally.