I love Italy. I go there a lot. A few years ago we bought an old ruined farmhouse in Le Marche and renovated it.
We now spend most school holidays there and it’s fabulous. Indeed we are heading off in a few days for half term.
Most people haven’t heard of Le Marche. They know Tuscany and Umbria, maybe Puglia too but for many Le Marche remains a mystery. Well it’s a beautiful place. We are less than an hour from the Adriatic Sea and it’s beautiful long sandy beaches and 45 minutes from the snow capped Sibillini Mountains. The rolling countryside is fabulous and the people are friendly and welcoming.
We are really looking forward to our brief stay over half term but having now been visiting Le Marche for about 6 years there are lots of things we’ve learnt about Italy in general and our own little area specifically.
We’ve learnt that on the whole most people don’t speak English in this part of Italy. We’ve dealt with this by learning Italian. Well I have and even now my Italian isn’t brilliant despite achieving an A* in my GCSE a few years ago – and they say exams aren’t getting easier! My husband whose Italian lessons have lagged a bit behind my own has had some great conversations with our sometime neighbour Franco, culminating in Franco taking on the huge job of mowing our olive grove when in fact my husband thought he had asked Franco if he would like us to mow his grass. Franco must be in his 70s!
So they don’t speak English. Why should they? But there are some things I find baffling. A trip to the garden centre is one such thing. The plants have no prices or indeed often no labels at all. They also have no trolleys to load up with your purchases. So you have to walk around the garden centre choosing your plants without any idea of the cost and then go and find someone to load them onto a golf buggy and bring them to the cashier. Usually you give up before this point. Why doesn’t it occur to them that you would buy more if they just made it that little bit easier?
Of course you also have to remember that nowhere is open after lunch until after 4pm. So if you have chores to do you have to get out there early in the morning to get them all done. You also have to bear in mind that if you are driving round a corner the car coming in the opposite direction will be on your side of the road! But there will be a nice man at the petrol station to fill up your car and while doing that he will also clean your windscreen and he won’t expect a tip.
The coffee at the motorway services is fantastic as is most of the food. But don’t embarrass yourself by ordering a cappuccino after lunch. That’s a real no no. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink.
It’s a conservative area. Earlier this year I went out to the house with my god daughter. On arrival we stopped at the top of our white road to chat with our other neighbour, Alberto. He was interested to hear that we were there for a few days on our own. Just us two ladies. As we drove down our steep gravel drive I was still translating in my head what he had just said. It made me laugh when I realised he had suggested that we must obviously be there just to do the cleaning! But we forgive Alberto everything because he is the kindest man you could ever meet and he tolerates my terrible Italian.
Ice cream parlours are open until the early hours and are frequented by lorry drivers and children alike. Eating out is a noisy family affair and even the best restaurants may have a huge TV screen hanging from the ceiling. Don’t let the often less than promising look of the restaurant put you off.
Don’t expect pizza for lunch. No self respecting restaurant serves pizza until the evening and you will never be offered a huge pepper mill. You will however be offered lemoncello after your meal, on the house, once you become a regular.
Even the smallest village will have a vibrant cultural life that you will be encouraged to enjoy. Concerts, poetry readings and even a Beatles tribute band have all been enjoyed in our local village. But the road will be closed at the drop of a hat so that the children can run around safely, so make sure you know an alternative way home.
On my last visit I had my cheek squeezed in a bar in a nearby town ( one on my face) had to crawl along behind a a herd of sheep for a few miles as they made their way to pastures new and found five star fish on the beach.
If you go to the market to buy basil be prepared for a sack load even if you ask for ‘just enough for two’ in your best Italian. If you go into the bakers don’t be surprised if he won’t sell you his last loaf of ‘pane integrale’ (wholemeal bread) because it’s not fresh. Why he doesn’t just take it off the shelf is a mystery known only to himself.
I could go on and on. How to navigate the huge queue in the post office and work out your place in it. How to spend your time while waiting for the elderly man in front of you in the shop to bring his story to an end. How to get your side dishes and main course served at the same time – actually I haven’t worked that one out yet.
But all these things are what makes Italy such a fabulous place to spend time. If it was just like home there would be no point in going.