Italy: The stuff of dreams

By Justine Tyerman

Justine Tyerman discovers Castelluccio, in Umbria, Italy.

Photo / Stefania Servili, Castelluccio
Photo / Stefania Servili, Castelluccio

As a young girl, I had vivid dreams of running through fields of wild flowers in slow-motion, dressed in creamy muslin with a floppy hat. Four decades later, I found those fields near a tiny Italian village in Umbria. Some of the details did not quite match up - I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and cap - but it was a dreamy place, all the same.

High in the heart of Monti Sibillini National Park, we came upon a vast open plain, the Piano Grande, and the exquisite mountain village of Castelluccio perched atop a hill amid an ocean of wild flowers.

The peaceful scene was a balm to our bruised spirits after hot, hectic days in crowded cities and mayhem on Italian motorways.

We waded, slow-motion - of necessity - through knee-deep scarlet poppies, wild mustard and cornflowers marvelling at the riotous colours of "The Flowering", an annual spectacle on the plain surrounding the village. An elderly, stooped man with a walking stick was harvesting wild flowers with a hand scythe.

We drove up to the village and apart from a few hardy trekkers, there were no other foreigners there - but as we wandered the steep streets and pathways of the little village, there were signs of ancient stone buildings, dating back hundreds of years, undergoing a stylish spruce-up to attract the tourist euro. The view over the Piano Grande was breathtaking.

We watched a young shepherd usher a small flock of sheep and lambs, wearing name tags and bells, through the village and up to a green hillside pasture where he spent the afternoon in the shade of an umbrella.

Little shops were selling local delicacies - wine, sheep-cheese, salami, hams made from wild boar and the renowned Castelluccio lentils - to housewives in aprons and head scarves.

Postcards of the scene in winter showed a blanket of snow over the mountains, village and plain, and skiers on the small ski-field nearby. I imagined my dream transforming into a winter version and returning to this most beautiful place.

*Castelluccio is a village in Umbria, in the Monti Sibillini National Park, central Italy. The village, situated at 1452 metres, is the highest settlement in the Apennines and lies above the Great Plain (Piano Grande, 1270 metres).

The village dates from the 13th century or slightly earlier, but was also settled by the Romans.

The Piano Grande is renowned for the cultivation of lentils which are quite different from varieties elsewhere. The climate and soil of the high plain contributes to their thin skin and soft consistency, allowing them to be cooked without having to be soaked first.

The area is a favourite with hang-gliders and para-gliders and there are schools in the village that offer lessons and rentals on a seasonal basis. Skiing in the winter and tramping in the summer are popular activities.

- nzherald.co.nz

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