A gem in an authentic Italian mountain hamlet

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life” – Anna Akhmatova

Choosing a favourite part of Italy is almost impossible

We’ve visited the northern lakes of Lombardy; the north-eastern glories of Venice; awesome Tuscany and Florence; the southern Amalfi Coast; the Italian Riviera; the Isle of Capri; the Emila-Romagna region of Northern Italy; ancient Rome and the Vatican City – to name just a few.

Each is a treasure in its own right.

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Courtyard view

However, one of our favourites is Tramonti, a collection of 13 hamlets scattered among the rugged hills above the Amalfi Coast.

These hamlets largely retain a traditional Italian way of life. Here you’ll find vineyards, chestnut woods, olive trees, grazing sheep and scented lemon groves, set in a stunning landscape just eight kilometers from the sea.

Tramonti’s communities offer a buffer from the crowded Amalfi Coast and a glimpse of rural life just a short distance from hectic tourist resorts.

Regional products like Limonchello, the area’s famous liqueur; home-made cheeses, jams and pastries and other specialty foods are still produced there.

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Church Paterno Sant’Arcangelo

In one of the hilltop hamlets, we were introduced to Casa Cavo 15, a 200-year-old olive farm.

Perched on a steep mountainside, this charming house – the word Casa means ‘at home’ in Italian – is an ideal way to immerse yourself in traditional atmosphere largely untouched by today’s mass tourism.

We love the authentic Italian experience – and now you can too.

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Traditional terraced Italian gardens

Casa Cavo 15 is located in Paterno Sant’Arcangelo, a quiet and unpretentious hamlet, where gardens stagger up the hillsides, bursting with vegetables and citrus trees.

Traditional in every sense of the word, Paterno Sant’Archangelo is like a step back in time, with a clutch of narrow streets, the scent of flowers and plants and terraced hillsides.

And all around is the breath-taking majesty of the Lattari Mountains.

There is a small grocery shop in the hamlet – and only seven kilometres away through the mountains is the coastal town of Maiori with its retail facilities.

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Authentic Italian lifestyle

Casa Cavo 15 has been renovated to provide you with today’s conveniences.

On the top floor, the house has two standard double bedrooms – one with air conditioning – and a third room where mattresses can be placed on the floor if needed.

The authentic Italian feel continues down the stone steps to the ground floor where there is a big dining kitchen with an old fireplace and a table capable of seating about 12 people.

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The kitchen

Modern facilities to allow self-sufficiency include a cooker, oven, kettle, dishwasher, crockery and cutlery, utensils, drying rack and washing machine.

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The library

We were able to can relax on the sofa and watch TV, browse the Internet on the free wifi or take in the panoramic mountain views from the cosy courtyard under its spreading lemon trees.

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Relaxing and rustic courtyard

This courtyard is a wonderful space; shady and comfortable with an awe-inspiring view over the hamlet, gardens and across the mountains.

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Stunning mountain view

Studio flat

As an added attraction, the top floor of Casa Cavo 15 can be configured to offer a self-contained studio flat, with its own entrance from the garden; a kitchenette; bathroom and incorporating one of the bedrooms.

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A double bed

Behind the house, there are sweeping terraced areas and walking trails where you can either explore or just relax beneath the trees.

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Second room with a double bed

Casa Cavo 15’s location in a traditional mountain hamlet with narrow streets means that only tiny vehicles can drive to the front door.

Most guests park on the ancient street and then walk about 50 metres – including a section of very steep stone steps. For this reason, there is no real disabled access.

Exploring the mountain hamlets and coastal resorts requires a car. For example, the nearest supermarket is on the coast at Maiori, where there are also restaurants, beaches, playgrounds and other shops.

Maiori has been a coastal resort since ancient Roman times and boasts the longest stretch of beach on the Amalfi Coast

The house is also about 50 kilometres from the city of Naples and its airport.

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Room with a view ….. but most have!

Annette, the delightful Danish owner of Casa Cavo 15, lives only about 30 minutes from the house and couldn’t have been more helpful.

With her guidance, we were able to feel part of the community when we attended celebrations to mark the Feast Day of the village patron, Saint Michael the Archangel.

Enjoying Italian life

And, judging by the comments of previous visitors in the Guest Book, we certainly weren’t the first to enjoy the Italian way of living; Annette’s friendly hospitality and crucial advice; and revel in the more traditional values and lifestyle of the mountain hamlets – while within easy reach of the Amalfi Coast.

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Grand entrance

Casa Cavo 15 is normally let for holidays during the summer months between May and November. The rent is 2,500 Danish kroner (about 335 Euros depending on exchange rates) a week, plus an 80 Euro cleaning fee.

Annette is prepared to talk to prospective tenants during other months, but even in such a beautiful part of the planet, winter tends to dampen spirits.

If you are interested, Annette can be contacted by email at casacavo@ohl.dk.

Tramonti

Where eagles dare

The first thing you notice about the Kehlsteinhaus, or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ is the approach road that climbs 800 metres up the side of a mountain, without the need for hairpin bends.

An engineering marvel, the road contains five tunnels in its 6.5 kilometres. It was built in 1937, as part of the Eagle’s Nest – a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler.

The Kehlsteinhaus is situated on a ridge atop a 1,834 metre mountain above the town of Berchtesgaden, in south-eastern Germany.

It is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Bavaria and, each year, it is visited by huge numbers of people from around the globe.

The location of the Eagle’s Nest – high in the Alps – is regarded as one of the most striking and picturesque in Germany.

Hall of the mountain king


The intention was that the Eagle’s Nest would be a diplomatic reception house and quiet mountain retreat for Hitler, but he paid only a handful of visits to the summit.

The Nazi leader apparently had both a fear of heights and was concerned that the elevator to the summit might be hit by lightning.

We arrived the day after a snowstorm, amid a lot of low cloud.

Entrance to the mountain tunnel

To reach the Kehisteinhaus, you first need to catch a bus from Obersalzberg on the mountain’s lower reaches, then walk through a 126 metre tunnel into the mountain.

The Eagle’s Nest Tunnel

Finally, you catch a remarkable elevator that rises about 124 metres to the peak.

The interior of the elevator is made of polished brass and circular Venetian mirrors to look bigger than it is, as Hitler, apparently, had claustrophobia.


Photographs are banned in the elevator, but can be taken as it arrives and the doors open.

These days, the Eagle’s Nest is a restaurant and beer house, but one particular item of interest is a grand fireplace made of expensive reddish Carrara marble.


A sign says the fireplace was a birthday gift to Hitler from Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini.

It is damaged at one end, allegedly by Allied soldiers who are blamed for chipping off pieces of the marble for mementos.

Although the beer was good and the Kehisteinhaus has great historical significance, we were particularly impressed with the Document Centre, which is located further down the mountain near where Hitler had his alpine mansion.


Information at the centre showed that, although bombing the Eagle’s Nest itself was not a high priority for the Allies, the presence of Hitler and many of his senior officials made the Berchestgaden a key target – and the residents suffered severely.

In the last weeks of the war, in particular, there was a massive bombing attack on the Berghof and Obersalzberg.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Germany

Historic Berchtesgaden among the Bavarian Alps

Berchtesgaden is good for the soul.

This picture-postcard region, set amid the Bavarian Alps, in south-eastern Germany, is quiet, historic and scenic.

In the late afternoon, about the only sounds from the quaint villages are faint traces of Bavarian music,the pearling of church bells and the trickle of running streams.

The people are particularly welcoming, considering the World War II devastation suffered by the Berchtesgaden only a generation or so ago.

We wandered to beer halls unannounced to sample the local product – and were accepted warmly.

A highlight of Berchtesgaden is the emerald-coloured Lake Konigssee, which a spectacular fjord set in the Bavarian Alps.

The eight- kilometre long lake nestles between mighty Alps from which tumble spectacular waterfalls.
Internationally recognised

Partway along the Konigssee sits one of the world’s most-photographed structures, the chapel of St Bartholoma, which has been the site of a church since 1134.

The red-domed chapel, as it currently exists, was built in the 17th Century.


Until the start of the 19th Century, it was the summer seat for the Prince Abbott’s of Berchtesgaden.


Later, the Bavarian kings designated it as their hunting castle.

We’ve always wanted to visit the Konigssee; hear its famous echo-chamber between the Alps; and photograph St Bartholoma.

So, it was a special treat to be taken on an electric boat cruise, where we marvelled at the clear waters, up to 150 metres deep on average.


We also found the view of the church – set against the backdrop of snow-tipped alps – to be as beautiful as anticipated.

As the boat glided across the water between massive cliff faces, its captain paused to play a note on a type of trumpet.

The sound hit the nearest cliff, known as Echowand and then bounced around the lake like a gunshot. Back in the day, boats apparently did fire a pistol, which echoed up to seven times around the mountains.


On top of one of the Alps at 1843 metres, is the Kehlsteinhaus – or Eagle’s Nest – which was Adolf Hitler’s diplomatic house.


But that’s another story and another destination for us to explore.

Stay tuned

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines

Germany

Creativity forged in pain and sorrow

“The blood in these streets made us who we are”.

These words might have sounded fanciful in any other place – and coming from anyone else.

But we were sitting outside the tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete, a village destroyed three times in its turbulent history.

And the speaker was the contemporary Cretan singer, songwriter and author, Loudovikos ton Anogeion.

Tavern owners, Barbis (left) and Yarnis (right) watch modern-day teller of the Anogeia story, Loudovikos, (second from right)

Credited with describing Anogeia as “the first place you meet when you descend from heaven,” Loudovikos was explaining how tremendous suffering had shaped the culture of the village.

Anogeia was twice destroyed by the Ottomans in 1822 and 1867 – and then by the Germans in 1944, in retaliation for resistance activities.

“Pain and sorrow is the heritage of Anogeia, but so is resilience.

Tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete,

“In World War II, people were massacred here and almost every building was destroyed, only to be rebuilt.”

To underline this point, Loudovikos played his song The Colour of Love, which beautifully explores the theme that you cannot love if you have not suffered adversity.

Creativity borne from ashes

If resilience and fiesty independence are in Anogeia’s DNA, so too are creativity and artistic expression.

 Loudovikos is only one of a disproportionate number of talented musicians to emerge from the area onto the Greek and world stage.

The village is also known for its folk art, including a weaving industry developed largely by the widows of men killed in the World War II massacre.

Whether this burst of creative spirit is a direct cry from the bleeding heart of Anogeia’s painful past is up for speculation

The church of St John the Baptist, Anogeia, Crete

The concept of the ‘Tortured Artist’ has long been debated in society and many books have been written on the subject.

However in Anogeia, where stories of pain are still raw,  the people have a deep respect for its story tellers.

Loudovikos simply picked up his phone, hit a few numbers and I was talking the mayor of the village.

He spoke in glowing terms of the singer songwriter’s mission to explain the collective community spirit of Anogeia and how that spirit has been shaped by a past as tragic as anyone could imagine.

Anogeia’s mayor also stressed that confronting the horrors that happened in the village was considered a key part of the process.  

A simple yet moving memorial – featuring an Unknown Soldier statue – stands in the centre of Anogeia

The exact order given to German forces in 1944 is engraved in marble on one side of the memorial.


Each August, Anogeia also holds a day of remembrance, featuring community activities centred on the memorial.

Residents are also quick to point out that  Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the German commander who ordered the razing of Anogeia, was captured by the Red Army in 1945 and met a grisly end.

Anogeia sits at an altitude of 738 metres in the Idi mountain range of central Crete, an area dominated by Mount Psiloritis, the highest mountain on the island.

It is a charming village, with a cobblestone Main Street and an array of taverns, coffee shops and cafes where friendly locals gather beneath spreading trees and grapevines trailed across trellis.


Despite Anogeia’s treatment at the hands of foreigners over the centuries, the residents are welcoming and quick to offer the hospitality for which Crete is known worldwide.

During our talk with Loudovikos, the owners of the tavern Skalomata insisted that we sample the local cheese, Rakki, fruit and bread.


Anogeia is connected by public bus services from both Heraklion and Chania Crete’s two biggest cities.

We caught the bus into the hills, leaving Heraklion in the early morning and weaving through the awakening suburbs until we reached the narrow, winding road into the rugged mountains.


It was easy to see how the terrain  helped Crete’s famed resistance fighters to ambush and harrass both the Occupying Turks and Germans.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airways.

Anogeia Crete

Oh, take us back to Baveno and the mountain lakes

Baveno, in northern Italy, is one of our favourite destinations.

Sitting on the shore of Lake Maggiore, the town is literally a slice of heaven: a world away from the pressures of modern living and a great advertisement for the dreamworld that is Italy.IMG_0364

The lake – the second biggest in Italy and the largest in southern Switzerland – nestles into the southern side of the Alps and Baveno is set in typical prealpine countryside, part of the region of Piedmont.

We’ve been fortunate to spent time in the town, visiting the wonders of the Borromean Islands; touring the famous Isola Bella and its magnificent Baroque palace; taking day trips to neighbouring Lake Como and Lake Garda; and checking out the area’s many villas, castles and wonderful gardens.IMG_1314

Isola Bella, we were told, dates from 1630, when local Governor, Carlo Borromeo the Third, apparently obtained land on what was then known as the island of Isola Inferiore.  He soon began planning a residence there – and renamed  the island after his wife Isabella.

Carlo’s sons later created not just a simple villa, but a palace worthy of entertaining the greatest nobility of Europe.

On the way back from touring the palace, we stopped at neighbouring Isola Pescatori, where there is a quaint fishing village and some excellent fish restaurants.IMG_0365

The island ferries provide a striking view across the waters of Lago Maggiore toward the Swiss canton of Ticino.

Only a short drive away is the picturesque Swiss city of Lugano, with its eye-catching lakeside and mouth-watering hot chocolate.

The water wonderland around Baveno is set against a backdrop of striking green hills and impossibly steep roads.IMG_0317

In these hills, north west of the town are famous red granite quarries, which have supplied the columns for the Cathedral of Milan; the church of San Paolo fuori le Mura at Rome; the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele at Milan; and other important Italian buildings.

Baveno itself is a quaint town with a tangle of cobblestone streets; a notable 16th Century square; and excellent restaurants and cafes. Many of the villas around the town boast extraordinary grounds that benefit from the region’s moist and temperate climate.IMG_0345

Our hotel – the Grand Hotel Dino

Our favourite hotel in the area is the Grand Hotel Dino, part of the Zacchera group and sitting plumb on the waterside with views over the Lago Maggiore to the mountains.

With two swimming pools and colourful gardens, Grand Hotel Dino combines the benefits of a large hotel with the tranquility of the lake shore.IMG_0340

From the eye-catching stained glass ceiling in the foyer, to the lavish furnishings, well equipped rooms and health club,  the Grand Hotel Dino manages to be modern and plush while still at one with the peaceful lakeside environment.

We cannot speak more highly of both Baveno and the Grand Hotel Dino.

It is a very nice part of the planet indeed.

Features Italian Lakes