Survey Italian men. They will surely have seen it at least once. From makeup artists to mountain guides to bicyclists, you would be forgiven for thinking the country is littered with all of these men by the dozen. That’s because there are hundreds of creative professions including such as these. And that fact alone is somewhat of a surprise.
In the country of silversmiths and perfumers, immersing yourself in a language and art rooted in many of the traditions of the past means embarking on a foreign venture just doesn’t seem to be a priority.
Yet most of the country’s creatives seem to have pulled it off. There are a plethora of bookstores, bookstores with surprising selection of art objects, and hugely popular restaurants such as Pano e Patronio, a cave with a thriving garden and a maze of steep steps. All of which bring you to Zaffiro Caffe, where dozens of women working within a short space of time create marvelous art created specifically for this place.
The owner is Luciana Scarpa, herself a graphic designer who dreamed up the way Italian visitors find art on the street, and has been behind the creative flow since the café opened up 18 years ago. Recently the store has become a center for work by media artists and illustrators. The country’s famed artists like Fortuny, Cornelio Nettuno, Nerina Manzoni, and Daniele Mastrogiacomo all enjoy impressive regional presences.
On the other side of town a great number of geniuses have met their ends. While the breathtaking Einsteins and Leonardo Da Vinci styles abound, any number of popes, architects, designers, and poets have also had this spot in mind when working through their off-hours.
Of course, the mountains are a popular destination as well. A favorite destination for tourists and the opposite of a place you’d expect to find religious iconography.
The nearby village of Cesona, which is carved out from the lush verdant hilly landscape of a long centuries-old Florentine hill town, is a truly astounding beauty. Dark with rich caves where ancient activities, such as warfare and incest, took place, the land surrounding Cesona is a wild and enchanting place. The dark wood of the caves here is intricately carved with images, many with long-lost motifs.
From Cesona, it’s a short train journey into the little towns called Loreto, which are famous for their festivals, music, food, and even fashion. Indeed, according to the city guide, Loreto is “the city where it all begins”.
“It’s a feast for the senses, an inspiration for all creativity, and a monument to the profound history of an ancient cluster of lagoons surrounded by mountains,” it reads.
But did I mention they have more than 700 wines? And olive oil? And cardini?
You don’t need the guide book to know that the food is the star here. Zattigardagli, ragu amatto alspigio e pizza alla vongole, spaggio alla nera e pastreccion di zabaglione, and, of course, tangini con fennel, could not be more delicious. And you can pick up some terrific Italian wines for just a single euro.
While I loved lunching on local cheese salad, zeppole, and pasta at La Fratellina, I also had some lovely locals at this family-run eatery that feel like from the heart of the place.
While you are still traveling, you’ll also be fortunate enough to pass the Basilica di San Paolo dell’Aquila, a grand architectural feat with great stonework and religious icons. One of Italy’s most beautiful.
Let’s say you wind up traveling throughout southern Italy, arriving in Lecce. It’s not all that far a drive, but if you set up some catch up meetings along the way, restrails (of your own making) at a railway station in Lecce are only the beginning.
Before you know it the fresh and sociable interest in you is starting to shine brightly. How you, and your friends, make your way, you will never know until the journey is over.