It is difficult to even put into words how wonderful an experience that we had in Fiumefreddo Bruzio. We stayed with family of Hannah’s cousin, Claire. Denise and her daughter Monica made us feel very comfortable and relaxed the entire stay. Their hospitality and generosity were some of the best I have ever experienced.
Denise’s cooking is fantastic and like nothing I had eaten before. Every meal was handmade and included multiple courses, and she approached its preparation with eagerness and a smile. From the crème filled Italian cookies, called Pesche Dolci, to the special Easter tradition of braided bread called Pane di Pasqua, to Denise’s wonderful pasta recipes. It was all amazing. Lunch and dinner each day became an exercise of enjoyment for my taste buds. We sipped wine on the patio of her backyard while enjoying great company.
Two interesting flavor combinations I would like to bring to my reader’s attention. The first is fennel. It is like a fruity natural taste of black licorice. The second is strawberries with a small amount of sugar, with lemon juice. This flavor is refreshing, with the sweetness of the sugar and strawberries combining with the sharp sour flavor of the pressed lemons. This, along with the incorporation of fresh olives at most meals, will be something I take home to try in my own cooking.
When we were not excitedly eating, we spent time doing other relaxing activities. We spent much of the afternoon on the second day at the beach. We laid out, absorbing the rich rays of the southern Italian sun. A running joke with Hannah is that I never got to swim in the Mediterranean on our last Europe trip, due to me taking us on a wild goose chase of a hike and not feeding her at the right time. I FINALLY rectified this and dove in to the chilly, crystal clear waters. Afterward, I warmed myself by laying on a beach blanket and reading my newest book choice.
The beach is different from what I have experienced in the United States; however, I think I enjoyed it more. The texture of the beach was rocky, with many thousands of small, and sometimes large, rounded pebbles. I dug my feet into this pebbly sand and later my hands, feeling the dry earthy sensation run through my fingers and across my hands in an almost therapeutic way. As I closed my eyes, I could hear the ever so soft rushing of waves as they eroded and rounded the same rocks on which I was lying. This is a place that will forever be etched into my memory, and one I did not want to leave.
With faces glowing from the sun, Denise took us to the ruins of a castle and small town on the peak of a mountain beside her home. The construction of the castle began in 1201 and finished in the 1300’s. The peak offered a view of the infinite blue expanse of sea meeting the rapid descent of lush, vegetation covered mountains, with small towns huddled in between. I could have walked back and forth and taken in the duality all evening if we did not have plans.
Next, we drove 5 minutes to a neighboring town where Denise went to middle and primary school. Every 5 minutes or so, Denise or her daughter Monica were enthusiastically greeted by friends with a “ciao” and quick hug and kiss on the cheeks, as is the Italian custom. Even people who they know and see frequently seem to be greeted with a fervent passion and excitement. It was so genuine and intimate. We partook in some scrumptious gelato and walked to a plaza where the red glow of the sunset warmed the cobblestones.
On Holy Saturday, we went out to a neighboring town and grabbed seats by the front row of a local band that Denise and Monica knew. At about 11pm, the bar was just starting to fill. Denise left to play the Easter Vigil mass and we stayed for another 2 hours or so. As we were leaving around 1AM, the streets were alive with people socializing. Later in the stay, we came back through the same town on Easter Monday and it was empty.
Easter was equally wonderful. After mass in the local church, we went for coffee, then to an agriturismo. This is a restaurant nestled up in the nearby mountains that is essentially farm to table and has homemade authentic, amazing food. Hannah and I counted something like 30 different food items that were brought out over the course four hours.
It was one of the top 3 food experiences of my life. Claire, Jan, Hannah, and I elected to walk down the winding switchbacks to get some much needed exercise after such a big meal. Easter Monday, we had plans to go to a mountain top picnic for a tradition called La Pasquetta. It is a day of relaxation often with leftovers or picnics on the beach or out in nature with family and friends. Unfortunately, it was rainy and we had to adapt our plans a bit. We had coffee in the nearby town and played cards for awhile before heading home for a final evening to relax before setting off the next day.
The 4 nights that we spent in Fiumefreddo felt like a far longer time. I am not certain I have ever felt so at home in a stranger’s house as I did there. Claire, Jan, Monica, and Denise were wonderful company and we thoroughly enjoyed each and every day. It was difficult to leave on Tuesday. Hannah remarked that she felt the same nervousness that day about leaving as we did the last night before starting our trip. It serves as an appropriate testament to how amazing our stay was and it is a city that I hope to eventually return.