Haley’s Travels: In Abruzzo, nature’s brilliance

Honey making in the village is popular in San Stephano. Great at breakfast too.

This is a blog posted by Rehoboth Beach restaurateur Matt Haley late in 2010.  It gives a flavor of the countryside and cuisine of Italy.

San Stephano, Abruzzo, Italy

After leaving Matera I am headed north to San Stephano in the Abruzzo region. I’m to stay in one of the Sextantio Hotels. It is clear now that this hotelier only builds hotels in remote areas that are surrounded by extreme beauty and stays completely indigenous to the small village’s surroundings and history.

Bry looking over the valley from San Stephano.

San Stephano takes a while to get to but upon arrival after driving some dirt roads and a hundred switch backs up the mountainside I arrive in this quaint little thousand-year old town at sunset. For the first time truly have an understanding of the color palate of the Italian artist. I am not sure what or why the colors of the sky are so intense in Italy but for years I thought the Italian masters were embellishing their colors in landscape. Not true. The blues, grays, pinks, yellows and oranges are absolutely heavenly. The energy and presence of whatever you believe in exists at sunset in the Italian Alps.

Standing on a hillside in San Stephano I imagine what it must have been like to live here over the years and then realize they are still living that way. Traveling has done a lot for me and my life but if it has done only one thing, it has helped me realize how much time I have wasted worrying about nonsense in my life. If my fears of amounting to nothing and being broke on a street corner ever come true, like my teachers told me, I now know what to do……and it ain’t a bad thing. I would scrape up enough money and fly to Mexico, India and now Italy and find a job cooking on the side of a mountain and live pretty well and pretty happy, fear-free.

Entrance to our hotel's restaurant & cantina.

Tonight I will eat at the hotel’s restaurant. Another one with no name or sign. This one is down the alley a ways and the hotel front desk will show me the way. If it comes half as close as Matera’s dinner I will be moved.

I arrive and meet Andrea Colleti, a newly graduated chef from an Italian culinary school. He is very young but has a great smile and is excited to cook tonight. He has found out that I am a kitchen guy too and is really wanting to impress. I am OK with that as long as he knows we will be fine either way.

Leaving San Stephano we travel through the southern section of the Italian alps. There is a lot of flat land at about 8,000-10,000 feet where we see hundreds of wild horses roaming, with the fog rolling of the mountains like big waves. At one point I was waiting for Julie Andrews to show up and start belting out “The Sound of Music” but she was a no-show.

After driving through L’aquila, the earthquake-ridden area of a year ago (300 people died, 80,000 displaced) and stopping to pay our respects, we’re off on another Italian adventure.

Typical afternoon break food in a village Cantina. Salami, cheese, fresh rustic bread and fresh-crushed apple juice.

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