The final days of the Magical Mystery Tour – Days 15, 16 and 17
The final days of the Magical Mystery Tour featured truffle hunting, a cooking lesson, a visit to the hilltop town of Castel del Monte, a visit to the beautiful gardens of Tivoli followed by a truly grand Frascati farewell dinner! Read on for Euan Landsborough’s ‘The Mo’ daily commentary.
Day 15 - Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo – Friday 25th September
This morning we had a choice - enjoy a Cooking Lesson or Hunt for Truffles.
Just under half the group decided to enjoy a cooking lesson, and the other half jumped on the coach to go truffle hunting. I decided to go truffle hunting.
Meeting up with the local truffle hunter (what would he be called - a ‘Truffler’?) we jumped on the coach and went down to a nearby village to see if we could find some of this ‘black gold’. Valued at abut 240 euro a kilo, it is not surprising how it gets its nickname. We reached his car and when he opened the back 3 hyperactive little dogs leapt out to greet us. Then we were off. Walking up a hill through wild flowers, and past wild blackberry and blueberry bushes, the dogs were scooting around sniffing everything (as dogs do!). Soon one of the dogs came bounding back with a small truffle in its mouth. Then came another, and another. You watch the dogs suddenly stop by a bush, or often near an oak tree, and start scrabbling at the ground. Then the nose would be in and then out would come another truffle. In all, about half a kilo was found, with a street value of maybe 120 euros!
Back in Santo Stefano we met up with the cooks who had been applying themselves to bread making and sampled some wine and truffle tapenade on focaccia bread.
In the afternoon we visited the nearby hilltop town of Castel del Monte. UNESCO listed, and the location for George Clooney’s film ‘The American’, sadly much has been damaged by recent earthquakes with many of the buildings still under repair.
Dinner this evening was a 4 course affair, at Il restauarante, la ‘Locanda sotto gli Archi’. ‘Gli Archi’ refers to the two stone arches that dominate the room. The furniture was antique, simple and rustic, the plates and wine mugs were all hand-crafted pottery and the food was all sourced locally.
Day 16 – Frascati – Saturday 26th September
Continuing across Abruzzo, we descended from the mountains heading towards Rome.
Before we got there we stopped in the historic town of Tivoli. The reason for our visit? The magical water gardens and fountains of Villa D’Este. Meeting our local guide Barbara, we entered the gorgeous, fresco adorned villa and then walked out onto the terrace. Spread below us, and spread over 3 levels were these famous gardens.
Stepping back 5 centuries when ornate gardens were a passion and a status symbol, these gardens were created to eclipse all. Now covered with shady trees, they were once open landscaped and littered with ancient Roman recovered statues. But the incredible thing is how they re-directed the river purely using gravity and the natural force of the water flow to create a 3 tiered landscape of fountain and ornate waterfalls. Stunning!
In the afternoon we drive on, circling Rome, to reach the area known as Castelli Romani and the hill town of Frascati. Famous for its light white wines, the hills are covered with lush vineyards, and in the distance lay…. Rome. After time at leisure in town, we checked into our hotel for the last night, Villa Vecchia.
This evening is our last night, and so we visited a nearby, historic wine estate called Cantina Santa Benedetta – a perfect venue to enjoy a truly grand Frascati farewell dinner, with ‘musica’.
On arrival we strolled into the vineyards where the wine estate owner talked about his wines, oils, and how they are made. Then we walked back to the open terrace and waited to enjoy a welcome glass of wine. I say ‘waited’ as he asked us not to drink his beautiful wine until he had described its style, texture and how to appreciate it. He was cruel… he was torturing us… as he went on, and on, whilst all were salivating. That was his joke. Our joke was that we then started to drink them dry! It was magical as we sipped this crisp, white wine whilst eating olive oil bruschetta on the terrace overlooking the vineyards. We then went inside the beautiful ‘cantina’ and started to dine and dance.
First… more than 30 different anti pasta dishes, followed by a 3 course meal with wine and music. At the grand piano sat a pianist and standing in his tuxedo was a man who was a classic Italian Tenor. From his barrel chest words boomed and the room filled with songs both popular classic and from classical opera. All sat entranced. Then the dancing started, and much fun was had by all. This special evening was the last piece of the Mystery puzzle to be unfolded, and it was the best possible way you could end any sort of tour.
Day 17 - Transfer to Rome – Sunday 27th September
Sadly it was time to finish our tour. There was no Mystery left, all had been seen and experienced and everything revealed.
Mid-morning we transferred to Rome city centre saying farewell to fellow travellers in the city centre and then the airport.
This Mystery tour was totally unique and cannot be repeated.
But in 2 or 3 years time, evolving from this epic journey, 2 brand new Albatross tours will be launched which will incorporate many of the unique elements that we enjoyed, experienced and discovered.
For now though, I would like to say thanks to Karen and Sergio who looked after us so well in Spain, Andorra and France, and today bid farewell to Gilberto our Italian Tour Manager, and Marco, our driver, and our wonderful, special group of Albatross travellers.
Euan and Julie-anne Landsborough