Tuesday, August 08, 2006

CAGLI (part VI): The type of town that changes you

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's essay comes to Andiamo courtesy of Kevin Zazzali, a member of the 2006 Cagli Project.

WHEN AMERICANS TRAVEL TO ITALY, they usually head for Bologna, Florence, Naples, Rome and Venice.

So when I arrived in Cagli, a small town in Italy’s Le Marche region, I dropped my bags in my apartment, stepped outside and scratched my head trying to answer the question, “What the hell am I doing in Cagli?”

I was there for an extremely compressed study abroad program but ultimately concluded that Cagli should be added as a contender for one of the best destinations in Italy.

Even though it is small, (only about 10,000 Cagliesi populate the town) Cagli has a long history. The huge stone Torrione was built by Giorgio Martin in 1480 A.D. Cagli has nine churches, a palace and four different gates, or entryways, to the city: Porta Flaminia, Porta Lombarda, Porta Massara and Porta Vittoria.

Any traveler eager to experience a dose of old-school Italian living should book a weekend at Casale Torre Del Sasso (which loosely translates to, “village tower of the stone”), one of the many agriturismi springing up in Italy. I spent two nights there with my family. Casale Torre Del Sasso is reminiscent of a small castle-like embattlement situated at the top of a steep hill. Mario Carnaci runs the agriturismo.

The exterior is deceiving. The first floor is full of antique furniture generations old that makes a person feel warm and at home. There are windows everywhere, a fireplace, a sofa and plenty of room to stroll around and examine the antiques. Two queen-sized bedrooms contain all the accoutrements any American tourist would need, such as a huge sink, mirror and bathtub.

After settling in, take my advice and ditch your car or van and lace up your sneakers. Take a left leaving Mario’s Torre Del Sasso and start experiencing Cagli! A steep hill will take you to your first adventure: a tiny path leads to a bridge that resembles the one from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The steps are made of wood and, although metal cables suspend the bridge, some steps are missing. The view is mesmerizing during the day, but be careful walking at night.

Definitely book a dinner at the classy La Gioconda on Via Brancuti, (a side street directly off of Via Leopardi). With reservations, you will be seated immediately. Try the pasatella in crema di formaggio e tartufo nero as an appetizer. It is pasta served in a light cream sauce, topped with black truffles. It is filling, although with a strong aftertaste. For a second course, stick with your American instinct and select the salsiccia e cipolla grigliata. This dish contains perfectly grilled sausages and onions that are served in a delicious olive oil.

Get a good night’s sleep and start the next day right with a coffee at the Caffe del Commercio, in the Piazza Matteotti. The piazza is the best place to get to know and observe the Cagliesi. Whip out your dictionary and say hi to Mimi, who owns the caffé, or any of the other kind employees, such as Dodo and Marina. They love speaking to Americans and will remember your name. I mentioned the name of a friend who had traveled to Cagli three years ago on my first day in town, and they immediately warmed up to me.

Then walk off the croissants you ate and visit the waterfalls of Cagli. From the piazza, take Via Leopardi and make a right on Via A. Celli, which will take you close enough in the direction of the waterfall. After a 15-minute walk, the rushing sound of the light blue water will greet your ears before you see the falls. Walk slowly and safely, because a hidden path takes you to a steep descent. The effort is worth it, because the falls are secluded, clean and can act as your private swimming pool under looming Monte Petrano. Bring a towel and sunscreen if planning on staying more than an hour.

Spend the rest of your second day visiting the shops of Cagli. Buy a “Shark Kong” T-shirt next to the gold jeweler’s shop on Porta Vittoria and have fun explaining why Italy combined King Kong with a shark. I still have not figured it out. Then grab a panino at Caffé d’Italia. Ask to see the opera schedule in case an opera is being performed at the Accademia Del Teattro

Instead of a night at the opera, you might want to barhop a little. First, head outside the piazza and order the McCain Pizza, which is a plain pizza topped with fries (yes, French fries!) and a few drinks at Squa Qua, on Via Leopardi to get warmed up. Wander across the street to the local wine bar, Caffe' del Corso, which is owned by a big, burly, friendly guy named “Seven.”

While there, treat yourself to a Devil’s Kiss beer. This is a German beer boasting 8 percent alcohol that will surely please any college student. Then stand on the street with the Cagliesi. One will surely approach you asking, “Americano?” If you’re not tired, start talking and see what else you can find out about Cagli. Once you return to your temporary home at Casale Torre Del Sasso, you can relax in the mini courtyard or by the pool if the weather is warm.

Although 20-plus journalism students descend yearly upon Cagli, the town is a find for any traveler looking to get away from the bustling markets of Florence (and via two trains, it only takes about three hours with one connection).

Cagli is the type of town that changes you.

For a rookie journalist who hated traveling until about three weeks ago, I am already figuring out how to extend my stay in Italy. Rome did not do that to me. Venice did not do that to me. The beauty, sounds and overall peace of Cagli, however, did. If you take a risk and book a weekend at Casale Torre Del Sasso, and greet Cagli with an open mind, you will be rewarded with the type of experience you would never get in a big city.

Come to Cagli and you will understand why I stopped scratching my head the first day of my four-week stint here.

If You Go, Don’t Miss:

• Accademia Del Teatro
- Tel. 0721-787644 (9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.) and 0721-781341 (5 p.m. – 7 p.m.); www.accademiadelteatro.org; accademiateatro@libero.it

• Caffe d’Italia
- Piazza Matteotti, 3. Open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Seven days a week.

• Caffe del Commercio
- Piazza Matteotti, 18. Open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday. Tel. 0721-787220.

• Caffe' del Corso
- C. XX Settembre, 5-7. Open 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.

• La Gioconda
- Via Brancuti. Open 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday. Tel. 0721-781549, www.ristorantelagioconda.it

• Squa Qua
- Via G. Celi. Open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Seven days a week. Tel. 0721-790418, www.squaqua.it or info@squaqua.it

• Torre Del Sasso

• The Waterfalls!

Internet Spots:
• B.T. Point
- Via Mameli, 7. Open 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays.
• Squa Qua

- Kevin Zazzali


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