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Intro to Casa Gregorio, arrivederci Roma!

ITALY | Friday, 8 March 2013 | Views [700]

           Our last morning in Rome we went to the breakfast that came with our hotel. I sort of wished we’d taken advantage of this breakfast, as it was really good and the cook was very friendly and helpful. We then had to make our way out of Rome back to the airport where we would be picked up. On our way to the taxi station, I mentioned that we hadn’t seen many cats around Rome, and I had heard that there were supposed to be lots of them. Just as I said that I saw one, going down a flight of stairs into a cluster of ruins (I wasn’t lying about the random ancient ruins). We peered over the edge of the wall where the cat had gone down and spotted three more. They were all different; grey, black and white, orange; and all had tufts of hair sticking out, or a crooked tail. Some other people were watching them with us as we kept spotting more of them, and we discovered by way of explanatory plaque, that this group of ruins, blocked off from the public and from the street, was a stray cat sanctuary. Here, cats can come to lounge on ancient columns free from the stresses of stray cat life. I was glad to see that even the toughest cats, the gatto di Roma, have a place they can come to relax.

            We were picked up at the airport by Mercedes vans, driven by Paolo and Patricio, which took us an hour and a half south of Rome. We were taken through rolling hills full of little farms, and the air was filled with smoke from burning olive branches. This time of year olive farmers are pruning their trees, so they burn the excess branches. In the van with us were Dale, a professor of nursing from southern California; and Alison, a technical writer for Google who also moonlights as a food photographer, from the Bay Area. In the other van were who we now call the New Yorkers – Jan and Marv, and Irma and Steve. They are retirees, and they live in Long Island. Later, we’d be joined by Susan and John from West Virginia. We were driven up a winding switchback road that seemed to drop off on both sides into endless green valleys of farms and olive trees and smoke. It took our breath away.

            We pulled up to Casa Gregorio, our chins on the floor. Casa Gregorio sits in a village called Castro dei Volsci high up in the hilltops, with a population of only about 300. The town is ancient, with a church in the centre and stone houses piled around it. We would learn later that these little hilltop towns are common outside Rome, and were home to farming families while they worked the fields below. It was a way of protecting themselves from whatever, or whoever might have attacked Rome. Now, several of the buildings are empty and run-down, as the area was bombed in the second world war. Casa Gregorio is not one of the run-down buildings. We walked in the front door to a marble staircase with old photos lining the walls, and beautiful dark wood beams on the ceiling. Our host was there to meet us when we walked in.

            Gregory, owner of Casa Gregorio is an Italian-American born in Michigan, whose family is originally from this region. He fell in love with this place, and left his successful interior design business in Florida to create Casa Gregorio. Its obvious coming here that Gregory has a flair and passion for design, as everything about this place has been chosen, styled and planned by him. There’s an eclectic mix of modern and old, perfectly balanced to be natural and completely relaxed. There is nothing stuffy or uncomfortable about this place. It’s like living in someone’s own home. Gregory welcomed all of us with espresso, and showed us all individually to our rooms. As soon as he closed the door, mom and I looked at each other and I said “well this is an upgrade!” It is quite an unbelievable place.

            Gregory fed us lunch (the best meal we’ve had since arriving in Italy), which consisted of aged bread covered in olive oil, basil and tomatoes, and then topped with fresh ricotta and buffalo mozzarella. I nearly cried it was so good. We then took a tour of the town and Gregory showed us the church and the spectacular view from the top of the town. He brought his dog with us, a Shi Tzu named Dexter who is probably the sweetest, most laid back Shi Tzu I’ve ever met. He is just so adorable. While we were at the top of the town, wind blowing, sun setting, faint wood smoke rising from the valley, the church bell started to ring. I had trouble remembering that I wasn’t dreaming, that this place exists, and that we are here.

Tags: castro dei volsci, cats, ciociaria, hilltops, italian food

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