I had the chance recently to spend a couple days in a small town called Atina nestled in the mountains of central Italy.
A long-time friend who emigrated to the USA from Italy over 40 years ago has encouraged me for years to visit his hometown. This year, I finally had the chance. My flights to Rome (via Buenos Aires and Madrid) arrived on Thursday and my trip back to Los Angeles was not till Saturday. That gave me a day and half to visit Bruno, who runs a highly successful hair salon in Beverly Hills but summers in his hometown.
It’s not like I have never been to small town before, but there was something about being in a small Italian village that was unique to the 130 countries I’ve been and my seven previous trips to Italy.
First, everyone knows everyone. The same people have coffee every morning or an apéritif every evening in the small town square. It’s simply charming.
Second, I love how friendly Italians are. Bruno introduced me as a friend, and therefore everyone treated me like a friend. It’s not that I was singled out for special treatment–I was just accepted as part of the group, not as an outsider. Speaking Italian would have greatly helped, though…
Third, the food was amazing. Of course Italian food is renown around the world, but outside of fresh caught fish from the Maldives, I’ve never had better seafood and certainly never at a more reasonable price.
Dinner on the first night began around 9:30p and lingered till 1am. We had pizza, we had pasta, and we had the most amazing cioppino (fish stew) I’ve ever had. It was incredible. Throw in several bottles of wine, several bottles of water, and you’d think the bill would approach 1000EUR for eight people.
Nope. The bill was 204EUR. The restaurant rounded it down to 200EUR. Service was included. Heck, I’d pay $80 just for a good porcini mushroom risotto in LA…
The next day for lunch we ate at another little restaurant in town. First up, bruschetta with tomatoes and olive oil brimming with flavor.
Next, a great pasta course with mushrooms.
Finally, magnificent lamb chops.
What a meal!
Then some ice cream after from the town gelato bar.
I took a train back to Rome from nearby Cassino the following evening and was very reluctant to leave.
What an incredible experience. For someone who usually sticks to cities, this was such an amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to bring my wife and son back.