Matera hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was last there many years ago to see its most spectacular festival, the Festa della Modonna Bruna.

Hotels are still hidden in the monochromatic landscape. In September, the crowds aren’t so visible, although the restaurant we chose to eat at was fully booked at lunch, Ristorante Nadì. It was so good we booked a table for dinner. And they have the provocatively titled “crapiata”, a soup of grains and beans like ceci, fave, and white beans, drizzled with some spectacular olive oil. I’m now a crapiata fan. I wish we could get “I heart Crapiata” bumper stickers.

The September weather is perfect; you can eat lunch outside and you can still climb the sides of Matera’s “bowl” and not feel the effects of too much heat.

Y’all get over here, ya hear?

Ah, I’m lucky to have this view from my window on a Friday evening at 7pm, an hour before dinner time. We’re at Hotel San Paolo Al Convento in Trani, on the Adriatic coast in Puglia, a very nice place to be right now.

401tWe took friends on a Lunigiana castle tour this weekend. The weather wasn’t bad. The surprise came at Malgrate Castle, where the normally empty parking lot was full, and a tour bus had parked smack in the middle so that people had to gingerly back out of parking places. The unmarked and as yet untried Ristorante La Torre di Malgrate was animated with voices of coach tourists at 2:45 pm, which happens to correspond to the time we arrived.

The castle opens at three. Well, it’s Italy, so 3:05. The tower, when observed in the right light, looks a bit ominous, as if stained with the blood of those who’d fallen from (near) the top and washed (down) with boiling oil. Perhaps I am reading into the scene. Excuse me.

Malgrate castle, like most of the castles in the Lunigiana, is a Malaspina castle, devised to protect the byways and waterways through the Lunigiana (and extract taxes from travelers, just like the current castle charges you 2 Euros to pass through). The castle in its current configuration was built around 1275, but was certainly built upon older ruins. It’s been recently restored and there is an exhibit inside about the restoration with pictures of the ruins they started with. Impressive.

Inside the tower there are frescoes and some heraldic insignia (you can’t go up to the top, so those of you who suffer palpitations upon thoughts of ascending tiny, internal staircases can, without fear, take your he-man spouses to this castle to poke around). Over on the left is a picture of the best fresco, the one that appears just left of the entrance to the upper story, easily accessed via external stairs.

 

One of the heraldic arms caught my attention as an Alfisti (that’s someone who has owned and liked an Alfa Romeo so much that he just had to go out and buy an Italian abode to live in and murder the Italian language from).

402tThe snake swallowing a man (child, they say, but it’s not my idea) is the symbol of Milan (and the Visconti who ruled it) and appears on just about every Alfa badge

It costs a mere 2 Euro to go inside Malgrate Castle. You should. A walk around the 16th century village is nice as well.

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