|Maria, Dante with their homemade meatballs and peas|
"Be careful," warned my friend Maria. "There are wild boars roaming around."
My husband,Tom, and I have made many memories traveling around Southern Italy's rural Campania region.
Perhaps this time, we'd make another.
As it turned out, we encountered no boars, but we did run into a flock of sheep blocking both sides of a two-lane road leading to Greci, a hill town between Bari and Naples, where my grandfather was born.
|Sheep in the road on the way to Greci|
Maria and her husband, Dante, live in nearby Ariano Irpino. We met 13 years ago on our first visit to Greci. Maria's mother was born there, and Maria, who lived for a while in England, speaks fluent English.
After touring Greci, we enjoyed a memorable meal at their home, including prosciutto from the recently-slaughtered family pig. We met again a few years ago, this time while we were exploring more of Southern Italy with my husband's brother, Al, and his wife, Nancy.
Al mopped up Maria's sauce with his bread, a gesture for which Dante bestowed on him the title of "Buona Forchetta," or Beautiful Fork, roughly translated "Good Eater."
It's been our good fortune to have stayed in touch with Maria and Dante and others in Italy whom we've met over the years during family visits (Tom's family is from Southern Italy and Sicily) and through story assignments for the Seattle Times and other publications.
When the Covid pandemic ended and we had a chance to travel again, I stole an idea from another journalist whom I admire: Pick destinations where you know people, and make plans to reconnect.
On this trip, a return to our favorite big city in Italy - Naples - and a desire to see something new - Lecce, a Baroque jewel box in southern Puglia - were the jumping off points for visits with several sets of old friends. A bonus was detouring through or staying in towns tourists rarely find a reason to visit.
Navigating our way around the sheep in a rental car was nerve-wracking, but worth it considering the reason we were on this back road was because we had detoured through the tiny town of San Marco dei Cavoti, the center of torrone production (nougat candy) in Southern Italy. We stopped at a century-old shop for vintage boxes of torrone baci (chocolate nougat), then found a bakery with a few tables on a shady patio. The warm weather called for sampling our new favorite coffee drink - crema di caffe - an icy, whipped concoction of espresso, cream and sugar eaten with a spoon.
|Crema di Caffe in San Marco|
|Rita in her kitchen with her homemade tiramisu served with a shot of Strega, an herbal liquer from the nearby town of Benevento.|
|The new restaurant in Greci is called Ha e Pi, Arbëresh for Eat and Drink.|
|Rita, Tom and me in front of her home in Greci|
|Together again with Dante and Maria|
|Sant'Agata dei Goti|
|Sant' Agata historical center|
|Lunch with Enrico and Loredana|
|The Arch of Trajan|
|Shop selling all things Strega|
|Strega includes 70 herbal ingredients include saffron|
|Tom, Gianna and I in Benevento. The obelisk in the background was originally erected for the Roman Temple of Isis. Heroglyphs appear on four sides|
|Letizia and us in Rome|
|Hosteria L'Orso 80|