"Teramo was built before Rome," says Sergio, my wife's eightysomething cousin and a lifelong resident. He says this with great pride and within seconds of our first encounter. Later his wife, Grazia, will produce a staggering seven-course dinner out of the three-foot kitchen in their fourth-floor condo. What a meal!
An antipasto followed by pasta and eggplant; then timballo, a casserolelike pasta dish that incorporated the crepe-like scrippelles mentioned above; next a plate of pork, followed by green beans and then salad. Lots of red wine from the region (the Montepulciano grapes are wonderful), some rich, thick, but never bitter coffee, and finally a slice of homemade tiramisu that almost defies description.
Food is a big part of any trip to Italy, and Teramo doesn't disappoint. The specialties of the region include the timballo, the scrippelle, and the caggiunitti. Among other things, my wife has returned home with two local cookbooks given as gifts by cousins.
I first tasted scrippelle in my mother-in-law's Italian wedding soup. I was accustomed to escarole, small meatballs, and pieces of chicken floating in a chicken broth. In my family, which traces its roots to Sicily, this was the way we ate scadole soup. The scrippelle floating in that same blend adds another, and even better, taste to the experience.
The caggiunitti were another matter. We were too early to get a sampling. The delicacy, a Christmastime treat, is a fried pastry shaped like a ravioli that is stuffed with a rich mix of chocolate and chestnuts.
The tourist pitch for Teramo is its location. It's a 25-minute bus ride to the beaches of the Adriatic. One of the closest "shore" towns is Giulianova. Pescara is also nearby. Less than an hour in the other direction are ski resorts, part of the fabulous Gran Sasso mountain range that hugs Teramo.
The city derives its name from the Latin for the convergence of two rivers. The city was built where the Vezzola and Tordino Rivers meet.
It's an ideal jumping-off point for side trips to the rest of Abruzzi, a region that is underrated as a tourist attraction. But for us, during this maiden voyage, the joy was in simply soaking up the local atmosphere, strolling the streets - including the quaint Via Stazio, where my wife's grandmother grew up, and the fabulously modern and commercial Corso San Giorgio - and pausing at an outdoor cafe for a drink or an espresso.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and St. Berardo is literally in the heart of the old city. It was built in the 12th century and has a 165-foot bell tower that seems to stand like a sentry over the rest of the city. The cathedral includes an altar containing a silver fresco and canopy by Nicola da Guardiagrele from the 15th century. It also is possible to visit the underground crypt of St. Berardo da Pagliara, the patron saint of Teramo.
Less than two blocks away is an archaeological excavation of a Roman amphitheater built in the second century. Several other churches, including the Church of San Antonio, offer trips back in time. For three days we passed the brick building that is St. Anthony's without realizing it was a working church. Only during a Sunday morning stroll, when my wife heard music coming from inside, did we realize it was still in use.
The interior was even more stunning than the cathedral's.
An archaeological museum offers more details about the antiquity of the city and the region.
The Convitto Nazionale is a sprawling, castlelike building in the Piazza Dante. It once housed the 19th-century Law School of Teramo and the Liceo Classico. The neighborhood around the palace is a mix of old buildings, modern apartments, and cobblestone streets, several of which lead to a stunning vista of rolling green hills and verdant countryside, part of the valley in which the city is located.
Above all that sits the Gran Sasso mountain range.
On Saturday mornings, the town turns into an outdoor market. Hundreds of vendors line the streets with products ranging from food and all manner of clothing to toys and appliances. Residents from Teramo and the surrounding towns turn out to walk, talk, and shop.
Of all the items for sale, my personal favorite was a child's T-shirt, white with red and green piping, that offered this sage piece of advice: "Se le mamma dice no, chiedilo alla nonna." (Translation: If your mother says no, ask your grandmother.) It works in any language and with almost any ethnic group, but on this trip to the city of my wife's late grandmother - a short, lovable woman with a ready smile and a big heart - it was especially poignant.
On Sunday mornings most stores - with the exception of some bars, cafes, and restaurants - are closed, but by midafternoon the town is again alive with families strolling, talking, and sampling gelati. Even more residents are out for the traditional la passeggiata on Sunday evenings.
We stopped at the Caffe Grande Italia on the Sunday night we were there. We were looking for a drink after the huge family dinner we had had that afternoon. The bar/pastry shop is located on the Piazza Martiri della Liberta, behind the cathedral and at the start of the Corso San Giorgio, a central location for all that is happening in town.
The tables were crowded with local residents who appeared to be doing exactly what we were. The waiter arrived with our drinks and a tray stacked with food, a sampling that every table in the place received no matter what they ordered. For a total of eight euros (about $10), we got our drinks, six mini-slices of pizza, eight assorted mini paninis, six squares of frittata, and two small bowls of an Arborio rice salad mixed with chopped ham, cheese, peppers, olives, carrots, and tuna.
When we asked for a second drink, the waiter returned with another tray of food, which we politely declined. He laughed as he walked away. Crazy Americani.
There is something about Italy that warms the soul, a way of living that seems based more on the senses than on concerns about what is sensible. We found that in abundance in Teramo even without the caggiunitti.
They're for next time.
Teramo is about 90 miles east of Rome. We stayed overnight in the Eternal City, then caught a bus - the ticket was about $20 - from the Stazione Tiburtina to Teramo, arriving at the Piazza San Francesco in a little more than two hours.
The trip offered a view of the Italian countryside that is often lost on tourists who head for Florence, Venice, Tuscany, or the Amalfi Coast. The bus traveled the autostrada, through tunnels under the mountains. There were three stops at towns along the route, and the passengers and conversation provided another great experience.
We stayed at the Hotel Sporting, a recently modernized, six-story structure across the Ponte San Francesco from one of the arched portals to the walled old city. A stylish room with bath was about $140 a night. Breakfast in the hotel's restaurant was part of the price. The buffet spread each morning included lunch meats and cheeses, pastries, bread, cereals, yogurt, assorted fruits, butter, jams, mineral water, orange or blood-orange juice, and latte, cappuccino, or espresso prepared on request by a smiling barista.
Our room on the fifth floor had a glorious view of both the city and the mountains in the distance. From the hotel it was a short and easy walk to the old city, where we would begin exploring.
- George Anastasia
Contact George Anastasia at email@example.com.
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