A Perugini Day
Saturday, September 29
Saturday dawned as yet another beautiful and sunny day in Southern Italy, marking what had turned out to be essentially seven straight days of very warm and dry weather. The arrivial of the weekend also reminded us that our time in Bella Italia was drawing to a close.
I had penned an objective to try and include both my mother and my Aunt Rosetta in one of our out-and-about activities. With time growing short, I proposed such a day today. I suggest to my mother and to my aunt that we take a drive up Montevergine, and perhaps sample a new restaurant that had recently opened up at the Sanctuary. And, if things went well, I thought, we could try and extend our journey a little farther. Happily, both my mother and my Aunt Rosetta accepted, and we agreed to leave mid-morning.
First, though, we wanted to find a way to make such an outing as easy as possible for my mom, who was finding that her back was getting quite sore if she walked any distance. Our solution, we thought, could be found at the nearby market.
Folding chair search
The Avellino market is held twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, in the large parking lot of the Avellino stadium. Since my Aunt Rosetta's house is literally fifty meters from the stadium, it is a simple matter to walk over, which over the years my mother and my aunt have frequently done. We were in search of some sort of folding chair; something portable that we could take with us, and which we could deploy at a moment's notice if my mother needed a sit-down break. We searched in vain for quite some time, walking the length and breadth of the many lines of stalls. Only at the very end of our walk, as we were about to head back to the house, did we find a folding wooden chair for fifteen euros. Mission accomplished.
My grandmother's street
With the chair issue settled, we set off, heading for the base of Montevergine. I wanted to get a little bit of extra first-hand history out of my mother and my aunt about their time as children growing up in Mercogliano, so we detoured a bit to drive through it [Mercogliano] on our way.
I first had my mom and aunt describe the general location of the Perugini farm that was located just east of Mercogliano's town center. From this farm, my mom recalls, they watched the allied bombing raid on the city of Avellino back in September of 1943. Unfortunately, the exact location of the farm is now covered in houses and buildings, so there wasn't much to see.
Next we drove into Mercogliano itself. My mom and Rosetta confusingly guided us up and around in various directions, finally arriving at an old cobblestoned street. They pointed out a half-gutted large orange building. "This was our mother Elvira's family's house", they said, and they recalled visiting here as children. Sure enough, on a plaque inset into the house, was a plaque reading "Albergo Sensale" - my grandmother's maiden name. It appeared as if the building was undergoing a complete renovation. Probably some internal history was being lost, but at least the building would live on.
Old Sensale Residence
With the historical tour of Mercogliano finished, we began the twisty drive up the highway that leads to the Sanctuary of Montevergine, high up on the mountain's east face. As we drove up the winding road, we pointed out the many spots where the Sentiero dei Pellegrini
trail crossed - the very trail that Elvira and I had climbed five days earlier
My grandmother's street
We arrived at the sanctuary shortly before noon. This was of course much too early of a lunch-time for my Aunt Rosetta, so I took the opportunity to suggest that we continue on past the Sanctuary, along a road that seemed to lead upwards into the forest-covered slopes above. I didn't know precisely where the road went or how viable it might be. An adventure with my mom and Aunt, that was how I looked at it.
Sanctuary of Montevergine
We slowly made our way up the road past the sanctuary. The surface became cracked and uneven - less kept, and the grade much steeper. We climbed up steep switchbacks, entering a beautiful thick, dark section of forest - which especially impressed my mother.
After about ten more minutes of steep uphill climbing, we reached a crest and started descending. Remembering the PDF map of the Partenio park that I had downloaded weeks before, I realized that we were entering an area of highlands behind the tip of Montevergine. I slowed the car to a crawl, for two reasons: the first was to keep my mom and Aunt as happy and as comfortable as possible, and the second was to drag out our little wandering drive, so that when we returned to the sanctuary, it would be somewhere near the commonly accepted time for lunch.
We came across a disabled car, with a man fretting about nervously under the hood. He flagged us down, and I managed in my less-than-perfect Italian to understand that his engine had lost all of its coolant and was overheating. Fortunately for him, I had brought along several litres of drinking water. He was surprised but grateful when I offered it to him, and carefully we poured all of the contents of my water bladder and nalgene bottles into his car's coolant overflow reservoir. I then told him that if he could get his vehicle up these few hills to the crest, he could then easily coast down practically the entire mountain on the other side to a place where he could get his car looked at.
After helping the stranded motorist, we descended down a few more broad switchbacks through pretty open-understory forest. The road then flattened out and opened out into a large open meadow, surrounded by gentle wooded hills. My mother and my aunt were quite intrigued by this location, but did not recognize it.
My aunt asked us to slow enough to read a small trailsign near the meadow's edge: Campo Maggiore, it read, and with that, my Aunt had a sudden flash of recognition. She had heard of this place, Campo Maggiore, but had never ever been here.
My Aunt seemed quite delighted with the idea of exploring a new place. I found it amazing that never once during my Aunt Rosetta's eighty-seven years living in Avellino, she never once happened to visit here - a spot that was perhaps only fifteen as-the-crow-flies kilometres away from her house.
Sisters at Campomaggiore
In any case, Campo Maggiore was indeed a beautiful little spot, tucket peacefully away amongst the highest peaks of the Partenio range and away from the hustle and bustle of the populated valleys around it. It actually didn't feel very mountainous up here because we were already situated near the highest elevation in the park, so the land did not rise up all that much higher from where we were - and we had no views down into any of the surrounding valleys to spoil the illusion. The only thing that spoiled the bucolic scene was refuse that was strewn about here and there. Someone really should be doing a better job of cleaning up, and whatever lazy visitors are leaving their trash everywhere should know better.
It was a beautiful day out - sunny, gently breezy, and with the heat of the day much reduced by our higher altitude (the meadow sits at about 1330m / 4400 ft). I encouraged everyone to get out and relax for a bit. The folding chair came out and made a very successful debut. Both my mother and Aunt Rosetta seemed pleased to be here.
Elvira, Mom, Rosetta
After posing for a few pictures near the edge the forest that ringed the open meadow, we returned to the car and decided to return the way we'd come, back towards the Sanctuary of Montevergine. By my calculations this would work out well, for it meant that we'd be back there roughly at 1:15pm - likely an acceptable lunch time for my aunt.
As it turns out, the sanctuary's restaurant was quite busy, causing us to have to wait another twenty minutes before being seated. Perfect!
The verdict on Il Santuario (the name of the restaurant) was A+. All of us enjoyed our meals (I and my mother had gnocchi, and my sister and my aunt had some sort of pork and salad dish). My aunt was especially impressed, and thought her dish was perfectly prepared.
Leaving the Sanctuary
With our sightseeing and lunch both successfully completed, we made our way back across the Sanctuary's courtyard to the parking area, and we made the short and twisty drive back down the mountain to Avellino.
Avellino from above
We arrived back at my Aunt's house at 3:30pm, in time for the usual mid-afternoon siesta. In the evening, we did nothing of particular importance. All in all, a nice, simple relaxed day. And we were successfully able to include my mom and my aunt Rosetta - something that I was pleased we'd be able to do.
Interactive Trackmap, Campo Maggiore Drive - click map to view