Pesaro-Urbino, Marche Region, Italy and the Secret of Youth

5 Jun

It’s the last leg of a five-month odyssey and after our family and friends reunion weekend in Devon we’ve gone our separate ways. Stuart to Austria to test motorcycles on the the winding roads of the alps while I’m in Italy staying four nights with my gorgeous flamenco friend, Francesca. We met at the annual Festival de Jerez two years ago and last year Francesca spent her summer backpacking in Australia with a stopover with us at Laurel’s Farm in Pottsville.

In writing this I am fully conscious of my responsibility to choose my words and images wisely. It has been a rare privilege to step into Francesca’s life. As a highly respected and published doctor of Italian literature and now a high school teacher in the humanities program of a good school, Francesca is a well-known person in her home town. Everywhere we go people greet her, many of them past students or parents of students.

And home for Francesca is Pesaro, a thriving town of 90,000 people by the Adriatic Sea. Close to Bologna and Rimini, Pesaro is the quieter cousin of the three. It’s twinned administratively with its medieval counterpart, Urbino, (population 90,000) just 34 kilometres away.

On my first evening after asparagus risotto at home we attend a concert of Mediteranean music in the nearby hilltop village of Novilara. The event was to be outdoors in the castle grounds however rain forced us into a restaurant (which just happens to have been built by Francesca’s great grandfather, the family name is still on the wall) where they’ve cleared half the room and arranged some chairs. Diners stay at their tables to enjoy the show or leap to their feet and dance when the urge overwhelms them. The musicians are two multi-talented men, Giovanni Seneca and Gionni de Clemente, and a voluptuously beautiful young singer, Anissa Gouizi with a pure contralto voice. Alternating between classical guitar, bazouki, mandolin and oud we are treated to songs from across the broad sweep of the Mediterranean Sea, Sephardic, Greek, Arabic and Flamenco. Bliss.

School is still in session so I am free to wander around town next day. The number of people of all ages cycling is staggering. Bicycling is clearly the preferred mode of transport here, especially for over sixties. Combined with their diet of fresh fish, olive oil, pasta, locally grown vegetables and fruit, plus red wine, these people live long and well.

Pesaro cops on their beat.

It’s time to mention one reason Pesaro is so well known amongst the musical cognoscenti. Gioachino Rossini (29 February 1792 – 13 November 1868) was born here. Yes, that Rossini, composer of 39 operas and countless other musical pieces, including possibly the most popular opera of all time, ‘The Barber of Seville’. 

Rossini was just a child when he left Pesaro with his singer mother to live in Bologna as his (horn playing) father was jailed as a political prisoner. Rossini never again lived in Pesaro, but he had a lifelong soft spot for his birthplace. When he died in France a very rich man, a portion of his estate was bequeathed to Pesaro to create a Conservatorium of Music. It is this conservatorium I stand before listening to the strains of a viola floating down from a room above me as I watch young musicians come and go. The annual Rossini Festival in August is a huge event with many of the performances staged in the nearby Rossini Theatre.

Next day is the national holiday commemorating the day in 1946 that Italian citizens, by referendum, decided to exile the monarchy and become a republic. A perfect day to visit the UN World Heritage town of Urbino (population 15,556) for a walking tour of the fortifications, the wonderfully preserved medieval Ducal Palace, the cafes and the paved streets of this tidy town. 

The best tour guide in Italy.

Inside the Palazzo Ducale

By Gaetano Lapis.

Another of Italy’s revered sons, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known outside Italy as Raphael, was born here in a narrow-fronted brick house on a steep street. One his best works, La Muta, is on display in the Ducal Palace. Age has not dimmed her pale beauty. I find her hands mesmerising. But lunch calls and our noses lead us to a galleria tucked behind the main street where Michela and Renato have created a bio buffet that today is totally vegan, including the red wine. Madre mia!

La Muta

Back at Pesaro’s seaside for sunset we stroll at high tide past a forest of umbrellas with deck chairs lined up precisely in formation ready for the summer onslaught. About 500 euros will secure you two deck chairs, a small table and an umbrella for the season. I spy one such already claimed, the parents have tied their bag of toys to the umbrella in readiness. To Australian eyes this seems odd but on talking with Francesca it starts to make sense. The summer holidays are long, the beach is close to home but parking limited so families will want to walk or bicycle to the beach. Bathroom use is included and the beach bar is handy. Families share the cost by taking turns and over the course of the holiday they get their money’s worth. The fees trickle back to the city council. There are stretches of unclaimed sand either side of the umbrella forest, mercifully free of litter and the sea is clean.

Every 100 metres we pass a lifeguard station and we’re lucky enough to meet two life guards just clocking off duty. Enrico and Christian look like they stepped out of a Peroni calendar. Enrico spent three months in Sydney so we joke about the differences between Sydney and Pesaro beaches.

Early evening brings out lovers, dog walkers and families pushing their toddlers in strollers along the wave break wall protecting a small harbour. Fishermen hope for a catch for dinner. We have a choice of two bars for aperitivo. Dopo Sole proved an excellent choice. Our five euro cocktail includes, not just the usual nuts and crisps, but a myriad of fresh tapas, vegie for me, seafood for Francesca. It is enough for dinner. This is how they do it in Pesaro!

Time passes slowly and contendedly in Pesaro, people are anticipating summer holidays and the many, many clothes shops tempt with their swimsuits, sandals and bright, casual wear. The small fresh food markets for fruit, vegetables and fish are quiet compared to those we see in France and Spain, but the cafes are full.

Beach cafe El Cid has live music nightly. The quartet included a very smooth, handsome singer – in his late seventies – crooning American ballads. Sadly I don’t have a photo of him.

A random lunch stop at Trattoria da Sante while Francesca is teaching proves to be a gem. Attentive waiter service, tasty penne all’Arabiatta and cauliflower on the side with a local Sangiovese all for a tiny price. The single men lunching there made me smile. Entering alone they take a two-person table and orient themselves towards the TV screen high on the wall. They place their order, leave a jacket to claim their spot, then go round greeting friends and acquaintances and within half an hour all the tables are filled with single men watching the news and sports highlights while simultaneously eating their meal, napkins tucked into their collars, and leaning across to converse with their male neighbour.

Food of course is central to Italian life and I eat well every meal. One dinner in particular stands out. A flamenco friend of Francesca’s, Serenella, has just that day returned from visiting her daughter in Japan where she has settled with her Japanese husband and children. Serenella makes it three for dinner at Wabi Sabi, a tiny Japanese restaurant run by an elderly Japanese gentleman and his Italian wife. Francesca has heard that this restaurant is the third best restaurant in all Italy. Certainly their wakame salad and vegetable tempura is top notch and the service impeccable.

A lazy Saturday morning, an afternoon drive through the San Bartolo Nature Reserve to Santa Marina Alta for the coastal panorama with a lunch of piadines at Fiorenzuolo Di Focara and a 360 degree view from the ‘Roof of the World’, before returning to where we began, Novilara. First another marvellous dinner then a concert of India ‘raga’ music (musicians: Partho Sarothi, Stefano Grazia and Paolo Giaro) then it’s time to pack for the long trek back to Brisbane. I wonder when next I will be serenaded by piano music in the bath tub?!

My mementos of this visit include the secret to a contented long life; cycling, an Adriatic diet, good friends and music.

A popular stop for cyclists riding the coastal road to top up their energy with a hazlenut and ginseng drink. Author Dante Alighieri mentions lovely Fiorenzuolo Di Focara in one of his books.

Novilara at dusk.

The nonna in charge of the BBQ at the Osteria del Giogo in Novilara is in her eighties and simultaneously fans the charcoal and turns the meat with her bare hands. Mama mia!

This first trip of the year has been amongst the best ever, starting with our sailing week on Skyelark 51 in the Carribean, skiing the Dolomiti, our week at Skay’s Camp and the Bhandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in India, a road trip in Rajasthan, opera in Vienna, a Provencal idyll and walking the Picos de Europa. Spending my last days with Francesca was a beautiful gift. Grazie mille bella Frani!

One Response to “Pesaro-Urbino, Marche Region, Italy and the Secret of Youth”

  1. Heather Watt June 5, 2016 at 11:50 pm #

    What a wonderful five months you have had but i am sure you are looking forward to seeing everyone at home and we are looking forward to seeing you both too. Safe travelling.

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