Friday, 8 August 2014

Ferragosto Season.

We arrived in late July in Rome in 2007 with a mountain of luggage I kid you not, we probably had 5 suitcases each plus a large dog kennel for our Reesie who in his old age and deaf had accompanied us to Rome. Arriving on the eve of the great vacation month of August has its challenges for North Americans who are not used to seeing an entire country come to a standstill because everyone is gone to the beach or the mountain.

Fiumicino airport, one of the departure-arrival pods. 

We were met at the airport by my colleague and a small van and an embassy driver. It was afternoon around 4pm and we drove from the seaside where the Rome Airport Fiumicino is located to la Città some 35 Km away. It is very green on the way into the city and there are lots of Mediterranean Pines those famous umbrella pines which gives Rome that special look. The driver took us along the highway and then just after the suburb of EUR we came into the city proper down the great avenue San Gregorio Magno to the Arch of Constantine and the Palatine Hill, around the Colosseum and then up the hill towards the Aurelian Walls. We were in awe, Rome looked majestic as it should. There was also surprisingly little traffic and the city had already assumed that look of summer holiday.

The Column of Trajan 

The Palatine Hill amongst the Pines

Via San Gregorio Magno, on the left the Arch of Constantine and on the right the Colosseum.

When we got home to our new digs which was down Via Nomentana outside the walls at Via Asmara the neighbourhood had the look of being deserted, everything was tranquil, all the stores where shuttered. My colleague explained that with Fer'Agosto approaching the only stores open would be on reduced hours and the rest would remain close, so if we wanted anything it would have to wait until September 7 when school starts again and everyone gradually returns to the City. It is the same tradition everywhere else in Italy.

Just 10 years prior another colleague who had been on posting in Rome explained how during this period if you wanted fresh milk and eggs or bread you had to make arrangements with farmers around Rome who supplied clients in the City. The philosophy of all this was that everyone deserves a vacation and why not in August, the only problem is that everyone in Italy is on vacation at the same time. Meaning crowded highways, beaches and country resorts, many also visit the family in the Paese (village) where they come from.

So our first summer in Rome was spent exploring a neighbourhood which was deserted and quiet. There was one restaurant opened near us I Limoncini on Via Del Giuba and it was pleasant to have dinner in the evening.
We started to discover Roman and Italian cuisine specialty, much of it being seafood, veal chop, young lamb chops and various pasta dishes unknown to us. Limoncini's specialty was spaghetti with a delicate lemon sauce. With time we became friendly with the owner, his wife and son Cristiano.

The shopping streets around us like Via Libia or Via Tripoli or Via Eritrea all the shops were closed, what a sad sight but when life came back in early September we were even more surprised to see so many shops. You can tell by the name of the streets that this neighbourhood was build between 1925 and 1936 during the prosperous years of the Fascist Era, the streets bear the names of the colonies of Italy in that period. The architecture is in the brutal modern style re-calling the Antique Roman style.

I would go to work, walking down Via Nomentana to Via Zara where my office was a good 15 minute walk but always pleasant, the streets are lined with tall old trees forming a green canopy. Since this street as always been outside the walls of the city it was lined with great suburban villas and parks, once owned by the wealthy families of Rome. Today many have been converted to other uses but the parks surrounding them are just as beautiful as always.
I passed a park in Villa Paganini and noticed that the grass was growing tall, indeed even city municipal services were cut back. It would be tended to in September when the city workers would come back.

This was 2007 by 2008 things had changed, the holiday period started around the 5 August instead of a week earlier. The economic situation in Italy was not good and people cut their vacation short.
Then in 2009 the date was pushed back to 10 August and the rumour was that many did not leave the city at all but hid in their apartment, the shame of having to admit to your neighbours that you could not afford to leave the city for 3 week vacation with the family. I am told that this year only those who can really afford a vacation leave the rest will take 8 days which is the period between 10 to the 18 August. Fewer shops close, many do not close at all but operate on reduced hours.
The economic situation is such that life has become difficult for the majority.

During our period in Italy, we travelled to the Adriatic to the province of Le Marche, to the birthplace of Rossini, the beach resort of Pesaro where each year at the time of Fer'Agosto there is a Festival dedicated to his operas.  It is along the lines of what you see in Salzburg but on a reduce scale but nonetheless of the highest quality, we are in Italy and Italians do not joke with opera, it's serious business.
The web site:

Pesaro is a easy drive from Rome on the highway A24 then E55 in 3:30 hrs. We would usually stop in Ancona for lunch and then complete the road trip passing Fano on the way following the coast line of the Adriatic.
As the years went by with the economic crisis, it was much easier to find hotel rooms for the week.
Pesaro is a small town, it was once at the time of Rossini part of the Grand Duchy of Urbino and then a Papal State. Rossini left early in his career he could not stand the suffocating atmosphere of being under the Papal thumb. He spent most of his long life in Paris becoming fabulously wealthy in the process.

My favourite house in Pesaro, pure Art Nouveau on Piazza della Vittoria.

Pesaro being a resort town its business as usual and you will find many expensive designer stores, there is obviously a lot of money in Pesaro. Like Rimini just a few minutes north it attracts many wealthy Europeans and the beautiful Art Deco Villas are rented or sold to catered to that crowd.
Strangely in winter the city is deserted and most hotels and businesses are closed. Those who do remain open offer room rates of 40 Euros a day while in the summer it would be around 120 Euros and up which usually includes breakfast and sometimes half board. There was one Hotel owner who had a monopoly on 5 hotels in town. We stayed in two of his hotels, they were typical Italian hotels, by this I mean they were decorated with the owner's own personal touch. One was the Alexander Museum Palace Hotel, art work everywhere even in the rooms and bathrooms, all very modern. It is not to everyone's taste.

The web site:
The owner is an eccentric Italian aristocrat Count Alessandro Marcucci Pinoli di Valfesina or Nani for his friends, formerly an Italian Ambassador to Bolivia and now Honorary Consul of San Marino. He is pictured half submerged in a suit and tie in the endless pool, an eccentric marketing ploy which works well in Italy but would not work so well with North Americans who might think he was daft.

He owns other hotels like the Savoy and the
Hotel Gran Vittoria we enjoyed this hotel for its old charm and central location.
Evening on Piazza del Popolo in Pesaro

One of our favourite bars in Pesaro for il aperitivo.

How much we enjoyed those summer holidays in Pesaro.
This year no Pesaro but Stratford Ontario, with friends, it will be just as much fun.

Here is a clip from one of my favourite movie about Ferragosto.

Buon Ferragosto a Tutti!



  1. and this year we will have you and someone to be part of the party for Ferragosto.