Hilly, heavenly il Ciocco

The first time Dave and I attended a conference at il Ciocco was seven years ago, 2008. Mom was with us, so there were five in our party. Instead of renting two rooms, we stayed in a cabin owned by the hotel. It was about a mile from the main site, but it was spacious and had its own kitchen.

il ciocco on barga walk

il Ciocco is in Barga, about 75 km northeast of Pisa

It was also surrounded by feral cats in heat. They howled and shrieked all night, so we kept the windows closed, partly to keep out the noise, but also to keep out the cats, as the windows had no screens. But I digress.

The last time I was here with Dave, four years ago, it was just the two of us and we stayed in the hotel, where the furnishings were like something out of I Love Lucy, circa 1957: a Spartan room with two single beds separated by a nightstand.

This time, Elizabeth is with us, and I assumed we’d have three single beds with maybe two nightstands. However, in the four years since we’ve been here, the hotel has been bought up by Marriott, and it’s been fancified: we are in a beautiful suite where the bedroom has a king-sized bed, two nightstands, a bureau, a table, a chair with an ottoman, and multiple and convenient reading lights. The living room is spacious and has a pullout couch and more chairs and tables and lamps. The bathroom and walk-in-closet are huge, and there are two patios, one outside the bedroom, one outside the bathroom.

Il Ciocco is built pretty much right into a mountain. The road outside the hotel is so steep I swear my feet go through the toes of my shoes when I walk down a hill. I walked up and down hills a few times yesterday, building up an appetite for pizza.

When we were here seven years ago, we discovered that there is a pizzeria next to the hotel. It’s only open on weekend nights, and we ate there twice, and it was the best (wood-fired) pizza we’d ever had. But when we were here four years ago it was closed the whole time.

Last night, it was open, and we went back and enjoyed two pizzas: one with salami and stracchino cheese, which is like a saltier version of ricotta; and one with mushrooms, olives, and artichokes. Even the walk down there was delicious: fresh herbs grow here the way dandelions do in Edmonton.

lavender, rosemary, oregano

From left to right: lavender, rosemary, oregano (with the yellow flowers)

The walk to the pizzeria is lined with oregano, rosemary, and lavender that grows, lush and fragrant. Every time I walk past the herbs, I rub my fingers on them and breathe in the beautiful, heavenly smells.

lavender and roses

Roses and lavender (makes me think of my grandmother on my Dad’s side…)

I have grown lavender and rosemary, but never oregano. I am so inspired, I’m going to start some from seed as soon as I get home.

sunset near il ciocco

Also inspiring: sunset at il Ciocco

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