The next morning, we got out of bed hoping to find that the old center of Cosenza had hopefully reopened overnight. We packed our bags and left them at the hotel, and walked across the river under which Alaric (the sacker of Rome) is supposedly buried with all of his booty.
Our first stop was just past the Duomo at the Gran Caffé Renzelli, which has been open since 1800. I was really wanting to try their eponymous “Gran Caffé”, which is made with a shot of espresso, whipped cream, and an egg liqueur called vov.
The Gran Caffé turned out to be served in three layers in a champagne flute. Very cute, but perhaps more of an after-dinner coffee than a breakfast coffee? The baristo was very nice, and when he found out that Husbear was studying cucina italiana in Florence, he asked if we would take him to Texas in our suitcase.
Since we had already exhausted all of old town Cosenza’s sights the night before (those being basically limited to the duomo, which had an enormously impressive presepe/nativity scene set up), we had already determined that we were going to walk up to the top of town to see the ruins of the Castello, built originally by the Saracens but refurbished by the Swabian Frederick II, who has left buildings and towns all over southern Italy.
It’s really really high up. That’s the drawback of putting your castles where they have a view and all…
There’s not much left of the Castello once you get all the way up there. This area’s been victim to lots of earthquakes in the last 1000 years or so, so the entire second storey is gone along with many of the walls. What’s left is some of the foundation walls, a few rooms with bits and pieces of Norman arches and embellishments, and a beautiful central courtyard.
One of the strangest things we found was a small spiral staircase cut into the rock of the walls that led from a hole at about ground level to another hole ten feet up or so.
(To be fair, Husbear was actually the one who found it – he’s much more likely than me to follow strange staircases.)
Having pretty much exhausted the possibilities inherent in a big old ruin (like, wandering around and taking pictures and pretending to storm the place) we wandered back down through Cosenza’s maze of old streets towards lunch in a restaurant in Piazza del Duomo.
Calabria Bella is a restaurant that serves a good array of Calabrian food, and since we were only going to be in the region for a couple of days, we decided to check the place out.
Totally empty when we got there… low season is so strange.
We had to go for the Calabria Bella antipasto – I mean, look at that list of food! When it arrived, the plate was enormous. This probably could have been a meal for one of us.
It had the two Calabrian specialties we had been angling to try – rosamarina, a spicy fish paste (the red stuff spread on the bread in the center) and ‘nduja, a spicy pork fat and chili sausage. It’s on the ridiculously tiny cracker. Along with those things, there were several different kinds of fried meatballs, a selection of local cheeses, a few cured meats, and some fried bread. Delicious and probably overkill for two people.
(Though we see Italians ordering these enormous antipasti all the time, one each! I don’t understand it.)
We only ordered one primo pasta, the cavatelli with mussels and beans (cavatelli con cozze e fagioli). It was served in a bowl of thick tomato sauce and was really good – I don’t think I’ve had a dish like it. Very stick to your ribs, and not particularly strongly flavored. The mussels were done just right.
And a mixed salad on the side. Finally, we broke down and ordered one. A serious craving for fresh vegetables had settled in.
It was a mixed salad, actually pretty nicely put together. Meaning it didn’t have corn in it. Thank god.
For afters, I asked the waiter our usual question about digestivi locali – local after-dinner liqueurs. He got very excited and brought three, and actually didn’t charge us at all, which was unexpected and nice.
From lightest to darkest, they are cedrata (based on the fruit Jews call etrog), amaro del capo (a bitter liqueur that tastes strongly of cinnamon) and liquirizia – a liquorice liqueur! I definitely like liquorice in this form more than I do in candy form… but that could be said of a lot of things. Like… beef. (I’m sick, and thus heavily medicated right now.)
We then gathered our things from the hotel and went to Cosenza’s tiny Stazione Centrale, served only by Ferrovaria della Calabria trains, to make our way to Scigliano. The train turned out to be only one heavily tagged car about the size of a school bus.
The views out of the little train on the trip to Scigliano were spectacular, though – high forested ridges looking more like West Virginia than like anywhere else in Italy.
We didn’t really know what to expect getting into Scigliano, which turned out to be a really tiny town magnificently set in an open valley looking out towards the Mediterranean.
We called Raffaele, the owner of the B & B we’d be staying at, and he came to pick us up at the station. On the one-minute drive back to the place, he apologized repeatedly but said his wife, Esther, who normally takes care of running the B&B, had returned to Amsterdam to visit her family and that he wouldn’t be able to make breakfast in the morning.
Eh, no problem. He went on to tell us that the nearest restaurant/pizzeria was 4 kilometers outside of town, and he could give us a ride there but we’d have to walk back since there aren’t any taxis around. Alternatively, he said, there were a couple of bar/caffes and an alimentari (small grocery store) about 1 kilometer away, and he could show us how to get there.
Well, we did want to be in a small Calabrian town… right?
We decided to walk down to the alimentari and pick up some food, admiring the small churches of the pretty little town along the way.
We found some strange wooden fences and palm fronds and a false well built along a residential street running behind the church, and were confused until we figured out that a live Nativity scene had been set there for the previous few nights.
The dinner we put together was strange and spicy – some ‘nduja and rosamarina, along with pickles and a giant loaf of hearth-baked bread with some of the strongest crust I’ve ever tried to chew through, and green apples and a couple of types of interesting-looking local provolone cheeses.
And a bottle of local Ciró white wine to drink, at a whopping 2 euros and ninety cents.
Busting into one of the two cheeses, we discovered that we had somehow managed to buy a whole stick of butter with a cheese coating. What the hell? Has anyone heard of this? I’m not sure what the point is, though perhaps it helps to preserve the butter longer?
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that that cheese was tastier than our other selection… and tasted like fresh wonderful butter…
After that calorie-fest, what could we do but go to bed? Tomorrow, Scigliano!