I have something in common with Italians. I love to eat outside. Whether it’s on a busy sidewalk or a private terrace, dining outside is one of the greatest joys in life. Americans think outside dining in Italy is “al fresco”. Fresco means fresh or cool and is not used when asking to sit outside. Fuori (Foo-OH-ri) means outside and is the more acceptable way to ask for an outdoor table. And that’s your random Italian lesson for the day.
Yesterday morning on our walk, Steve and I just knew we had to get outside. It was an absolutely incredible day that made you just itch for spring. We both had conference calls in the afternoon, so we couldn’t go far. We decided to have a picnic in the great outdoors – something we’ve never done here.
Where to Go?
One thing about where we live – there’s no shortage of gorgeous scenery. Our problem is that we don’t know who owns all of it. We figured we couldn’t just drive to a pretty spot and plunk ourselves down. We’re not sure how Italians feel about sharing the land and property rights and so forth. We decided to go up into a national park area, thinking they would surely have public spaces for our pranzo fuori.
We drove to the visitor’s center in hopes of finding a map. However, it was closed up tight and looked to have an electric fence around it. I guess they figure not many people would be visiting in January. We scouted for a place to stage our picnic, but didn’t find anything suitable. We had seen some picnic tables just off the road on the way to the visitor’s center, so we decided to go check them out. When we were almost to the roadside tables, I saw a small sign that said Col di Paiolo with a picnic table icon on it pointing up the hill. So up we went.
These mountains rise above Anghiari to the northwest. The tallest peak is about 2,300 ft and these mountains are rugged. For hundreds of years, they were the source of the copper and iron that gave Anghiari its prominence as a manufacturer of firearms. There is evidence that even the Ertuscans were present in these mountains. Today they are home to a national park with hiking trails and restoration efforts to reforest some of the land and preserve an old ironwork facility.
Viewed from a distance, they are magnificent. Tall and imposing and filled with evergreens. As you drive through them, you see up close the ruggedness of the volcanic rock, still rich with minerals. Our drive up to Col di Paiolo took us on a goat path of a road that snaked up a hill. We weren’t sure where we were going or how far these alleged picnic tables were, but we persevered. At one point I looked out my window to a vertical drop off down the pine covered hill with not even the suggestion of a guard rail. I squeezed my eyes shut and tightened my grip on the arm rest.
We came into a clearing that was populated with picnic tables. At last we had found our spot. And in late January, we had the place all to ourselves. It was a bit more chilly and shady up there than I had wanted, but it was an incredible setting. This picnic area was set in a pine forest. Pine forests are not dense shade, but dappled shade, so we positioned ourselves so that the sun could more or less find us. We unpacked our modest lunch, let Millie off her leash, and settled in, listening to the light breeze stirring the pine boughs. On one side, we had a view of the mountains and on the other the Tiber Valley and Lake Montedoglio. Lunch was very simple – some pecorino cheese, grissini (breaksticks), mortadella, fruit, and almond cookies. And a crisp Grechetto that we bought at the Antonelli winery last week.
Another day we will return to hike some of the trails that branch off from this idyllic spot. But for this day, we enjoyed the outdoors, the food, the wine, and each other. And Millie got her first experience of a vast area with picnic tables littered with food debris from picnics past. She was in heaven and came home a very tired pup.