Every time I’ve visited Atri it’s been a wonderful experience. The town seems to have everything you need to encourage wandering around and discovering something new.
Atri is blessed with the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta containing the frescoes of Andrea de Litio, the panoramic views of the Adriatic and the surrounding countryside and the calanchi. Add to that plenty of places to stop and have un cafè or un gelato, the market every Monday and a perfect location that puts the sea and the mountains in easy reach – Atri is well worth repeat visits.
We were back again in August and we were treated to a particularly special visit. P and I were being shown around Atri by friend of ours who lives in Dublin but is originally from Atri. M was back visiting his family and friends and very kindly took time to meet us and show us around.
I’ve visited and written about Atri before. When we have friends or family with us who are new to Abruzzo, visiting Atri is always high up on the list of things to do. But this time we were on our own, being shown around by an expert who was able to share with us his local knowledge.
If there was one unfortunate element to our visit it was that the day was overcast and visibility wasn’t that good. That meant that the stunning views you can often get from Atri would have to wait for another day.
But that didn’t stop us from seeing the calanchi. These are erosion furrows that are typical of the area. Here comes a bit of geology – they are caused by a combination of rainfall, the softness of the clay and the odd landslide. I took a picture of a house on a ridge outside Atri with the characteristic calanchi falling away below. It looked a bit precarious to me.
M told us about the ancient names of the town (Adria, Atria, Hadria, or Hatria) and the close connection between these ancient names and the Adriatic. Although it’s very possible that the Adriatic got its name from Atri there is a debate. The town Adria, in Veneto also claims this distinction. But I bet the honour should go to Atri.
As we wandered around the town visiting the 14th century Acquaviva Palace, the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with its many frescoes, M told us about some of the specialities of Atri.
Pan Ducale comes from a recipe dating back to 1352 based on eggs, sugar, flour and almonds. It has a few variations and my sweet tooth gets drawn to the Pan Ducale Prestige as it is filled with chocolate cream and a cocktail of liquors.
The other foodie product from Atri is liquorice. Now I’m not really a fan of liquorice but I really liked what I tasted in Atri. Perhaps I’ve only ever tasted a poor imitation before. I also tried a liquor based on liquorice and I really liked it. I came across a reference to the calanchi also being called Concio della Liquirizia referring to them as being a source of the liquorice plant.
Moving back into history we discovered that the family of Emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus AD 76 – 138) came from Atri. This is the Emperor who ordered that a wall be built in Northern England back in AD 122 to protect Roman territory from its unruly neighbours.
M had one more surprise for us. We were invited to his parent’s home in Atri for lunch. This was a real treat. I always feel it’s an honour to be invited into anyone’s home for a meal and I was thrilled at the prospect of tasting traditional foods from the Teramo province.
We met M’s, mother, father and brother and had a wonderful lunch. A mixture of Italian and English was spoken at the table as we enjoyed several dishes based on local produce. Everything was fantastic but I think the highlight was a type of vegetarian lasagne that I think was called either a timballo or timpano, but I may have got that wrong.
Getting to know the M’s family was a wonderful experience. As we chatted we discovered that apart from being an excellent cook, his mother is a teacher, who in her spare time is also an artist who paints and has published a book of poetry. That’s impressive.
About a week later two friends of ours from Switzerland were visiting Atri and I tagged along. As we explored the town I was able to impress them with all the information I had picked up the previous week. Grazie M.
Just to show you how good those views from Atri can be, here you can see some photos I took on a relatively clear day in June 2009.