There is a constant struggle when traveling with three young boys to, among other things, find excursions that are both fun for the adults (well, just me really) and fun for the kids. Catherine says that I am too selfish to plan activities that are only appealing to the kids which is absolutely not true sometimes true pretty accurate. But the medieval village of Civita di Bagnoregio, teetering on a crumbling hilltop perch in a wind-eroded valley, is a perfect example of a trip that is fun for everyone. And located only a 45 minute drive from the rustic stone house in Umbria where we were staying, it was an easy decision to go. The village is known as il paese che muore (the dying city), because the raised ground on which it is was built has been slowly disintegrating over the centuries, accelerated every few hundred years by a major earthquake (the last one was in 1695). Having recited these facts to my sons, in the hope of expanding their knowledge and peaking their interest in the trip, their logical conclusion was that there must be dragons in this village. So we set off in the car, the kids contemplating whether these dragons would be friendly or if we should bring them some pizza to win them over.
Driving Dad Tip: When arriving by car to Italian villages, always find parking just outside the old centre. Narrow streets, constructed hundreds of years ago to accommodate the barely comfortable passage of two horses, are not meant for cars built to seat seven people. My early expeditions into these medieval hamlets always resulted in me reversing the car out of the village under the disconcertingly critical gaze of the local residents. However, my rule backfired on me in this instance. Of course Civita di Bagnoregio is only accessible to pedestrians and the odd scooter via a footbridge, but the goal was to park as close to the entrance to the footbridge as possible, particularly given our three walking-adverse (or pro-piggyback) children. Instead, I chose a safe parking spot that, unbeknownst to me, was one kilometre away, automatically qualifying me for “least popular person in my family” status, an honour frequently passed around over the course of a roadtrip. Catherine, burdened by the weight of Hatcher on her shoulders, could barely contain her criticism as we passed the five other parking areas, each significantly closer to our destination than where I parked. But the views upon arrival quickly erased the groups’ collective frustration. And the kids, seemingly forgetting how tired they were for the last 15 minutes, scurried down the stairs to the footbridge.
The crossing to the old city was uneventful and several dozen selfies later we passed though the main stone entryway and onto a street that funneled visitors into the main piazza. The perimeter of the piazza featured a striking church that started life as an Etruscan temple hundreds of years ago, and several weathered stone buildings. A few cafes dotted the perimeter of the piazza – which made this an ideal location for a sneaky coffee and, most importantly, for the kids to run around hunting for dragons. Fortunately the city was not inundated with tourists as it is reputed to be in the summer months. Which is good because the tourists that were there weren’t particularly impressed by our boys’ wild screams and shrieks. “Guys, can you use your indoor voices?” “But dad we’re outside.” “Uh, yeah, ok hmmm good point”. So we implemented Plan B (one of our favourites) and simply pretended that these weren’t our children. To support this illusion, every once in a while I glanced their way, muttering “where are those boys’ parents” in a disapproving tone while watching the nearby tourists nod their heads in silent agreement. Unfortunately, this plan backfired when Hatcher ran up to me yelling “dad, I have to wee, where’s the toilet!”
For a tiny village, with only seven permanent residents, there were plenty of restaurant options – at least a one-to-one restaurant to resident ratio in fact – which was certainly convenient if you didn’t want to dine with any of your neighbours. We were a bit dubious given that these places clearly catered to the tourist crowd and picked Osteria al Forno di Agnese, a restaurant with rustic, outdoor garden seating and a tolerant looking waiter, the rationale being that at least we would be in a nice setting, even if the food wasn’t perfect. Like most restaurants in Italy, they accommodated our request for plain pasta and butter for our culinarily unsophisticated children. Catherine and I ordered a local cheese and meat plate and some classic Italian pasta dishes. As it turned out, the food was great, if not slightly overpriced, however given the hassle of getting food into the city, the higher price seemed fair enough.
After lunch I promised the boys gelato. In fact I had been promising the boys gelato all day…I think “bribing them with the promise of gelato” is the correct phrase. I was relieved to see a quaint café carved into a rock wall, which peaked my interest because their gelato was ricotta cheese-based. It sounded amazing (to me) and I ordered four small chocolate cups of gelato…or at least that is what I thought I was ordering. It turns out it wasn’t gelato at all, but actual room temperature ricotta cheese covered in chocolate sauce, a fact my rudimentary Italian did not pick up. My enthusiastic pitch to the kids didn’t work. I even got them to try it: Huxley deemed it “disgustin’”, Hatcher, the best eater of the bunch, just said no thanks, and Harry said nothing but I assumed from the gagging that he didn’t want another bite. Even Catherine didn’t like it. So fortified by 4 bowls of chocolate sauce-covered ricotta cheese and Hatcher on my shoulders, I began my descent to the main town and the long, slow walk to the car.