10 June 2014

Calcata: visiting an eccentric village

Last month I took a trip from Rome to visit Calcata, a medieval hill village which was abandoned in the twentieth century before becoming a kind of bohemian artists' colony. It's a picturesque little place which you can read about here: www.italyheaven.co.uk/lazio/calcata.html

Though there's frankly not a great deal to do if you get there in the morning with hours to while away before lunch, as I did, photographers, cat-lovers and artists will find ways to pass the time. I found a viewpoint on the edge of the crags where I sat in the sun. One little dog ran around town. Countless cats prowled or dozed or dived through broken hoardings into abandoned caves (possibly hunting or possibly escaping the little dog). A kitten learned how to hunt by pouncing on its mother's tail.  Pigeons were everywhere. Calcata has around 70 year-round inhabitants, and the cats and pigeons must outnumber them massively.

As the morning wore on, two or three other tourists turned up to wander, and businesses began to open. These are mostly artists' studios selling everything from found items to jewellery, from hand-crafted knick-knacks to paintings. A sign directed me to an oracle, who appeared to be closed for the day.

This is a charmingly eccentric place. I've visited other hill towns where the flow of tourists has led to rows of souvenir shops, upmarket galleriess and facilities for coach tours. Calcata is still endearingly ramshackle. What it lacks in careful restoration it makes up for in atmosphere.
I lunched in a highly eccentric cafe crammed with art, antiques and curiosities. The proprietor - clearly a colourful character - is a film actor-turned-artist, and the walls were covered with stills from his films (including  "Lo Stallone", "The Stud") and his own artworks. The waitress put together a vegetarian piadina for me, poured a generous glass of wine and offered up some gossip about the owners of some of the village's cave-houses. In the bathroom a giant ceramic tiger stared at me, and a cluster of chairs suggest that one could invite one's friends in as an audience.
Caffè Kafir
On the slope overlooking Calcata I followed a pleasantly rural footpath towards the new replacement village. There were more caves here, carved into the soft tufa rock. Some were overgrown with weeds, others were used as garages. Cockerels crowed and the air of countryside peace was remarkable; there are no cars in Calcata Vecchia and few even driving past.

In the afternoon, waiting for the bus, I enjoyed a delicious and refreshing iced tea and a cake on a gorgeous roof terrace up steep steps from a tea room, La Sala, where two ladies played cards. I could have sat there for hours in the sunshine looking out over the green wooded valley and hills, but the bus was due. Another eccentric bathroom filled with decorations, another interruption to the card game as I paid, and then it was time to leave.

Lemon and strawberry cake with iced tea at La Sala

On my return journey I had to board the bus without a ticket (I literally had to sprint for the bus at Saxa Rubra that morning and didn't have time to purchase a spare). I ended up travelling back to Rome for free, as the friendly driver refused to sell me a double-price on-board ticket  on ethical grounds despite my willingness to pay ("They're too expensive," he said "It's excessive") .

My article about Calcata is here: www.italyheaven.co.uk/lazio/calcata.html

Stone thrones, Calcata