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06 October 2009
The pros and cons of going off the beaten path
expect the unexpected

golden hour in Mondavio
golden hour in Mondavio

Part one: Fossombrone
It started out harmlessly enough.

One of our many maps helpfully pointed out all the castles in the area. We'd seen the remains of a castle high atop a hill each time we passed by the town of Fossombrone. So it seemed a reasonable enough quest to try to get to the top of the hill and check out the castle, right?

But, let's face it, one doesn't seek out the offbeat in Italy in an attempt to be reasonable.

Here's how it actually went down: We drove to Fossombrone, less than half an hour from our agriturismo in Piobbico. We stopped for a quick bite, figuring we had a bit of a climb ahead of us, and poked around town for some signage to indicate which way to the castle. None to be found. So we headed up the first staircase we could find. Which took us to yet another set of steep stairs. Which led to, as best we could fathom, someone's front yard. Still no signage, and no visual indication that we were heading in anything remotely resembling the right direction. So what else was there to do but keep going up?

the uphill journey begins   …and continues   …and may never end   ok, we're at the top of the hill, now what???

It was at this point in the program that I miiiiiiiiight have gotten a little cranky, perhaps a tad petulant, maybe even just the slightest bit whiny.

Now, faithful readers, you all know how much I like going off the beaten path, yes? But I'm not a big fan of trudging around with no payoff. And this was threatening to be a deadend, with an excellent Stairmaster workout thrown in to boot. We stopped to ask a denizen of Fossombrone, in our broken Italian, where's the castle? She paused from her stair-sweeping for a moment, considered the request, and pointed skyward. Right. Keep going up.

the goats are just as surprised to see usLong story short, we did eventually reach something vaguely resembling a castle, but only after climbing about a trillion stairs and crossing through a yard with goats in it. Yes, goats. I was sure we were about two steps away from encountering an angry farmer with a shotgun, but no other human creatures appeared on the hilltop. Apparently we were the only ones silly enough to be up there. And it soon became obvious why, as the "castle" turned out to be a private residence constructed among the ruins of some former castle-type structure. Bummer! There were some lovely views of Le Marche atop the hill, and a delicious breeze. But other than the satisfaction of completing what we started, the Great Fossombrone Castle Caper turned out to be a bit of a bust.

there's the, ehm, castle
there's the, ehm, castle

It did set the tone for the rest of the day, though: expect the unexpected.


Part two: Cartoceto & Mombaroccio
right. closed in the afternoons. we get it.noooooooooo informationOur next stop was Cartoceto. One of the items on our short list was a visit to an olive grove, to see how Italian olive oil is made. And according to Ashley, Cartoceto is one of the premier producers of olive oil in the region. So we set off there next, and arrived in town in the early afternoon. After stopping for a couple of ridiculously overpriced sodas (ouch! you expect that in a place like Venice, but not in this nondescript town in the middle of nowhere!) we poked around looking for the tourist information office. Which turned out to be closed. Of course. Foolish mortals, it's the afternoon! Why would anything actually be OPEN? There was nobody else around town, save for the overpriced soda vendor who could only shrug and tell us it wasn't olive season. So once again we took a moment to gaze at the scenic hillside, olive groves gleaming just out of reach in the sun, and got back in the car.

Cartoceto olive groves
Cartoceto olive groves

There was another town along the way called Mombaroccio that had seemed promising. The map promised another castle, as did the roadside signs. And indeed it was a cute little walled city, but there was nothing else to see and nothing going on in town. Another strikeout!

Part three: at long last, Mondavio!
Just as things were looking bleak, we found ourselves in Mondavio, a town known for its gigantic medieval trebuchets. Our only prior experience with trebuchets had been the kind that fling flaming upright pianos at Burning Man, so we were intrigued.

wonder if you could fling a flaming piano w/this…?Mondavio's Rocca Roveresca and trebuchetsAnd, for the first time all day, we were NOT disappointed! Mondavio's trebuchet collection stands in a courtyard under the watchful eye of the Rocca Roveresca. The trebuchets themselves are fun to check out, and pretty unique even in a country that's chock-full of cool medieval/renaissance sites. But the Rocca Roveresca was an unexpected treat. We were prepared for it to be closed for the day or for the season, but the helpful lady at this tourist info office whipped out a set of keys and let us in. Schweet!

oktapodi guards the Roccamedieval dumbwaiterIt was worth every bit of the eight-euro admission price for two tickets. A masterpiece of the Tuscan architect Francesco Giorgio di Martini, Mondavio's Rocca Roveresca houses a collection of weaponry and armor, sports fabulous views of the Metauro Valley, and has lots of fun passageways to explore. OK, some of the wax dummy scenes were a little cheesy, but there's nothing wrong with a little cheese from time to time.

stellar views of the Metauro ValleyWe practically had the place to ourselves, so we took our time wandering the halls, checking out the refurbished dining rooms and creepy torture chamber. From the windows at the very top, we got some magnificent vistas of the surrounding countryside. And one last glance at those kickass trebuchets in the courtyard below.

To top it off, as we were heading out, another splendiferous sunset was about to begin. We were treated to a golden departure from Mondavio, and a dazzling drive home, as the sun painted the hills impossible shades of purple and red. Ahhhhhhh, that's the stuff! Sometimes going off the path is rewarded, after all.

dazzling drive home
dazzling drive home

Rocca Roveresca, Mondavio

Ufficio Turistico Pro Loco IAT Mondavio
+39 0721 97 102

* flaming piano tossed by trebuchet (video)
* browse all Fossombrone/Cartoceto/Mombaroccio pics
* browse all Mondavio pics

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