I think the best road trips are taken with like-minded, dear friends.  My husband, children and I had the good fortune to spend two years in Italy from 2002 – 2004.  One summer, friends arrived from Korea and spent a month at our place.  We rented a mountain house in the Abruzzo region, sight unseen, and set out in two tiny rental cars.

We made it to the town without trouble (OK, the VW Polo got stuck on a hill and the boys had to get out and walk), but couldn’t find the house.  The owner drove up from her home in Pescara, met us at the cemetery and guided us to an Italian paradise.  She’d left us a fridge full of peach nectar and wine, an enormous, round loaf of bread, and her dishwasher.  (My Italian kitchen had a tiny sink, and definitely didn’t have a dishwasher.)  We were thrilled.  That night, the cooks (the husbands!) went out and dropped 40 Euros on lamb spiedini – tiny chunks of lamb threaded onto skewers.  That’s a lot of lamb for four adults and three kids, two of whom didn’t like lamb.

The dads spread charcoal chunks (no briquets in Italy!) along the spiedini grill and went to town.  They made yogurt sauce and a salad of some kind.  We feasted on lamb and bread and sauce and local wine and had tons of food left over.  Two meals later, we still had food left over.  In fact, we ate the last of the giant bread loaf on our way home to Maranola four days later.

We spent four days lounging on the porch swing, exploring local towns, eating all those lamb cubes, walking in the mountains and making music.  One day, we took the cars and drove way up onto the mountainside above Civitaquana, “our” town.  We ended up on a goatherd’s path, complete with goats and herd.  It was a bit scary, for a while, as we worried about turning the cars around at the dead-end dirt path…but we survived.

Another day we drove up into the Campo Imperatore area in the mountains.  “Campo Imperatore” means “Imperial Fields,” and the mountain scenery is just stunning.  You find yourself in a high, Alpine valley surrounded by jagged peaks.  A narrow road snakes through the valley.  Your gaze strays away from the roadway to the Corno Grande, the area’s highest mountain.  Could you climb it?  Is there a chair lift?  (Yes, but we didn’t try either option.)  We walked through the valley, enjoying the cool mountain air.  We talked about retiring up there, away from stress and troubles.

I would bet any amount of money that if you asked my friends what their ideal vacation is, they’d say, “A mountain house in the Abruzzo region of Italy,” and I’d walk away with your hard-earned cash.

It was just that good.

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