We tore ourselves away from gorgeous Positano to travel to Lioni in the province of Avellino and the region of Campania, the town where my mum was born.
After several frustrating attempts, we managed to organise car hire when we were in Amalfi for visit (thanks Con!), and arranged for a car to be dropped off to us in Positano near our villa. We got a Lancer, about the size of a Ford Fiesta. Thanks Rent Car Point for the great service.
Once again, the Greek came to the rescue driving like a true pro along the narrow, windy, traffic filled Amalfi Coast roads. The two and a half hour trip took three hours, no thanks to Google maps giving us a bum steer (or was it the person sitting in the front seat who didn’t tell the driver exactly when to turn?).
The drive to Lioni was long and a little stressful because we’d missed a few turns and had to back track. When we’d finally arrived we followed the signs to the centre and to be honest, I was underwhelmed. Mum had warned me that there wasn’t much in the town but she didn’t say that it lacked character, inhabitants or any signs of life. For a town of that size (the sign said Lioni had a population of 6,500), there was no one around. It was like a ghost town with shops closed, shutters shut and not even any traffic to complain about. And it wasn’t quite time for siesta…
Lioni was completely flattened by an earthquake on 20th November 1980. The only structures that survived was the base of the church in the main square which has subsequently been rebuilt and the old stone bell tower beside the town’s secondary church. All other buildings in modern-day Lioni were just that, modern. Which explains the lack of character. The home where mum lived as a child was in the foothills out of the town, and that didn’t survive the earthquake either.
With little else to do and our stomachs rumbling, we asked a lady sitting on a chair in front of a closed shop in the main square where we could find a restaurant for lunch. She recommended La Pentola D’Oro, which translates to the golden pan. The waitress joked and said that with the economic crisis, they were renaming to the Aluminium Pan.
It was an unassuming place on the ground floor tucked at the back of a building that looked like a block of flats. There were basic tables and chairs outside and not a customer in sight, just us. Thankfully it was open and the staff greeted us warmly. Perhaps they were relieved that the ghost town had visitors. We opted to sit outside undercover where there was a slight breeze providing relief to heat of the day.
The waitress explained that they couldn’t offer the full menu, they had just a simple menu today and she rattled off a bunch of dishes. I opened up the menu she’d given us and spotted Zorba’s favourite, pasta e fagioli (5 Euro). I asked if that was available and she said yes. Brilliant!
We both ordered pasta e fagioli, Zorba with a red sauce and I opted for the white sauce. Mum had pasta with eggplant and dad ordered pizza without cheese. He doesn’t like cheese and never ever eats it. Quite strange for an Italian, but he’s been like that since childhood when a babysitter fed him so much cheese that he was ill. We also ordered a salad for the table.
The waitress brought out some bread. And some bruschetta, compliments of the kitchen, also some fried suppli, like arancini balls. They also brought out a pizza bianca, essentially a pizza base sprinkled with salt and rosemary. This was all before any of the food we’d actually ordered came out.
The pasta e fagioli was delicious – the pasta was fresh, the dish homemade and every mouthful felt nourishing. The white sauce was made with pureed cannellini bean, and Zorba’s dish with red sauce has some tomato sugo added. Dad enjoyed his pizza sensa formaggio too.
During our meal, the owner / chef came out to check that everything was to our satisfaction. He was an older chap and mum took the opportunity to ask him about her family. His name was Franco and he was delighted that an ‘original Lionise’ had returned to the town – unexpectedly, he remembered her family. As it turns out, his father was the town’s shoe maker that mum visited once per year as a child to get a pair of shoes made, the only shoes she would wear that year. That’s how things were back then in Lioni.
Franco then told the waitresses that mum was from Lioni and they brought out a plate of biscotti and cake, another carafe of local red wine and special hazelnut biscuits that he instructed us to dip into the red wine. More sweet wine was brought out – this time white, as Franco chatted with us. He gave us an old map and postcards to show us how the town used to be. He pointed on the map the area where mum’s family – who were known as the ‘stonemasons’ back then – had their farm. It was true feel-good afternoon.
We took a drive to the area Franco had pointed out and it was lovely to see the countryside. The views of lush green rolling hills dotted with trees and farmhouses triggered childhood memories for mum. It was great to be a part of that day.
If you’re ever in Lioni, I can highly recommend La Pentola D’Oro. Our bill was 55 Euro, for four of us. Needless to say, we left a generous tip – it just felt right to do so.
Car Hire: Rent Point
La Pentola D’Oro
Via Torino, 25, Lioni AVELLINO
+39 (0)827 46102