Gambassi Terme is the kind of town that if you were cruising by in a car, it would easily pass you by and fade into the insignificance as just another small thoroughfare. Luckily for us, we were on foot. Gambassi Terme was the end of day one of our hike, and like most Italian towns, was at the top of a hill. It was a classic case of The Tortoise and the Hare, with me (the hare) not quite having the stamina to get up that hill, while those leisurely enjoying the day passed me by and crossed the invisible finish line first.
The town was relatively quiet and our B&B squatted next to the town square. In true European fashion, there was noone at the front desk and so we took a moment to catch our breath on a bench while communicating in broken English and terrible Italian to those around us. Finally, we were let to our rooms, pretty standard quarters with the added bonus of a shower that was situated over the toilet. I’m certain it’s a prerequisite to encounter at least one of these on any sort of overseas trip you take.
Dinner was to be served at the restaurant beneath the bedrooms, and to be honest I was expecting a rather hum-drum affair. We had a few hours to ourselves before our meal, and set out to explore the limited town that there was. Next door was a dry cleaners, with a lovely and smiley young woman, who we asked very politely to do some of our washing for us. She had it cleaned, dried and neatly folded within 2 hours and only asked for 7 euros! I just had to give her 10, and even then she seemed very embarrassed and said it was unnecessary.
The dry cleaners was next to a gelato store that also sold alcohol. You could buy wine by the glass and take it across the road onto a leafy green park, where we sprawled on grass and benches in the sunshine. A half-moon shape barrier separated the square from a drop below, at which there was a beautiful view across the hills. We could see the town we would walk to the next day, and that was very comforting to know it was that close!
We sauntered back to the restaurant, which was cramped with other walkers and loud locals. Teenagers played and joked loudly in Italian behind us in the street, moving out of the way of the occasional car. As had become tradition, we began the meal with a round of Aperol Spritzers. And then. Wow. Any idea of hum-drum cookery I had flew completely and utterly out of the window.
Because here, in this tiny, dot-speck on a map town, an array of gastronomic delights were about to be laid before me and turn Gambassi Terme from so-so to amazing. This little restaurant beneath a B&B where a shower sat over a toilet is where I had one of the most amazing meals of my life.
Beautiful ribbons of meat cascaded over antipasto plates with crunchy squares of bruschetta. The softest tagliatelle in a saffron and mushroom sauce sat beside a fall-apart-in-your-mouth duck ragu. Panchetta wrapped beef was garnished with slivers of white truffle like shavings of parmesan. Full to the brim as we were, tiramisu followed and it was pillowy and creamy and chocolatey and everything that a dessert would be.
Looks can be deceiving, don’t judge a book by its cover and all those other mantras that are spouted to remind us that we can still be delightfully surprised all united in this remote Italian town and cemented Gambassi Terme as a place I wouldn’t forget.
As we would head off in the early morning the following day, I was rejuvenated and ready, with a skip in my step as we headed down the hill.