Me & Vincenzo
Villa Maria , Minori
I flew into Napoli direct from JFK New York. I stayed at a hotel in Napoli for one day before heading off to Minori and Villa Maria Agriturismo Lemon Farm. So I had a littel breakfast at the hotel, and I headed over to the train station to catch the Circumvesuviano local train that runs from Napoli to Sorrento and makes stops at Pompeii, Castelamre di Stabia, and all the coastal towns along the way.
It took about one hour and the train arrived at Sorrento where I would catch a bus from here to Amalfi, the end of the line. I would then have to take another bus for a short 15 minute ride from AMalfi to the center of Minori.
The bus arrive in Minori, I got off and went to the nearest and best caffe in town, the Pasticceria Cagge Gamberadella. I asked the lady if I can make a telephone call to the place I was staying. I told her I was going to Villa Maria, and the lady said, “ah Vincenzo!” She was very kind and she made the call to Villa Maria and told then I was at the caffe. The lady hung up the phone and told me that someone would be down to pick me up in 15 minutes. I thanked the lady profusely for making the call from me, and she said, “niente,” meaning no problem, it’s nothing.
I got a gelato (Crema di Limone e Pistachio) and sat around waiting for my ride. About 20 minutes later, Mr Vincenzo Manzo arrived in his little white Fiat Panda Station-wagon to bring me up to Villa Maria. We threw my bags in the car and it was off to Villa Maria. The ride was a little scary, but I’ll get to that at another time.
So we made it up to the Lemon Farm and Vincenzo brought me to the dining room to meet his wife Maria, his son, and daughter Nadia who I was emailing back and forth and she made the reservation for me to stay there for 3 days. Vincenzo gave me a picture of Lemonade that I was dreaming of ever since I say the video on Youtube where I luckily mde the discovery of Agriturismo Villa Maria two weeks prior when I was just looking at videos to get me excited for my upcoming trip to Sicily and the Amalfi Coast. I came across the wonderful video that David Rocco had made of Maria Vincenzo and Villa Maria . I savored my Lemonde, we chit-chatted for about 15 minutes then Vincenzo asked me if I wanted to go to my room. I did, and Nadia brought me there and showed me everything. It was a gorgeous little room, and I just loved it.
I started unpacking some clothes and then took a nice refreshing shower. I got dressed then when out on to my private terrace to look at the view and take everything in. Needless to say, the view was spectacular, looking to the sea and the town of Minori below and the town of Ravello up and to my right as gazed out onto the Tryyhenian Sea ahead. The Lemon Farm of Villa Maria is up in the hills of Minori a t its highest point, and the land is a natural amphitheater. The slopes are lined with terraces of the many thousands of Lemon Trees that make up a large part of the farm but not all of it. Vincenzo has Olive Trees nd naturally makes his own olive oil, as well as having grape vines by which he makes his own red and white wine. They have Peach and Apricot Trees by which the make fresh Jam, and of course they grow all sorts of other fruits and vegetables that are part of your breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So I gave out over the farm, out to the seam to Ravello and the town of Minori below. everything was wonderful, and I felt quite lucky to be there. After enjoying the beautiful scene before me I walked back toward the restaurant area. Vincenzo spotted me and asked me if I would like something to eat. Hell Yeah, I thought but didn’t say that, but replied, “Yes Please.” Vincenzo asked me if I wanted some Pasta. This statement was part question and part command, if you know what I mean when someone ask you a question in that way. Again I said yes. He didn’t say what kind of pasta, and I didn’t ask, no need to, I knew it would be good. Vincenzo pointed to a table out on the terrace if I’d like to sit there, and so I did.
I made myself comfy and Vincenzo asked if I’d like some wine, “yes,” again. “Red or White,” he retorted. I told him I’d have some white wine. A minute later Vincenzo brought me over a bottle of his Villa Maria Rosso local red wine. Then a picture of water. I poured myself some wine, sat back and enjoyed the beautiful view as I waited for my plate of pasta.
When I say that I knew the pasta would be good, that was the understatement of the decade. The pasta was Great with a capital G. Reading my diary of this trip, it says “I just ate the Best Pasta of my life! I kid you not.” Yes, Vincenzo’s wife Maria made me what may very well be the best pasta dishes I’d ever had in my life. The pasta in question was a plate of Paccheri al Frutta di Mare (Seafood Pasta). Paccheri are a favorite pasta of the area, they are big short tubular maccheroni that are perfect for catching all the tasty little buts of shellfish, including Shrimp, Mussels, and Clams with little bits of fresh Cherry Tomatoes from the garden. Wow, the pasta was perfect and the Vincenzo’s wine wasn’t bad either. It was without question one of the best lunches in my entire life, why wouldn’t it be, with such elements as # 1 me being in Minori on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I’m at one of the most fabulous places anyone could dream of, in Villa Maria a working Lemon Farm on the Amalfi Coast, not only one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, but also, thee number one best spot for growing lemons in the world, and here I am on a lemon farm in that area, with one of the coolest loveliest person you could ever want to meet, and I’m here having Vincenzo have his wife making me the most incredible Pasta Dish Ever, (Recipe ) and I’m sitting at a table up on the Amalfi Coast, sipping wine that Vincenzo made right here on this farm, and I’m looking down upon the lemon farm, and down to the lovely town of Minori and out onto the sea beyond, with Ravello off in the near distance. I ask you all, what could possibly be better than all this. Not really much in my book.
These was just the beginning of a wonderful 3 day stay at Villa Maria. It all started off with the affable Vincenzo Manzo picking me up at Caffe Gambradella, taking me on a slightly harrowing ride up to his property, giving me a pitcher of fresh Lemonade made with the World’s finest lemons from his lemon farm, introducing me to his family, and having his wife make me the World’s Best Plate of Seafood Pasta on God Good Earth and all this was in the first 3 hours of a three day stay at Villa Maria.
After my unforgettable lunch of Paccheri di Mare, I went back to my room for a few minutes to get my little travel bad together with my camera, diary, pens, and what-not and I was headed down into the town below. I walked down to the center of Minori walking partly on the road, side walks, and alleyways. Along the way with the view changing as I walked, I took about a 100 pictures as I made my down from Vincenzo’s farm up in the highest part of Minori and down to the center of town, to the sea at sea level below. There were lots of wonderful things to see along the way, like little shrines of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary or both, all the little homes, Olive Tree and Lemon Groves, Ravello above, and the sea below. It was wonderful.
I reached the town, and began to explore, looking at little shops selling the famous local Ceramics, antiques, clothing, and what-not. I checked out the local caffes and restaurants to see where I might want to go during my 3 day stay in Minori. I went into the towns main church, the Basilica of San Trofimena.
Even though I had that tasty plate of pasta that Maria made me, after all the walking I was still just a bit hungry, so I bopped into a nice little salumeria (Italian Deli) that I came upon. I went in, and asked if I could get a panino. I asked the girl for some local Salame, and pointed to the Provala Affumicato that I spotted. She sliced a little of both and put it onto a nice panino roll and gave it to me. This was quite a discovery I can tell you. That tasty Salame combined with delicious local Smaked Provolone (Provala Affumicata) was a combination that just blew me away. I was smitten. Smitten by a simple little Italian sandwich. But it was the simplicity and fine quality of the Salame, bread, and cheese that mde for one of the most wonderful sandwiches of my life, and a sandwich that after tasting this one, I would order several more of this same combination at salumerias in Positano, Amalfi, Capri, and Sorrento.
So I had a nice little time exploring the town of Minori, but it was now almost 6:30 and I needed to catch the little town bus up to Villa Maria to get ready for dinner, at 8:00 .. I took the little mini-bus that leaves from the Municpal Hall across from the Basilica, and the bus left me off right by Villa Maria. From the road it’s a shor little walk up hill to the main house and my room at Villa Maria. I said hello to everyone as I got back, and Vincenzo asked me to confirm if I was having dinner. Of course, this was one of the main reasons I came here, to eat 4 course dinners of dishes made with products from their farm. I went back to my room to freshen up, take a shower, and get dressed for dinner, and so I did.
All dressed for dinner, I left my room and walked from my room and 50 feet along the terrace pass the 5 other rooms until I came to the terrazzo of the restaurant. The tables were outside on the terrace, but I would learn on my stay here 3 years later that it can be slightly cold sometimes in May, and that time Vincenzo had us eating inside on the 2 days I stayed at Villa Maria in 2018. More on that for another time, this is May 2015. Vincenzo pointed out my table out on the terrace, overlooking the farm, the town, and the sea below. Again, quite the gorgeous spot, and as I had my lunch out in the bright Mediterranean Sunshine, it was now twilight time and the Sun would soon be going down.
I sat down and Vincenzo brought over my un-finished bottle of wine from lunch. The six lovely rooms at Villa Maria all have names not numbers, and my bottle of wine had a name tag of my my room, a nice little touch. I poured some of the wine into my glass and took a sip of it. A few minutes later, Vincenzo’s son brought me my antipasto course. It was an Antipaso Misti consisting of; Caciatorini (Salami), Vincenzo’s homemade Prosciutto, grilled Zucchini, homemade Cheese, and marinated Eggplant. Needless to say the antipasto was excellent, made with Vincenzo’s homemade Salami, Prsociutto, and Cheese, and vegetables grown on his farm. And oh yes, his own olive oil as well, let’s not forget that.
The antipasto was excellent, and Vincenzo’s homemade wine was going down quite nicely, when Vincenzo brought me a plate of Fried Zucchini Flowers, a specialty of the region, they were stuffed with some of Vincenzo’s homemade Provala and they were superb. As I ate them, I thought of my good friend Pat Parotta, I had written in my travel diary, that knowing Pat and enjoying many meals with him, I knew this was one of favorite dishes, I I knew he would love to eat these here at Villa Maria on the Amalfi Coast of Italy.
Vincenzo Jr. said his mother Maria made some homemade Ravioli and that would be next. “Yumm,” I thought to myself silently. The Ravioli came, ad you know they were delicious. They were filled with eggplant puree and cheese and dressed with fresh Sugo di Pomodoro (tomato sauce) with tomatoes from their farm and cubes of fresh made Mozzarella sprinkled on top. Yes, my previous thoughts of “Yumm,” were spot-on,and I kept sipping the tasty local wine, “Farm o Table Dining doesn’t get any better or fresher than this.
I ran out of wine so I asked Vincenzo to bring me a bottle of Vino Rosso. He did. Vincenzo’s red wine is quite tasty, made of a local grape called Piedirosso. After these three dishes, I had a grilled Pork Chop served with a Salad of Lettuce & Fennel, it was quite nice.
After the main-course they brought me the tastiest Fruit Salad that I’d ever had. It was made of the freshest Cherries, Watermelon, and Kiwi. Dam it was good. As I ate this, probably the best Fruit Salad I’d ever eaten, I thought that if all the catering halls in America served fruit salad like this one, the dish would not be so maligned as having the bad reputation that fruit salads have at so many wedding all over America.
As I sat there eating the tastiest fruit salad ever, Vincenzo came over and asked if I wanted some Limoncello. Well I sat there thinking to myself, how could anyone ever come here to this gorgeous lemon farm, in the World Capital of Lemons, and not get the homemade house Limoncello? The answer to Vincenzo’s question was a solid, “Yes.” of course.
Now, if I didn’t have enough “Best Ever’s'” already on this trip, the next morning another was about to occur. I got up, took a shower, ad made my way to the breakfast room (same as dinner). I put my diary, pad, and guide books on my table and walked over to the breakfast buffet table, and “Wow!” The table was filled with fresh fruit, coffee, juices, toast and about 6 different homemde Fruit Jams, and a enticing array of sweets, including the local favorite pastry Sfogliatelle, and Maria’s homemade Lemon Cake. Did I say “wow!” Yes I did. I dug in and I wasn’t shy, I got my coffee and fresh OJ, and I filled up two plates with pastries and the Lemon Cake, with toast, Cherries and Apricots. I took everything to my table, and guess what? I was once again in “7th Heaven,” for this was without a doubt, easily the most wonderful Breakfast in my entire life. Again, there’s the view and just being here on the Amalfi Coast, with my Cornetto, Coffee, Maria Lemon Cake, and Sfogliatelle, “My God,” what did I do to deserve this? I guess I’ve been a good boy, and God was rewarding me no doubt. To say the least I was loving every minute of it, and didn’t want this breakfast to end. I went back and got seconds, even making myself a tiny little Panino with the Salame and Fresh Cheese on the table.
I sat there savoring my coffee and all the goodies on my plates. I read my books and plotted the day ahead, taking notes of the ferry timetable and places I wanted to check out. After and hour and a half, I finally and oh so reluctantly I left the table.
Excerpted from my forthcoming book, POSITANO – Capri Napoli The Amalfi Coast.
This excerpt may not be reproduced or used in any manner without the permission of the author – Daniel Bellino Zwicke …
This story to be continued in, “A Day in Positano.”
by Daniel Bellino Zwicke
The WORLDS BEST BREAKFAST
All Photos Copyright DANIEL BELLINO ZWICKE
My Bottle of Wine
And a partial View from The Terrace, looking to RAVELLO
At VILLA MARIA
View from TERRAZZA
At VILLA MARIA
That’s RAVELLO in Upper Right Corner
The FEAST of 7 FISH
MARIA’S PACCHERI d’ MARE RECIPE
POSITANO MINORI The AMALFI COAST
MY 1st Lunch at Villa Maria
PACCHEri FRUTTA di MARE alla MARE