Roccascalegna, a medieval hamlet in the central, wild Abruzzo region, is leasing its stunning fortress for weddings, cocktail parties, birthdays, anniversaries and other once-in-a-lifetime events for a giveaway price.
Mayor Domenico Giangiordano is hoping to use the recently refurbished castle to liven up his depopulating town and turn it into a €100-a-time (about $114) niche location for lavish celebrations.
Known as the Castle in the Sky, the 700-square-meter venue features a chapel for weddings, a tower to host evening cocktail bashes and former dungeons and torture rooms for candlelit dinners and business brunches.
Spotlights illuminate the uphill, craggy stone steps and inner gardens. The battlements have protruding iron balconies, glass floors and slit windows that overlook a verdant canyon — an idyllic background for sunset photo sessions.
This is no ordinary Italian hilltop hamlet.
Roccascalegna’s castle shoots out of a shard-like horizontal basalt cliff. The rocky outcrop sits between flower meadows dotted with olive trees and barns.
It’s a peaceful slice of heaven.
In the quaint village below, where peculiar purple fig trees and tiny pomegranate bushes sprout from massive rocks lining the streets, you’re more likely to come across strutting hens than people.
Roccascalegna’s sleepiness belies a troubled past. Over the centuries it’s fallen prey to barbarian invasions, enemy troops and pirate incursions from the coast.
The area was ominously known as Death Valley. Now it’s seeking redemption.
“The castle, abandoned for ages, was a ruin where sheep and dogs slept,” says Giangiordano. “Look at it now — it’s a gem.”
Despite the area’s beauty, Roccascalegna hasn’t attracted the attention of the tourists populating other parts of Italy in their hundreds of thousands.
There are just a few bars and B&Bs. Old stone cottages have been given a makeover while a few crumbling ones are on the market at €20,000 (about $22,000).
The overhanging castle can be reached by foot only, which makes the venue even more exclusive.
There are no roads leading there. Cars are parked at the entrance of the village and guests need to climb old donkey trails made of rough stones carved from the hill’s jagged rocks.
To facilitate access the mayor is offering to help as wedding planner. There’s also transport and logistics assistance with public minivans placed at guests’ disposal.
Giangiordano can also coordinate catering services with premium local products. Guests should prepare to have their waistlines destroyed — the rustic local food is delicious but high in calories.
No high heels
Specialties on the party menu include pallotte cace e ova (meat balls with grated Pecorino sheep cheese and eggs), Pizza Scima, (a white wine and olive oil flat bread), arrosticini lamb skewers, fiadone ricotta cheese pie and crespelle sweet-and-sour waffles.
Pane porchettato, a large bread dough stuffed with boneless pork roast, is a recipe patented by a grandmother who runs the village bakery.
She also makes traditional local wedding cakes such as taralli, huge sugar-powdered biscuits shaped like a princess crown that are gifted to the bride and guests.
If there’s a catch, it’s the dress code limitations. The hike to the castle can be tough and brides would struggle to make it to the altar in a long-train wedding gown.
Trekking or running shoes are highly recommended. Barefoot, even better. Even donkey hooves have been known to get stuck in between the rock steps.
“One couple couldn’t stop laughing,” says Marcello Giangiordano, the castle’s keeper and guide and no relation to the mayor. “The bride was wearing a long silk pink dress and peep-toe stilettos. The groom, barefoot, swept her up in his arms and carried her all the way up to the altar.”
Those who make the climb are rewarded by breathtaking views and lungfuls of clean air.
Rock arches lead to the banqueting hall, a former cellar where armies stacked food during sieges. Inside the prison tower, lights shine in former medieval toilet seats.
Finger foods are served in spooky rooms showcasing torture objects. The underground dungeons are shaped like Dante’s Inferno: the nastier the crime, the deeper the cell.
The venue comes with its own guest. It’s said to be haunted by the headless ghost of Baron Corvo de Corvis, who enforced the evil medieval right of sleeping with all newlywed village girls until an angry husband stabbed him to death.
For centuries the baron’s bloody hand print stained the castle walls. His armor is on display, without its helmet.
“Ghostbusters have slept here: they heard the baron screaming, running around like a madman,” says Marcello.