The first time I heard of this place it was via a long and twisted connection. A Spanish colleague, living in Scotland, sent me an article, from an American magazine, about some special place in Italy, little more than 1 hour drive from Martina’s home town.
It sounded so amazing we were surprised not to have heard about it, despite having lived nearby for more than 20 years. But this is a painful proof of how little we know sometimes of what surrounds the place where we live.
So, in occasion of a visit to Italy, we jumped on a car and drove to Nervesa della Battaglia, the location of “ai Pioppi“, the legendary and secretive osteria.
But what is so special about it? Is it the simple but tasty traditional food? Or the relaxed and festive atmosphere of the outdoor area? Yes, sure, all of that, but what dragged us there all the way from Sheffield is its amusement park. During the past 45 years signor Bruno, the restaurant and land owner, spent his spare time building an amusement park in the forest he calls his garden. This is probably what people did before the Internet.
And I’m not talking about some DIY swings and slides, I’m talking proper roller-coasters. The park is big and the rides are partially concealed in the trees, so that you are never quite sure of the size of it. Sure it is impressive and, thinking that it has been single-handedly built by a hobbyist it’s rather unbelievable.
Even the most hazardous attraction is not powered by electricity: you have to push or pedal your way to the top and let gravity do the rest. If you don’t dare that much there are also simpler rides… even though climbing a 10m high slide or hurling yourself down a slope sitting on a little unstable metal sheet might be pretty hair-raising.
How can Ai Pioppi be still open is a mystery to me. Maybe it’s because the park is private property and people use the attractions at their own risk, maybe it’s some loophole in the Italian legislation or the generally lax attitude and subjective interpretation of laws, that this time turned a blind eye on this free-for-all clever creation and not to the usual multi-millionaire developers.
This park seems to be located in another era. It can be reached only by car (or by bike) in an area that is not densely populated and very green. Town and street names are suggestive reminders of war, mapping like scars the whole territory.
Here in a rare place where fun comes without electricity, mobile phones are forgotten in their pockets and adults forget to be adults competing with children on the metallic colourful creations of Bruno.