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Regatta time on the Grand Canal

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We were tempted to stay on, but it was time to move into the Abruzzi massif, one of the least-traveled areas of Italy. It is an official refuge for wildlife, with a huge national park covering a great deal of the area. As we drove through the mountain villages, we were charmed to find authentic hill towns without boutiques. Real people lived, worked, and skied in the area. Many of the older women still dressed in long black native dresses.

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About two miles outside of the town of Scanno, on what seems to be a small crater lake, we discovered the Hotel del Lago. There, for around $30 we had a lovely double room, dinner, and breakfast before we pushed on up the mountain to Scanno. It was a Sunday, and there was a church memorial service in the main piazza in honor of the war dead. It was difficult to realize that the dead they mourned had fought against us in World War II.

Then it was time to head across southern Italy with a stop at the famous trulli district of weird white domed houses. Alberobello, around 30 miles north of Taranto, is in the heart of trulli country, and we felt we had left Italy behind as soon as we arrived in what appeared to be a whitewashed African village, overflowing with souvenir stands and shops inside trulli buildings. The residents, who appeared no different than other residents of southern Italy, invited tourists inside buildings to see the interior and, perhaps, to buy some ugly factory-made artifacts. The trulli heritage stems from prehistoric Saracen and Christian civilizations, and the area is a national monument. Too bad the commercialism couldn't have been held down.

Enroute to the Amalfi coast, we stopped in Paestum to see the remains of the 6th-century Greek colony there. The Temple of Neptune, right off the main road, is one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world.

Then it was on to the final festive stop on the trip: the Hotel San Pietro. As you drive a few kilometers past Positano on the Amalfi drive, off to the right you can spot a tiny 15th-century church - San Pietro. We pulled off the road, because there seemed to be cars parked there, and discovered that we had arrived at the entrance. The hotel is almost impossible to see from the road unless you know what you are looking for.

A bellhop led us to a lift, which took us down a few hundred feet to the reception area of the hotel, carved out of the rock. It was huge, open on all sides, with bougainvillea, oleander, and roses growing from every ledge outside and creeping inside as well to hang from the roof.

Our room a few steps down was simple but immaculately clean, furnished with local peasant pieces. And, of course, the terrace - every room at the San Pietro has a private terrace, large enough for sunbathing and breakfasting. The terraces have views of the Mediterranean, Positano, and Praiano.

Rates for suites run from around $300 to $500 a day; double rooms go for around $150 to $200, depending upon season. Meals are about $25 a person, and it is possible to take demipension at some saving.

Afternoon excursions are possible from the San Pietro. We made an especially interesting trip to the Hotel Palumbo, an old palazzo in Ravello where it is said JFK and Jacqueline spent some time. It has a fantastic scenic open-air diningroom. You can walk off the superb lunch in the ravishing gardens of the Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo.

The feast was coming to an end. It was time to go home. But where was the famine? Perhaps another time - but don't hold me to it. Practical information

Both the Gritti Palace and the San Pietro have US representatives. Book the Gritti through Ciga Hotels, (212) 935-9540 or (800) 221-2340. Book the San Pietro through E & M Associates, (212) 755-7220 or (800) 223-9832.