From East Lothian to Italy: How one Scottish family have gone back to their roots to create a foodie haven

A Scottish-Italian family from Cockenzie in East Lothian are preparing to turn their ancestral home into a new travel destination for food and wine lovers.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 12:51 pm
Picture: The Di Ciacca family
Picture: The Di Ciacca family

The Di Ciacca family – Cesidio, Selina, Sofia and Giovanni – have left East Lothian to go back to their roots to launch I Ciacca in Picinisco. This historic region is situated between Rome and Naples, and is also home to the ancestors of Doctor Who actor, Peter Capaldi, and pop star, Lewis Capaldi.

Where to stay

As one of the newest Italian foodie travel destination, I Ciacca offers accommodation in Sotto Le Stelle – a boutique hotel with six individually-styled luxury guests suites.

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Picture: Picinisco

Translated simply as ‘Beneath the stars’, Sotto Le Stelle is set within a former Bishop’s Palazzo built in the ancient walls of Picinisco. The collection of one, two and three-bedroom suites benefit from private balconies or dedicated terraces with elevated view over the Comino Valley and the family’s olive groves.

There’s also a historic farmhouse cookery school, indigenous grape vineyards, state of the art winery, and single estate organic olive grove on site – all set amongst the picturesque Comino Valley in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park.

Taking the family name, I Ciacca has been established as an ‘Albergo Diffuso’. This innovative concept of hospitality is helping to breathe new life into the small, historic Italian town of Picinisico and its surrounding countryside.

Historical buildings have been restored across the village, heritage vineyard re-cultivated and local farm produce revitalised, in order to bring seasonal food and drink and authentic Italian hospitality back to this region of natural beauty.

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Family history

For over 500 years, I Ciacca was home to generations of the Di Ciacca family, and famed for its excellent farm produce and wine. Over time, members of the family left, emigrating to Scotland, England, France, Canada and America.

In 1969, the last of the Di Ciacca family to live there died and the village was abandoned. Now, almost half a century later, this third generation Scottish-Italian family has returned to resurrect the lost hamlet.

The Di Ciacca’s family heritage of quality food, hospitality and culture is well known in Scotland today. Cesidio Di Ciacca, the older brother of the Edinburgh restaurateurs, Carina and Mary Contini, grew up with his siblings above the family’s ice-cream shop in Cockenzie that was founded by his grandfather in the 1920s.

Foodies of Edinburgh may recognise Cesidio Di Ciacca’s sisters - Mary Contini is the Director of Valvona and Crolla and Carina Contini owns Contini George Street, Cannonball Restaurant & Bar, and The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant at the Scottish National Gallery.

I Ciacca will draw on this food and hospitality heritage, and be a place to teach and learn, with the new farmhouse cookery school offering tailored courses and experiences for guests to find out more about local agriculture and gastronomy.

Courses include: beekeeping, foraging, and how to make traditional cheese, artisan bread, pasta and olive oil – each accompanied by English speaking hosts.

I Ciacca’s organic natural larder is brimming with a range of speciality produce, including the family’s very own single estate cold pressed extra virgin olive oil made with Picinisco olives.

Cesidio Di Ciacca, said: “100 years since leaving to come to Scotland, we’re immensely proud to be putting Picinisco, Val di Comino, back on the food lovers’ map with the launch of I Ciacca.

“I Ciacca was home to generations of the Di Ciacca family for over 500 years. By breathing new life into our family’s forgotten hamlet and the town, we’re now able to offer a new generation of food and wine enthusiasts the chance to experience authentic Italian hospitality in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

“Our family’s heritage of quality ice cream, food and hospitality since 1920 in East Lothian is still to be found Scotland today, including some of the best restaurants, cafes, delicatessens and wine merchants in Edinburgh.

”From I Ciacca we organise food and wine tours to learn about genuine local foods from pasta, pizza, cheese, prosciutto and other cured meats, to our own olive oil; and let’s not forget wine – especially our very special Maturano.”

The Di Ciacca family is also working with one of the world’s top winemakers, Alberto Antonini, to produce a new range of speciality organic wines made from their own Maturano grapes – a unique, indigenous variety from Picinisco, almost lost and only recently brought back into commercial cultivation.

For more information on I Ciacca, and to book, please click here.