Bikes of Pescara – Bici di Pescara

Pescara is flat and the beachfront is long. It’s perfect for cycling year round.

The commercial centre, just east of the railway and bus stations, has a large section of pedestrianised streets (area pedonale). All day and well into the evening, when the weather is fine, this area is filled with people strolling, standing in groups chatting, or slowly cruising to another part of town on their bikes.

I was so pleased to see the range of people from all age groups and walks of life out on their bikes on a Friday evening and throughout the weekend. Going home from work. Meeting friends for a drink. Heading to the beach. Doing a bit of shopping.

No one was speeding and everyone was considerate of the pedestrians, strollers and dogs. And not one person felt the need to wear a helmet.

Would more people hop on their bikes here in Adelaide for those short trips if helmets were not mandatory?

The Slow Food Train in Abruzzo

There’s a striking railway journey that connects the Abruzzo province with neighbouring Molise. This journey is named the TranSiberiana d’Italia due to the evocative and remote scenery of the trip which crosses the Appenines, covered in snow much of the year.

Historic towns, railway stations, mountains, valleys and plains of wild beauty are traversed on a formerly-abandoned railway line. The journeys are organised in major part by the ‘Amici della Ferrovia – Le Rotaie Molise‘ a volunteer organisation created to preserve old trains, promote train modelling, and since 2014, carry tourists on historic routes with themed journeys. Collaboration with the Foundazione FS Italiane (the Italian rail foundation) ensures the train line stays alive.

In 2015, Le Rotaie Molise was awarded a GoSlow prize from Co.Mo.Do (Confederazione Mobilità Dolce) – ‘comodo’ translates as  comfortable –  an organisation that aims to promote a national ‘soft mobility network’ through the recovery of abandoned land infrastructure  such as railways, roadways, embankments and historical paths.

I was fortunate to acquire a ticket to ride on the Slow Food themed train journey from Sulmona to Roccaraso, which is about half of the potential journey to Isernia, Molise.  All of this trip was within Abruzzo.

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The journey began at 9am when we met and departed from Sulmona Station. We returned to Sulmona just before 7pm. In between, we made five station stops along the way. At each there was a degustation of artisan-produced foods such as: cheese from cow, goat or sheep milk; various honeys; traditionally produced and preserved salami; peperoni dolci – sweet peppers; truffles; artisanal beer; porchetta from the black pig, seasoned with fennel and farro; wines of the Peligna Valley; genziana, a locally made amaro (bitter liqueur)  of the Gentian root; various local sweet treats; and polenta.

The train was from the 1930s and had old wooden seats. The trains were used during the 30s and 40s to transport soldiers and supplies. But comfort didn’t matter; the views along the way were breathtaking and I spent little time in my seat, always trying to grab a good photo of the passing beauty. Most of the journey passed through the Parco Nazionale della Majella (Majella National Park).

On board were volunteers of the Amici della Ferrovia to explain anything we wanted to know about the journey or the train. Also on board were volunteers of the Peligna Slow Food convivium to tell us more about the territory we would pass through and what foods were historically (and still) produced in each zone. The passion for all things slow was clearly visible with a large crew of volunteers on hand at the stations as well. The volunteers I spoke with were so proud of their land and traditions, and rightfully so.

The photos below show the scenery, the people and some of the foods encountered along the way.

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If you are planning a trip to the Abruzzo or Molise provinces, check with the Amici della Ferrovia–Le Rotaie Molise and join one of their journeys. Each train ride is different and station stops vary according to theme. A journey’s theme could be artisan beer, local wine, or Christmas. Some trips simply celebrate the art and culture of various villages (borghi) along the route. Even if the train didn’t stop, the territory is unbelievably grand as it passes through Italy’s green heart.

The current calendar of journeys can be found on the Le Rotaie Molise site here. Or send an email Le Rotaie Molise on info@lerotaie.com. Their English is, well, better than my Italian…

Four weeks in Lecce and the Salento

I just finished four weeks of study at the Scuola d’italiano per Stranieri in Lecce, Puglia. The trip was organised through Learn Italian in Lecce, an Adelaide enterprise set up to give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in Italian culture and language through classroom study, cultural events and excursions with Italian speaking teachers and guides.

The city of Lecce is down on the heel of Italy, in a region known as ‘the Salento’. Like all Italian regions, it has unique cuisine, language and customs. Along with a group of other learners from Australia plus learners from Spain, Columbia, US and Egypt, I had a full immersion in all things Salento.

Below is a selection of photos highlighting my time in the Salento. Thanks to fellow student David Bishop for allowing me to use some of his photos here. David has a keen eye; I have noted his photo with the initials(DB) in the caption. Click any photo to enlarge it, read the caption and scroll to the next.

Martano – Kurumuny Festival

We started off the weekend with a cure for jet-lag: Pizzica music and dancing. The 2016 Kurumuny festa was dedicated to Lucia Assunta De Pascalis, a great interpreter of the oral tradition of Salento folk song and protagonist and promoter of the previous  May Day celebrations (Kurumuny).

Il cibo e il vino – Food and wine

Like much of the south of Italy, the diet springs from what was traditionally available. The term ‘cucina povera’ is heard often, but this isn’t what we think of as the ‘food of the poor’. What we tasted used simple ingredients and cooking methods that be achieved by home cooks — and language students! We tried our hand at a few Italian and Salento dishes each week with Cooking Experience Lecce‘s irrepressible Gianna and her sous chef Andrea. Both are also knowledgable about wines and our dishes were always served with a selection of local wines.

Apart from the meals at Cooking Experience Lecce, we had many good meals on day trips around the Salento and in the town of Lecce.

Day tripping

The Scuola d’italiano per Stranieri and Learn Italian in Lecce organised day trips to various places in the Salento and beyond, including: Martano, Otranto, Bari, the Adriatic coast (plus the bottom of Italy, Leuca) , a Masseria (with winery and olive oil production), Ugento, Felline and more. We visited a working farm near Ugento where vegetables are cooked, dried or otherwise preserved for sale. We experienced degustations, meals, local traditions, festivals, fireworks and parades. We danced, ate, drank, chatted with locals and smiled a lot!

Around town

The people of the Lecce welcomed us with open arms. The teachers, baristas and waiters, tour guides and host families alike wanted us to experience life as it is lived year in and year out. They are proud of their heritage, traditions and culture.  This is not a show for tourists. Lecce and the Salento are real. And really fantastic.

If you’ve been considering studying Italian in Italy, I would highly recommend this trip organised through Learn Italian in Lecce. Raffaele is well connected and has a true passion for the Salento. The trip contacts and costs can be found on the website link above.

The teachers and administration at Scuola d’italiano per Stranieri in Lecce, were top notch and I know our group of students felt well cared for, regardless of our level.

Lecce and the Salento will enchant you.

Pescara seafood feasting

Abruzzo’s most populous city, Pescara, has a reputation as a brash new city, however its history pre-dates the Roman Empire.  The Lombards, Spaniards, Turks and French have all attacked or ruled over the centuries.

As a key Adriatic port city, much of the old medieval centre was bombed and destroyed during WWII. It has the appearance of a new city. Luckily, there is a wealth of tradition here and enough of a vibrant young population to put Pescara on a culinary par with better known cities.

The Romans dubbed it Aternum, which was also the name of the river that divides the northern and southern parts of the city. It wasn’t until 12th century that Pescara was known by something resembling its current name – then it was Piscaria, meaning ‘abundant in fish’. I visited in October, after the summer high-demand period when fish stocks are low, so luckily, I was able to taste some of this bounty.

When it comes to the old and the new of food in Pescara, you are spoiled for choice. I was wowed by the few restaurant meals I had and the flavours in one establishment were as edgy as any I have had in the ‘new world’.

Twice I lunched at Berardo Caffé, a big open air establishment at the beach end of Corso Umberto I. The front of the building is a popular coffee, cake and gelato place, and the back, a restaurant with just a few choices and specials on offer.

The setting is modern, but the treatment of the food was quite authentic and true to the region known for seafood.

There was a selection of different vegetables on display and one day I simply needed veggies.  So I indulged in the grilled pepper, zucchini, fennel and chicory accompanied by the delicious homemade bread and a glass of local Ceresuola wine. This wine is rosè in colour but has none of the lolly sweetness of some rosè wines. It is made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape but spends less time on the skin to achieve its beautiful hue.

Another day, I dined with friend Amanda on the timeless classic Frittura di Pesce, a delicately battered then deep-fried mixed seafood dish. We followed with spaghetti vongole (my death bed meal) tossed with fresh cherry tomatoes that had just been lightly crushed. The vongole (clams) at Berardo were pan steamed with the tomatoes then the pasta was tossed in and warmed together to create a lovely emulsification. And veggies, more veggies.

Fritto Misto - Frittura di pesce - plus a side of roasted and grilled veggies at Berardo Caffè, Pescara. Classic, timeless, perfect.

Fritto Misto – Frittura di pesce – plus a side of roasted and grilled veggies at Berardo Caffè, Pescara. Classic, timeless, perfect.

 

Spaghetti Vongole at Berardo Caffè, Pescara.

Spaghetti Vongole at Berardo Caffè, Pescara.

 

One evening I was lucky to catch up with the sister of a my friend Sandra. Sandra runs the wonderful La Cucina di Sandra in Melbourne, Australia and she and sister Paola are natives of Pescara. Paola and her beau Simone were fortunately free one evening while we were in Pescara and suggested a restaurant I’d had my eye on! So with my friend Amanda, we joined Paola and Simone at La Baracaccia, around the corner from the Esplanade Hotel.

Me with locals Simone and Paola at La Barcaccia, Pescara

Me with locals Simone and Paola at La Barcaccia, Pescara

What we experienced next was nothing short of fabulous. The restaurant inside appeared quite old school formal and the service was impeccable. However, the  food was as modern and fresh as any I have eaten anywhere. So I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

Raw fish paired with fruits and other flavours. Genius!

Raw fish paired with fruits and other flavours. Genius!

 

Raw prawns with pear and pomegranate. Who thinks of these yummy combos? They deserve a prize.

Raw prawns with pear and pomegranate. Who thinks of these yummy combos? They deserve a prize.

 

Squid, lemony oil, onion and chilli. Just the right amount of hot!

Baby squid, lemony oil, onion and chilli. Just the right amount of hot!

 

Calamari with orange, olive oil and hazlenuts. Insanely delicious.

Calamari with orange, olive oil and hazlenuts. Insanely delicious.

 

Large prawns with passionfruit. I know, just crazy, but it works.

Large prawns with passionfruit. I know, just crazy, but it works.

 

Spaghetti with mussels and squid. This was subtle and divine.

Chitarrini with mussels and squid. This was subtle and divine.

 

For years I have treated Pescara as a transit hub, but from now on I vow to go to Pescara each trip to Abruzzo and try more of the delicious offerings.

 

Guardiagrele with Abruzzo4Foodies

During my recent trip to Italy I organised a half day of food and sightseeing for family and friends with Emiliana of Abruzzo4Foodies. Emiliana is a native of Abruzzo with a passion for travel, food and the Abruzzo region. She runs customised tours in a few languages, including English!

We were staying in Manoppello (see previous post here) and Emiliana suggested a few hours wandering around Guardiagrele about a 35 minute drive away. The town is set in an extraordinary background of the foothills of the Majella mountains and has a population of about 10,000. Emiliana knows this place so well; she can tell you the history, geography, agriculture and customs of the place as well as the food traditions. She has a well established network based on her years of experience living and working in the area.

On Sunday local farmers and producers bring their fruit, vegetables cheeses and meats to sell at tables in the piazza. There are both cow and sheep milk cheeses for sale from the backs of refrigerated trucks. Being early October, there were still plenty of local tomatoes and green vegetables. A van was selling spit-roasted chickens, sausages and, of course, the ubiquitous porchetta (fennel and garlic seasoned suckling pig which is rolled and slow roasted over charcoals or wood).

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The porchetta van

In addition to food, various shops displayed locally crafted wrought iron and copper home decor and cooking implements. One of Abruzzo’s favourite sweets, the pizzelle (also known as ferratelle or neole) are made on decorative irons held over the fire. One shop had a selection with different patterned pizzelle irons on display.

Pizelle irons

Pizzelle irons

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One of the cheese vans

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Fruit and veg vendors

Guardiagrele’s most famous sweet is indisputably the ‘Sise delle Monache’ or the ‘Nun’s tits’.  The distinctive mound of three cakes is meant to represent how the nuns would stuff their tops to make their breasts less obvious, but actually creating the appearance of a third breast.

Descendents of the Palmieri family (one of the town’s original producers) still make this special treat, not in the original shop though, which has changed hands, but in another shop just down the road. We sampled our Sise delle Monache at Pasticceria Emo Lullo.

Shop front

Emo Lullo

Poster of the famous

Poster from original makers

Guar-nunstits

Sise delle Monache

Our tour continued between food stops. We gazed upon the Cathedral of Guardiagrele (Santa Maria Maggiore) which is made of the local Majella stonework from the nearby Majella mountains. It was built in the 13th century on the site of a pagan temple (430 AD) with a massive bell tower added.

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Most impressive to me were the elegant porches on the outside with a highly decorative sculptural surround on a fresco of the Madonna del latte (Madonna of the milk) and coats of arms of Guardiagrele nobility. There’s also an impressively large fresco of Saint Christopher (patron saint of Travellers) under another porch.

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Coats of arms representing noble families

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Maria Lactans (Madonna of the milk) fresco

Cathedral fresco St Christopher 1473 Andrea Delitio

I just love this St Christopher fresco

A short walk away is the Monastery of San Francesco parts of which date back to the 14th century.

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San Francesco

In the courtyard between the monastery and the church is a peaceful cloister where we enjoyed a tasting of local cheeses, salamis, grilled vegetables and frittata, accompanied by Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. As if this wasn’t enough, we were treated to more typical sweets and a liquor called Genziana, made from the root of the gentian plant. Gentian grows in alpine regions and is common in Abruzzo’s Apennine mountains.

Typical sweets

A single nun’s tit accompanied by a soft, jam-filled pizzelle

Genziana - herbal liquor

Liquor of gentian root

I would love to get back to this lovely town one day. Not only does it have a wealth of man-made wonders and delicious culinary traditions, but it’s also a gateway to the Majella National Park.

Ah, what I’d give for another lifetime to explore Abruzzo!

Postcard from Manoppello, Abruzzo

I had never heard of the town of Manoppello until June 2013 when I met Giulia Scappaticcio at a conference in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, high up in Abruzzo’s mountains, near L’Aquila. Giulia, the titolare (proprietor) of Casale Centurione Country House (a fine Bed and Breakfast establishment that lies on a fertile hill between Manoppello and Manoppello Scalo) is also a wife, a mother of three and a multilingual dynamo with a passion for customer service. Like others at the inaugural Let’s Blog Abruzzo conference, Giulia and I had joined locals and others with an interest in promoting Abruzzo as an Italian destination.

Abruzzo is unknown to many travellers, including many Italians, despite it having wonderful traditions, foods, historic sites and edifices, medieval hilltop villages, renaissance towns, major national parks and numerous regional parks… plus fabulous beaches, vineyards, olive groves and fields of ancient grains.

There is a bounty of charming accommodation and good food at every bend in the road, and no more so than at Casale Centurione Country House. Giulia provides accommodation in a renovated building from the 1800s  – complete with beautiful vaulted ceilings in the large communal dining and relaxation area. The bedrooms are all equipped with comfortable beds and pillows, modern bathrooms and spectacular views.

From Casale Centurione - view to old town of Manoppello

Olive groves and mountains Casale Centurione

Out walking near Casale Centurione

Walks near Casale Centurione - an olive tree

Walks near Casale Centurione - olive

Walks near Casale Centurione - roof tiles

I had the good fortune to visit Giulia twice within a month! My first visit coincided with a cooking class that Giulia was running for some guests from the Seattle, Washington in the US. I was invited to participate. The Seattleites, thankfully,  didn’t mind me gate-crashing their session! I arrived late but joined the group for a walk around the property, viewing the different types of grapes (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano) and wandering amongst the olive groves.

Then we got down to business making two types of pasta, chitarra and ravioli, some savoury ricotta-filled pastry parcels called fiadoni and some sweet biscuits called cantucci – all of which we got to enjoy after. Click to view a slideshow.

My next visit was in October with my husband, some of my sisters and their spouses, a niece, a nephew and a few old friends.

During our three night stay we took most of our meals at Casale Centurione. Breakfast was a great spread of both homemade cakes and savoury items like local cheeses and meats, plus bread, fruit, yoghurt, cereals and more. Fruit juice and freshly brewed coffee, hot water and warm milk were in jugs ready for us to help ourselves.

Giulia has a loyal group of helpers in the kitchen as well as her mother-in-law Francesca who helps her run the cooking classes.

The crew at Casale Centutione

The crew at Casale Centutione

Together with some of my Italian cousins, we did a similar cooking class to the one I’d done with the Seattleites, and made enough food for both lunch and dinner.

Giulia’s English is impeccable and together with Francesca she kept our large group engaged with having a hand at everything; rolling, kneading, filling, cutting and eventually eating the fruits of our labour. There were photos and videos and laughs galore for a few hours. Click away.

We had such a great weekend relaxing, walking around the countryside, laughing, eating, drinking and catching up with one another. Giulia was the most welcoming host of our unruly mob of old friends and family. Everyone felt as though they were truly at home.

Walks near Casale Centurione

There are two famous sites in the area that religious pilgrims visit and some of us made it to both: the church of the Volto Santo di Manoppello (church of the holy face of Manoppello) and the Abbey and Church of Santa Maria Arabona.

Besides her knowledge of the local region, Giulia was also able to offer us onward travel advice when it came time for us to leave. We didn’t want to leave, honestly, but the mountains and the coast were calling us…

To stay at Casale Centurione you can book through Air BnB. Search for Manoppello. Giulia has about six rooms listed. Alternatively, contact Giulia using the details below.

Contact details:

A weekend in Sulmona

A weekend in Sulmona is not enough. But I reckon even a short time spent there is better than none.

I’d been to Sulmona once before and enjoyed its refined, historic centre and relaxed vibe. Nestled in the Peligna Valley and surrounded by mountains, Sulmona is a destination in itself as well as a great jumping off point for day trips in all directions.

Most of the points of interest in the town are on or near the main street, Corso Ovidio, which runs roughly north-south. Narrow streets and parking restrictions in the centre make walking the best way to get around.

My recent trip was last-minute and finding accommodation was problematic. There must have been some event on in town because the seven or so places I tried were fully booked for at least one of my desired nights. I contacted Katy of Welcome to Sulmona to see if she had any suggestions. As it turns out, the Welcome to Sulmona site has a list of accommodation possibilities to suit various tastes and budgets.

Although not affiliated with any official city or regional travel body, the site authored by local residents Katy and Susanna (both of whom I met through the Abruzzo Blogger Community) is a storehouse of information. Welcome to Sulmona is my go-to place for things to do and see in the Vale Peligna.

Fortunately, I had luck with one of the places listed, B & B Il Marchese del Grillo. My room was beautiful and the breakfast was fresh, varied and plentiful (a highlight was the lemony yoghurt cheesecake).

My room

A corner of my very comfy room

 

The cheesecake

The cheesecake

Between proprietress Marta’s broken English and my more-broken Italian, we managed the business end of the weekend and had a chat about Sulmona’s dining scene.

One evening, wanting an early night and a light meal, I ate at La Cantina di Biffi, on via Barbato, just off the main street of Sulmona. Biffi is a relaxed restaurant that’s a cross between a wine-bar and a bistro and has an excellent choice of wines, many of which you can taste before deciding. There is no printed menu rather a boar of what’s on today.

I chose a crisp white wine, a ‘Pecorino’ to accompany the soup of the day, Farro and Chickpea Soup (Zuppa di Farro e Ceci) which was almost a stew. The staff were friendly and generous with their time in answering questions about the menu, which changes daily. Along with a generous basket of assorted breads plus some complementary small-bite appetisers, I left feeling just the right amount full.

Biffi

Biffi

 

Zuppa di Farro

Zuppa di Farro e Ceci

Another evening I ventured to the southern end of town to Il Vecchio Muro on via M. d’Erato.  I had eaten pizza here on a visit a few years ago, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. This evening, I decided to try Il Vecchio Muro’s ‘Arrosticini’ and a big ole’ mixed green salad. Arrosticini are skewers of lamb (ok, a castrated male sheep, or ‘wether’ in sheep talk) cooked over charcoals; they aren’t marinated or seasoned with anything but salt. When done well, as these were, they’re a real Abruzzo treat. And all washed down with a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo…hard to take.

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On my last visit to Sulmona, parts of the Museo Civico e Archeologico (Civic and Archeological Museum) were closed. This time some of the archeology rooms were still closed but I took the opportunity to visit the open rooms plus the fabulous display of traditional women’s costumes from the various parts of Abruzzo. (As an aside, read this interesting article on traditional costumes that just popped up in my feed!)

The Museo is housed in the stunning Annunziata Complex, comprised of the museum building and the attached church. The complex has been rebuilt over many years and there are both gothic and renaissance features still visible.  

Below are photos of some of the costumes and artefacts. Click any picture to enlarge and view as a slide show.

In the Piazza XX Settembre you’ll find a statue commemorating local poet Ovidius, a Roman poet in the time of Augustus who was a contemporary of Virgil and Horace.

Ovid, Roman Poet

Ovid, Roman Poet

Without leaving town you can do any or all of the following: stroll the charming narrow lanes, visit the medieval aqueduct (1256), people-watch from one of the cafes along Corso Ovidio, ponder the fate of Ovid, plus admire the beautiful shop windows and confetti (sugared almond) displays  – I even managed a load of washing at a self-serve laundromat! –  and that’s your weekend.

You could base yourself in Sulmona for weeks, explore the city and surrounding area, do lunch at the family run Gino’s (which I missed out on this time) and still only scratch the surface. But even if you only have a day or a weekend, I highly recommend you visit Sulmona.

I’ll be going back… 

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