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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
A short walk away is the Monastery of San Francesco parts of which date back to the 14th century.
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.
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!
I’m hoping to get to Abruzzo soon. Thanks for the informative post!
Oh it’s great, much less touristy than many places in Italy. Great food, wine and some top accommodation in B&Bs that won’t break the budget…ENJOY!
That’s my town! Loved this blog.
I want more of your town. Thanks for reading!
It was a fantastic and delicious day!
So much to discover Annie! Can’t wait to be back in Italy. Lou
What a great story. I have heard of these tours in the Syndey Morning Herald Travel/Escape years ago and your story reminded me of this Melbourne(?) lady. Something I would like to do too . My DNA is from Fossa, province f L’Aquila, closed down by the earthquake 2009. I speak a few words ofItalian and would love to hear from someone who has visited recently and can bring me up to date on the new Fossa etc in English. I can’t cope with reading formal Italian in the Google searches and so feel frustrated. I was back there 20 years ago and would like to visit again to see everyone again,- maybe 2017 but need to be prepared about up to date Fossa situation. Any tips? Hints??
Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. If it was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald it was possibly tours run by Brisbane based, Aussie Italian Luciana Masci of Touring Abruzzo. I have NOT done her tours.
Usually I travel independently, but I had English speaking family and friends all together for a few days so decided to ask Emiliana to show us around for the morning. Abruzzo4Foodies is small and personalised and does not cost the earth, unlike some tours I have seen advertised.
As far as I know, Fossa is still inhabited in parts, but some ares of the village remain closed from the earthquake damage. When you pass through L’Aquila on the bus as I did in September and October, there hare so many construction cranes on the horizon, so finally some rebuilding is in progress.
Have you read MezzaItaliana by Brisbane author Zoe Boccabella? Her father and grandparents are also Fossa folks and she talks about the town before and after 2009. Here’s a link to her books so far.
Have you read either?
Drop me a line at mltatlarge (at) gmail (dot) com so we can chat more about Abruzzo! Happy to share what I know.
Cheers, Mary Lou
I am looking for the original recipe of Calciunette cookies from Abruzzo.
They are filled with pureed chestnuts, chick peas, german chocolate, toasted almonds, candied peel, honey, rum or whiskey.
Are you familiar with the recipe?
Do you mean cagionetti? There are a few spelling out there!
Life in Abruzzo is my friend Sam Dunham’s site and has heaps of yummy recipes:
Try this recipe from Italia Sweet Italia, a Vasto-based tour company:
I have never attempted them myself but used to eat them at family gatherings when I was very young. Some of my “Philadelphia Italian” great-aunties from Abruzzo used to make them.
Good luck and let me know how you go with the recipe.
Great read, I love Guardiagrele. We went there often when I was a child, one of my nonnas had a family house there and we visited often in summer. I remember it was always packed in August and so much fun! Always go back there when I visit Abruzzo. I enjoyed reading about your trip. Thank you for sharing.
Sandra, thanks for reading. The full-time day job is getting in the way of me finishing another 10 posts (at least). Plenty more to come. Un abbraccio! MLT
This is a lovely blog – I’m so glad you found me…and grazie for following! Now I’m happy to be following your delightful stories & photos Fx
A labour of love for sure. Thanks for reading. Funny how we find one another. I think Maple&Saffron led me to you! I look forward to reading your posts as well! Ciao for now – MaryLouise