Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

Click to enlarge, scroll and read captions.

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.

Click to enlarge, scroll and read captions.

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…

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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.