A slow bike ride and a Slow Food lunch in Pacentro

On a dark and very rainy day in 2013, I first visited Pacentro, a medieval village perched at 690 meters above sea level on the side of Monte Morrone, near Sulmona.

Lucky to be in Sulmona again in this year, I decided to see nearby Pacentro in the sunshine. I thought, “I’ll rent a bike for the day and ride there. There’s just a bit of a hill at the end”. Well, there is a hill at the end, but I underestimated it big time.

The ride

Riding out of Porta Napoli in Sulmona, I located a small side road that my map promised would rejoin the busier road, the SR487, further along, close to Pacentro. The trip was full of surprises.

I didn’t expect to ride four kilometres on a gravel track only to find a washed-out bridge, causing me to turn back and find an alternative route. But, like many detours, the alternative turned out to be as good, if no better. I pedalled through beautiful small farms on a sunny, late-spring day in the heart of Abruzzo. There were olive groves, fruit orchards, grapevines, dairy cattle, and newly mown hay for the animals.

I passed no other bikes and only one or two cars for the two hours. The ride didn’t require two hours, but I was compelled to stop often and take photos. And that last kilometre was all uphill.

Lunch

Proud that I hadn’t needed to dismount my trusted rental bike on the final push uphill into Pacentro, I decided to treat myself to a proper sit-down lunch. Not just a panino in the piazza. The first restaurant I came to once in town was Taverna de li Caldora.

Needing to freshen up after the hill, I nipped into the ladies room to behold the best washroom view in Abruzzo, overlooking old tiled roofs towards the Valle Peligna (Peligna Valley).

A glass of local Cerasuola (a rosé from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape) and a bowl of ravioli (sheep’s milk ricotta-filled) were all I needed to replace the carbs spent cycling. It was a Monday afternoon, and though off-season, the restaurant was busy. The buzz of happy lunchers warmed me so, replacing the memory of that rainy June day three years prior.

When I had paid ‘il conto’ I had a look around the other rooms in the restaurant and there was my second surprise of the day. The archway of one room was adorned with awards from the Slow Food movement, one for each of the last 10 years.

snail

The iconic snail on the Slow Food award (appropriately, a dinner plate) indicates that the establishment has been judged by its peers to contribute to the quality, authenticity and sustainability of the local food supply. And all that takes time…

I hadn’t set out to eat in a Slow food recognised restaurant, so I was pleased to support a local business that has a similar food ethic to my own. May the Taverna de li Caldora continue to serve excellent food and collect more snails.

A castle

After lunch I left my bike parked and strolled uphill through narrow passages, past piazzas, the local coffee bar, Monday laundry drying on balconies and the parish church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

At the high point of the village sits the Castello Caldora (Caldora Castle) with its three tall square towers and four smaller, round reinforcing towers at corners of a roughly square base. Parts of the castle date to the ninth through 13th centuries, although restorations have occurred as recently as the 1970s. It was closed when I got there so I couldn’t go inside. I later saw a sign post indicating that the Castle is only open by appointment.

My return bike ride to Sulmona was gloriously downhill all the way. I was back to town within 45 minutes, plenty of time for a shower and a museum visit before dinner.

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14 Comments

  1. Itala Leone Landers says:

    Kudos to you for biking up the mountain. My cousin’s car was burning oil and smoking up that hill. I found Pacentro to be one of the most charming towns I visited in Abruzzo.

      • Isabella Centofanti says:

        Wonderful article! Love Pacentro, too. Just curious, where did you rent your bike? Sulmona?

      • Hi Isabella, thanks for reading and commenting. My rental bike was from EZIO DUE RUOTE PER VIVERE in Sulmona. It’s just outside of Porto Napoli. I paid what I thought was a bit high price of 30euros for the day. By comparison, I paid only 12 euros at the beach at Roseto degli Abruzzi at a shop called In Bici. But I didn’t have time to shop around as I got started late. I continued on the road outside Porto Napoli and diverted to the side road and it was peaceful. I was so fortunate with the weather! Are you in Italy or going soon?

    • Lisa, It’s a quiet town most of the time. Enjoy the serenity and try to eat lunch at Taverna de li Caldora. Sometimes the churches are closed in the afternoon for ‘la pausa’, so arrive in the morning – then do lunch! Do you have family in the area? Mine are further north in Teramo province, but I have a soft spot for Sulmona. Ciao for now, Mary Louise Tucker

  2. Franco Ricci says:

    Hello MLT, enjoyed your post and have read others since discovering this trek to Pacentro. You may not remember but I am the prof you met outside Ezio’s before your bike ride. How fortuitous to extend our friendship via your interesting Blog. I hope to hear from you. I would like to discuss a few initiatives with you in private. You may write me at: fricci@uottawa.ca

  3. Marti Peck says:

    Hi Mary Lou – i heard on the news about an avalanche in Abuzzo region – are all of your relatives OK? I hope this didn’t occur where they live…..Warmly, Marti

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Hi Marti, my family are all fine, but friends and acquaintances in villages higher up in hills and mountains were without power for some time. Children stuck at school, etc. but now it seems to be settling. Abruzzo and central IT have had a rough ride these last months… summer in Adelaide. Can’t remember what it was like living with snow. Love, MLT

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