Author Archives for Mary Louise Tucker

About Mary Louise Tucker

Writer, blogger, traveller, Italophile. Keen eater and bike rider. Adelaide based, heart in Abruzzo. http://heartinabruzzo.me http://mltatlarge.me Twitter: @mltatlarge

Abruzzo’s Teramo province — Part 1, Adriatic views

This post is part 1 of 2 posts regarding the Abruzzo’s Teramo Province. It concentrates on a few towns that are either directly on the Adriatic Sea coast of Abruzzo, or within view of the coast.

Abruzzo is a central-south region of Italy, shown in red on the small map of Italy below. Along with Lazio to the west (you know, the region where you’ll find Rome), it completes a wobbly band around the middle of Italy.

1024px-Map_of_region_of_Abruzzo,_Italy,_with_provinces-it.svg

Small Italy map showing Abruzzo in red. Big Abruzzo map showing the four provinces. Image By Vonvikken (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teramo is the northernmost province of Abruzzo, and is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, Giovanni Pergolini and Anna Mezzacappa.

Various Italic tribes lived in the area until the 3rd Century BC when Rome’s rule began. The Teramo province borders the Ascoli Piceno province of Le Marche region to the north, and the L’Aquila province of Abruzzo to the south-west.

The hill towns of Teramo retain many of the medieval era walls, castles, buildings or fortresses, some of which are built on older Roman and pre-Roman sites.

With the introduction of a coastal railway line in the mid 1800s, towns sprung up near the train stations and many of the hill towns lost their importance. However, these towns still retain an authentic old character and charm and are perfect for wandering around for a morning or afternoon when everyone is home for ‘la pausa’. Think winding staircases and streets so narrow a little Fiat cinquecento would have to fold its mirrors in to pass through.

Throughout the year, cultural and enogastronomic events take place in both the hills and on the coast. This is authentic, untouched Italy.

Montepagano

Our grandfather was born in 1895 in Rosburgo, and his birth registered in Montepagano, the medieval walled settlement dating to the 11th century AD. Until 1927 the central government administration (the Comune) for the area was in Montepagano. Now the Comune is in Roseto degli Abruzzi and Montepagano is the smaller village or ‘frazione di Roseto’.

Some highlights of the cultural calendar are wine festivals celebrating the local wines from the Colline Teramane  (Teramo Hills), a festival of unpublished poetry and a festival celebrating ‘Tradizione Paganese’ (the people of Montepagano are referred to as ‘Paganese’) or ancient recipes and flavours from the medieval borgo.

One of my favourite museums in Abruzzo is in Montepagano; the Museo Civica della Culture Materiale. This Museum of Material Culture is an incredible resource of historic documents, photos and objects of daily life in this medieval village. Run by volunteers and with all items donated, it is fascinating for those with family heritage in the area, or for any lover of social anthropology.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The curator of the Museum of Material Culture (Museo Civico della Cultura Materiale) in Montepagano, Teramo, Abruzzo, showing me old school registers. I was looking for the names of my descendants from Montepagano, the Pergolini and DeAngelis families.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Old Chitarra pasta makers and other kitchen tools

Montepagano Museo 2

Holy cards and religious books from local homes

box of cards montepagano

Box of playing cards

tailor workshop museum montepagano

A tailor’s workshop set up in another room

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Every imaginable kitchen tool or implement

IMG_3181

Coffee accoutrements

Montepagano Museo 1

One part of the museum was full of old records, posters and photos of musicians and pop icons.

IMG_3160

The walls of some buildings are adorned with permanent plaques in metal or terracotta inscribed with poetry. Montepagano hosts a national poetry competition for unpublished poems in Italian and in dialect.

Pineto

The pine forest that goes right to the water’s edge gives Pineto its name. This is a special place for beach walks and bike rides in the quiet pine forest, Casual eateries where you sit barefoot with your toes in the sand are found on the edge of the pines.

The pines here were planted between the sea and the railway line by the 19th Century farmer and landowner, Signor Luigi Filani. They give the whole town and beach area a serenity not found at some of the more boisterous summer playgrounds along this northern part of Abruzzo’s Adriatic coast.

Only a short distance from where I usually stay in Roseto (read below), this is a favourite bicycle ride of mine. You can ride to the Torre (tower) del Cerrano and back to Roseto in an easy half day. The tower was built in the 16th century as a watchtower to guard against invaders approaching via the Adriatic.  There is no visible town to protect on the coast as the population and civic centres were up on the hills in the ancient towns of Mutignano and Atri.

Today, the tower houses a Museum of the Sea and is in the middle of a protected marine reserve area that runs seven kilometres along the Adriatic coast from Pineto to Silvi.

Pineto-02

In the pines of Pineto.

Pineto-01

My ride, a rental from In Bici n Roseto. Bikes can be rented from many places along the coast. I always use In Bici in Roseto,

Pineto-03

The quiet beach of Pineto with a vendor selling beach wraps and kites.

Pineto-05

Torre di Cerrano

Roseto degli Abruzzi

No trip to Abruzzo is complete without a visit to my few remaining cugini in Roseto degli Abruzzi.

In the 1860s a small collection of houses appeared near the coast and this area was called Le Quote. Eventually the new Adriatic railway, connecting Ancona (Le Marche) with Bari (Puglia) brought more people to what became known as Rosburgo. Following WWI the soldiers being transported up and down the line objected to the Germanic-sounding Rosburgo and the town officially became Roseto degli Abruzzi, known by most simply as Roseto.

The cultivated pines of Pineto are more famous, however I remember my grandfather talking about the scent of the pines in Roseto where they grow naturally, right on the lungomare (along the sea). Walking through the little shady parks of pine trees never fails to bring a smile to my face as I recall my grandfather.

Roseto has a population of about 25,000 people, which swells in summer as Italians and other European visitors — mainly German and Dutch as well as the returning families of emigres (like myself) — come to enjoy the clean water and safe, flat swimming beaches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunrise over the Adriatic from our favourite Bed and Breakfast in Roseto (Luci a’mmare)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A cool park opposite the beach, set in native pine forest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Roseto’s beaches are granted Blue Flag status for their clean, safe waters and abundance of entertainment and food options at the many Lidos.

img_3485

Another Adriatic sunrise

Giulianova

Ten Kilometres north of Roseto is the town of Giulianova which is comprised of the old town on the hill, Giulianova Paese, and the modern beach resort and town called simply Giulianova or Giulianova Lido. Giulianova stretches out along the railway line that follows the coast, and is a holiday destination in summer, much like Roseto. Both the old town and the Lido are known for many seafood, pasta and pizza restaurants. Having visited the beach town in the past, eventually, in 2017 we ventured up the hill to Giulianova Paese and enjoyed the splendid view from the ‘Belvedere’ and a delicious lunch. The duomo and the old buildings in the town are worth a few hours look.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Giulianova Lido and the stunning Adriatic Sea can be viewed from Giulianova Paese on the hill.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From the Belvedere, looking out to the Adriatic Sea

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Geometric paving of the Belvedere (lookout) in the old town of Giulianova

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Duomo of Saint Flaviano, Giulianova

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside the Duomo of Saint Flaviano and lovely are also ceramic tiles representing the stations of the cross.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside the Duomo of Saint Flaviano there are also etchings of the stations of the cross.

Giulianova lunch blue cheese and walnut gnocchi

Gnocchi and walnuts in a blue cheese sauce, delightful with a glass of Ceresuolo, a local rosé made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Shady arcaded buildings along the main square

Atri

Considered by many to be the finest small city in the Teramo Province, Atri has charming streets, important buildings and a very special setting on a hill that overlooks the Adriatic Sea. The town, like so many in the province, is at the top of a hill in a defensive position.

In the countryside to the west of the town is a nature reserve known as the Calanchi d’Atri. Guided walks and independent itineraries are available for those wishing to explore this area of natural beauty caused by years of erosion. The Calanchi support a diverse range of animal and plant life and the 380 hectare reserve is managed by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund).

Atri dates back to pre-Roman times and was already important prior to Roman habitation. During the 12th-century Atri came under the control of the Acquaviva family, a fate that would ensure its standing as a city of art and culture.

img_3446

There are several points from which to view the  Calanchi d’Atri.

img_3442

Lunching with a view of the Calanchi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Me in the centre with our good friends Nando and Lucia

IMG_3445

Genziana and Liquorice liqueurs… for digestion…

IMG_1942

The sunny Piazza Duomo, Atri

img_3478

Spring flowers adorn balconies, Atri

Atri’s 13th century Cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta is built on the remains of an 11th century structure. It incorporates a 56-metre high bell tower (campanile) and a cloister. Parts of the complex are closed because of past earthquake damage, however, the glory of the cathedral is a fresco cycle by the 15th-century Abruzzi painter Andrea de Litio (or Delitio) depicting the life of Jesus. The crypt was originally a large Roman cistern. Some sections of clear glass flooring allow you to see fish motifs in mosaic can be seen. This is a delightful cathedral.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside the vaulted area of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta are frescoes by Andrea De Litio.

img_3457

More frescoes by Andrea De Litio

Atri Santa Maria Assunta Frescoes 01

More frescoes by Andrea De Litio.

img_3462

Built on a Roman cistern, fragments of black tesselated mosaic tiles can be seen through sections of clear glass flooring.

Summary

Basing yourself in any of the towns covered here, you can easily day-trip up and down the coast and nearby hills. In fact, you can go much further inland and discover some of the beautiful villages in the foothills of the Appenines. But I’ll leave that for Part 2…

Photo diary: Around Scanno

Arriving in Scanno is a feat with its torturous winding roads, one-way tunnels, and breathtaking scenery. Once there, you have to navigate skinny roads that climb upwards (and hope no one is coming at you) to find a narrow parking spot. But it’s all worth it when you step out and breathe the mountain air.

Scanno is a little over 1000 metres above sea level and is surrounded by the Marsican Mountains (i Monti Marsicani). It contains atmospheric architecture, much of it medieval or older, along small lanes and long stairways that wind their way to pleasant little squares.

Below is a photo diary of this ancient town, nearby Lago di Scanno and the village of Anversa degli Abruzzi, where we stopped for a coffee on the way back to our base in Sulmona.

IMG_1292

We started the day right with an almondy, chocolate-covered pan dell’orso at the actual bakery that makes the famous Abruzzo treat.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Home sweet home


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Narrow lanes and mountain views


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Things of stone and iron


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Traditional costumes are still seen in the village on festival days and for special events.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Around every corner is another beautiful vista.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Faded writing – Molino Eletterico Moderno – modern electric mill


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A great door deserves a decorative surround.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Picturesque Scanno overlooks the upper Sagittario Valley.


IMG_3152

This Biscotteria is now run by the son of the woman (Lilliana) shown below.


IMG_3150

Lilliana in traditional costume in the 1970s


IMG_3151

Lilliana with my husband, Roo


IMG_3218

Irons for making thin, crispy waffles called ferratelle, also known as pizzelle or nevole


IMG_3143

It takes years to get the colour just right.


IMG_3155

Salami and butcher shop


IMG_3170

Mountain-fresh water comes from these spouts.


fullsizeoutput_2b26

We sat inside this hidden treasure of a restaurant. In the evening it’s also a pizzeria.


IMG_1300

Just for starters, locally made meats and cheeses


IMG_1302

Still just the starters


IMG_1307

A choice of chillis, arranged by heat


IMG_1315

Lago di Scanno (Lake Scanno) with paddle boats, plenty of grass for picnics and a chapel (Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Annunziata, also known as the church of the Madonna del Lago).


IMG_1321

Inside the chapel, the walls are adorned with ‘ex votos’. These are silver figures, body parts or hearts left by the faithful as thanks, or in hope of a cure.


IMG_1322

Ex votos and rosaries


IMG_1323

Close up showing delicate silver work


IMG_1332

Wandering through Anversa, in search of coffee


IMG_1333

One of my favourite coffee cups from a bar in Anversa degli Abruzzi

Lunch on Abruzzo’s Trabocco Coast 

Those of you familiar with the central Adriatic coast of Italy, from southern Abruzzo to northern Puglia, might know about the unusual-looking trabocchi (the plural of trabocco). They are spidery-looking wooden fishing houses at the end of a long plank, off rocky areas of the coast. Nets are suspended from the long arms to hopefully catch some of the fish that live near the rocks.

It’s easy to miss the turnoff for the trabocchi as many are privately owned and no longer used; and the tracks down to the beach are not well worn. However, in recent years, families have begun to fix the trabocchi and build small kitchens to prepare meals for seafood lovers. During the warmer months, the trabocchi are popular with couples or groups celebrating an occasion or just wanting a beautiful day eating fresh seafood in an interesting setting.

Some background. Last year I was travelling alone in Abruzzo and met a merry band of women on motorcycles called ‘Le Presentose’ after a traditional filagreed pendant, in short, a valuable bit of jewellery. I developed a friendship with some of the group and we have maintained contact through social media. When they heard I was back in Abruzzo with my husband, some of the women organised a get together with friends and family on a trabocco.

We were fortunate to have such gracious hosts, who endured my attempts to speak Italian, and with whom we could share this grand feast. The food was simply and deliciously prepared, and there was lots of it…

Another highlight of the day was to discover a new (to us) grape variety called Cococciolo. A white wine that’s fresh and crisp and a perfect accompaniment to a fish meal.


I didn’t photograph everything we ate and some things I was half through before I thought to take a snap!  Here are some photos I managed and one or two of Roo’s photos as well. If you like fish and have the opportunity, visit a trabocco. Generally they are only open from about mid-April through early October, but best to check and reserve a spot!







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.

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.

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…

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.

1 2 5