Tag Archives: Sulmona

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.

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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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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.

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…

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… 

Day trip from Sulmona to Scanno

If you find yourself in Sulmono, a town in the L’Aquila province within the Abruzzo region, ‘senza macchina’ – without a car – it is worth the effort to catch the local bus to picturesque Scanno. And if you go on a school day when the teenagers from Scanno are travelling home from Sulmona, expect a little adventure.

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On the day we went, a normal city bus departed Sulmona and climbed up through a forested, hilly area, with ever narrowing roads. Eventually we reached a small tunnel and I thought, “no way this bus will get through that”. The driver stopped and all of the teenagers piled out of the bus. My sister and I looked at one another. In my broken Italian I asked if we had to get out. A girl responded yes and indicated we should follow her.

So, off we got and followed the others into a side track where there was a minibus parked. The group of 40 people crammed into the 22 seater. Some older women (not my sister and I) told the teenagers to get up and give their seats to ‘l’anziane’ – the elderly. We sat. After a 20 point turn, the driver maneuvered out of the side track, on to the road and through the tunnel. When we reached the other end of the tunnel we all piled out and into another full size bus waiting at the side of the road to make the rest of the journey to Scanno! I was a little curious as to why we didn’t stay in the little bus but one does not question the wily ways of Italian public transport, especially in a remote place!

We managed to have a little bit of sunshine while we walked around the old town but the afternoon came over all rainy. Not before we got a few pictures of the old town, il centro storico.

 

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Scanno is a charming town and is known for its women dressed in traditional costume. But on this rainy, mid-week, off-season day, we only saw a few stray dogs and some teenagers in the old town. I expect the women had watched the weather forecast…