Tag Archives: travel

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.

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


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Home sweet home


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Narrow lanes and mountain views


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Things of stone and iron


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


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Around every corner is another beautiful vista.


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Faded writing – Molino Eletterico Moderno – modern electric mill


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A great door deserves a decorative surround.


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Picturesque Scanno overlooks the upper Sagittario Valley.


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


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Lilliana in traditional costume in the 1970s


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Lilliana with my husband, Roo


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


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It takes years to get the colour just right.


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Salami and butcher shop


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Mountain-fresh water comes from these spouts.


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


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Just for starters, locally made meats and cheeses


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Still just the starters


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A choice of chillis, arranged by heat


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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).


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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.


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Ex votos and rosaries


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Close up showing delicate silver work


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Wandering through Anversa, in search of coffee


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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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…

Quiet Lanciano streets in the midday sun

So much of life in Abruzzo is lived outside in the warmer months. Air conditioning in homes is rare. Families live on pretty balconies, terraces and courtyard and gather in parks and piazzas for shade and company.

During my recent stay in Lanciano and my travels beyond, I wandered the streets, chatted with strangers and enjoyed the wonderful street life. But in the heat of the afternoon, when everyone was inside to ‘fare un pisolino’ – take a nap – the streets were silent and still and mine to photograph…

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An Italian Obsession

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It started with a photo. My grandparent’s wedding photo.

I always had a sense that we were different. My mother’s parents had a funny accent when they spoke English and they talked real loud. My friends couldn’t understand our grandfather. I was used to it and explained that my Pop-Pop was Italian and that he was from ‘the Abruzzi’.

He did have a thick accent but we must have grown used to it. Mom-Mom not so much. Pop-Pop was only 13 when he arrived in America and he was already a tailor. His schooling lasted 3 years before he was taught a trade at age 9. Imagine that today. Mom-mom arrived with her mother and a one of her sisters to join their father who was already in Philadelphia. She went to high school and although Italian was the language of home, she was educated in English through her high school years in ‘l’America’.

But the photo. I was a little obsessed with it for some years. It seemed like something from another time and place than our rather normal Anglo existence, it was foreign and exotic and we just weren’t!

I don’t remember seeing the wedding photo until I was in High School, probably after my grandmother died and my grandfather sold up and moved to the Jersey shore. It turned up at my parent’s house amongst the possessions that Pop-Pop no longer needed in his tiny apartment on California Avenue, Atlantic City. He had been totally dedicated to Mom-Mom, Anna, who he referred to as ‘my Annie’. He survived another 18 years after she was gone.

But I digress. The photo was taken in 1922 in Philadelphia and I don’t know the other people in it other than my grandparents, the bride and groom. They were 9 years apart. My grandmother was only 18 and my grandfather 27 or so. The bride, bridesmaid and  flower girl have the best hats and the biggest flowers, but the little boy ring-bearer is just the funniest looking little fellow with wild hair that looks like he had recently tumbled out of bed.  They all look so serious.

I was reminded of this photo again when a fellow Italy obsessed blogger Debra recently posted a blog entry about a wonderful looking museum with equally great photos from the Museo Paolo Cresci in Lucca. Refer to the post here.

So, my lovely grandparent’s wedding photo started me on a journey to discover my Italian heritage. It encouraged me to visit Italy numerous times to meet my grandparent’s families and see their villages in Abruzzo and learn how to speak some sort of Italian!

I would love to hear what you think or if you have a story (or even an obsession) associated with a family photo.