If you follow my Instagram feed (see the rotating images on the right rail of this page) you may know that I spent the latter half of July in Abruzzo, Italy, tooling around the Maiella and Gran Sasso mountain ranges with my family. Italy may be a small country, but Abruzzo is vast, with a coastline that extends from Le Marche down to Puglia, and rocky mountains that hold centuries-old secrets: medieval villages, religious hermitages, and unique food and cultural traditions that persist to this day. These mountains were the backdrop to my mother’s life when she was growing up in Chieti, and the older I get the more I find myself wanting to return.
The trip was short ~ too short ~ but, as always, I came home filled with inspiration, nostalgia (I hate leaving Italy), ideas, new friends and a renewed sense of awe for this breathtaking region of mare e monti.
I ate way too much, but it was all for a good cause. I’ll be sharing more about the trip in the coming weeks, including new (and new to me) recipes. This post is more about people ~ people who love Abruzzo as much as I do, possibly more. These folks are working hard to spread the word about this spectacular region and all it has to offer. I’d like to introduce you to a few of them. If you’re thinking about traveling to Abruzzo (you should be), they are good people to know about.
Fabrizio Lucci runs Italia Sweet Italia Experience Breaks, a company offering small group tours that explore the food, art, history and culture of Abruzzo, with a particular focus on the area around the picturesque coastal town of Vasto. My family spent a day with Fabrizio, along with my friend Michelle Capobianco and her family, in which we were introduced to the trabocco, a spindly wooden fishing pier that is peculiar to the southern coast of Abruzzo.
The first trabocchi were devised some 300 years ago, not by fishermen, but by contadini (farmers) who were intimidated by the sea but wanted to be able to fish. These days there isn’t much seafood to be had so close to shore, certainly not enough to make a living. So the trabocchi that dot the coastline, jutting out over the water, have become educational and gastronomical attractions ~ places where you can learn the history of these strange structures and also enjoy a typical fish-centric meal.
We spent part of the day on Trabocco Punta Tufano, which is owned by Rinaldo and Maria Veri. Michelle and I helped Maria cook a traditional seafood pranzo that included marinated anchovies, stewed octopus, stuffed mussels, spaghetti with tiny clams and brodetto alla Vastese, a rich, regional fish stew (top center in the photo collage). For more details, read my friend Linda Prospero’s blog post about her day on the trabocco. To learn more about the ‘trabocchi coast,’ as the area is known, check out my friend Carmelita’s website Terre dei Trabocchi. Here’s the English version.
Fabrizio also brought us to Fontefico Winery, where brothers Emanuele and Nicola Altieri are producing a small selection of organic wines in the countryside near Vasto. It’s a beautiful location ~ with a view of the Maiella mountains on one side and a view of the Adriatic Sea on the other. The sea breezes and microclimate make it an ideal spot for growing the Pecorino and Montepulciano grapes that get turned into wine.
Our day ended with a surprise pizza dinner at Fabrizio’s family’s house, and an impromptu lesson on how to make tarallucci olio e vino, or celli ripeni, tender crescent-shaped cookies filled with cocoa-spiked grape preserves. I have yet to master working with the extremely soft dough and perfecting that plump crescent shape (see photo at bottom right of the collage) but Fabrizio’s mother, Anna Maria, was kind enough to award me with a certificate anyway.
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Emiliana Dell’Arciprete is the founder of Abruzzo4Foodies. She organizes walking food tours and cooking classes in and around Guardiagrele, a medieval city in the foothills of the Maiella known for its iron and copper works. Guardiagrele is also known for a suggestively shaped, cream-filled sponge pastry called sise delle monache (nuns’ breasts), which we sampled at Pasticceria Emo Lullo on our walking tour with Emiliana (second row on the left in the photo collage). We stopped for a wine tasting at the cantina of Santoleri winery, and then ~ my favorite part ~ a tour and tasting at CantinArte olive oil museum in nearby Bucchianico.
Francesca di Nisio, whose family owns CantinArte, gave an excellent tutorial on how to choose and taste olive oil. I’ve written a bit about olive oil before, but stay tuned for some new information, tips and advice from Francesca in a future post.
Emiliana also introduced me to Giulia Scappaticcio, who owns Casale Centurione, a country house with lodging and a restaurant that serves traditional Abruzzese cuisine ~ homemade pasta, farm-fresh cheeses and vegetables grown in the family’s organic orto. Giulia’s mission is to give visitors to her restaurant an authentic taste of Abruzzo.
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I met Nancy and Michael Morizio thanks to…Nancy Morizio. She and her husband run Abruzzo Presto!, which conducts private custom tours of the region’s countryside. Nancy had emailed me last year to tell me she was a fan of my books. So of course I liked her immediately ~ even before we met.
Nancy calls herself a “joyful adopted daughter of Abruzzo” and her description is spot-on. Her husband, Michael, has the roots. His family comes from San Tommaso, a tiny village in the province of Pescara, where he still has relatives. He and Nancy became so enamored of Michael’s ancestral home that a few years ago they moved there and immersed themselves in local life. They are as knowledgeable as any native about the region, with boundless enthusiasm to boot.
My family and I spent a memorable day with them, driving around the Maiella, exploring temples and churches and abbeys and ~ the highlight ~ a tour of the incredible Santo Spirito Hermitage, a structure carved into the mountain that dates back to the 11th Century. According to Michael’s cousin Adolfo, who led the tour of Santo Spirito, there are as many as 50 such hermitages tucked into the mountains of Abruzzo. The region’s remoteness, its near-impenetrability in centuries past, must have made it ideal.
Abruzzo isn’t quite so remote anymore, though (with the exception of its beaches in summer) it is still refreshingly free of the throngs that flock to other parts of Italy. The Huffington Post recently named Abruzzo one of the best places in the world to retire. Some of us feel it’s a pretty great place to be at any time.
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Here are a few more Abruzzo links. If you know of any others, please feel free to share them in the comments section below:
Paesaggi d’Abruzzo: a Facebook group dedicated to showcasing Abruzzo through images.
Love Abruzzo: a blog by an Abruzzo native who shares her love for her region.
Visit Abruzzo: the region’s official tourism site.