Last minute invitation!
Last weekend I had a last-minute invitation to Molise by the Italian Tourist Board. First thing people asked when I said I was going to Molise was: where?
Molise is one of the smallest and probably lesser known regions in Italy. It’s Italy’s 20th region and the last to be created, in 1963, after they decided to separate from Abruzzo. Its borders are with Abruzzo, Lazio, Campania and Puglia and if you don’t know your Italian geography that well, it is kind of above the heal of your Italian boot map. I’ve been curious about this region as in all my years in the travel industry Molise has never been promoted, no wonder why the hashtag #MoliseEsiste is popular! (Molise does exist!)
You can reach the region by flying into Rome or Pescara. We flew into Rome and drove two hours south east until we reached the town of Castel del Giudice. This in what is known as ‘alto Molise’ (top of Molise) right next to Abruzzo. My first impression was how green and unspoiled the landscape was, it didn’t look anything like the other surrounding regions I know very well. Our first day started full of promise in a 4 x 4. Alessandro and Michele from Molise Explore were taking us for a drive around a valley full of wild horses, cattle, wild flowers and no roads! . The Montenero Valcocchiara valley is ideal for enjoying this wild and unique landscape. A glimpse of the snowy Apennines mountains in the background was a bonus!
From here we head towards the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, the Park is right in the middle of these three regions. Our first visit was to the workshop of a leather artisan, Marruca in the little town of Pizzone. You can visit her workshop for a couple of hours and learn how to do your own leather sandals. If you rather have your own made to measure leather shoes then she will happily take your measurement and post it wherever you are.
We continued to travel south, briefly stopping this time at the piazza of Castel San Vincenzo, where we enjoyed one of the most stunning scenery overlooking its beautiful lake and Mainarde mountains.
After a few pictures and an expresso we went to visit its famous Abbey. The original Abbey was built in the 13th century and the entire monastery spanned few hectares, sadly it was destroyed on many occasions by the Saracens, so a new church was built in 1963.
Alessandro then drove all the way up to Monte Marrone, in the heart of this National Park, in pursuit of the best Italian picnic I’ve ever had! We stop near the top where we found the owners of la ‘Bottega dei Sapori’ (Scapoli) twins Alessandro and Antonio cooking ‘al fresco’ the most unique pasta dumpling I’ve ever tasted, the famous ‘raviolo scapolese’. This raviolo is filled with potato, meat, dried sausage, chard, mozzarella and parmesan, so each raviolo weights nearly 100 grams, a couple will be more than enough to keep you full all day!
Finally, and quite slowly after our big meal we were on our way to Scapoli. Our first visit was to get a ‘digestivo’ at the Rufo Distillery, one of the few distilleries in the region. Here owner Emanuele produces a large variety of typical Molise liquors and grappa. My favourite one the ‘trignolino’ made from wild berries, is quite like my beloved Spanish Pacharan! We then walked around this small old town to visit the Sampegna Museum (bagpipes), the most iconic instrument of the Molise music and folklore.
Our last stop of the day was in one of the prettiest towns in Molise, Fornelli . As like most towns in Molise, it is a medieval town, and at 530 mts high altitude it is immersed in enchanting natural scenery. You can walk around on one of the best preserved castle walls I’ve ever see. The best time to visit is late afternoon as the sunset in this place is not to be missed! A famous quote in Fornelli says ‘unhappy the man who has never see the sun going down in Fornelli’. Here we also had one of the best meals on the trip, at the recently opened ‘La Vecchia Torre’, please do not leave without trying Ms Rosa’s heavenly Tiramisu!
On our second full day, we visited the town of Agnone, quite well known for the Marinelli Bell Foundry, one of the most ancient artisan bells producers in the world. This family business has been making artisan bells for over 900 years, you can visit the factory/museum to learnt how they are made. They use the Papal Coat of Arms in their bells as they were granted this privilege by Pope Pio XI in 1924 .
After the visit we had another delicious picnic waiting for us, this time in Agnone’s countryside, the Verrino valley. Mr Leone and his two dogs were waiting for us to go truffle hunting. Yes, Molise is quite famous for its truffles, 40% of the Italian truffle market comes from Molise, white or black! May is not the best month to eat them as they are not as tasty but we found few of them and Michele added to a delicious scramble egg.
After a wonderful farewell dinner enjoying a few bottles of delicious Tintilia wine from Torresacre Winery live music and dance we said goodbye to our hosts. The organizers, Molise Region, Molise Explore and Omega Travel went beyond duty to make our stay a memorable one,.Their passion and love for this land was infectious. We visited many places of interest and saw the most incredible unspoiled natural landscape, I honestly didn’t expect much of Molise but left with a strong wish to come back to discover more of its land and culture. I am already planning another trip to the coast next week!