most beautiful castles in abruzzo

The most beautiful castles in Abruzzo

Abruzzo has its share of castles, some of them are just glorious ruins while others have been beautifully restored. Almost every village boasts a tower, foundation or a few walls remaining from an ancient stronghold that remind us of this land’s glorious past, thriving economies, powerful nobles, bitter feuds and bloody sieges. Here are a few of my suggestions to put on your list of places to see in Abruzzo.

most beautiful castles in abruzzo

Rocca Calascio

The formidable fortress above the village of Calscio has been named one of the most beautiful castles in the world by National Geographic. It is also the most photographed place in the region but don’t worry, you won’t have to elbow your way for the best Instagrammable spot. Although, it gets a fair amount of tourists in August, most of the year you’ll have the castle to yourself. Built in the 10th century, Rocca Calascio was used as an observation point from where signals were sent, using fire torches at night and mirrors in daylight, across the Tirino Valley and Navelli Plains. The fortress was enlarged over the following centuries. According to local legends, during the nights of the winter and summer solstice, ghosts gather around the castle. You can wonder around the ruins and admire stunning panoramic views any time of day or night. The observation tower is open every Sunday in summer.

places to visit in abruzzo
photo by frate_nero/Instagram

Castello Piccolomini di Balsorano

Very few foreign visitors have heard of this one. A few decades ago, it used to be one of the most popular filming location with more than 30 Italian movies shot here. I have to add, though, most of them were horror or … ahm… pornographic works of questionable quality. Constructed in 1470 by the Piccolomini family, it was always used as a residential castle rather than a military fortress. The legend has it that the Piccolomini practised the “jus primae noctis”, the right of the first night with newly married women of the village. The ones that refused to sleep with the were thrown down from the ramparts. Despite the serious damage after the earthquake in 1915 and a not-so-careful restoration of some parts, the castle still retains its original Gothic and Renaissance features and beautiful frescoes. It houses a hotel and restaurant and is open for visits on request (call 00 39 337 668 068 to inquire).

Castello di Celano

One of the best-preserved ancient military structures in Abruzzo, the fortress dates back to the 14th century. Badly damaged in the earthquake of 1915, the castle’s splendour was restored in the 1950s but its magnificent frescoes were lost forever. Today, it is home to a sacred arts museum and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage offices. The views over the Fucino plains are to die for. I’ve seen some old paintings picturing Castello di Celano overlooking the Fucine lake, once the third largest in Italy, and am convinced that if it had not been drained in the 19th century, this part of Abruzzo would have become a major tourist destination today.

Castello di Bominaco

There is not much left from the castle but it still should be on your list of places to see in Abruzzo for several reasons. First of all, it is in a stunning location. Second, there is a beautiful chapel, Oratorio di San Pellegrino, near the castle with magnificent frescoes that is worth a visit. Constructed in the 12th century to guard the thriving Benedictine monastic community of Bominaco, the castle was one of the 99 castles that, according to a legend, founded the city of L’Aquila in 1254. In 1424, the mercenary captain Braccio da Montone during his rampage tour through Abruzzo destroyed the castle and the monastery. Although it was partially re-built in the 15th century, the fortress never regained its glory. Some locals believe that spirits of the victims massacred by Braccio da Montone still gather around the tower on dark moonless nights.

places to see in abruzzo

Another reason I love the Castello di Bominaco is because it gives you a clear idea how the fortresses in the area used to communicate. If you stand near the tower, you can see the castles of Rocca Calascio on the horizon as well as the fortress of San Pio Delle Camere across the valley and a few towns on the hills around. Being visible to each other, hey could send important messages lighting fires and flashing mirrors.

beautiful castles in abruzzo
photo by Castello di Salle

Castello di Salle Vecchio

As far as I know, this is the only castle in Abruzzo that has been in the same family for the last 400 years. Built in the 10th century as part of the defensive belt of the San Clemente Abbey (located in Castiglione a Casauria), Castello di Salle was an important military outpost in the Valley D’Orta. Over centuries, it changed many hands until it became a home of the noble Di Genova family in 1636. It remains in their possession today. Badly damaged in several earthquakes, the stronghold was restored by the owners 50 years ago and registered as a protected national monument. Small and rather cosy, the castle houses a history museum with the family’s collection of medieval arms, metal armor and documents. Visitors are allowed to take a glance at the private rooms of the nobles and see the bed where Napoleone Bonoparte once slept while visiting the Di Genova family. There is also a restaurant in the castle, which is open in summer.

places to see in abruzzo
photo by rumusetto/Instagram

Castello Ducale di Crecchio

Like any great castle, this one comes complete with a ghost. They say, the spirit of Duke De Riseis d’Aragona wonders inside the building on some nights. The castle has been through many turmoils: plundered and pillaged by Saracen pirates and feuding lords, damaged by earthquakes and reduced to rubble by the Allied forces, it rose from the ashes after a thorough restoration in the 1970s. The royal Savoy family visited this splendid abode on numerous occasions. Last visit was in 1943, when the last King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, his wife and son stayed here before fleeing on a boat from the port of Ortona. Historic documents say that the lady of the castle, Duchess Gaetana De Riseis, tried to convince the king to return to Rome. The room and bed where the King stayed miraculously survived the bombings. Today, the castle is home to the museum Museum of Byzantine and Early Medieval Abruzzo. In summer, the town of Crecchio hosts a wonderful event, A Cena con I Bizantini, with locals dressed in period costumes, guided visits to the castle and medieval food stands.

easter in abruzzo

Easter in Abruzzo: what to see and where to go

Visiting Abruzzo during the Easter holidays? You are in for a treat! There are so many traditional events taking place all over the region. Religious celebrations start on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Almost every village has a procession or re-enactment during the Holy Week.  Here is a quick pick of the most interesting Easter events in Abruzzo.

Giovedi Santo in Lanciano

Organised by the local confraternity Morte e Orazione di San Filippo Neri, the procession of Maundy Thursday is solemn and almost hypnotising with its beautiful music written especially for the event in the 19th century. The confraternity members dressed in long black tunics carry flame torches and symbols of the Passion of Christ. The central figure is il Cireneo, who is chosen by the Prior shortly before the ceremony as a reward for his dedication and passion for the brotherhood. Il Cireneo, barefoot, carries the heavy cross in the procession.

The procession starts at the Santa Chiara church at 10pm. You can arrive earlier to see the preparations.

Venerdi Santo in Chieti

You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the atmospheric Good Friday procession in Chieti. The oldest of its kind in Italy, the rite has been taking place in Chieti every year since the 9th century. Local confraternities dressed in hooded tunics walk along the streets of the old town centre carrying various stations of the cross symbols. They are accompanied by 150-members strong orchestra and choir, who play and sing the Miserere.

The procession begins at 7pm at the San Giusto Cathedral. The choir and orchestra start practicing in the morning. There is a shuttle going to the town centre from the free parking space at Chieti Tricalle.

Venerdi Santo in Ortona  

On Good Friday, early risers can see the processions of the stations of the cross symbols, which starts at 5am at the Chiesa del Purgatorio. In the evening at 8pm, another procession departs from the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. It is lead by a group of 250 women, all in black. In the past, they were mostly widows, who lost their husbands in sea.

For more photos and details see here

Easter Saturday in Barrea

For over six decades the picturesque village of Barrea organises a beautiful theatrical revocation of the Passion of Christ. In different locations of the village various scenes are enacted by locals: the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, the crucifixion. It is fascinating to see biblical characters and centurions on the narrow streets of Barrea.

The event starts at 5.30pm. Get there early to find parking and walk around the village.

For more details see the event’s Facebook page 

The Running Madonna in Sulmona

On Easter Sunday, Sulmona hosts La Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza, the famous revocation of the moment when Mary sees her risen son. The statue of Madonna is carried by the Confraternity of S. Maria di Loreto’s members along the main street. When they arrive to the central Piazza Garibaldi, at midday, they pull the black mourning cape off the Madonna to release 12 white doves and run towards the statue Christ. The run accompanied by the excited applause of the people in the square and music. The event starts with a mass at 9am. It attracts thousands of people, so arrive early.

For more details see the event’s website.

Easter Parade in Orsogna

Orsogna hosts the festival of Talami, a biblical scenes re-enactments, twice a year: on Easter Monday and on Ferragosto (August 15). It is an old tradition connected with a miracle when Virgin Mary appeared in front of a few locals in the Middle Age. The town of Orsogna announces the theme for the scenes and chooses seven best ideas to be re-enacted. Six floats are put on tractors and one, like in old days, is carried by local men.

This year’s celebration, on April 23, will start at 10am with fireworks and continue with the parade and traditional music. For more details see the event’s website.

photo by Talami di Orsogna – Quadri Biblici Viventi/Facebook

Easter Monday Pasquetta

Easter in Abruzzo means big feasts and picnics. On Easter Monday, locals pack picnic baskets and head for parks and picturesque mountain locations to celebrate Pasquetta. Many restaurants offer a Pasquetta menu. The Majella Brewery in Pretoro organises a great picnic on the grounds with live music, street food and their excellent craft beer. Another lively place for Easter Monday is Ristoro Mucciante in Campo Imperatore, where you can buy meat, sausages and arrosticini to grill outdoors.

Featured image by Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza/Facebook

Cupello Artichokes from Abruzzo

At the end of March, market stalls in the Chieti province start selling a local variety of a delicious artichoke called Mazzaferrata or carciofo di Cupello. Locals say it is beautiful like a flower and sweet like a dessert. This particular variety is green-purple, without sharp thorns and has generous fleshy hearts.

Wild artichokes growing in the area around Vasto were mentioned in a travel diary of a Dominican friar visiting Abruzzo in 1575, so most likely they were already used in local dishes back then. A later document exists dated back to the 18th century that confirms that artichoke of Cupello was cultivated by many local families and sold at the market in Lanciano . However, its cultivation on a commercial scale started only in the 1950s.

artichokes from abruzzo

Today, the growers in the area of Cupello, Furci, San Salvo and Vasto sell three million artichokes, fresh, turned into pate or artichoke hearts in oil. Since 1965, in April, the village of Cupello celebrates the harvest with a festival “Sagra del Carciofo di Cupello” attended by thousands of people. Local restaurants and street food stands sell various dishes made with the prized artichoke: grilled, baked, boiled artichokes, omelettes with mint and artichoke, lasagne and even tiramisu with carciofo!  The last festival, in 2018, was a record with 8000 people turning up to celebrate the humble thistle and eat over 12,000 artichokes.

This year’s festival takes place on April 25-28. The programme will be published shortly on the event’s website and Facebook page.

artichokes from abruzzo

How locals eat it:

One of the most popular dishes in Cupello is artichokes stuffed with a mix of cheese and eggs. In spring, local restaurants also serve a soup with artichokes and beans. Locals will tell you that they do not throw anything from the precious artichoke. The leaves discarded when cleaning the delicious thistle are boiled with lemon juice to make a broth for risotto. You can also throw them in a juicer, simmer in a frying pan, mix with cooked stems, the water that you cooked them in and oil. Blitz the mix until it is smooth and you’ll have a Michelin-star restaurant worthy sauce.  

Artichoke hearts are boiled with vinegar and preserved in oil.

Where to find:

Osteria La Volpe & L’Uva, Via XX Settembre, 33, Cupello.

A rather refined osteria, where the owner and chef Marcello Potente cookes hearty dishes heavily influenced by local traditions with a modern twist. Here you can taste pasta with an artichoke sauce as well as delicate baked artichokes, all from local growers.

Pizzeria Ristorante Lo Scarabeo, Corso Mazzini, 3, Cupello

A small simple place where you can taste a number of dishes with local artichokes (carciofo ripieno, pizza alla cupellese).

Check out this beautiful video to see how carciofo di Cupello is harvested and cooked.

Photos by Carciofodicupello.it

romantic places to stay in abruzzo

The most romantic places to stay in Abruzzo

I get many queries from independent travellers asking about special places to stay in Abruzzo. It is hard to choose just a few as there are so many of them in every corner of the region. I, personally, prefer smaller ones with a character and unique philosophy. Here is my pick of the most romantic places to stay in Abruzzo that stand out from the rest.

special places to stay in abruzzo
photo by Abruzzo With Gusto

Medieval magic

By far my favourite place to stay in Abruzzo! The extravagant prices might trick you into thinking that this is a luxury hotel. It is not. Sextantio Santo Stefano di Sessanio it is more of an experiential stay in a medieval mountain village. It is a “scattered hotel”, which means the reception, restaurant and rooms are located in different restored buildings dating back to the 13th-16th centuries. Everything has been done to preserve their character. Low ceilings, small windows, uneven walls blackened by age and smoke, dim lighting, and stiff, heavy wooden doors with large skeleton keys give guests a taste of humble living, along with old wobbly chairs, woodworm-scarred tables, and a few old jugs.

Don’t skimp on the price and get a superior room or a suite for the best views of the mountains, extra space and a freestanding bath in the bedrooms. Underfloor heating, locally-made natural toiletries, luxury handwoven bed covers, crisp white bed linens add a luxurious touch. Lit candles, scarce but strategically placed designer lighting and the magic atmosphere of the village make this place utterly romantic.

romantic places to stay in abruzzo
photo by Kokopelli Camping

Camping in an olive grove

At Kokopelli Camping you choose a spot under an olive tree for your tent. The views from here are stunning: the picturesque village of Serramonacesca, majestic mountains of the Majella and Gran Sasso, romantic ruins of an ancient castle. You can rent a standard small tent or choose a spacious cotton-canvas bell tent equipped with a proper mattress, rugs, lamp, picnic table & chairs. For an extra romance and peace, come in June, early July or September and you’ll easily find a quiet corner, away from other campers. The camp owners, Jacqui and Kevin, keep chickens and a beautiful organic garden, so there is always a generous supply of fresh eggs and vegetables.

special places to stay in abruzzo
photo by
Fattoria d’arte I Colli

Colourful tree house

Feel like unleashing your inner child? Spend a night or two in this colourful tree house in Lentella. Created entirely from recycled materials by Ettore, a sculptor, and his wife Barbara, this cosy romantic abode comes complete with panoramic views over the countryside. A welcome aperitif is served on your arrival on a tiny terrace. Every morning, a delicious breakfast is sent up the tree in a basket. Barbara and Ettore run a small farm and you are welcome to wander around to get acquainted with two friendly donkeys, goats, sheep and chickens.  

photo by Palazzo La Loggia

Renaissance farmhouse

Palazzo La Loggia is a lovingly restored 16th-century farmhouse in a small village of Barisciano. Even farms looked utterly elegant in Renaissance times! The building has a beautiful loggia with round stone arches where you can sit on a hot summer day sipping a glass of wine. Vaulted ceilings, fireplaces in most rooms, antique furniture, grand pillars, tapestries and old family photos take you back in time. It is comfortable in any season: on a hot summer day sip a glass of wine on the beautiful loggia with stone arches, in cooler months cuddle up by a fireplace.  

photo by Torre del Cornone

Ancient tower

The small village of Fontecchio is a perfect place for a romantic getaway. Surrounded by majestic mountains, this tranquil place has one of the best-preserved minuscule medieval squares complete with a fountain. At Torre del Cornone you can rent a teeny-tiny apartment located inside a tower that was used to send and receive alarm signals to and from the surrounding villages in the Middle Ages. You can admire the views of the Valley Aterno from small windows in the bedroom upstairs, which is accessed by steep and narrow steps. Breakfast is served in the small garden outside under a charming pergola overlooking the green surrounding countryside.


photo by Torre del Cornone

Want to add a wine tour or a bespoke culinary experience to your romantic stay in Abruzzo? Contact me and I will organise something special for you.

wine tours in abruzzo

Nostalgic Wines Born in Stone

To find the best wineries for my wine tours in Abruzzo, I do a lot of research (and drinking!). One of my latest discoveries is Chiusa Grande.

The Chiusa Grande winery started making organic wines before it became a trend. Its owner Franco D’Eusanio is often called a “vinosopher” for his unusual approach to wine making. He descrives himself as a vigneron, who rejects fads and seeks to be unique. Chiusa Grande wines are born as dreams first. Franco says that he creates a wine in his mind, thinks of the emotions it will convey and then he chooses the grape, vineyard and methods for realising his dream. He has the utmost respect for local traditions, draws on rural heritage and weaves both into the production process.

photo by Chiusa Grande

One of his latest creations is In Petra line: two wines, In Petra Rosso and In Petra Bianco, an elegant reverence for the ancestors’ ingenuity. Grapes are pressed and macerated in large stone vats, just as it was done centuries ago in the small village of Pietranico (called Petra Uniqua in the past). From the 1300s to the 1900s, the vineyards in the area were dotted with hand-carved stone vats where local farmers left the grapes to macerate for a short period and then brought the wine home.

The magic happens when the grapes come in contact with the natural stone. D’Eusanio says that it is somewhat of a mystery what exactly occurs in the stone vats at the chemical level but it certainly makes In Petra wines distinctively different from the rest of Chiusa Grande’s offerings. In Petra Rosso is 100% Montepuciano d’Abruzzo DOC grapes grown on the hills around Pietranico. The notes of blackberry, morello cherries, rosemary are balanced with a pleasant hint of spices, a well-pronounced minerality and savoury earthiness. I really like its slightly coarse character that reminds of the old days when farmers used wine to quench thirst while working in the fields.

wine tours in abruzzo

In Petra Bianco is a blend of Trebbiano DOC and Pecorino. Drinking the wine you can easily imagine rolling in a summer meadows fragrant with honey, herbs and ripe figs. The wine’s clear-cut minerality balances out any notion of bucolic frivolity. After all, it is a wine made in Abruzzo, the land of no-nonsense hard-working shepherds and farmers.

Do you want to visit the best local wineries? I run wine tours in Abruzzo. Contact me to book your tour.

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Christmas is almost here! Have you decided what you are serving for the festive family feast? If you are looking for ideas for traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo, here is a list of my favourite ones.

Thistle soup

Cardoon soup (zuppa di cardo) is considered a lighter festive dish, although, as calorie count goes, it is still quite rich. In Abruzzo, thistle stalks are called “Christmas greens” and the soup is traditionally made for pranzo natalizio, on December 25. Check out the recipe in my post about the Christmas thistle soup from Abruzzo.

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Baccalà fritto in pastella

On Christmas Eve, most households in Abruzzo sit down for a meat-free meal. The tradition is to have fish instead. Baccalà (salted cod) is devoured in large quantities on December 24. I am very fond of fresh baccalà fritters, or baccalà fritto in pastella. In old days, they were made in large quantities to last until the Epiphany on January 6. Although, you can buy baccalà fritters in some supermarkets, the best ones are made at home and eaten hot. Click on the image below for a video recipe that shows you step by step how to make them (in Italian with English subtitles).

Parrozzo

Parrozzo is a relatively recent addition to the regional cuisine. Luigi D’Amico, a pastry shop owner in Pescara, created the first parrozzo cake for his wealthy customers in 1919. He was inspired by the ancient corn bread called “pan rozzo” with a distinctive semi-spherical shape, bright yellow inside and a burnt black crust. D’Amico’s sweet luxurious version of the poor shepherds’ bread called for many of eggs, almonds and dark chocolate. You can buy an industrial boxed version of D’Amico’s parrozzo but, naturally, the best ones are made by artisans in small bakeries across Pescara. See this recipe for parrozzo in English.

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

Torcinelli

Torcinelli abruzzesi is another traditional Christmas treat. Different versions and shapes of this deep-fried dough with boiled potatoes dessert exist across Italy. Torcinellis one of my favourite Christmas dishes from Abruzzo not only because they are tasty (especially freshly fried and hot!) but also because, like many other tipical dishes here, they remind about the region’s humble past when peasants came up with delicious recipes using simple local ingredients. Torcinelli were made on Christmas Eve while fasting, so it was a torture for kids to see chests full of these treats and not being able to eat them until next day. Watch this video recipe to learn how to make torcinelli abruzzesi. Don’t worry if your Italian is not up to scratch, it is easy enough to follow.

Caggionetti

As you can see, there is a lot of frying going on in Abruzzo coming up to Christmas. It takes a while to make these deep-fried sweet dumplings but they are totally worth it. The most common filling of chickpeas, cacao, grape must and cinnamon might seem like a strange combination for a modern palate but give it try. There is also a version with nuts, grape jam and must, which is popular in the Chieti Province. In supermarkets you’ll also find caggionetti with… oh, horror, Nutella! See the recipe for traditional caggionetti here.

Traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo

 

 

things to know about olive oil

10 things to know about olive oil

This year has not been great for olive oil producers in Abruzzo. An early spring freeze damaged many groves, strong winds during the flowering season, heavy rains and the olive fruit fly attacks made the situation worse. Regional production dropped by over 20% this year. Some organic oil producers couldn’t do the harvest at all because of the poor fruit quality. One producer said to me: “A few more years like this and we might have to give up organic oil production.” Let’s hope it never comes to this. How can we help? By buying high quality extra virgin olive oil from Abruzzo! Here are a few things to know about olive oil if you want to buy the best.

  1. Extra virgin. Always buy extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). All other grades of olive oil are held to a lesser standard. EVOO has no defects, acidity level of no more than 0.8g per 100g and is cold pressed using only mechanic methods (pressing or centrifugation). EVOO should taste fruity, has a peppery bite to it and a bitter note. The slightest hint of stale walnuts, mustiness, soil or pond water means the oil is defective and is not extra virgin.things to know about olive oil
  2. Healthy olives. If you are buying directly from a producer, go to the olive mill and check the olives that are being pressed. Do they look healthy? Are they in perforated boxes rather than plastic sacks? The sacks make olives “sweat” and drastically reduce their quality. Surprisingly, many farmers in Abruzzo still use plastic sacks to transport their olives and sometimes store the fruit in them for several days. To make EVOO, olives have to be milled within 12 hours after the harvest otherwise they’ll lose their nutrients and flavour and could begin to ferment.things to know about olive oil
  3.  Press type. Ask or see for yourself what kind of press the producer is using. The old style machinery with stone grinders and hydraulic presses that use round grass mats might look romantic but they significantly reduce the quality of oil. Those grinding stones and mats are very hard to clean and residues can spoil olive oil. They are also slower and the production chain is more exposed to air, so the olives oxidize quicker than in more modern machines.
  4. Filtered vs unfiltered. Unfiltered oil doesn’t always mean better. If you are buying large quantities of EVOO, choose filtered oil as it will last longer. Unfiltered oil tastes good and is often marketed as healthier but because of organic residues it has a very short shelf life, not more than a few months.
  5. Colour doesn’t matter. Our brain likes the colour green and people tend to think automatically that greener oil tastes better. So much so that some industrial scale producers tint their cheap olive oil green to help sales. The truth is the colour never reflects the quality. That’s why professional tasters use blue glasses, so the oil’s colour doesn’t affect their judgements.
  6. DOP. Look for “DOP” (Protected designation of Origin) on the label as it is a guarantee of quality. It means that the oil was was produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area following strict standards. There are three DOP areas for oil in Abruzzo: Aprutino Pescarese, Colline Teatine, Pretuziano delle Colline Teramane.
  7. Single cultivar vs blend. You’ll find different olive cultivars in each Italian region. In Abruzzo, the most prevalent are Gentile, Intosso, Toccolana, Leccino, Dritta. Each varietal has particular characteristics and a unique taste. For instance, Dritta oil is milder than others, with a note of artichoke. Intosso olive oil is characterised by intense taste, with a hint of fresh walnuts and tomato leaves. If you after an olive with a strong character, go for a single cultivar (it will say “monocultivar” on the bottle). Blends tend to be milder and tamer.
  8. Cooked or raw. Single varietals tend to have more character and a stronger taste, so you might want to use them raw, e.g. on salads. I cook and bake with an oil, which is a mild blend of Dritta, Leccino and Gentile. I find that the peppery Toccolana and more bitter Intosso are best generously drizzled on a slice of fresh bread or on raw vegetables.things to know about olive oil
  9. Heat, light and air. These are olive oil’s enemies. Never buy olive oil in a clear glass bottle even if the label says “extra virgin olive oil”. Light trigger the oxidation process and it quickly becomes rancid. Keep your EVOO in dark glass bottles in a cool place where the temperature never exceeds 20C (ideally it should be between +14C and +18C), so a wine cellar or a dark basement would be the best places. I keep bottles of olive oil in a refrigerator. It solidifies (a good sign, which means it is monounsaturated, the real deal!) and the natural waxes crystallise. I take it out of the fridge 30 mins before using it and it becomes liquid again without any harm to the flavours. In proper conditions, extra virgin olive oil should keep for up to two years.
  10. Bitterness is good. Olives are bitter, so a bitter note in EVOO is a sign of quality and freshness. Younger olives make more peppery and bitter oil. Certain cultivars can be bitterer than others, so train your palate and find the level of bitterness you love. If you like bitter chocolate or beers like ale, stout, porter, you will find it easier to enjoy fresh stronger EVOO.
best gifts from abruzzo

Best gifts from Abruzzo

Let’s admit it: very few of us like the stress of Christmas shopping. Especially when you want to buy something special for your loved ones and can’t seem to find anything suitable. With only a few weeks to go to the holiday season, there is no time for procrastination. We all know that although there are plenty of food artisans and high-quality traditional crafts in the region but finding them online is a hell of a task if you want to buy gifts for Abruzzo lovers.  I thought, a roundup of the best gifts from Abruzzo might make your life a little easier.

A gift for pasta lovers

One of the first things that come to mind when you think of Made in Abruzzo gifts is, of course, la chitarra (or “lu carratur” in dialect), a traditional pasta making tool. Every self-respecting Abruzzo cuisine lover must have one of this wooden frames with tight strings. You roll a pasta dough sheet over them (not as easy as it sounds!) to make delicious square spaghetti, pasta alla chitarra. You can buy one here.

best gifts from abruzzo

Lace jewellery

The tradition of delicate bobbin lace from Scanno goes back to the 16th century but there are very few women left, who still make it. Federica Silvani learnt the craft secrets from two old ladies in the village and together with the goldsmith Francesco Rotolo started creating exquisite jewellery. If you happen to be in Scanno, make sure you visit her beautiful workshop (Via Vincenzo Tanturri, 1). You can order rings, earrings, pendants or bracelets on her website or her Amazon shop. Prices start from €105 for a pendant on a silver chain.

best gifts from abruzzo

Pizzelle maker

Another staple of Abruzzese cuisine is pizzelle (or neole, nevole, ferratelle, depending on where they are made as, it seems, every village in the region has a different name for them). Just a few decades ago, nearly every family had irons for baking the waffles on fire. Nowadays, electric makers are used. Check out this pizzelle baker for making thin crispy pizzelle.

best gifts from abruzzo

Bed covers with history

Lanificio Vincenzo Merlino of Taranta Peligna has been manufacturing traditional high-quality Abruzzese blankets since 1870. Their stunning bed covers are made from pure wool or cotton. The factory has an online shop and ships worldwide.

Traditional ceramics

One of the most iconic Abruzzese ceramics designs is a centortavola, a bread plate, with cut-outs. This one is hand-made in the town of Villamagna and decorated with the old-style “Fioraccio abruzzese”, a floral design used for traditional kitchen utensils.

best gifts from abruzzo

Wines from Abruzzo

Choose three bottles from some of the famous Montepulciano D’Abruzzo producers that will be sent to you in a gift box. You can’t go wrong with magnificent wines from Cataldi Madonna, Praesidium, Emidio Pepe! Buy a Montepuciano D’Abruzzo gift box here. Shipping within Italy and Europe only.

Abruzzo photo book

This photo book by renowned landscape photographer Michael Kenna is one of very few publications on Abruzzo and it is stunning. Printed on matt art paper it presents 65 stunning images of the region, published for the first time.

Foodie breaks

The greatest gifts are experiences rather than things. I organise foodie breaks in Abruzzo for those who are curious to explore the region’s culinary traditions. A break includes accommodation for two nights for two people, a hearty dinner in a traditional restaurant, wine tour and a cooking class. You will see off-the-beaten path towns, taste the best local dishes and enjoy excellent wines.

 

best gifts from abruzzo

vino cotto abruzzo

Vino cotto from Abruzzo: cooked and fermented to perfection

The tradition of vino cotto (“cooked wine”) goes at least a thousand years back. Pliny the Elder mentioned it in his writings in the 1st century as one of the most sought-after drinks of the time. Nowadays, few people know what it is. Historians say that vino cotto was born from the need to preserve wine made from low quality grapes. The best of harvest went to the landowner and hard-working farmers were often left with small sour grapes. Cooking them reduced the volume but increased the sugar concentration, which meant the wine could be stored for longer periods. From late spring to November, when normal wine turned sour (no technology to extend its shelf life existed back then) farmers drank vino cotto until the next harvest. Le Marche and Abruzzo are the two regions where vino cotto became part of the local cuisine. For centuries, a glass of vino cotto and a slice of bread were symbols of a welcoming home.

vino cotto abruzzo

In Abruzzo, the area around Roccamontepiano is where the tradition is still alive. Pressed grapes are cooked slowly in a large copper pot (lu callare) on an open fire. In old days, a piece of iron chain covered with a terracotta plate was placed in the bottom of the pot to make sure that the wine doesn’t taste of metal. After hours of slow cooking, when the liquid is reduced by at least a half, it is left to cool down. Later, an equal quantity of fresh grape must is added and the blend is transferred small wooden barrels to ferment. One of the producers told me that in his family, every year, before going to the Christmas mass, a sip of vino cotto is poured for everyone, including little kids. His grandfather did it, as well as his father and he continues the ritual. For many centuries, locals have made a special barrel of vino cotto when a son is born in the family. It is left to age until the boy’s wedding day.

vino cotto abruzzo

It was impossible to buy a bottle of this ancient wine until a few years ago. Families made the brew for home consumption but were not allowed to sell it. Then a few local enthusiasts in Roccamontepiano got together, applied for funding to buy industrial equipment and opened a small production centre. Now they produce limited quantities of exquisite vino cotto aged for five, eight or 15 years. Although the wine is cooked in a steel tank in less than 30 minutes it is still delicious. Every year they also organise a festival of vino cotto with tastings and demonstrations of how the wine was cooked in old days.

vino cotto abruzzoIn Roccamontepiano, they say that the best cure for a cold is a small glass of hot vino cotto before bed. I love vino cotto with hot roasted chestnuts or almond biscotti dipped in it. Dark brown with an amber glow, the drink is rich without being too heavy. The dry fruit notes are rounded with a warm hint of wood and more than a thousand years of tradition.

Vino cotto is often confused with vin brulé and mosto cotto. What is the difference between them? Vin brulé is a hot spiced wine, like mulled wine. Mosto cotto is cooked reduced grape juice with must that is used for baking in Abruzzo.

You can buy vino cotto in the Centro di Produzione Vino Cotto, C.da Terranova, Roccamontepiano (CH).

Follow the Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo on Facebook here

Photos by Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo.

 

Dunk your tarallucci Abruzzo-style

It has been a busy season here. I have met so many wonderful people from all over the world on my food and wine tours in Abruzzo. Everyone loves the local cuisine and sings praise to the region’s wines and hearty dishes. But there is one experience on my Pescara food tour that everybody is crazy about: getting a small glass of wine at the Don Gennaro wine shop and dipping pieces of tarralucci al vino, ring-shaped biscuits, in it. In Italian it is called “inzupparli”. For most of my clients, it is a new culinary experience and they often look at me as if waiting for an approving nod before dunking their biscuit in the wine, the gesture that somehow feels naughty and unfamiliar nowadays. It is an old tradition that takes us back to the days when locals drank wine not only to be merry but relied on it for extra calories. Farmers would pack tarallucci al vino or some other humble carb and plenty of home-made wine to re-fuel during a quick break while working in the fields.

tarallucci al vino abruzzo

I learnt about the dunking tradition from a friend’s nonna, who said that it was the best way to eat tarallucci. And she was right. The slightly sweet dense dough combined with a no-nonsense table wine tastes rustic and good. It won’t work with a fancy wine from a bottle, you need “vino sfuso”, or bulk wine, sharp and strong, to fully immerse in this authentic taste of Abruzzo.

Tarallucci al vino are easy and quick to make. It is one of those very old Abruzzese recipes that only calls for a few simple (vegan!) ingredients: flour, wine and olive oil. I added some sugar but in the past mosto cotto, or slowly cooked grape must, was a go-to sweetener. Use the ancient grain solina or wholegrain flour to achieve the slightly coarse, rustic texture. Tarallucci al vino can be made with white or red wine.

food and wine tours abruzzo

Tarallucci al vino

Makes 15-20 biscuits

Ingredients:

150 ml white wine (pecorino or trebbiano d’Abruzzo)

150g sugar

150ml EVOO

500g solina flour

Pinch of salt

Few pinches of fennel seeds

Preparation:

Mix the wine and olive oil with a fork in a bowl, add the sugar, then the flour, salt and fennel seeds mixing the ingredients thoroughly to create homogenous dough. If the dough is still too sticky, add more flour until it is elastic, soft and easy enough to handle with your hands. Do not overwork it or the biscuits will be too hard. Make a ball and leave the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.

Take small amounts of the cooled dough, roll them slightly to make short thick cords. Connect the ends to make a fat ring. Bake for 25-30 mins until golden. If your rings are thin, reduce the baking time to 20 minutes.

When they cool down, dunk away in a glass of simple Montepulciano d’Abruzzo!