Abruzzo’s gift that keeps on giving

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo on the table.

Glenn and I with Piero at the Cantina di Biffi in Sulmona. Note bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on the table.

We drank a lot of wine in Italy. Italian wine. Big mouthfilling reds and crisp Calabrian whites. But one of the most lasting wine pleasures we discovered was Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a wine I had never heard of before spending a few weeks in Abruzzo.

So last week my brother, Glenn, forwarded me an email from a wine store, touting “a true gem of a wine” in Fantini’s 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The email claims a wine score of 90 for it, though my online research turns up 85 or 87. Am I concerned? Naaa. I’m gonna go look for some of this, which is available from several places at about $10 a bottle, and I’m gonna bring it home, and I’m gonna cook up some pasta with sauce that includes zucchini (because I am overloaded with it right now). Then I’ll pour a couple of big red glasses of that stuff.

I’ll be wishing my brother was here to enjoy it, like we did in Sulmona in 2004 at the Cantina di Biffi. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has become my go-to red since then.

Readers, please share your best Italian wine experience in the comments. What made it special?

Festive travels in Italy

Travelers to Italy often plan most of their visits around those “must see” tourist attractions like the Coliseum in Rome, the leaning tower in Pisa, and the ruins of Pompeii. Italy has enough of these to occupy many months of vacation time.

Italian Landscape with a Country Festival by Francesco Zuccarelli (18th c.) Image from Wikimedia Commons

Italian Landscape with a Country Festival by Francesco Zuccarelli (18th c.) Image from Wikimedia Commons

But there’s more to Italy than the typical tour itinerary includes. And one consideration might be local festivals. Just like local festivals here in the U.S. (and probably wherever you live), the festivals in Italy usually include booths with food vendors, special entertainment, and an atmosphere of excitement.

An internet search for “festivals Italy 2013” ended in frustration. The information was too general, and often too limited to a particular area. So I began a search including the name of a region, and found much more of interest. For example, through this link for Abruzzo:


I found festivals throughout the year in towns large and small–ranging from a Trout and Shrimp Festival to a Bonfire Festival, to a snake-handling event with Roman origins. You might notice that this is the business website of a construction company in Abruzzo, but what a great service they have added for the English speaking traveler! Even a referral for an English speaking auto mechanic. Bravi, Craftsmen!

There are festivals for all kinds of interests: food (of course!!), religious holidays, history, music, and many more. You many belong to an organization with members in Italy you can connect with through a local festival in their town. And just as visitors to my town learn a little more about it if they attend our annual Irrigation Festival (going on this week, by the way), you can absorb some more Italian culture by enjoying a festival there.

So tell me, readers, have you attended a festival in Italy? Share about it in the comments, please!


World Championship In-line skating: Sulmona 2004

We arrived in Sulmona in the fall of 2004 to a scene of celebration. Teams of athletes from countries around the world were gathered there to compete in the summer version of speed-skating, with in-line skates, and we were there for opening night!

A banner announces "World Championships" with Sulmona's iconic medieval aqueduct in the background.

A banner announces “World Championships” with Sulmona’s iconic medieval aqueduct in the background.

We had no idea this event was happening when we planned our visit. Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona’s enormous main square, was transformed into a racetrack surrounded by bleachers and vendors’ booths.

A parade of nations entering the arena.

A parade of nations entering the arena.

The teams paraded along Corso Ovidio and into the arena in alphabetical order by country (a little trickier in Italian!).

Team USA passing the fountain in Piazza Garibaldi.

Team USA passing the fountain in Piazza Garibaldi.

We found the American team and wished them well.

A young fan cheers his favorites.

A young fan cheers his favorites.

Here are a few photos we snapped while watching the events.

Medics help after a nasty fall.

Medics help after a nasty fall.

It wouldn't be Italy without fireworks!

It wouldn’t be Italy without fireworks!


Off the beaten path: Discover Scontrone

The beautiful mountains of central Italy.

Italy has its share of tourist attractions, but don’t be fooled. Out in the countryside, in villages and hamlets, many unsung gems await discovery. Scontrone offered us such a discovery.

During one week of a two-month stay in Italy, my husband and I connected with my brother and his daughter in Abruzzo.

A trusting place–keys in the door!

And on one brilliant August day, we drove south from Sulmona in a loop that took us through Castel di Sangro, Scontrone, Barrea and a bit of the National Park of Abruzzo, then through Scanno and back to Sulmona.

Another reason to stop: to have a cool one.

We stopped at Scontrone to have a look around, attracted mainly because of its connection with Pope Celestine V, who lived there briefly in his early twenties, seeking a place of solitude, and found it in a cave. We did not find the cave, but wandered around the quiet (nearly deserted) village, taking photos, which I share with you today.

We admired the “public art”.

And along with these, I encourage you, when you visit Italy, to leave the line to get into the museum, the stiff neck from staring at grand ceilings, leave all that behind at least for a while, and get off the beaten path, practice your “Buon giorno” in a village piazza or bar, and enjoy what you find there.

A member of the welcoming committee.

Italian news this week: Two high-profile court decisions

Italian court decisions have been in the news this week, the first generating mostly disbelief, and the second perhaps more “What took you so long?” comments.

Scientists were convicted of manslaughter for not predicting more certainly a deadly earthquake. http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/23/italian-court-sentences-scientists-to-6-years-in-prison-over-laquila-earthquake/?iref=allsearch

The former prime minister received a prison term of four years for tax fraud. http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/26/world/europe/italy-berlusconi-convicted/index.html?hpt=ieu_c1

Readers, what do you think of these decisions? Do they change or confirm your view of Italy?

RE-blog: About Abruzzo

I recently discovered this great blog ‘About Abruzzo’ which is one of my favorite regions of the Italian south. Written by an Irishman who’s been truly bitten by the bug, the blog is full of great insights about the region. One of my favorite features is the photo section, packed with photos from many different places in Abruzzo, and easy to navigate. But today I’m sharing a snip of a recent post, and if you like what you read, click the link to see more!

Three Days in Loreto Aprutino (from “About Abruzzo”)

In the space of a week I received two emails asking about things to do if you had a few days based in Loreto Aprutino.

Although my answer was specific to options in and around Loreto I think the general theme applies to wherever you find yourself in Abruzzo.

  • Explore what the local town has to offer
  • Relax – you owe it to yourself
  • Try the local restaurants
  • Visit other towns within easy reach by car or public transport
  • Walk a little
  • Local events and markets

What follows are my suggestions for what I consider to be a few excellent but not overly packed days discovering Loreto Aprutino and its surroundings.


San Bartolomeo in Legio: An Italian hermitage

On a hot, clear September afternoon Vern and I followed our friend Cesare along a trail through dry grass on the slopes of Maiella. Our destination: one of the dozens of hermitages in the mountains of Abruzzo, San Bartolomeo in Legio. Pilgrims still visit the site, most commonly on August 25 each year. The narrow trail and ledge discourage crowds!

In the chapelChapel entry, and window on left

Little doorway to nowhere

No handrails on these stairs!

It is hard to imagine spending weeks or months in this isolated place, but there is a beauty in the surroundings, and it seems a good place to encounter God. Here you can read more about it.

Have you ever visited a hermitage? Where was it, and what did you think of it?