If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I spent last Sunday surrounded by the striking mountains and the unspoilt nature of the Majella National Park in Abruzzo, taking part to an Instagrammers’ tour of the park on a vintage train from the 1920s.
I applied to this trip because I wanted to show you a very off-the-beaten-path region of Italy, the genuineness and the breathtaking natural landscapes of an area free from mainstream tourism, but also because Abruzzo is where my family comes from. Thanks to my grandparents I understood the local dialect even before I learnt Italian and I spent my childhood summers at the seaside in Pescara or in some beautiful little village inside one of the four natural parks of Abruzzo.
I’ve always seen Abruzzo through the nostalgic lens of my grandparents who left it to pursue a job in the big city, I felt asleep listening to lullabies singing about the sunrise on Abruzzo’s mountains and I learnt how to cook from my grandma’s hands well trained on Abruzzo’s traditional recipes.
And now… there I was! :-)
The programme of the day was pretty intense, but luckily we also had the chance to explore on our own. The train ran along an abandoned railway from Sulmona to Pescocostanzo, also stopping in Campo di Giove and in Pelana, therefore crossing the Southern part of the Majella National Park, one of the three national parks of Abruzzo. Abruzzo is one of Italy’s wildest regions, at the forefront of efforts to protect its natural heritage: the first National Natural Park of Italy is here (Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo).
The thing I enjoyed most of the overall experience has been the view from the train window on the mountains, the valleys, the small villages perched on the rocks and -in general- the bright colours of this beautiful park.
#AbruzzoInstarail > Abruzzo Italy off the beaten path
The point of departure: SULMONA
Sulmona is a medieval town with a long history dating back to the Roman Empire, surrounded by the majestic natural landscape of the Majella National Park.
I woke up early to have a walk around while the town was still asleep and the main shopping street of Sulmona –Corso Ovidio, named after the Latin poet who has born in this town- was lazily recovering from all the strolling and all the partying from the night before.
|Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona|
|Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona|
I went to Piazza Garibaldi to admire the ancient aqueduct and the overall beauty of this square so much loved by locals because of the annual Giostra Cavalleresca (jousting tournament) taking place here and bringing them back to their medieval traditions. Then I wandered around the maze of narrow cobbled alleys of Sulmona old town until the meeting time has come and we all gathered in front of SS Annunziata church-palace complex -a composition of a church and a hospice of the poor built in 1320 in which Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque styles are harmoniously blended.
After the short briefing, we had some time to wander around Sulmona on our own, and I headed to the Cathedral of San Panfilo by walking throughout the Villa Comunale (Town Park).
|SS Annunziata, Sulmona|
|Cathedral of San Panfilo, Sulmona|
|Villa Comunale, Sulmona|
Sulmona || Where to eat: On the day before, I met with a fellow Instagrammer (@stellefilanti) and we ate something together at Clemente Restaurant. I had a tasty Mc Bruzz: a cheeseburger made with local traditional products such as mutton meat, local cheese, mayo made with red garlic from Sulmona (a well-known Slow Food Presidium –the red garlic, not the mayo!) wrapped in homemade bread from local cereals and served with fried potatoes from Fucino area. 100% local, 100% yummy!
First stop: CAMPO DI GIOVE
This one was a really quick stop, I barely had the time to exit the train station where the brass band and many local producers welcomed us in grand style. But for what I saw Campo di Giove looks like a mountain village devoted to skiing and other winter sports, such as trekking and hiking during the summer.
Second stop: open-air lunch in PELANA
The abandoned train station of Pelana is in the middle of a green valley, nestled into the massive mountains of the Majella National Park. Here we had a lovely open-air country lunch, tasting some traditional flavors of Abruzzo: arrosticini (shoulder of lamb diced and marinated in olive oil with marjoram and garlic, threaded onto a skewer and grilled over charcoal), polenta (a coarse corn meal mixed with water stirred and cooked to a thick porridge) with sausages, several legumes soups, local cold cuts and cheeses and of course many perfumed regional wines.
After lunch, we have been invited to try some activities available in the park, and I opted for horseback riding wishing to re-bond with the horseback rider child in me –even if a bit afraid of doing it 20 years later; luckily it turned out you never forget how to ride! :-)
Excited by the ride (horse)back to my childhood, I signed also for the gig ride around the park, which gave me the chance to talk with the coachman and thus discover that in spring, when the snow melts, this area is actually a lake, which gradually disappears over the summer making room for the valley.
Last stop: PESCOCOSTANZO
The last stop of our journey was Pescocostanzo, a beautiful Medieval hamlet on the other side of the Majella National Park. Pescocostanzo is made up of centuries-old stone houses fully adorned with hundreds of potted flowers.
Wandering around Pescocostanzo kinda feels like walking within a postcard, everything is so lovely and well-finished with a maniacal attention to the smallest details.
And so, this was my journey back to my family roots; you can also enjoy a short video out of it: “1 day in Abruzzo…in 1 minute“
Check also all the pictures taken by my travel-mates following the hashtag #AbruzzoInstarail on Instagram!
BONUS TRACK> My grandma’s recipe for Carginitti
And now I can admit it: besides a few memories of my childhood summers, all I knew about Abruzzo before jumping on this train was about its variegated traditional cuisine, which ranges from seafood cuisine on the coast and a more continental cuisine on the mountains, with several Slow Food Presidia scattered around the region.
And of course all I knew about Abruzzo’s traditional cuisine I learnt it from my grandmother! And so, here is her recipe for Carginitti, fried ravioli with several kinds of sweet stuffing: our Christmas table wouldn’t be complete without them!
Ingredients for 1 kilo of Carginitti
For the dough:
300gr refined flour
40 ml extra-virgin olive oil
4 gr salt
40 ml water
Make the dough by mixing flour, oil and water, then add sugar and salt.
Knead it to get a smooth and homogeneous dough and stretch it out until it is half centimetre high.
Now it’s time to stuff them!
There are three different traditional stuffing for these sweet ravioli: my favourite one is with black grape jam: you just have to put the jam on the dough, fold it and crop the ravioli and simply like that they are ready to be fried!
Other traditional stuffing are “honey & almonds” or “chickpeas & chocolate”:
Honey & Almonds
500 gr almonds
300 gr honey
peel of 2 lemons
50 gr cooking chocolate
200 gr sugar
80 ml rum
Roast the almonds and mince them, then put them in a pan and add all other ingredients a bit at a time, until you get a homogeneous stuffing. Take one spoon of this stuffing at a time and put it on the dough every 5 centimetres, fold the dough and shape the ravioli closing the dough with the help of a fork. Fry them and then cover them with sugar.
Chickpeas & Chocolate
200 gr almonds
400 gr chickpeas
100 gr dark chocolate
3 gr cinnamon powder
50 gr cooking chocolate
200 gr sugar
80 ml rum
Stew the chickpeas and mince them together with all other ingredients with the help of a blender until you get a uniform stuffing. Take one spoon of this stuffing at a time and put it on the dough every 5 centimetres, fold the dough and shape the ravioli closing the dough with the help of a fork. Fry them and then cover them with sugar.
…special thanks to my grandma for sharing her recipe and most of all for linking me to such a beautiful region of Italy! :)
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