A Few of My Favourite Abruzzo Things – Noel McCarthy

Santa Maria in Piano

What’s your association with Abruzzo? i.e. where do you live and why? Where did your family come from and when/ where did they emigrate to?
Noel MccarthyI’m Irish, from Dublin and I’ve no family at all in Abruzzo or indeed Italy. For me, up until a few years ago, the only knowledge I had about Abruzzo was due to reading The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss and honestly, I was paying more attention to the football story than the location. But whilst the Celtic Tiger roared, Ireland started to attract people from many countries, including Italy, and in the last couple of years I’ve met many people from Abruzzo who are living and working in Dublin.

After a walking trip in the Dolomites we decided to see if there was a possibility of a place for us in Italy. My wife did the research and suggested Abruzzo. It was an excellent suggestion. We haven’t looked back since we first visited in August 2007. Since then we’ve been going back as often as we possibly can. One of the best things we did was live there for 3 months which gave us the chance to make really good friends and helped ensure that we’ve  got strong ties to the local community.

What’s the best thing about Abruzzo?
I could talk about the people, the landscape, the food, and the weather – all important ingredients that make Abruzzo wonderful.  If you put me on the spot to select one ‘best thing about Abruzzo’ then I’d have to choose the people. They have and continue to be very welcoming. Their openness has been a great help and also an inspiration. I like to think in some small way they have influenced my attitudes for the better.

What’s the worst thing about Abruzzo?
No country or region is perfect. So when I see people not respecting the land they live in by littering and dumping rubbish I find that upsetting, along with an attitude that it will be cleaned up by the commune…a  bit of “the pot calling the kettle black” as we have similar problems in Ireland, but perhaps not to the same extent.

I’m going to be a bit cheeky and add a second “worst thing”. Sometimes I think that getting a driving license in Abruzzo and Italy means that the rules no longer apply. I suppose this is an Italian thing rather than solely an Abruzzo issue but the amount of times my brain has screamed “don’t do it” on seeing some very dangerous manoeuvre or somebody carrying a child unprotected in the front seat.  And why don’t bikers wear protective gear?!

What’s the most underrated thing about Abruzzo?
For me this is a double-edged sword. Abruzzo is a stunning region which offers plenty of opportunity for relaxation and adventure. There are so many places of interest and the quality of the food is outstanding. It’s a paradise for tourism, and while we wouldn’t want it overrun with tourists, the region is very poorly promoted despite the opportunities for sustainable tourism.

Where would be your favourite place to live in Abruzzo?
That’s a no-brainer. Loreto Aprutino in the Pescara province is the winner for me.  It sits perched on a hill about 30 minutes from the coast and 45 minutes from the mountains, with a combination of the old and the modern.

Where would you not live in Abruzzo?
I wouldn’t like to be isolated in the mountains above the snow line – nice to visit but very tough during winter months. Also that romantic notion of a farm house with olive groves doesn’t appeal. Apart from the need to be there all year round to take care of your crop the real reason again is isolation.

We have gained greatly from being part of a community. A place where a 5 minute walk to the market takes 30 minutes because of all the people you meet and chat to. There’s a better chance of making friends, finding out important local news and practising Italian.

Loreto Aprutino Market

What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in Abruzzo?
A perfect weekend would revolve around the familiar and the new. Heading off to explore a new place with friends, stopping en route for coffee, perhaps having a restorative picnic after a good long walk, then back to base to have dinner with a few glasses of wine and good conversation. A combination of a walk in the mountains, a dip in the sea and good social interaction would do it for me every time.

What’s your favourite Abruzzo vineyard and why?
I like wine and normally prefer red to white. I’ve gotten to know a few wineries and vineyards in Abruzzo and many are really good. I’m going to chose Azienda Agricola Masciarelli. I love both their Marina Cvetic and Villa Gemma ranges. I was first introduced to the Marina Cvetic Montepulciano by Ottavio in the restaurant New Evo in Loreto Aprutino. Since then, at about €20 a bottle, it’s become our favourite red wine for very special occasions.

Where’s the best place to eat?
I can’t recall ever being disappointed with a meal in an Abruzzese restaurant.  For that reason I’m going to subcategorise my response. Here goes:

  • Best place to eat for the view – Florano (part of the B&B Loreblick), Loreto Aprutino  (PE)
  • Best food in an Abruzzo restaurant – Font’Artana, Picciano (PE) – nothing but Slow Food at its best
  • Most unique – Trabocco Punta Isolata, Rocca San Giovanni (CH) – swimming before lunch on a trabocco, now that’s special
  • Most frequented – New Evo, Loreto Aprutino (PE) – their antipasto misto is a delight
  • Special mention – La Bilancia, Loreto Aprutino (PE) – always consistent, you can’t go wrong with their fettuccini ai funghi
  • Always the best fun and most interesting – when you’re lucky enough to be invited into an Abruzzese home for lunch or dinner. Grazie mille a Arnaldo, Dorris, Gabrielle, Rita, Lino e Cecilia.

What would you do for a special occasion?
We’ve had birthdays and anniversaries in Abruzzo and our approach usually involves having people around for lunch or dinner. A few bottles of prosecco always deliver, along with dolce from Pasticceria Emiliana and gelati from Rychot’s.

What’s your favourite view in Abruzzo?
Our usual route from Dublin to Abruzzo is via Rome. From Rome we either drive or take a bus to Pescara. Travelling across Italy, crossing the Apennines, leaving Lazio and entering Abruzzo, seeing the green countryside in full sunshine with snow still on the peaks is always wonderful. Equally the view when finally reaching Loreto Aprutino, seeing the town looking back at us as we travel the last kilometre on the SR151.  However my favourite view has to be from Loreto Aprutino itself, looking across at the church of Santa Maria in Piano and on to the snow capped Majella mountain range. That view in late spring, early summer, with the martins and swifts putting on an acrobatic aerial display is truly spectacular.

What would be your favourite Abruzzo dish?
I know it’s simple and wouldn’t be classed as gourmet food but I really love arrosticini. Eaten simply with a green salad and bread with oil, these lamb skewers are addictive. At this stage I’ve had them in restaurants, at our neighbour’s country plot (grazie Luigi) and on Campo Imperatore. I like them so much I’ve even found a place in Dublin that serves them –  Coffee To Get Her at The Bernard Shaw on South Richmond Street.

But there’s one very special dish that I try to get everybody I know to sample when visiting Abruzzo. That’s bucatini alla trescatora. It’s made from a duck based sauce, sometimes called Sugo di papera muta. I had an odd conversation once when I asked what is used to make the sauce – “Is it duck? No it’s bigger than a duck. Ah it’s a goose? No smaller than a goose.” I gave up and just lapped it up. You can get it in Il Casolare, Contrada Fiorano, 85, Loreto Aprutino.

Sugo di papera muta

What outdoor activities or sports would you recommend in Abruzzo and why?
The air is so clean in the mountains and hills of Abruzzo I think walking is one of the best ways to experience the region and at the same time stay healthy. All that good food has to be addressed somehow!  Many of the routes you can walk in spring, summer and autumn are turned into a ski wonderland at the onset of winter.

After you’ve tired yourself out in the mountains you could always go for a refreshing dip in the Adriatic – choices, choices, choices.

What’s your favourite Abruzzo village and why?
Too hard! Every village has something to offer, you just have to be ready to see it.

Have you a favourite Abruzzo walk?
The first significant walk I did in Abruzzo and still one of my favourites is the trail to the Eremo di San Bartolomeo in Legio near Roccamorice (PE) in the Majella. Arriving at the hermitage and seeing the structure cut into the mountain is a revelation. Nothing but pure devotion could have driven monks to live there.  A close second has to be the walk in the Valle dell’Orfento. Setting out and returning to Caramanico Terme (PE) following the Orfento river is a great way to spend working up an appetite.

Orfento river

What piece of advice you would give to someone new to Abruzzo?
Take your time, slow down and relax. Certainly Abruzzo has much to offer but if you try to do too much in too short a time you can become overwhelmed.  Make sure you give yourself a chance to sit outside a bar and have you favourite tipple, be it a coffee, tea, beer, wine or a more traditional aperitivo.  Learn a few phrases of Italian. Visit the local shops. Observe the natural rhythm of daily life.  You’ll want to come back.

Which ‘must see’ event or activity best sums up Abruzzo?
Apart from being bursting at the seams with wonderful places to visit, Abruzzo must have one of the fullest calendars for festivals in all of Italy.   The most unusual event I’ve come across is the Palio delle Pupe in Cappelle sul Tavo (PE). On August 15 (Ferrogosto) the local districts compete by having a representative get inside a large doll, dance, while an attached metal frame acts as the source of a firework display. You have to see it to believe it.

The “event” I haven’t seen or been part of that I hope to get an opportunity to experience in the future is the Transhumanza – the traditional twice yearly migration of sheep from highlands to lowlands and vice versa.

Which book would you recommend people to read to understand Abruzzo?
The only books I’ve read about Abruzzo were in English, either originally written in English or translated from Italian. I don’t think any of them really do Abruzzo justice. The Abruzzo Trilogy by Ignazio Silone is often recommended but, although it is set in Abruzzo and is certainly an important work, I don’t think it reflects Abruzzo today. Perhaps there’s something more appropriate in Italian, but my Italian isn’t up to it yet. In the absence of the ultimate book you can always check out the blogs!

What attitude best sums up the Abruzzesi?

In my experience the Abruzzesi are patient, encouraging and understanding. Certainly always willing to give advice and generally the advice is spot on. The most used phrase is piano, piano (slowly, slowly) which can often be used to mean “you’ll get there”, “keep at it”. I’ve especially noticed this when I’m struggling to communicate. Perfection isn’t expected and communication by words, gestures or facial expressions are all good – whatever gets you there.

Can you name any celebrities either from or Abruzzo or of Abruzzo descent?
Without doing a search (because that would be cheating) I know of Ovid (poet) from Sulmona, Gabriele D’Annunzio (writer) from Pescara, Jarno Trulli (F1 racing driver) from Pescara.There are plenty of second generation celebrities including Dean Martin, Madonna and Rocky Marciano.The Abruzzese that arguably has had the greatest influence on modern culture is Corradino D’Ascanio (Engineer) the inventor of the Vespa, born in Popoli. What, you’ve never heard of him?!

If you lived outside Abruzzo what would you take to remind you of Abruzzo?
Having Abruzzo olive oil on good bread with salt always pulls me back there.  I’ve a framed photo hanging in my office showing a lone olive tree, a cloudy blue sky and the Gran Sasso in the distance. That does it too.  But I think the item that reminds me most of Abruzzo is a locally made painted tile, depicting the church of Santa Maria in Piano that we can see from the centro storico of Loreto Aprutino.

Noel McCarthy is a software project manager who based in Dublin with a holiday home in Abruzzo’s famous olive oil capital Loreto Aprutino, in the province of Pescara. In his spare time he’s the glorious author of the travel blog AboutAbruzzo  official website | Facebook Page | Twitter.

Sam Dunham
Author: Sam Dunham

Sam is a very lucky midlife 'mamma' to A who is 12 and juggles her work as a self-employed freelance SEO food and travel copywriter and EFL teacher. She is the founder of the Life In Abruzzo Cultural Association, co-founder of Let's Blog Abruzzo. she is the founder of the 'English in the Woods' initiative, teaching English outdoors in a forest style school.

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