Abruzzo Chestnuts courtesy of Peter Foster
If you are considering a holiday to Abruzzo, the first 2 weeks of November should definitely be considered, especially if you are partial to wine, chestnuts and bonfires that ward off the nip in the air that descends with November’s arrival.
Firstly for the chestnut lovers! The first week of November in Abruzzo offers the Sagra della Castagna & Sagra Sagra della Caldarrosta (Festival of the Chestnut and Roasted Chestnuts). There are plenty of ways to help get into this, one is delving into the nearby woods on the Gran Sasso Mountains to pick chestnuts and come back and roast them on the open fire at Little House of the Firefly (of course not forgetting to criss cross their tops them so they don’t explode). If you are lucky you may just find a few truffles too to chop up and cook with a little chittara and pecorino.
Or keep it simple and eat the seasonal Castagnaccio. For those not in the know this is a peasant chestnut cake first mentioned in print in the C16th and whose origins are dubious – let’s just say anywhere in the Alps or Apennines! It’s gluten free, a little bit smoky and made with water, flour, raisins, pine nuts and rosemary; it’s delicious and particularly good with an espresso for breakfast or, if you are feeling decadent, ricotta (delivered to the village on Friday) and high meadow honey. The daily baker van at this time also celebrates by selling tortelli – which is a sweet short crust pastry like dough that is traditionally stuffed with jam and ricotta but at this time of year is filled with chestnuts.
If that all sounds like too much work you can just take an afternoon drive up to Valle Castellana just under Civitella delle Tronto where there is a big week-long celebration from the 2nd November for both chestnuts and potatoes when you can sample freely many dishes of the two…
If that is a little tame then it is lucky for you St Martin’s Day is on the 10 November. What is particularly nice about this saint is that he was the first western saint not to have to achieve martyrdom to be awarded a feast day, he additionally shared his cloak with a poor drunkard who had fallen and for those two reasons he has become the patron saint of wine-growers. So… how do you imagine he is celebrated in Abruzzo, Italy’s fifth largest wine producer at 3.8 million hectolitres (hl) a year?
Generally a St Martino effigy is paraded colourfully though each village and town but more importantly for all lovers of Italian wine – this is the day that the new wine is tasted, so if you love Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo, a fine Trebbiano D’Abruzzo now is the time to go tasting at the nearby vineyards, particularly when so many are organic!
If you drive down to Scanno (a bit of a drive through the mountains taking nearly 1.5 hours) you’ll see groups bustle the streets of the village collecting wood for the evening giant liturgical meets fertility rites and cult fires… roll on The Wickerman…In the evening boys paint their faces black and dance around the fires shaking bells or basically anything that can cause noise to take part in “Glorie” as jars of wine are passed. Sausages are eaten later in the square by all the groups and children are given a cake with a coin hidden inside. This celebration gets excused by being a Celtic New Year thing and one that the Lombards brought in the C7th whilst temporarily dominating Abruzzo.
So there you go 3 good reasons for having a week’s holiday in Abruzzo in November, now you just have to find a flight…