Open my heart and you will see Graved inside of it, “Italy”. – Robert Browning
I signed up for a 6 day tour walking segments of the tratturi in Molise. These are the ancient paths used to move livestock from low to high country and the reverse as the seasons demand. There are several that traverse Molise, some starting in Abruzzo and many ending in Puglia at Foggia.
To our great excitement one of the last families undertaking the traditional transumanza (the movement of their cattle on the tratturi towards the higher cooler mountainous area of Molise for the hot summer) is coming through the night before our tour begins. (https://www.facebook.com/transumanzamolise/). We make our way to an observation place and wait with many other Italian families for the cattle to come through, and we wait, and we wait… Unfortunately we need to go for a dinner with a local family and have to abandon our wait but as we drive away we can see the white horned cattle in the distance crossing the grassy slopes.
The first evening we meet our hosts; Karin of the gorgeous Art & Breakfast B & B in Ripabottoni, Molise. (https://www.facebook.com/Artandbreakfastmolise/) and our guide Francesco. (https://www.facebook.com/TratturoCoastToCoast/).
Over the next 5 days we do some walking. We walk through ancient towns, & valleys; we gaze at the views from castles, we stumble through rocky streams, & climb hills; we stroll barefoot across the sand of the Adriatic coastline, and even swim in bra and knickers; we hug giant trees in the mountains and are astonished by Samnite ruins; and all the while we are wading through grasses, poppies, herbs, crops and trees.
We eat, my goodness we eat. Course after course, pasta, meats, cheeses, grilled aubergines and peppers, cherries, sweets, white wine, red wine, prosecco, limoncello, grappa, Genziana liquor! We nibble on bruschetta with truffle topping, antipasto platters, we visit a stunning vineyard, devour seafood delicacies by the ocean; we try caciocavallo cheese, ricotta cheese, blue matured ricotta. Wild boar (cinghiale) both as a sauce for pasta and as roasted meat makes our plates, with sorbet for dessert. We make our own gnocchi at a lesson from Nonna and then eat it with bacon, tomatoes and parmesan! We learn how to assess an olive oil for if it is rancid, mouldy or fresh. We knead pizza dough and it is cooked for us in the B & B outside oven and we gobble it fresh from the fire under the stars.
The weather gods bless us and every day the weather is fine and clear. Occasionally in the afternoon the thunder rolls around us and the rain briefly falls but by then we are eating, drinking and snoozing.
One day of the tour fell on Larino’s festival of San Pardo. We were able to enjoy all the festivities that the locals partake of: decorated cattle pulling decorated wagons, feasting and tambourines, brass bands, conviviality and companionship. What a tremendous cultural experience and so kind of the family that allowed us to join them.
We are told stories and legends; of a donkey’s paradise and a new bride throwing herself from the cliffs to escape the Lord and his 1st rights; Hannibal’s Molise adventures and of course, ancient tales of the tratturi.
Impromptu visits to the fish markets, and unexpected encounters with wonderful locals such as the food producers, our cooks and the samnite ruins guide, all add enormously to the wonderful Molise experience we had.
Nonna’s Gnocchi recipe:
1 & a 1/2 handfuls of 00 flour, 1 handful of cooked grated potato, 1 egg.
Blend, knead, cut into pieces, roll each piece under a finger tip to make the concave shape.
Into boiled water, raises to the surface when cooked.
My absolutely favourite bits you ask? Lago Guardialfiera. Karin’s garden at Art & Breakfast B & B. My fellow walker Heather and her wonderful war story. Swimming in the sea. The horses. Samnite history. A coffee table with a mountain of books upon it.
I will be back.