What’s your association with Abruzzo?
I live near the mountains close to Civitaquana in the province of Pescara. I have lived here since 2008 with my husband Karl and a motley crew of assorted furkids, which currently consists of 6 chickens, 5 cats, 3 dogs and one resident kestrel, called Kevin. Before moving to Abruzzo, we lived in England in the cosmopolitan city of Oxford. I was born and brought up there by Italian parents, both from the Abruzzo region.
They moved from this area to go to England in the 1950s due to the economic recession at the time. In those years, a lot of Italians emigrated to USA, South America and other European countries including England. My father is from Bellante, and my mother is from Mosciano Sant’Angelo. It’s interesting how the roles have reversed and my parents are permanent residents in England, while we are now living in their native territory. My parents spoke to me and my sisters in Abruzzo dialect from when we were children and we always replied in English! We still communicate in this way and we often get strange looks when we are out and about and speaking to each other naturally in both languages!
What’s the best thing about Abruzzo?
I love the people and their wonderful hospitality, the richness and diversity of the local food, the spectacular unspoilt scenery. I love the mountains in the National parks, the clean sandy beaches, the beautiful villages perched precariously on hilltops, the traditional music, the colourful and vibrant markets . There is so much going for Abruzzo that it’s impossible to say which particular aspect is my favourite. I have created a few video slideshow of Abruzzo and here is one of my favourites: Living the Dream in Abruzzo
What’s the worst thing about Abruzzo?
A specific thing which worries me and which could be the worst thing for Abruzzo is the impact of future oil exploration in the region. I wouldn’t like to see oil platforms on the horizon when I want to go to the beach. The risk of spillage would have a phenomenal impact on the region and of course the ecology. It could change the face of Abruzzo. An area of outstanding beauty could be scarred for life.
Secondly and more personal, and although not specific for Abruzzo, is the Italian postal service. It can be very slow and has sometimes not been brilliant. Items have got lost in the past and we have had problems with couriers refusing to deliver down our road. We usually have to meet them at the end of our “road”.
What’s the most underrated thing about Abruzzo?
I am often surprised when people in England ask me where Abruzzo is, as they have not heard of it or have no clear idea where it is exactly. This beautiful region should be promoted more, and with that, more tourists would help the region’s tourist industry and offer more employment. I also think wines from Abruzzo are often difficult to find in local supermarkets in England. More promotion is definitely necessary to bring it the recognition it fully deserves!
Where would be your favourite place to live in Abruzzo?
In or near the mountains, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, not far from the sea and airport – the central area in Abruzzo would be perfect. In fact, I have to be honest, exactly where I am living now! We are 25 minutes from Abruzzo Airport, 20 minutes from the mountains, 30 minutes from beautiful beaches.
Where would you not live in Abruzzo?
At this point in my life, I wouldn’t want to live in a crowded city. I came to Abruzzo to live in a quiet, unspoilt area of the world! I am now perfectly at home in the countryside digging new olive trees, making my own compost, and tending to the animals’ every needs.
I wrote a post on this lifestyle called Abruzzo Diary of a Country Lady – Part 1.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in Abruzzo?
Relaxing with friends or family members who live in Abruzzo, attending a special celebration and having a get-together. Recently we spent a fabulous day celebrating my uncle’s 90th birthday. We had a sit down meal for 30 lively guests and all the food was traditional Abruzzo homemade dishes. We didn’t leave the table for 6 whole hours. It was a veritable feast!!
Starting with delicious antipasti, then moving on to spaghetti with polpette (tiny meatballs in tomato sauce), then some amazing gnocchi with a truffle cream sauce, then porchetta (roast pork) with a side salad and various vegetables, then roast chicken with aubergine side dish. For dessert we had my favourite homemade “Pizza Dolce”, a fabulous sponge cake in layers, steeped in alcohol and filled with different coloured creams. We also had homemade sweets in the shape of apricots, then champagne for the toast, then espresso and other typical Abruzzo pastries. The wine was a very special Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and also a new and fantastic wine from Ascoli Piceno region called “AnimaPetri”.
The idea of getting on the back of my husband Karl’s motorbike and visiting a new place with nice views, stopping off for coffee breaks and lunch in a traditional restaurant, is also lovely!
What’s your favourite Abruzzo vineyard and why?
Every wine I have tried from Abruzzo has been special in its own unique way, but to be honest, I haven’t actually visited any particular vineyard in the local area. It is something I have not got round to doing yet! I enjoy a glass of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (white) and of course the famed Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (red). In particular I like Zaccagnini Vino dal Tralcetto D.O.C, Monti di Cerasuolo, a bottle of wine which was given to us as a gift once. The bottle stands out from the rest with its unique “ribbon” attached around the neck.
Where’s the best place to eat? What would you do for a special occasion?
Well, it is very difficult to choose just one as there are quite a few I have been to. I have always enjoyed the meals as the restaurants have been family-run and only local produce and homemade menus available. I have to admit, that I love eating the famous lentils of Santo Stefano di Sessanio and have had excellent meals on several occasions at the Ostello del Cavaliere. Their homemade lentil soup is second to none, and the choice of menu is also very good. If possible in the summer, try to get a seat on their panoramic balcony with stupendous views across the valley.
What’s your favourite view in Abruzzo?
One of my favourite views is from our very own balcony!! The view changes with the seasons and it is a never-ending source of beauty. I like it all the year round, and you never know what you are going to see. We usually get hundreds of sheep passing by during “Transhumanza” time.
Just the other day I saw a pack of 8 huge “cinghiale” (wild boar) in the same valley. We sometimes get hunters around here, who go after wild boar.
The view from the balcony is especially nice in winter when the surrounding area is covered in snow!
I also love the view of the Gran Sasso mountain range near my home and I often use images I have taken as a cover on presentations that I create for global e-conferences.
I feel proud that people will view the photos and ask themselves, where is this beautiful place? In my own little way, by using my own Abruzzo images in my lessons, presentations, animation slideshows and webinars, I am trying to promote the region, and bring it onto the international stage as an area to visit at least once in your life. Below is an example of a role play badge I created for one of my lessons. My favourite picture can be seen to the right.
In this image you can see me in front of the first slide of my Powerpoint presentation which I gave in L’Aquila to teachers of English on the subject of “Effective Images for Powerful Presentations” .
What would be your favourite Abruzzo dish?
I like eating “calgionetti” at Christmas time. These are special Christmas treats filled with a rich chocolate and alcohol infused filling. My mother used to make these sweets every year, but not since 2009. I regret not paying attention when she used to spend all day making calgionetti in the typical Abruzzo way, with a recipe passed down from generation to generation. I was thrilled when I saw a recipe for Calgionetti on Life in Abruzzo blog recently and I followed it. The results were fantastic, as you can see.
They say practice makes perfect, so I made a second batch today and the results were perfect! They tasted like the ones my mother used to make and I am thrilled with the result!!
Do you have a favourite sagra?
I enjoy the wide variety of sagras that are held in different villages throughout the summer. I don’t have any particular favourite, as they are all unique. I went to a Harvest festival in Bellante, Province of Teramo, this summer and enjoyed a traditional meal of spaghetti cooked in duck sauce.
What outdoor activities or sports would you recommend in Abruzzo and why?
I would recommend walking and hiking as there is so much open space in this region with its stunning national parks. The colourful fauna and flora provide abundant opportunities for taking fantastic pictures.
What’s your favourite Abruzzo village and why?
Each village is special and I love Santo Stefano di Sessanio , because of the beautiful Campo Imperatore area. However, Castel del Monte is one of my favourite villages and I have been there several times, once when I thought George Clooney was in the area, filming The American. I wrote a post here
Have you a favourite Abruzzo walk?
Yes, I like the itinerary of the guided tour of the Wolf Sanctuary (Centro Visita del Lupo) in Popoli, which takes about 3 and a half hours to complete. I have done this walking tour twice now and each time, it has been fantastic. You walk up into the mountains and the views are incredible. Seeing and photographing the wolves in their enclosed but natural habitat is an awesome experience.
What piece of advice would you give to someone new to Abruzzo?
Make friends with the locals, go to the markets in the area and get to know people. Try to learn the language, as the locals are so pleased to see you have made an effort to speak the language. Read books on the area, and if possible, make sure you also read some excellent online blogs such as Life in Abruzzo and About Abruzzo. You will find a wealth of useful and practical information which will really help you get to know this region.
Which ‘must see’ event or activity best sums up Abruzzo?
I went to “Frantoi Aperti” (Open Olive Mills) in Loreto Aprutino a couple of years ago and it was a fantastic event! For the price of only 5 Euros we had a fabulous tour of a local olive grove, olive mill and sampled local olive oil together with some delicious local homemade fare, down with local wines. The price also included a fascinating tour of the Olive Oil museum and a guided tour of the Museum of Castelli Ceramics in the historical centre. Click here to see a video I created of this tour.
Which book would you recommend people to read to understand Abruzzo?
Well, I am going to mention a book that I bought a while back. I enjoy using it as it is very practical and it is at the heart of what every person in Abruzzo takes pride in and that is food, of course! I have a copy of “La Cucina Tradizionale, I Sapori di Abruzzo e Molise” by Carlo Natali, which is in Italian, Abruzzo dialect and in English. It contains a lot of fantastic traditional recipes such as “Scripelle al forno” (baked pancakes), which are delicious served with tomato sauce as a main meal. I hope to try out most of the recipes in this book! The Abruzzesi people take great pride in cooking authentic traditional meals using the freshest ingredients possible from the local markets.
What attitude best sums up the Abruzzesi?
I think courage, determination and stoicism. I saw this for myself when I visited L’Aquila some time after the devastating earthquake to deliver a few workshops for school teachers of English. They truly embody these qualities.
Can you name any celebrities either from or Abruzzo or of Abruzzo descent?
I studied Ovid for Latin A Level and I know he was born in Sulmona, the place where you can buy sugared almonds used in Italian Bambonnieri for weddings and celebrations.
If you lived outside Abruzzo what would you take to remind you of Abruzzo?
Definitely a few litres of olive oil from a local Abruzzo olive grove, such as our very own! We have 90 olive trees and produce olive oil every year. My husband and I pick them by hand and then take the containers to the local olive mill to be pressed. We have more than enough 100% extra virgin olive oil to last us the whole year. We use it abundantly for everything from frying our chickens’ freshly laid eggs, to drizzling over fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers straight from the veggie plot.
If I could add one material thing from Abruzzo, I would take a piece of Castelli ceramics. I love collecting it! Each piece is finely crafted in a traditional way. My favourite possession is a vanity set – a wash basin on a stand with water jug and soap dish, which was bought from Castelli a few years ago. The scenery painted on each piece of this set is a very traditional one of a farmhouse or “casale” in the middle of the green countryside. I like it because it reminds me of times gone by. I feel it’s a link to the past, to my ancestors from this incredible region.
Photography © Janet Bianchini