If you are in need of an autumn chestnut pilgrimage whilst in Abruzzo, we’d recommend the chestnut festa in Senarica di Crognaleto, Abruzzo which celebrates the local lu ‘nzite variety. The smell of slow roasted chestnuts intermingling with arrosticini, grilled local sausages, sweet whiffs of vino cotto, is something that could make even the ashes in the local cemetery wake up & put themselves together in order to feast.
Sat in the midddle of the mountains of the Gran Sasso National Park and overlooking a ridge of the River Vomano, beautiful Senarica di Crognaleto was once the world’s former smallest republic and granted its official title and protection by the Venetian Republic in the 15th century. Today it is home to just 70 residents who live surrounded by nearly 70 hectares of chestnut trees, some of which with their 3-metre girths date back to the early 1500s. Names in dialect for the variants include lu ‘Nzite and Mo ‘Nzite, which seem to roll off the tongue in pagan homage as you remove their toasted shells.
Extended families across the region make their way up to this sagra via the ancient main L’Aquila road up 630masl where you park and are then ferried to the village by the local school bus.
Expect a treat if you are intending to go for lunch or dinner, borlotti bean soup with chestnuts, chestnut flour ravioli with chestnut sauce, pork roast with chestnut polenta, roast veal with a chestnut and porcini sauce in addition to classic Teramo Timbale, sausages and roasted vegetables.
We went at 5.00 pm on the Sunday, this was down-time for the weekend Senarica di Crognaleto Castagna Festa, but it was still over-spilling with people, some still dancing off their lunches, and it seems just loving the simple idea of getting high of the whiff & quick snack of roasted chestnuts. Peak times if you are thinking of going would be lunch, dinner and after 3.00pm when the local folk bands play and everyone lets their hair down.
Personally my biggest thrill and an early Christmas present was in managing to secure a bag of caggionetti. For those that don’t know about caggionetti, these are a traditional Abruzzo Christmas sweet that really do deserve worldwide recognition. A mix of chestnut, chocolate, lemon zest, chickpeas, a liqueur or rum is minced together and left overnight to marinate. Wafer thin ravioli parcels are then made and deep fried and coated with icing sugar – sublime and they had them for sale at the chestnut festa.
Senarica di Crognaleto’s Festa di Castagne is held 3rd or 4th weekend of October depending on chestnut harvest time
Senarica di Crognaleto Official Commune website