This is a trip report, so you can skip if you’re not interested.
Monday, September 20
A sunny Monday morning. A road trip to Molise with my friend Jen, to break in her new Patente, Italian drivers license. This license is required after one year residency in Italy. An American cannot exchange his/her license because there is no reciprocal agreement. One must study hours, and take the practice tests again and again online. There are 7000 possible questions. The test draws from this pool. The test is given only in Italian and it is one of the biggest hurdles an American must overcome to live in Italy. Once you’ve passed you must drive a low power car for a year, and adhere to other limitations. So you see why this was such a celebratory trip!
Jen is an Italian citizen. Her ancestors are from Molise. Once it was part of the Abruzzo region but in 1970 it split, becoming Italy’s newest region. But it is old and full of history. It can only be explored by car. So off we went. The trip there was not especially eventful. We drove through some exceptionally beautiful scenery. Our destination was Termoli, a seaside town. We arrived at 5:15. So it took seven hours. Mostly because Jen is strictly adhering to the laws. She does not want a ticket as a new driver. We experienced poor driving by Italians the entire trip, they are exceptionally aggressive and don’t pay any attention to the speed limits. They make their displeasure known by tailgating and even by blowing their horns to try to get you to speed up. I guess they just can’t accept a person trying to mind the limits. It was a bit stressful.
After checking into Cairoly Rooms, a quirky hotel right in the old town we rested a bit. Then we showered and went out looking for dinner. We didn’t have reservations and it turned out that was important. At a certain point we gave up and just decided to eat anywhere that looked OK. We chose Mari e Monti. They fitted us into an outside table. We had a wonderful time. It was not expected but was very much appreciated. We shared an order of peppered mussels. The mussels were tiny and sweet and clean as a whistle. So delicious. Then I had a spaghetti with a half lobster in a red sauce. and Jen had a smoked fish. They brought a dome and covered the fish. They put a pipe in it and lit a small fire in a pipe which blew the smoke into the dome, smoking the fish. Really different. We also had a bottle of Molise white wine with dinner which was exceptional.
Tuesday September 21
Next morning we paid a visit to the local fish market which also had produce. Just a half a block from our hotel. Beautiful food.
Since this is Jen’s home of origin I wanted her to make the plans. I am happy to just go along and enjoy. Today Jen was a lot more relaxed in her driving. We went about an hour and 20 minutes inland to a town called Agnone. It was way up on a mountaintop. The trip to get there was beautiful. Agnone is home to the oldest bell foundary in the world. No lie. Founded in 1339 and continuously operating ever since. By. The. Same. Family! 😳 Incredible. It is the Marinelli family. We didn’t want to take the Italian tour. A nice man named Ivo offered to show us the foundary. Not an in-depth tour but a basic little tour. The facts are incredible. They make primarily bells. Bells for churches all around the world. Each bell is a work of art. I learned the bell has exactly the same circumference at the base of the bell as the height. The top of the bell is half the circumference. The thickness at the bottom is 1/14th the diameter. They showed us how they make the molds, and the wax, and then how they finally pour the molten bronze into the molds which are buried in earth to keep them from melting or collapsing. There were many bells and they are all tuned to specific notes. Every major and minor note on a piano is possible. It is pretty incredible. No photos allowed inside the foundary. I got all mine outside.
Then we went in search of a small lunch. No good choice we got a little snack and drove over to the Centro Storico where we did some exploring. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and it began to rain. We did get some pictures but the lack of sun and light was a disappointment.
After arriving back in Termoli we decided to return to our restaurant from the previous evening. We treated ourselves to a feast. We had brodetto di pesce, which was a seafood soup speciality served to two people. The funny part was, because it was chilly, we were eating inside and we were the only table with people inside. We had an order of the peppered mussels, which take awhile to eat. The lady from the kitchen kept peeking at us to see when to bring the soup. They did bring it when we were done and it was a bubbling, steaming dish full of seafood to include two whole fish, shrimps with heads, mussels, and a lobster-like crustacean. There was bread soaking up the broth and then…then, they brought home made pasta to put into the broth. Oh what a feast it was. We ate and ate. The cook kept checking to see if we liked it. At one point I groaned with delight at the broth…which was the star of the show. So rich and pure. Essence of seafood. And that pasta in there? O my god. So good. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. I commend the kitchen for producing such a beautiful dish.
Wednesday September 22
Today was much cooler. We had decided to visit a town called Bagnoli del Trigno. A town built in and around a rock. A big rock. And it was a really sweet town too. Attractive big square. Easy parking. Pretty trees and painted houses. The piazza had big trees with benches. Pretty scalloped design cobbles. And a bar called Bizzarro. I kid you not.
We parked and walked up the big hill to get to the castle. It was not open but there was a nice lady who took us to a private museum which really was her Nonna’s house. Preserved with wood stove and no electricity.
There were ample photo opportunities in and around the town. Jennifer talks to anyone and she made many friends. After our walk we went back to Bar Bizzarro for refreshments. I ordered vino bianco…they didn’t have any. A bar with no white wine. How bizarre!
I had made a reservation for our dinner this night and the restaurant called me to say they had mechanical difficulties and we couldn’t dine there. So, for this reason, we thought eating a bigger lunch and no dinner was a good idea. We found there was a restaurant outside of town. We headed to Calice Rosso. It was part of a hotel and a big place. Nice people and food was good. It was the first place I had needed to show my Green Pass (Covid vaccine proof). I had a baccala salad which turned out to be enormous and I ate about half of it. And we both got the speciality dish – risotto con fonduta di caciocavallo e lamelle di tartufo nero Molisano. See how they draped thin cheese slices under the risotto? Very rich. Neither of us could finish it but it was really good.
We decided to visit Pietrabbondante, a town with an ancient amphitheater (Teatro). It took about 40 minutes to get there even though it was only twenty miles. In Molise, the terrain is rough and the roads small and twisty.
We easily found the site of the Teatro. We purchased our tickets and walked down the hill to the site. This Teatro was built by the Samnites around 400 BC. They were an ancient civilization in what is now south central Italy. The site is large with several temple remains and several walls with beautiful hexagonal stones. Very well preserved and snowy white. The amphitheater is nearly complete with comfortable seating complete with back supports. There is a lot still left to discover at this site.
We returned to Termoli and had a heck of a time finding parking. Until now it’s been pretty easy to find parking but today the streets were jammed. Maybe it was just rush hour but we weren’t sure. We found a space and hope it is a good and legal spot. Then we walked Jen’s two sweet dogs, Cricket and Eddie. They are quite happy to remain in the hotel while we explore.
Then we wandered into the town and had spritzes and snacks. It had gotten pretty chilly and the town was very different from our first night when it was warm out.
Thursday September 23
Chilly out today. We headed to the three villages that were founded by people from the Dalmatian coast – what is now Croatia. They are said to speak Italian and Serbo-Croatian.
Our first town was called Acquaviva Collecroce. Also named KruĆ. It was small and easily walkable but very hilly. Many signs were in two languages. There were lots of the typical men hanging around. We wandered and took lots of pictures. Then we stopped for a cappuccino at the No Problem bar. No problem!
We decided to have a Cappuccino at the local Bar No Problem. No problem!
The second city, which was also a Croatian town, was called San Felice del Molise. It was a larger town on a hill top. We only saw one reference to the Croatians and that was on the church. No street signs. No nothing. So different from the obvious pride the other town took in their origins.
We headed home to Termoli, and on our way we took so pictures of the spectacular sea. Beautiful beaches and real surf!
We found a good parking spot and we took a little break before going out to tour the oldest part of town which is enclosed in a wall and surrounded by the sea. Beautiful sea views and a semi-trabocco, the old fishing platforms from this region. There was very little to see on the quasi island. Few shops. Few restaurants (all closed), few bars. We did help a little lady to find a street. She was so lost.
Here are some pictures from the old city.
We went back up the corso and stopped in a bar for drinks. And people watching. Always fun and entertaining. We did some (mostly) window shopping and searched for a wine shop with no luck. I headed back to rest a bit before dinner and Jen kept shopping.
After a break, we headed back to the old city and our restaurant Svevia. I highly rated place. They were a little disorganized upon our arrival. The man opened the reservation book to the 21st and nodded and took us to our table. Only thing was…today was the 23rd! 🤦🏻♀️. Then someone came and asked what name the reservation was in. I told him Nancy. We got our bottle of wine and had ordered and they came AGAIN to ask the name. Each time acting as though Nancy was a totally expected name. I have to think whoever wrote my name down misspelled it or something. Mattered not since by this time we had our wine and couldn’t be kicked out!
We ordered and our first course was brought. I had ordered a sublime puréed fave bean and chicory with shrimp wrapped in lardo. Jen had gnocchi with shrimp. Mine was small so I finished first. They took my plate while Jen was still eating…VERY. BAD. FORM. Then they tried to take HER plate before she was finished. Unexpected in a Michelin rated restaurant. My secondi was gamberi Catalan-style. Very good big crustaceans with a diced veggie sauce. Served cold. With tools to crack the legs and a pick for the meat. I happily sat and disassembled my gamberi. Very yummy. Dessert was a ricotta whipped with chocolate sauce. And cookies. Very yummy.
Friday September 24
Homeward bound. Up an at ‘em and on our way by 9:30. Took five hours on the Autostrada Adriatico. It runs from Bologna to Bari. Good road. Quite a bit of traffic. Except for the frequent construction zones it moved along OK.
So, on our trip we learned a few things. How to pump our gas. How to park and not get towed away. How to pay tolls. All good.
My personal observations:
Best restaurant: Mari e Monti
Best dish: brodetto di pesce
Best site: Teatro in Pietrabbondante
Best town: tie between Agnone and Bagnoli del Trigno.
I bet most of my readers don’t know Molise. It is very much the forgotten sister. Their Tag Line in their tourist brochures is “Molise, non-esiste” or, “Molise doesn’t exist”. I am here to say it does exist, and I think it is worth a visit. It is also one of the regions with the 7% tax scheme for those who are contemplating a move to italia.
Ciao, ciao, ciao!