Molise – the region that doesn’t exist

Another (very long – lotsa pictures) road trip with my friend Jen, to Molise, region of her ancestors birth. We took one other trip here previously (link to first trip) and explored so decided to explore the other side this time. It is not a big region but is very mountainous so the roads are small. This time to get here we took the big A1 Superstrada. Got us down south super quick even at our snails pace 🤣.

I should mention that I pulled a muscle in my back around three weeks ago and it is still bothering me. I will be the limiter on this trip. Jen is super active and normally travels on her own. I feel badly that I will slow her down. I am mostly along for moral support for her driving. She normally uses only busses and trains, and occasionally planes. She also walks great distances. But Molise requires a car.

Sunday, June 9
We got off the big road and headed toward the countryside. Along the way we stopped and took some pictures. We had to laugh at the Delirium wine Bar. We circled back using the convenient round about and got a photo. Into the mountains we headed taking in the scenery. This beautifully decorated church caught our eye. We got out creakily, and stretched and checked out the church yard. 

Onward to our destination of Isernia. It is the capital of the province of which there are only two in Molise. Our hotel was a bit odd. The Alloggi Be Deluxe was tucked behind a bunch of commercial buildings down a driveway into a big parking lot where we spotted the big sign for it unfortunately in front of the overflowing, and fragrant dumpsters, with an arrow pointing up a ramp. We drove up and there was an enormous, empty parking lot. They had said there was ample parking and they didn’t lie. 

The sign to our hotel. Unfortunate location over the dumpsters. This is where the bear cub was.

No one was there so we sat and wandered and took pictures. Then Jen got a photo of what to us both looked like a bear cub. We had no idea if bears were near this area. But where was its mama? Later we showed it to a woman in a restaurant and she said there weren’t bears here, but in Abruzzo, next door, there are. She looked at our picture and agreed it sure looked like a bear. 

Anyway, turned out we could check in remotely using a QR code sent by the proprietor.  The rooms are quite nice. Well equipped and comfortable. I had to laugh when I saw the safe. It was on top of the minibar. But it was not attached to the wall! So you could conveniently put your valuables in it so any thief could tuck it under his arm for easy carrying. 

We headed out in search of a bar for a drink. It turned out this was not so easy! We were down the hill from the town. We looked on Google and found a nearby bar which purported to be open. It was not. Disappointment. The next one was up the hill more. Nope. In this way, even though I had hesitated to walk up the biggish hill we made it up to where the road flattened somewhat. It was pretty warm and we were sweating. Finally, we came upon a restaurant and asked if they would serve us a drink. The friendly woman said they were not a bar and were closed, but “of course”, and to have a seat under an umbrella outside in a pretty piazzetta. She put a table cloth on our table for us and we asked for a white wine and a beer. 

Next thing we knew I had a gigantic wine and Jen a huge beer. The sweet woman bustled out with a plate of really good appetizers and good Molise bread. We were pretty much in heaven because we had missed lunch.

My giant wine and Jen’s beer
Impromptu snack. Yum!

We kept on with our walk because we saw an arch ahead with a big bell. It was an entrance into the old city proper. Suddenly, there were plenty of people everywhere. A sunny Sunday afternoon invites everyone out. Gelati were being consumed at one of the two open bars. Finally open bars! We continued with our walk into the main piazza. It had a pretty iron gazebo at one end. And several places to eat and drink all around. We also checked out our restaurant for this evening. It was nearby. We had about 2 hours to kill and we didn’t want to walk to our hotel and back. So we hung around the piazza and people watched which is always fun.

Isernia street
Roman drinking fountain – Isernia

We checked out the rest of the town and went to our restaurant. We both had a creamy pasta dish with fresh truffles. Delizioso. On our pleasant walk back to our hotel, downhill, we took some pretty pictures of the lights and the lit up gate. It was a nice night. 

Delicious pasta with a butter cheese and truffles.
Isernia at night
Isernia gate

Monday, June 10
Next morning, I showered and wrote and headed to breakfast at 8:30. We showed the bear picture to the proprietor and her helper. They at first insisted it was impossible. And said it was a Cinghiale, I insisted no, not that. Not a dog. Not a cat. Everyone agreed it was a bear. She called the owner, Nicola. He came. He admitted it looked like a bear. We shared the picture and he called a Dottore expert. Eventually he tried to discredit our picture claim there was a bear found in a park not far away and in the next breath saying our photo couldn’t be a bear cub because there are no bears around here. Jen and I still have absolute certainty our bear is indeed, a bear. This picture has been cropped and I tried to increase the resolution. Not the best photo but I think he is recognizable.

Off on our excellent adventure for the day to a town called Frosolone, known for its knives. There were eighty foundries working a few hundred years ago. We first went to visit the museum of knives. Which was naturally closed. We had been told to go to the Comune and ask a person there for the keys. Well, he wasn’t in the Comune then. Finally a young man ran to get the keys and returned to take us and show us around. He was super sweet. Tried his best English and we sprinkled in our Italian and communication occurred magically. The museum was small but full of many knives from all eras and even from other lands. 

View along the way.
In the main square. Statue of a knife maker.
Frosolone street. Loved the laundry.
Knife collection in museum
Particularly evil looking knife. You are not going to get that out easily.

Then we went to visit the shop of the man who runs the museum. He is an artisan and makes every knife by hand himself. His shop was full of knives for every purpose. Many made by him. Some made in other places. The pocket knives were of incredible variety. I purchase a smaller chefs knife, and a lovely cheese knife with the pronged end. Both with olive wood handles. Really nice. Jen got a new mezzaluna and a chefs knife. The owner artisan came to meet us from his foundry. He was very nice. His wife was the one in the shop. 

Knife shop
Knife shop

Turismo Rurale Taberna Agricola was our target for lunch. Google maps said it was 25 minutes away. And off we went. It was a beautiful drive. We stopped multiple times for pictures. There were steep hillsides and wide valleys with many distant hill towns. The hillsides covered in bright yellow broom. They are extremely busy with the haying so there are the large round bales, cut hay awaiting rolling and tractors working the fields. So lovely. We turned down a tiny tiny road. And eventually came to our lunch spot. It was beautiful. We went down the steps and found an outside dining area. The two woman working there were some of the nicest and friendliest people ever. The food was delicious. We were famished. They brought us a gift from the chef. Incredible! 👀 a fried ball of cheese. Really good cheese called ??? and it was nestled into, and topped with caramelized onions. We could have had just these for lunch! So good. Shared squash blossoms. I had a half portion of vegetarian lasagna. And roast lamb with two fried chops. Jen had a decadent chocolate dessert. I had a bottle of Rosato (Rosé) and carried the rest back home with me. Excellent meal

Taberna sign and approach to outside dining area

Pretty uneventful return to Isernia and our hotel. We rested then went to the very convenient Tigre supermarket right beneath the hotel. A rather circuitous route to get there but we got a good picnic for dinner. At eight we met for our picnic in the breakfast area just near the front door. There are other guests in the hotel now. While we were eating a man named Carlo arrived. He is an obvious regular as he rolled right in and picked up his key and headed down the hall. Then he returned to pick up dishes for his dinner which he eats in the room while watching TV. He works for an automotive company here and lives in Rome. Super nice, friendly and helpful! I managed to lock myself out of the room and he was kind enough to call for me to get a key to get in. Whew!  After we ate we sat outside where there are nice tables and chairs and had our wine. Nice day.

Tuesday, June 11
We left Isernia at around 9:00. Another nice day. Along our route there was a prominent church up on the hillside on a mountain. We decided it was a must stop and see place. It is called Basilica Minore dell’Addolorata. It is relatively new with a very large and ornate exterior and big central dome. It was nearly empty. We took a few pictures and headed out to our first “real” destination – Serpino.

Basilica Minore dell’Addolorata
Memorial erected by some residents of Castelpizzuto. Jen’s ancestral town.
Cool model inside church

Serpino is an archeological dig and site dating from the Samnite and Roman times. A relatively big site with intact gates and many walls, and the old Roman roads are also fully intact. Inside there are residential zones, a forum, an amphitheater and a swimming pool and athletic area. Getting there was a hoot. We, of course were following Google maps. We missed our turn because we were distracted by two Carabinieri doing random stops under the bridge next to our turn. So we turned around and missed the turn again…and again! How embarrassing. The cops probably didn’t notice but we did. Finally found the turn. The ruin is along small roads and it felt isolated. Hold on to your hat! Here come the pictures!

Entrance with site map
In case you want to read about it.

We parked and were greeted by two friendly dogs and a cat and then we entered the park. The people working there were quite worried that people would not pay for their tickets so we went to the Biglietteria and bought our tickets. We probably spent two or three hours there. We did stop at a restaurant on the far side out one of the four gates. Turns out, you can enter from the main road. We had a snack which we shared with the cat and dog and then walked back in and finished the tour. People live almost within the site. It must be strange to live in or next to a few thousand year old Samnite and Roman town. I wonder if they hear the ghosts of those ancients at night?

Actually this is a newer (few hundred years old probably) but they used one of the Roman pillars in the construction
For my hubby.
Porto Bojano /Bojano gate
One of the many intact Roman roads. See the (very worn) stepping stones?
Flowers growing on all the walls – they are called Stonecrop. A succulent.
Double arches beside amphitheatre
Double arches again
From “backstage” entrance into Ampitheater
One of the intact walls. I love the way they constructed them. No mortar of course. Nothing like them in our time
This shows how there is a double row of very long and square stones cut to fit perfectly.
Porta Bojano from outside walls
My favourite gate. Porta Benevento (good wind). The most remote gate
Porta Tammaro
House and farm just in the park. It must be strange to live there.

We left Sepino and headed for Campobasso, the capital of the other region of Molise and our destination for three nights. We had recommendations for a safe parking garage and found the correct street but the garages were not open. You had to call and they would come. 

We walked to our hotel in the Centro Storico which was about 10 minutes away. Rolling the suitcase was difficult on the rough stones. We found Palazzo Cannavina Dimora. A nice young man helped us with the suitcases and showed us our rooms. It is an old Palazzo so the ceilings are probably 20 feet high. With windows just as tall. Interesting, quirky art work and decor. But nicely appointed. Jen had an issue with her room. There was a piano teacher in the apartment above her room and she could hear the lessons. That wasn’t so bad except when we returned from dinner at nearly eleven they were STILL at it! She contacted the young man on WhatsApp and he made a phone call and the piano stopped instantly.

Our street
Our street

Dinner was delicious. Monticelli Sapere e Sapori. Not far from the hotel. I loved my antipasto. A spicy roasted red pepper sauce with a poached egg. Very delicious. And then a pasta with fresh peas and truffles and a cheese. All good. Jen got a cheese soufflé and a pasta aglio olio. We shared a nice Molise Rosato. Love the soft pink color. We had an after dinner drink at a local bar on the way back. A threesome was at the table next to ours with a very rambunctious poodle. Really friendly we had a good chat and they recommended a restaurant for us to try. That ended a very nice day.

Wednesday, June 12
Dawned another nice day. I contacted Mario, the owner of the casaficio (cheese maker) that we want to visit while here. We decided to visit Thursday. That left Wednesday free. We decided to stay in Campobasso. I was happy for a down day. We walked to pick up my hiking sticks from the car. They help my back by making me stand straighter and take a little of the load off. It allows me to walk much longer without pain. We didn’t really walk much. We ended up sitting in a cafe and having a spritz or two. They had old music on from the 70s I think. We listened and tried to name that tune and artist. We headed out and stopped by the restaurant that had been recommended to us to reserve since they wouldn’t answer the phone. They were very rude to us so we left.

My room
Hotel terrace

Back at the hotel we made a coffee and took it on the pretty terrace here. There is a courtyard behind us and we could hear eating sounds. We looked on Google maps and figured out which place it was and made a reservation. 

Dinner at Ristorante L’Approdo, a fish place directly behind our hotel, was funny and confusing. We arrived and entered. No one was around so we sat in two chairs near the door and reception area to wait. A waiter showed up and we thought he was going to seat us but instead he asked if we wanted some Prosecco. Come no? we said (why not?) So we sipped and waited and no one asked why we were there. Finally Jen asked if we could be seated, certo, he said and took us to a table. A very odd start. 

We were given menus. The place had one wavy, blue tiled wall. Like the ocean. The other two walls had large seascapes. There were metal railings on the walls, like a boat. 

They seated another couple across from us. We ordered and spoke only Italian. The waitress seemed faintly amused. The couple just sat stock still and listened to us. And that couple stared at us the entire meal. Giving us the side eye or turning to stare blatantly. I finally started staring back and she would quickly avert her head. So strange.

But with all that the meal was yummy. We split an order of mussels. Then split a pasta with lobster. Then we each had a secondi. Jen had fried calamari and I had roasted spigola. Sea bass. We chose a nice Pugliese rosato to drink with dinner. Very nice and I was stuffed. 

Returned to the bar beneath our hotel and had after dinner drinks. Off to bed!

Thursday, June 13
We had planned to visit the caseificio – cheese farm. Very famous. The owner, Mario Borraro was super sweet but his son had an operation and wasn’t doing well, so we opted to not bother him right now. Jen did her amazing research and found an interesting sounding town named Civitacampomarano. Yes, a real mouthful! It is a hill town and they are promoting artists to paint murals on the walls of the town. It just so happened that the next day after our visit today was their big festival. The town was preparing while we were there. Nice town. Great castle. The murals were great. At one point I let Jen go off on her own because of some steep staircases I did not want to chance. She shared her photos of some of the art down in that part of town. I waited up by the castle and watched the cats and the locals and the numerous sparrows. 

I probably have 30 pictures between my own and Jen’s. I am just picking a few (if I can restrain myself!) For everyone to see.

Work in progress
I am the girl on the left. She is me, to a tee, as a young teen.

As we walked toward the road we happened upon a Trattoria. The only one we had seen in town,  named Agricola Li. Si. Odd name. We were hungry so we went in. This is where the fun began. The room was unadorned. It had four tables in it. We ordered from the very small menu. I ordered the Pasta Li. Si. It had tomato and sausage. Jen got the baked scamorza with truffles. They brought cheeses and pickled cabbage with bread to snack on.

Two gay men came in and sat down at one table. Then the table behind us filled with a diverse group. A mother from Finland with her two boys who she said had an Arab father (never again-she said). They were dark. Then her mother, from Sweden and her father. The mom ordered small steaks for her boys and a large steak for herself.

Meanwhile they began a conversation with the two gay men who, it turned out, came from the Lake Como area. We chimed in with our home country of the U.S. to complete the mix. Then the food came to the big table. Mom was flabbergasted at the size of the steak. It was like a Bistecca Fiorentina. She decided she couldn’t eat it without some plain pasta. Hilarity ensued. The cook, a woman and super nice who spoke some pretty good English was having a hard time getting what this woman wanted. One of the gay guys also was sitting there with his mouth hanging open, aghast at the request…his partner was encouraging her to just get what she wanted. The cook did all the appropriate Italian hand gestures. Forehead smacking, eye rolling, but all in a good natured and entirely hilarious fashion. It was like watching a sitcom. We were in stitches. We left before the cook could bring out whatever she did with the steak and plain pasta. The whole thing was a one of a kind experience. And one that could only happen here.

Some of the cast of characters

We headed back to the car still chuckling. The trip back was uneventful. We parked in the garage and headed back into the centro. We freshened up a bit and went out for a drink. On the way we stopped in a few stores and I bought a necklace. Jen bought a hand towel, hand painted by this nice lady with a map of Molise with its specialities. The weather was really quite cool, almost cold and I was in shorts and T-shirt so we didn’t last long . After the drink we stopped in a clothing store. Neither of us likes to try on clothes but we did. I ended up buying a couple blouses and Jen got a really nice pair of brown jeans that fit her perfectly.

Friday, June 14
We were off to our last night, in Vasto, on the Adriatic Sea. We got to the coast in just a little over an hour. Roads are decent but mostly two lanes. We had decided to stop in Termoli. It is where we had stayed the whole time on our last trip. Nice seaside town. We are still early in the very beginning of the Season. Not many people around. All the rental umbrellas and chairs were all set up on the beach in neat, colorful rows. It seems so un-Italian to be so rigid with the rows. But I like it.

We found a convenient parking lot, paid our 3 euro to park for several hours, and walked off into the middle of town. We wanted to dine in Ristorante Mari e Monti. We had eaten there twice on our last trip. I had a nice, cool seafood salad and then a red snapper dish. Both delicious. Jen got pasta with lobster. 

We then went for a walk. We crossed to the island, connected to the main land by road. Got some good pictures of the seaside with the umbrellas. And then into the center with it’s little streets. It was the riposo so everything was closed. We wandered back to the car and headed up to our last stop.

We were met at the parking garage by Anita, the owner of Palazzo Florio, a boutique residence. Anita is from Finland and looks it. Petit, with very light blond hair, she wore shorts and a T-shirt and was energetic and fit. She pointed out places to see in the centro storico where her hotel is. Then, we went up the stairs to the 2nd floor where we did the formalities of getting our ID for the cops and paying for the rooms and parking. I opted for less stairs and less room. Jen went up one more flight to the junior suite. I visited it and it was lovely. 

After freshening up we headed down to check out Vasto Centro. There is quite a bit to see. At the end of the street was a church with extremely exuberant bells!

Just on past was a large building with gardens and then a beautiful promenade along the old walls overlooking the bay and Adriatic Sea. Gorgeous views. The promenade was lined with restaurants and above them apartments with those same incredible views. Lucky them! We circled up and ended up on another street with another church and then some good window shopping.

Then circled back to the first church where there was a bar recommended called Sideways. We sat and had a mojito and then Jen had another and I had a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. We ordered a selection of French cheeses just for a change. They were wonderful. The French make some great cheeses. I also got some good people pictures which I don’t often do.

The ubiquitous Obituary board. Always see the older folks checking out who has checked out!

We decided to walk some more and saw a lovely square with palm trees and ringed with pretty buildings. In the center a fountain. The sun was setting and we loved photographing the light on the buildings and the shadows. Really pretty and a great evening. Strolling back we spotted a gelateria. What better way to end our evening. We got a cup each with two flavors each. I got pistacchio and cocco. Good. Perfect. Off to bed and home the next day.

Loved the shadow from the big conifer

Saturday, June 15
Our hotel serves breakfast in the rooms. Jen and I were going to have it brought to mine. There was a little checklist of things to get. We had ordered the night before for around 9:30. Anita showed up with this wonderful tray of delicious pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, cappuccino for us. The pastry I ordered was a croissant filled with cream. Anita said this bakery makes their own cream filling – it’s not the industrial stuff many places use now. So good, and so something I never eat because it is so caloric. But I’m on vacation so an exception was made 😁 I should note this is the breakfast Italians eat daily, a sweet pastry, cornetto, and a coffee.

The drive home up the coast was on the big superstrada. But with views of the incredibly blue Adriatic off and on all the way. Jen was sweet and brought me home adding an hour and a half to her trip. Her city is having a huge festival called the Quintana. Jousting contests between the different neighborhoods. Big deal. We had no idea what the traffic would be like or road closures. Anyway, we are both home safe and sound after an amazing road trip planned entirely by my friend Jen. Molte grazie amica mia! 

14 thoughts on “Molise – the region that doesn’t exist

  1. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Hi Terry, I hope more people will go. It is a great region with lots of good things to see. But it is completely undiscovered.

  2. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Hey Catherine, yes very happy to go along on a trip planned by my friend. My post is more for me so I can remember what I did 🙂

  3. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Very true Lindsay. Always a cast of players. We have learned about the bears. Not many left

  4. Catherine Rowley

    What a fascinating post!! Loved those murals painted on local bldgs in
    that small town with the looonnggg name. An area of interest to me; good
    thing you have a fine friend to plan the itinerary. Thank you for exposing the
    details of your trip.

  5. Lindsay

    An adventure, how nice, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it.
    No matter where you go in Italy , it seems, there’s always a cast of characters to liven things up!
    As for that bear, I’m sure he’d be very amused by all the speculation..
    I hope your back gets better soon.

  6. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Thanks Matt, I like to keep a record or I will forget. It was really fun. So many pictures that I couldn’t winnow them down. And I have to re-size each one so they don’t take up too much memory. So getting this out took some time! Now we are back for a month before our next trip.

  7. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Hi Thea, I WISH! I’m trying hard not to slow down. If I don’t do stuff now, who knows about the future?

  8. Carlo

    What a great road trip, write-up, and photos. Thank you! We were just south of there on the Gargano peninsula during our last trip to Italy, when we last visited you. The Adriatic is truly beautiful up and down the coast and, as you wrote, even the view from the Autostrada is good. I’m glad you and Jen had a great time and got to see so much of the area.

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