One of Italy’s smallest, and certainly its youngest province, Molise was once part of Abruzzo. Just above Puglia with 35 kilometres of Adriatic coast, ancient Apennine hill towns, and a wealth of natural beauty, it’s still pretty undiscovered. Those who do come are charmed, so here’s a guide to Molise, when you visit, I know you’ll be charmed too!
For centuries shepherds herded their animals along the ancient tratturi from the Apennine hills to the plains of Puglia during the harsh winter months – La Transumanza. It’s a rough and beautiful landscape, where traditional customs and the slow life can be enjoyed, far from tourism. And visitors can practise their Italian – no waiters showing off in English here! The Molisani are proud of their customs, festivals, and natural, seasonal food; artisan cheeses, local truffles, excellent olive oil, unusual wine varieties, grilled meats and the many simple dishes of their cucina povera.
Agnone is a town of artisans. There were once 36 different guilds, a place of wealth and influence. The best copper vessels in all of Italy were forged in 5 foundries along the Verrino river, then hand finished by the master coppersmiths in 171 family workshops. The Museo del Rame recounts their story: Museo del Rame
My grandfather’s cousins have been making bells here for over 1000 years. Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli Campane Marinelli is Europe’s oldest family business, the oldest bell foundry in the world, and the only one by papal appointment. Bells are made by methods unchanged since the middle-ages.
Gold and silver work is also very important to Agnone’s history, the museum in Isernia has a stunning collection of Agnonese jewellery, together with beautiful Molisani costumes, telling a fascinating social history. Visit Musec.is.it.
Nearby are the ancient Sannite (Samnite) ruins of Pietrabbondante, (meaning ‘plenty of stones’), a sacred site with two temples and an amphitheatre. With views reaching to Campobasso and the sea, we almost always get to explore all by ourselves. This Italic tribe, ancient Rome’s fiercest rival, was eventually defeated, becoming the empire’s bravest warriors. The centrepiece is Pietrabbondante Teatro. There’s a small but exceptional museum telling the Sannite story, and that of the origins of Italy – Museo Sannitico di Campobasso.
One of the best things about Molise is that there are very, very, few foreign tourists so here it is possible to live Italian, speak Italian and eat authentic, simple, and true Italian.
For keen travellers to Italy who have seen the famous sites and cities, a chance to discover this little known region and its continuing traditions, and to practise some Italian, is a delight.