I’m currently enjoying a little mini break away from Rome in Abruzzo.
This region of my parents’ birth shares a border with Lazio and is therefore close and well connected to Rome. I always travel here by coach from Tiburtina station which takes an hour and a half – too easy! (for details and timetable visit www.arpaonline.it)
Abruzzo is where I have my Italian residency. It is renowned for natural beauty, lakes, parks and mountains (and a strong ski season of course).
It is Italy’s home of confetti (sugared almonds), grand producer of torrone (nougat) and famous worldwide for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – one of the countries’ most widely exported DOC classed wines.
With the excuse of the annual Festa Della Madonna Della Libera (Feast of Mother Mary of Liberation) in Pratola Peligna (town in L’Aquila Province of approx 8,000 people and located a few kilometers from my parents’ village, Prezza) I decided to escape the big smoke to spend a few days with my relatives.
Feast days, festivals or celebrations (known as sagre in Italy) have been celebrated for centuries, occur often and in every city, town and region in some form or another.
They create such a sense of community bringing together young and old, all classes of people, locals and foreigners. The energy is contagious and just envelops you.
Of course with the Eurozone crisis and its direct impact on small towns such as this (think high unemployment, daily closures of local and international small and large enterprises and slow recovery from the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake) the Festa is not what it used to be.
But what it may lack in big name entertainment of years gone by, it makes up for in heart and local spirit.
On Friday night all of the town gathered to celebrate the reinstatement of their sindaco (mayor). There have a been a host of local elections held across Italy over the past few weeks and there might be nowhere better than to witness an electoral win than in a small town.
Like in every town in Italy – big, small and even remote – the piazza, church and a fountain identify the historical centre. In essence, its beating heart.
And on this night, it sure was beating and fast!
Pratola’s main piazza was full, with music blaring, the church spectacularly illuminated and people dressed in traditional folk costume passing around pizzelle (traditional Abruzzese waffle type biscuits served plain or sandwiched with either nutella or jam) – in massive baskets and bucket loads of porchetta (seasoned rolled roast pork)… Oh and wine, lots of wine.
While the Festa’s activities span a whole month with many religious and cultural services and children’s activities, the bulk of celebrations were held across this weekend and continue over the next. Next weekend a Notte Bianca will be held. Translated as White Night, the town will come alive for 24 hours straight with market stands, food stalls and shops and bars open all night.
Here is a run down of my day yesterday:
We walked into the town centre and went to view the Madonna inside the church (Chiesa della Madonna della Libera, which is still being repaired following the 2009 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks). Given the Festa is centred around a religious feast day, the church of course was packed out.
And so was the town centre. Fittingly the Festa’s epicentre is here, but the fun fans out to all corners of the town… To other piazzas, on to the streets (all closed off to cars), venues and parks.
We visited all the bancarelle (market stands) and it was here that my significant economic contribution to the Eurozone was more than well received!
I bought handmade leather earrings and other jewellery, confetti, festival souvenirs and lots of food!
Local butchers and craftsmen and women proudly had all their ware on show.
We tasted locally made cheeses and salami, prosciutto and cinghiale (wild boar), sweets and hand made bread.
But the absolute highlight for me was the porchetta. Abruzzo does pork and well!!
Throughout the Festa every single bar and food store serves their own homemade porchetta. And it gets quite competitive! Always diplomatic, I didn’t discriminate and attempted to try everyone’s porchetta! I literally died and went to pork heaven on more than one occasion with one tasting more divine than the next. Succulent, crisp crackling and salty. Just perfect!
In the afternoon and after a big lunch of salumi, formaggi, pasta and more porchetta we headed out to see the religious procession (but not without – yes – another porchetta tasting on the way!)
Pilgrims from a town near Avezzano (approx an hour away) walk to Pratola Peligna, join with local townspeople and then participate in various religious activities. It was quite moving to watch, with their beautiful singing and many of the pilgrims incredibly walking on their knees in a show of personal sacrifice.
We dined at a local restaurant on a feast of – my absolute favorite – arrosticini. These are skewers of lamb cooked on wood fire and coated in lots of salt.
Traditional Abruzzese fare does not get any better than this.
Mixed bruschette with toppings including traditional tomato, roasted zucchini and ricotta and black and white truffle spread were the perfect accompaniment.
After dinner we visited the bancarelle by night (and ok, I may have made some further minor purchases) and then walked to find a perfect viewing point for the spectacular midnight fireworks display.
I have loved every minute of this Festa so far from the religious components to the pilgrimage (despite my lack of catholicism), to the market stands and the most important of course – the phenomenal local food and wine!
Other sagre coming up in the Province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo this year include:
Sagra della Ciliegie
A seasonal festival of cherries!
5ª Sagra del Carciofo e dell’Olio di Oliva
5th annual festival of artichokes and olive oil.
Sagra degli Gnocchetti e Fagioli
A festival dedicated to gnocchi and beans!
Made in Abruzzo
Featuring all the delights of Abruzzo cuisine including lamb, salumi, cheeses and delicious artisan sweets.
Festa del Tartufo
Feast on this delicacy throughout the day in various dishes.
I hope to get to at least another one this year and you know you’ll be hearing about it if I do 🙂
Signing off from Abruzzo (and on the verge of lapsing into a food – or let me be honest, pork – coma )