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Isernia

  • Description
  • What to See
  • What to Do
  • What to Taste

Isernia is one of two provinces in the Region of Molise.
It borders Abruzzo to the north (the Provinces of L’Aquila and Chieti), the Province of Campobasso to the east, Campania to the south (the Province of Caserta), and Lazio (the Province of Frosinone). It encompasses 52 municipalities, only two of which have more than 10,000 inhabitants.

The territory is mostly mountainous, with a vast endowment of woods and natural landscapes. Isernia holds several protected areas, including the National Park of Abruzzo , Lazio and Molise in the Mainarde zone; the Natural Reserves of Collemeluccio and Montedimezzo (listed in the UNESCO-MAB Man and Biosphere Program, for the study of the relationship between man and environment due to their high levels of biodiversity); the Garden of Apennine Flora of Capracotta; the WWF Natural Oasis “Le Mortine” di Venafro and the Natural Reserve of Pesche.

To the southwest, the mountains give way to hills and plains (the Venafro Plain). A unique feature of the area is represented by the Tratturi, broad grassy paths of stone and gravel created by the trampling of migratory herds, still viable over long stretches. Today these ancient trailways are recognized as protected archaeological heritage.

The Province of Isernia is traversed by several rivers and streams: the principal river is the Volturno, running through all of Isernia and Campania before flowing into the Tyrrhenian Sea. 
The Lake of Castel San Vincenzo also deserves a mention; although it is an artificial basin built at the end of the 1950s, it is nonetheless a bona fide environmental gem.

Numerous natural and man-made sights are to be seen in Isernia, a charming province with many attractions.
The city’s monumental heritage includes the Fontana della Fraterna, dedicated to Pope Celestine V (a native son) and dating back to the 14th Century. The early Medieval Cathedral built on the site of a temple dating from the third century B.C. is the Church of San Francesco, erected in 1222 at the behest of Francis of Assisi on a visit to Isernia.

Next up are Palazzo San Francesco, a monumental Gothic construction that now houses the Town Hall; and the Museo Santa Maria delle Monache, on the site of the former Romanesque Convent of Santa Maria Assunta, where prehistoric remains of Paleolithic origin are conserved. The remains were discovered in the neighboring town of La Pineta, an archaeological site of international importance that bears the remains of an ancient Paleolithic settlement from more than 730,000 years ago.

Archeology reigns supreme in this area, with the remains of a Samnite town - dating between the 11th Century B.C. and 95 B.C. - were discovered at the archaeological site of Pietrabbondante. The discovery exposd two temples, porticoes, shops and a theatre.

Many other of the province's museums are worth a visit, including the Archaeological Museum of Venafro, on the site of the former Convent of Santa Chiara and offering a wealth of pre-Roman and Roman remains. Then, the the Zampogna Museum displays the traditional bagpipes produced in the area (in Scapoli), exhibiting both Italian and foreign versions of the instrument from different eras. Also here are the Museum of Folk Art and Traditions in San Pietro Avellana, and the Bell Museum in Agnone, a town that boasts fourteen churches of great architectural importance and containing valuable works of art.

Isernia Province boasts the important shrine of the Santuario della Madonna Addolorata di Castelpetroso, now standing on the site where, in 1888, the Virgin Mary reputedly appeared to two milkmaids. In the Neo-Gothic style, it is made up of seven chapels, representing the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, that surround the Sanctuary's centerpiece, a 177-ft. high dome. Another place of pilgrimage is the Hermitage of Santi Medici Cosma e Damiano, perched atop a hill near Isernia. The late-Medieval Abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno merits special attention as well.

The province is rich in castles, although many have been closed or are in private hands, and so can only be admired externally. These include the Castello di Pescolanciano and the Castello di Monteroduni, both dating from the Middle Ages.

Molise boasts the most important ski slopes in Isernia Province, with Capracotta in Molise's Appenines where, in addition to classical downhill skiing, enthusiasts can also enjoy cross-country skiing, ski tours and Alpine style skiing.
 
Pristine nature and a number of parks and reserves make the province of Isernia the ideal destination for trekking, horseback riding and cycling, perhaps along Molise's famous and historic tratturi. Golf and paragliding are also options. 
Speleology enthusiasts will appreciate the wonderful Grotta di San Michele in Sant'Angelo in Grotte, in the Municipality of Santa Maria del Molise.

Lovers of artisan crafts can discover singular works of ancient tradition, including vintage bagpipes, the bell foundry of Agnone, knife-sharpening, lace work, and copper-working. 

The Province of Isernia is a treasure trove bearing valuable white and black truffles. The agricultural and pastoral origins of Molise lend its cuisine both simplicity and authenticity. 
Typical produce includes grain, vegetables, pork and lamb.

Traditional dishes are crjoli (the so-called "guitar pasta"); cavatelli (potato and flour dumplings) with tomato and pork; and laganelle, a type of lasagne with beans. 
Main dishes include roasted turcinelli, lamb-based tripe. 
Also notable are the cured meats, sausages and salami, as well as the cheeses, such as caciocavallo, mozzarella and scamorze, stracciata, burrino and pecorino.
A renowned specialty of Venafro is olive oil, produced widely in the province and of very high quality. 

Desserts are made from ingredients such as dried fruit, honey and pine nuts: typical are calzone filled with chocolate, chickpeas, cinnamon, pine nuts and honeypepatelli (an almond-based sweet);, and caggiunitti (donuts filled with chestnuts).

Quality wines include Biferno (white, red and rosé) and Pentro (white, red and rosé), both awarded DOC status. Typical liqueurs include poncio (orange and mandarin flavor) and limoncello