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Food and wine
Molise. The Adriatic coastline

Food, wine, sea and art of the Adriatic Molise

car route
3 days
Number of Stages

Created in 1963, Molise is the youngest region in Italy and the second smallest in terms of surface area, after Valle d'Aosta alone. It occupies a hilly, sometimes mountainous territory, lying between the Tavoliere delle Puglie, the steep lands of Abruzzo and the southern Apennines.

Known as the dolphin coastline, Molise's thirty-four kilometres of Adriatic coastline are dominated at the centre by the town of Termoli, for centuries a necessary stop for coastal trade. Surrounding it are unspoilt landscapes traversed by transhumance, the seasonal migration of cattle to the mild climate of the Tavoliere delle Puglie. Amidst villages of ancient charm, fortified for defensive purposes on impregnable rocky outcrops, the various food and wine excellences of the Adriatic Molise.

It is the flavours of the Termolese table that act as the common thread running through this automobile route. Sausages and pecorino cheese, meat recipes and tasty vegetables shape the local food and wine identity: despite the presence of the sea, the people of Molise have remained far from the Adriatic for a long time, and their cuisine has thus maintained a strong link with the land. The few (relatively speaking) seafood recipes on restaurant menus, found on restaurant menus, such as brodetto alla termolese, are however equally interesting and deserve a separate discussion.

Between one product and another, the itinerary will include a visit to the main monuments and towns, witnesses of the art and history of this part of Italy: the immediate hinterland of Termoli preserves cathedrals and medieval castles, as well as important archaeological areas from the Roman era. Before leaving, it is a good idea to check the weather: the Adriatic Molise is at its best between spring and autumn, suffering from often harsh and rainy winters.



Perched on a natural outcrop that breaks the continuity of Molise's sandy coastline, the historic centre of Termoli is surrounded by high walls that separate the alleys of the medieval core from the waves of the Adriatic. The golden sand of the wide beach of S. Antonio runs along the old town to the west; to the east lies the only commercial seaport in Molise.

Two monuments, cornerstones of Termolese identity, stand tall among the blocks of flats in the historic centre: the striking cathedral of Santa Maria della Purificazione, a masterpiece of the Romanesque, and the massive Swabian castle, in the shape of a pyramid trunk.

It takes just a few steps on the city's promenade to fall in love with the picturesque colours of the Termolese houses, which look from above at the silhouette of Celestino's trabucco: a typical wooden structure that stretches among the waves of the Adriatic Sea, used in the past to fish among the rocks with a large net during bad weather days.

In the alleys of the historic centre of Termoli, or alternatively in one of the restaurants that occupy the nineteenth-century urban grid, more airy and modern, you can discover some seafood recipes that compete with the dominant meat and land culture of Molise's food and wine. The fish is extremely fresh and it would be a shame not to try, for example, the raw seafood, squid, scallops, scampi and cuttlefish that are so abundant on Termoli's tables. Even more typical of Termoli is the brodetto, a fish soup seasoned with tomato, peppers and chilli, based on local fish.



Only the mouth of the river Biferno, the only waterway entirely within the Molise region, separates Termoli from the municipality of Campomarino. The locality is known for the quality of its olive oil and wines, of national renown, produced in the Biferno DOC vineyards, stretching along the lush valley of the river Biferno.

White, rosé and red wines grace the tables of Campomarino, where Montepulciano is mainly used for red grapes and Trebbiano Toscano for white grapes.

While it is true that the historic centre of Campomarino lies on a gentle rise, set slightly back from the Adriatic coast, the settlement has also expanded more recently along the coast of Campomarino Lido, a popular holiday centre, with a wealth of surprising maritime landscapes.

The ancient core of Campomarino developed around its main place of worship, the Romanesque stone church of Santa Maria a Mare, which reveals a wonderful crypt supported by elegant columns and decorated with fifteenth-century frescoes.

Campomarino is home to one of the most important Arbëreshë communities in Molise, ethnic groups of Albanian origin that first arrived in Italy in the fifteenth century and have kept their language and historical memory alive.

Many of the murals that embellish the streets and squares of the old town depict episodes and traditions of the Albanians of Campomarino, or Këmarini in the Arbëreshë language. Unsurprisingly, the main road in the country is named after Skanderbeg, an Albanian leader who fought valiantly against the Ottoman invasion.

Campomarino Lido

Campomarino Lido

As you approach the sea from the historic centre of Campomarino, you are charmed by a coastline that is particularly well preserved evironmentally: dominated by soft sand dunes that stretch towards the water, the beaches of Campomarino Lido offer moments of relaxation in the open air, with views that extend on the horizon to the Tremiti islands and the Gargano headland.

A food and wine experience in Campomarino Lido includes other typical Termolese seafood recipes, such as the so-called pappone, consisting of discarded fish dipped in a mixture of stale bread. Alternatively, you can get to know the cuisine of Molise by tasting a dish that is common throughout the province of Campobasso: pampanella, made of seasoned pork wrapped in a vine leaf. The name of the recipe comes from the Latin pampinus, a term used to indicate a vine leaf.

Before heading back towards the Molise hinterland, travellers can pass through the small town of Nuova Cliternia, a well-known pilgrimage destination. It is said that the dark and mysterious portrait of the Virgin, preserved in the Sanctuary of the Great Madonna, was found inside an abandoned rural chapel, built among the fields. Since then, the painting has been an object of veneration and is carried in procession in August.



As you travel from the sea inland, you pass through bucolic landscapes irrigated by the Biferno River. Molisian identity is closely linked to the cultivated land and sheep farming. Every winter, flocks cross the Molise sheep tracks, which are wide grassy paths. The shepherds leave the Apennines and pass through here in search of a more temperate climate.

Olive groves as far as the eye can see welcome the traveller around the village of Larino, famous for an intense and fruity olive oil (the Gentile di Larino variety), excellent for flavouring a typical frisella, for example, after soaking it in cold water to make it softer.

A number of monuments add further beauty to the area. Known as "little Rome", the Larinum Archaeological Area, at the foot of the historic centre, houses the imposing ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, next to anancient forum, a (Roman villa) and thermal baths, embellished with colourful mosaics featuring sea animals and fantastical creatures.

To experience the atmosphere of medieval Larino, you have to walk up a gentle slope towards the historic centre. Among the narrow alleyways, the co-cathedral basilica of San Pardo stands out majestically: overlooking a small square, the church features a beautiful Gothic portal at the entrance, richly sculpted and crowned by a highly decorated rose window.



Once back across the Biferno River, the steep hill on which stands the village of Guglionesi appears on the horizon. The grapevines, which we already passed near Campomarino, are once again the main feature of Molise's surprising hilly landscape. However, it is dairy products here that most attract the attention of travellers, who can take advantage of a stop in Guglionesi to try various Molise cheeses, from the local area and even from the Apennine heights.

The cow's milk cheeses include the braided Santa Croce di Magliano (similar to mozzarella) and stracciata di Agnone, a fresh spun curd cheese. Scamorza molisana is usually sweet, while Matese pecorino has a stronger flavour; in contrast, Pietracatella has more herbaceous and mature nuances. Between one cheese and another, to be accompanied by taralli, friselle and traditional breads, you can also taste some Molise specialities made with truffles, a speciality found throughout the region.

Exhilarated by the delicious Molise flavours, the traveller can now devote attention to the historic centre of Guglionesi, with its notable wealth of religious monuments, such as the church of Sant'Antonio di Padua and that of San Nicola. However, the collegiate church of Santa Maria Maggiore is the main place of worship in the city: here the relics of Sant'Adamo Abate, patron saint of Guglionesi, are unveiled every year from1 to 3 June.

Montenero di Bisaccia

Montenero di Bisaccia

If Guglionesi was an opportunity to explore the dairy world of Adriatic Molise, Montenero di Bisaccia is instead home to an excellent sausage, the ventricina, as well as an excellent place to try other types of local cured meats. There is the typical soppressata for example, or capofreddo, a special type of dry-cured shoulder cut, enriched with the spicy flavours of garlic, chilli pepper, orange peel, bay leaf, pepper and fennel seeds. Also a must on Molisian tables is vrucculare, a smoked and well-seasoned cheek of pork, flavoured with chilli pepper.

Returning to the town's typical delicacy, Montenero di Bisaccia ventricina is made from the finest pork cuts, and the spices used to give it character also include a pinch of sweet paprika.

The traveller, whether or not a sausage lover, can certainly make a detour to the village of Montenero di Bisaccia, which overlooks the surrounding vineyards and olive groves from a altitude of 270 metres; further down, unforgettable maritime landscapes appear, between the pine forests and low cliffs of the Adriatic coast, the starting point of this route.

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