Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Day 9: Campobasso

Yet another sunny day....even warmer than yesterday and barely a cloud in the sky. Today we plan to drive north of Molise to visit the hill town of Agnone, which is famous for the manufacture of church bells and other bronze works. The Fondereria Marinelli has been in business for over 1,000 years. I called yesterday to make an appointment for a tour and was told that we could show up at either noon or 4 pm. There is no really direct route to Agnone so we take the opportunity to meander from village to village, up and down hills, enjoying even more amazing vistas than we had seen in the previous days.

We make it out of Campobasso reasonably quickly but we lose all of our advantage when we take a beautiful road to the village of Santo Stefano. Unfortunately, we discover on our arrival that the road doesn't go through and we have to retrace our steps. The beauty of the drive just about makes up for the time lost. We drive for almost two hours before reaching Agnone and are consistently entranced by the views....hill towns scattered all around, valleys and mountains and once in a while, a glimpse of a long modern viaduct cutting through the landscape.

Agnone is really a hill takes us about 20 minutes to climb up to the center which is stretched along the top of a ridge and divided between the modern town and the "centro storico". We drive the whole length of the town and miss the bell factory on our first pass; after asking twice for directions, we pull into the parking lot of the bell factory. We walk into the office and ask the man in the office about the tour.....he shrugs and tells us that they only can do tours if there is a larger group. I tell him that we called yesterday to ask about that but he says that for two people, he can take us on an informal tour of the foundry but that the museum and the official tour are not possible. We look mystified and disappointed but we take him up on his offer for the informal tour.

He quickly explains the bell making process--in Italian with a few words of English mixed in--"false bell", "cap", etc.--and shows us the ovens that heat the bronze for the bells. He plays us a few tunes on a set of bells hung in the shop and then we see how the bells are cleaned and finished. We hope that he will relent and let us into the musuem or at least show us the film about the factory but I think he is ready for lunch.

Here is a link to the web site that gives all the pertinent details...

Fondereria Marinelli

We then park in the town and walk up to the centro storico, stopping for a coffee and to pick up a map at the tourist office. Both the modern town and the centro storico are attractive as most of the Molise towns have been...we walk to the belvedere at the end of the town which has another of those unbelieveable panoramic vistas which make it seem like you can see forever.

It is now lunch time so we drive to the other side of town to find one of the restaurants that I have researched...but it seems to have changed hands in the interim (this is becoming a common occurence) so we decide to eat at the Hotel Sammartino restaurant in the middle of town. The dining room has windows that give you a great view over the landscape as you eat. Lunch is very good but a bit strange.....the waitress is completely unforthcoming about what is available and seems very reluctant to answer any questions or let us know about any dishes that are not on the menu. We decide to have the Euro 20.00 menu which we know will be too much food but we want to have a sample of the Agnone cuisine. The antipasto plate is in fact terrific...the ham, salami, cheese, etc all very good...and one of the two pastas served is excellent--a fat spaghetti with a savory mushroom sauce. The local specialty....diamond shaped pasta sheets called less impressive; the tomato sauce is pretty ordinary. The secondo--a mixed grill served with fried potatoes and salad--is very daunting but we do our best with the grilled lamb, sausage and cheese while leaving the pork roast alone. The waitress's affect doesn't change at all during the meal but we see that she is the same with all the Italiancustomers as well.

After the long descent from Agnone, we are going to visit the ancient Samnite city of Pietrabbondante, which dates from the 3rd century B.C. We drive through modern Pietrabbondante first which has one of the most amazing settings that we have seen....

Photo of Pietrabbondante

perched almost on top of a hill but with three large rock crags overhanging the village...the one in the middle has been carved into some type of memorial. The ancient city of Pietrabbondante is just outside the have to walk down a steep hill to the entrance (where you pay a Euro 2 admission fee) and then descend further down to the theater and temples. The site is magnificent...set into a hillside with another one of those Molise vistas....

and the theater has been nicely restored, with several rows of remarkably comfortable stone seating and statues guarding the arched entrances.


The two other temples are less well preserved but the location and the isolation give Pietrabbondante a very special feeling.

We take it slowly back up the hill to the parking lot and take the faster route back to Campobasso....

We decide that we do want want to go out for dinner but are looking for a lighter meal. We eat at Vecchia Trattoria da Tonino, a very stylish place on the main corso of Campobasso. The restaurant is very nicely decorated with a great sense of style as well as an inventive and unusual menu. We usually are not big fans of "cucina creativa" but our meal at Tonino is of the best we have ever eaten in Italy. We only have an antipasto and a pasta course--but all of the dishes are delicious and delicate. I start with a version of stuffed savoy cabbage (verza) filled with onions, sausage and cheese served on top of slice of polenta and including a small scoop of a mouse of broccoletti.....which is also wonderful. Diana has a sformato made of polenta and parmigiano reggiano topped with tempura like fried broccoletti--also amazing. We both have the lasagnetta--a crepe like pasta sheet encasing string beans, broccoli and potatoes, lightly baked until the ends are crisp yet the pasta remains tender. It is served with a basil sauce--making a take on the Ligurian pasta dishes with pesto that incorporate string beans and potatoes. Another remarkable dish....inventive, creative but not fussy at all. We drink a local Molise wine....a Ramatello from 2002..which is also wonderful.
Dessert was also great.....the best mille-foglie I have ever tasted with a pantelleria wine spiked light custard.- just a fabulous and very memorable meal for only about Euro 60.00.

It is a quick trip back to the hotel, feeling not too full but very satisfied. Tomorrow we will stay close to Campobasso.....


Livio said...

"Miseria e Nobiltà", which means Poverty and Nobility, refers to a movie by that title which was circulating in the early fifties. The star was the famous Totò, a neapolitan comedian who became a myth. The ploy of the movie revolved about the necessity to set something to eat on the table in difficult times -- remember, it was the immediate post-war years. I thought you'd like to get this info.

8:24 AM  

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