November 2017: Eataly World, Bernini, sleeping with wolves in Abruzzo

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Hidden Italy newsletter November 2017:  Eataly World, Bernini, gargoyles, skiing and sleeping with wolves in Abruzzo.

Hidden Italy in November:

Hidden Italy in November:

To our surprise, the Hidden Italy guided walks in 2018 are now fully booked.  The details of the 2019 guided tours will be published next February.

There are, however, still places available on the fabulous Gardens of Tuscany (4 to 16 May 18) and Gardens of Piedmont tours (23 May to 4 June 18) lead by the redoubtable Paul Blanchard (full details:  Please let us know if you'd like to book on one of these or have any questions.

Events in November:

Events in November:

FICO Eataly World, CAAB (the Agro-Food Centre of Bologna), Bologna,  Eataly is a series of high-end emporiums presenting the best of Italian food and wine, with an eye to sustainability and home grown, locally produced goods.  It started in Alba, south of Turin, and now has ‘shops’ throughout Italy, in North America and Asia.  On 15 November their most ambitious project yet was launched in Bologna (one of the food fulcrums of Italy):  a vast food park (100,000 square mts of which 80,000 mts of which under cover).  A foodie’s Disneyland, it is essentially an educational enterprise which shows the whole process of food production from the fields and stalls to the plate.  It involves over forty companies and has over forty restaurants on site, all celebrating Italy’s wonderful culinary and viticulture heritage – extraordinary!

Milan Cathedral: sponsor a Gargoyle, Milan, .  Milan’s spectacular cathedral was started in 1397 but will never be completed: it is so vast (one of the largest in Europe) that once restorations have been finished at one end, it’s time to start again at the other.  This month is the fifth anniversary of ‘Adopt a Gargoyle’, a crowd-funding scheme to help contribute to the enormous cost of constant restoration.  The church is topped by a forest of 130 marble pinnacles each with by a larger-than-life sculpture of a saints, angels, martyrs and warriors.  The scheme allows you to contribute by picking you own sculpture to support – payments large or small are welcome via Paypal or credit card.  The reward is your name in the great book, guided visits and free entry.

Bernini, Galleria Borghese, Rome,  To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the reopening of this great museum, the Galleria Borghese has a presented three-year program developed in collaboration with Roman fashion house Fendi.  It includes the establishment of a Caravaggio study centre (the Galleria has the largest collection of the master’s works) as well as a series of exhibitions, starting with a wonderful presentation of the works of the great Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini – worth a trip to Rome in itself!

Exhibitions in November:

Exhibitions in November:

Hokusai: In the Footsteps of the Master, Ara Pacis Museum, Rome,
Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) revolutionised Japanese art in the 19th century and had a profound influence on Western artists, including Van Gogh and Monet.  His most famous works, including the Great Wave and 36 Views of Mt Fuji, are present in this extensive exhibition along with fabulous examples of his diverse production and works by his contemporaries.

Arcimboldo:  the Other Renaissance, Palazzo Barberini, Rome,, until 11 February.  Fruit, flowers, animals, books were all elements of the eccentric portraits produced by Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1526 – 1593), known as Arcimboldo.  This exhibition includes some of his best-known works, including the Librarian, Justice and the Four Seasons.

The Final Glory of Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice,, until 2 April.  When he arrived in Venice as a conqueror in 1797, Napoleon had an inventory of the works of art longer than his arm that wished to take back to Paris - it took over a year to collect them all. Some have been returned (including the famous horses) most haven’t (see the Louvre).  To celebrate the bicentennial of the Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice major gallery, over one hundred of these errant works have returned for (temporarily) display, a magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures, vases and tapestries.

A weekend skiing and sleeping with wolves in Abruzzo

A weekend skiing and sleeping with wolves in Abruzzo

Roccaraso is a small town nestled in the Apennine Mountains in the heart of southern Italy, where the regions of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise converge.  This remote town is perched on a low hill with a small fertile plain at its feet and impressive mountains rising behind.  It’s spectacular country, the undulating ranges, a sea of rounded peaks and snow-covered plains, being more reminiscent of Scandinavia than the they are of the Italian Alps.

With a history of earthquakes and wars, not much is left of old Roccaraso (much of the town was destroyed the retreating Germans in 1942) but its 1960’s and 1970’s architecture and southern charm, still give it a welcoming, retro appeal. 

With a population of less than two thousand people, Roccaraso is a sleepy place in the summer but it comes alive in the winter when the snow starts falling, becoming the capital of the one of the best Italian ski zones south of the Alps.  The easily accessible slopes, known officially as the Skiarea Alto Sangro, include respectable peaks like Monte Pratello (2044 metres) and Toppe del Tesoro (2141 metres) which are crossed by over one hundred and thirty kilometres of interconnected runs.

Skiing has a long tradition around here.  The first official race was held in 1910 and the Roccaraso-Aremogna ski school was founded in 1928.  In the 1930s, skiing was pioneered by Umberto of Savoy, the then Italian crown prince who in later years remembered his days in these mountains as the happiest of his life. 

Being only one hundred and thirty kilometres drive north from Naples, in winter Roccaraso is crowded with Neapolitan skiers (the city’s four main ski clubs have their HQs here) who fill the narrow streets with the buzz and colour of the southern capital.

Roccaraso is a relaxed and friendly place with a range of reasonably priced accommodation, far removed from the elitism and prices of some the more famous skiing resorts in the north, making it is an excellent destination for a winter weekend away.

How to get there:

By car:  Take the A1 autostrada from Naples, taking the Caianello exit and the state highway 85 to Isernia and finally the SS 17 to Roccaraso.  By train:  Take the Naples – Pescara train, getting off at Sulmona, from here you take the local train to Roccraso.  By air:  Naples Capodichino is the easiest airport, 130 kms from Roccaraso.

Where to stay:

Hotel Principessa Giovanna (Locality Aremogna).  This handsome 4-star mountain lodge hosted the Italian back in the glory days of the 1930s.  It has an excellent restaurant that offers delicious traditional cooking.  Double with half-board from 120 euro per day.

Grande Albergo (Via Roma 21, Roccaraso).  Right in the centre of town, this is a classic hotel, managed by the Cipriani family.  A tad dated, it has recently added ‘wellness’ centre, with jacuzzi, spa and a small gym.  Doubles with half-board from 180 euro a day.

Garni Il Riccio (Via Napoli).  Opened in 2010, this lovely b&b in the centre of town offers twelve lovely rooms, each with a balcony with mountain views.  Doubles from 90 euro a day.

Where to eat:

Il Tratturo (Via Pietransieri 5).  A lively restaurant that offers a range of local specialities from papparedelle with wild boar sauce to baked gnocchi with melted cheese and prosciutto.  Around 30 euro per person.

Da Glo (Via Marconi 1).  For the meat lover, the menu includes traditional Italian cuts as well as bison and angus steaks.  Around 35 euro per person.

Da Paolino (Via Vulpes, 34, Pescocostanzo).  This welcoming Osteria in the neighbouring village of Pescocstanzo, is run by the Castellani brothers who put a modern twisting on local classic.

Ristoro Boschetto (on the slopes of Aremogna at 1600 mts).  This classic rifugio offers simple but delicious dishes like meatballs in meat sauce, a range of pasta dishes and traditional sausages, perfect tucker to recharge the batteries at lunch time.

What to do:

Friday evening:

Make your way to Roccaraso, check in and then join the crowds for the passeggiata along Via Roma, the town’s animated main street.  Have dinner and get an early night, ready to hit the slopes tomorrow.


Get your skis and head for the lifts.  Skiarea Alto Sangro has thirty ski lifts and one hundred and thirty kilometres of ski runs, between 1325 mts and 2141 mts, on the northern slopes of Mount Pratello and Toppe del Tesoro.  There are three separate areas (Gravare-Aremogna; Pizzalto and Monte Pratello) that are all interconnected.  A daily ski pass costs around 40 euro per day (depending on the part of the season).  All details are available on the Roccaraso website:

Gravare-Aremogna is 10 kms from Roccaraso.  The main cable-car takes you up to the red run Le Aquile and the black Lupo, that together make up a 2 kms descent.  There are also chairlifts take to the easy Pallottieri run and the more challenging Rocce Bianche.  Pizzalto has two very interesting black runs:  the aptly name Direttissima and the Grand Pista.   Monte Pratello lies in the territory of the neighbouring village of Rivisondoli.  A cable-car takes you up another Direttissima, whose steep incline bounded by rock slopes recalls Alpine runs. 

Roccaraso also offers a range of non-skiing activities, coordinated by the Pro Wolf Sporting Association (  Every Saturday evening there are guided snow-shoeing expeditions out to a mountain where you have dinner and then head back to town.  Heliskiing, which involves getting a helicopter ride to the top of Toppe del Tesoro and then heading off down to Lake Pantaniello with a helicopter ride back to base at the end. 

Snow-kiting has also become increasingly popular at Pizzalto – lessons can be booked through Scuola Kite White Sea (  You can also go ice-skating at the Palaghiaccio in Roccaraso. 

For something really exciting, the Association Magna Mater at Campo di Giove, go on the Wolf Weekend:  a guided snow-shoeing excursion in the Maiella National Park for the weekend following the wolf trails and listening to the their evening serenades before dinner and overnighting at the Rifugio Il Majo, near the Forest of Sant’Antonio.

After all this activity, treat yourself at the sumptuous thermal springs, Terme Alte di Rivisondoli, a short drive from Roccaraso:


As remote as Roccaraso may be, the area has a rich and fascinating past and there is much to be seen in the surrounding villages.  Not much is evident in Roccaraso itself, war and earthquakes have been harsh, but there.  The village of Rivisondoli overlooks Roccaraso across the plain – its lanes and alleys offer splendid views over the mountains and highplains.  A kilometre out of the town is the Sanctuary della Portella, which was built on a 12th century temple, which holds a venerated image of the Madonna and child.  Rivisondoli is also famous for its living Nativity, held on 5 January for the last 67 years, which involves the whole village, Jesus being played by the most recently-born baby.

Pescocostanzo is another nearby village perched on a spur with a magical atmosphere, its narrow streets embellished by a series of late-Renaissance palazzos.  Overlooking the town is one of the real treasures of the region, the magnificent Basilica Santa Maria del Colle, with an extraordinary of art works that were accumulated over four hundred years between the 15th and 18th centuries. 

Seven kilometres north of is the beautiful Forest of Sant’Antonio, an ancient beech forest that has recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.  You can have a delicious lunch here at Il Faggeto, a rustic trattoria with a large fireplace that serves mountain specialities including fettuccine alla boscaiolo (tomatoes, pancetta and mushrooms) and the classic sauges with polenta.  If you are keen, there is also the possibility of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with well-marked trails weaving through the park.

For something really special: sleeping with wolves in the Majella National Park

For something really exciting, however, you can forget the skiing go on Wolf Weekend into the winter wonderland of the Majella National Park (  The Association Magna Mater at Campo di Giove, another small town twenty kilometres north of Roccaraso ( organises guided snow-shoeing excursions into the Maiella National Park following the wolf trails.  In the evening you can be serenaded by the wolf calls while having dinner Rifugio Il Majo and tuck up into a cosy bed and overnighting at this charming rifugio, near the Forest of Sant’Antonio.

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