Molise, Italy’s rising star

13 September 2023
Written by
Sara Magro

Why should you visit the region?

Rarely does one hear about Molise. It’s pointless to wonder why. For decades, people left in search of fortunes elsewhere. And without the trendy tourism that concentrates exclusively in a few fashionable places, Molise has preserved both its natural richness and cultural authenticity.

Trabucco in Termoli

But, during the pandemic, the summer of 2020 was a time of resurgence, since The New York Times had included the region among the 52 destinations to visit. In a way, it did happen, but instead of international limelight, it received a precious national one. “People from Tuscany and Liguria became our English and American tourists. On the other hand, if it weren’t for Covid-19, when would an Italian have been curious enough to see what this Molise is about, of which little to nothing is known?” says Manuela Cucoro of Locanda Alfieri in the medieval village of Termoli.

Let’s start right here. In 2002, Manuela Cucoro returned to live there and bought several houses in the 11th-century historical center, which suffered from serious depopulation. She renovated them and created the first «albergo diffuso» (with rooms in different buildings within the village), which she manages with her daughter Mariarosaria. A similar path was taken by Fabrizio Vincitorio with Residenza Sveva and a private beach club. This triggered a virtuous development mechanism. Tourists arrived, opening bars, restaurants, and B&Bs. 

In Termoli, more famous for the production of Fiat Chrysler Alfa Romeo engines, there’s also the Adriatic Sea (35 km along the entire region). And there’s the port, where ferries depart for the Tremiti Islands, and where fishing boats laden with fresh fish arrive, which the restaurants cook roasted or in the typical fish stew. Yet, there are several reasons to stop in this transient place. In April 2019, Macte, a contemporary art museum, opened to exhibit the collection of the Termoli Prize, placing the city on the map of Italian art, bringing some of the most important artists, performers, and architects from 1955 to today.

Quietly, Molise moved forward. In times of proximity tourism, remote work, and the need for nature, it’s the most exotic and necessary destination. Partly protected by the Abruzzo Lazio and Molise National Park, one of the oldest in Italy founded in 1923, traversed by the Tratturo Magno, a migration route and now used by walkers and cyclists from L’Aquila to Foggia: 244 kilometers divided into 9 stages. Among its mountains, valleys, and gorges, the Transiberiana d’Italia also passes through, a historic train that seems like a manifesto of slow travel: a panoramic journey of three and a half hours from Sulmona in Abruzzo to Carovilli in Molise, with a stop at Castel di Sangro at midday, the ideal time to book  lunch at Reale, Niko Romito’s three Michelin-starred restaurant (one of the ten in Italy).

The beach in the evening

In this regard, Stefania Di Pasquo learned well from Professor Romito: to make a small village great, one must offer something rare, unique, and very good. Drawing on her education (she also has a degree in Economics), she chose to invest in Agnone, her hometown, where she opened Locanda Mammì, a restaurant with a few rooms to promote Molise’s gastronomy. In her menu, the pea velouté with hazelnut crumble and caciocavallo spheres are not inventions but evolutions of typical cuisine. «We strive to make our land appealing in every sense», concludes hotelier Manuela Cucoro. And it cannot be denied that the proposals are convincing, even without calling upon testimonials like Robert De Niro, always proud of his Molisan origins, tempted to return if the American presidential elections had gone against his desires. But then Biden was elected and he decided to stay in New York. For the moment.

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