A Morning In The Majella

Two…

…blogs for the price of one. A wordy one and a photographic one. The photos didn’t sit particularly well within the text, so I’ve grouped them all together at the end.

I won’t mind if you ignore the words and scroll through directly to the pics.

But I’ll know. Never mind how. I just will…

The story so far…

Me and Pauline have just made our annual autumn trip up into the Majella National Park to gather pine cones.

To which the usual annual response is – why ?

And the answer is because they contain large quantities of resin, pine cones are nature’s firelighters.

They’re also free.

You need just a few scrunched-up bits of paper to get handfuls of pine cones blazing away merrily, as opposed to setting light to half-a-boxful of those deeply ecologically-unfriendly petroleum-based cubes and then seeing your firewood sit on top and smoulder.

Great for smoking kippers. Not so good for warming up a chilly room and roasting chestnuts.

Being inherently the nosiest people on the planet, Italians will see us rooting through the undergrowth at one of our two or three favourite cone-gathering spots and ask what we’re doing.

The usual reaction to our explanation is blank incomprehension. Pine cones burn ? (Chuckle) Really ?

Even though we now speak Italian moderately OK, it’s obvious in a heartbeat we’re not actually Italian. The fact that then comes out we’re English, and therefore – as any Italian knows – wildly eccentric, instantly excuses our bizarre behaviour.

I suppose we gathered about 20lbs of cones, which’ll happily keep us going throughout the winter. I’m not sure whether harvesting them deprives some hapless creature of food, but as there are several million conifers in the Majella – and there’s only other cone forager we know of (English of course) – I hope we’re keeping our footprint on the landscape as small as possible.

Foraging done, we drove right on up as far as you can go, to just below the Blockhaus peak at around 2000m – (about 7000 feet).

Irritatingly – and astonishingly – we found ourselves sandwiched between two cloud layers, so while we had the normal spectacular views sideways, down below was obliterated, while above us was a high grey mantle.

Astonishingly – and not at all irritating – was that the temperature was 25˚ – about 10˚ more than at home. Normally, it’s the other way round – the higher you go, the colder it gets – but at the moment we’re being fanned by a highly unseasonal Scirocco, the fierce, hot wind that blows up into Italy straight off the Sahara.

Sometimes, it can be like standing in front of a hairdryer. This time though, it wasn’t much more than a warm, fairly brisk breeze.

Off we went, ever-upwards, past Blockhaus at the start of a fairly long walk that wends its way through some truly spectacular scenery, before obligingly returning you to where you set off.

Not that we were quite that athletic or ambitious. This was primarily to build up an appetite for lunch. An uphill amble of a mile or so, enjoying the views; the absolute tranquillity; and the fact we had as far as we could see – and we could see a very long way – entirely to ourselves.

And the big plus of a mile-long uphill outward stretch is that the mile-long return is all downhill.

Halfway down, as befalls even the most experienced and well-prepared hiker, I needed a pee.

Not a problem you’d think, when you’re just a speck in the wilderness.

But while I was peaceably passing the time of day and enjoying the scenery, the silence and the solitude, not one…not two…but THREE cars emerged from a weather station on the Blockhaus slopes and noisily barrelled down the track towards me.

What did I do ? Not a lot. Aside from wishing I was somewhere else, what can you do when you’re suddenly interrupted in full flow halfway up a mountain ?

And of course, with the same inevitability of night following day, when we’d eventually walked down to the lunch-stop, there were the same three cars parked outside, and – of course – inescapably sat at the first table inside were seven or eight guys.

The only thought I had as I sidled past trying to avoid eye-contact, was that my face might not’ve been the first part of my anatomy they recognised…

Aside from a table well away from them, I’ll tell you what cheered me up.

Freshly made Crespelle plonked down on the table as a not-so-little nibble

Have you come across them ? I have no idea whether they’re just an Abruzzese delicacy, or famed – as they should be – Italy-wide.

The only foodstuff I know which causes you to put on 10lbs just by looking at it.

Crespelle are a doughnut variant. Not ball-shaped like a doughnut, but flattened into a thinnish disc  before being deep-friend in smoking-hot olive oil, which makes the rim puff-up and go crispy.

Then they’re sprinkled generously with salt and eaten as soon as you can pick them up.

Washed down with a tumbler of local house red, nothing could’ve been finer.

Except the chitarra (Abruzzo’s take on spaghetti) with home-made meat ragu which followed.

With another tumbler of red.

I don’t know what it is about the simplest of simple Italian food, but after a couple of hours of cone-foraging and mountain walking, I absolutely promise you nothing could’ve been better.

And next time, yes, I definitely will go before I leave home…

David Brenner - author of the AboutAbruzzo blogAboutAbruzzo is a blog written by David Brenner, a former journalist from the UK.
Along with his wife Pauline, David runs Villasfor2 – the only holiday rentals in Abruzzo, (and perhaps even in all Italy), exclusively for couples.
No kids. No families. No big groups. Just the two of you.

 

Now…the pictures…

The first dusting of winter snow on the Majella

The first dusting of winter snow on the north-facing slope of Il Amfiteatro – a bowl-shaped feature on the Majella.

An autumn-flowering Gentian ?

OK plant experts – name this ! An autumn-flowering Gentian maybe ?  

Something from the thistle family perhaps ?

…and no, sorry…can’t be much help what this is called either. Looks vaguely thistle-like ? 

m3

The Majella’s slopes are thickly-forested with beech and conifers, and the home to wild boar, deer, chamois – and wolves (which are the Park’s most iconic species) 

Snow ! Just a little...

Snow ! Just a little, because although there have been a couple of  falls so far this autumn, there’s been some warm weather too, which means it hasn’t lasted that long. Yet. Winter is coming… 

The road to nowhere ?

When the band Talking Heads made a record called ‘Road to Nowhere’, they might’ve had the SS614 in mind. It starts off confidently enough, winding its way up into the heart of the Majella, but a couple of miles after skirting the Blockhaus – it stops. Literally. From a ribbon of tarmac to bare earth in…well…the middle of nowhere…

Top secret !

This is the Italian Army communications base covered in notices that say DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH. Unselfishly, I’ve taken this snap so you know what it looks like and don’t photograph it by mistake.

Brand new signs lead you on tracks throughout the Majella.

One of the Majella’s big plus-points is that it’s crossed by numerous extremely well-signposted tracks. Not only do the signs tell you how to get from A to B, they’ll also tell you how long it’ll take, so you can plan anything from a short walk to a full day’s hike. 

Just the place for lunch

The Rifugio Bruno Pomilio – at 1980m, the highest place to eat miles. Simple, excellent food and highly recommended

Our lunch !

This is what we had. Chitarra – Abruzzo’s take on spaghetti – (it’s thinner, and square instead of round) with a home-made meat ragu.

And it was as good as it looked !

It was really delicious. And I was really hungry !

 

 

Pine cones - great natural fire-lighters

What we came for. 20lbs of pine cones to light our fires this winter.


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