Wednesday, 8 October 2014

THE SPIRITUAL TRAIL: a journey through time and wilderness


Serramonacesca - Sulmona
85km from 400m to 2000m asl

A growing curiosity into the ley line of the St Michael/Apollo axis that crosses Abruzzo as it travels between Ireland and Greece, sparked more than a passing interest in the lives and paths of the Celestine monks of the thirteenth century.  Call it what you will: a ley line, the “path of light”, or simply the trail of pilgrims and shepherds as they chart their wanderings by the constellations of the stars, the connections between the hermits of the Maiella and the “path of light” were enough to fuel that curiosity, pack enough kit for four days and take off in their footsteps along the Spiritual Trail over the mountains of the Majella National Park.

The Majella

An intensely spiritual place, the Majella (pronounced, and often spelled, Maiella) is within the south-central Italian region of Abruzzo.  Abruzzo, isolated for centuries because of its formidable natural defences, is the heartland of the Apennines mountains and the most completely mountainous region of Italy.  

The Majella has been called, in equal measure, the “Sacred Mountain” and the “Mother Majella”, names that conjure up pictures of a quiet magic yet hides its reputation as a hostile wilderness with fierce winters and unforgiving terrain.  

According to legend, the Majella was formed when Maya, the Goddess of the Earth, came to its peaks seeking a special herb to heal her sick son, but she failed to reach the top before he died.  Dying in deep sorrow, her heart broken for her loss, Maya reappeared in the unique form of the rounded Majella, the sleeping beauty of Abruzzo, that rises up quickly from lowland to mountain top.

To call the Mother Maiella a mountain oversimplifies it.  The Majella is a fantastically complex clustering of 61 peaks of over 2000m, and 75 lower lying hills.  Its whale-like shape is not easily understood from afar as her peaks remain largely hidden and her aspect constantly changes with the light and the seasons.  

Variously and simultaneously considered imposing, unpredictable and uninhabitable, the Majella ultimately retains an aura of phenomenal beauty, space and peace, capable of making your heart swell and soar over and over again.  But is it simply her beauty, high peaks, spectacular gorges and fascinating labyrinth of limestone caves that has drawn hermits, pilgrims and travellers for centuries?  Or is there something else, something more?  A magnetic force, an energy, a ley line, that pulled them all in?  

The Spiritual Trail

The Spiritual Trail crosses the wilderness of the Majella and the Majella Morrone for 85km from the small village of Serramonacesca (“the land of the monks”) on the north-eastern slopes, to the historical town of Sulmona on the mid-western side.  

It is an ancient trail linking the key Celestine hermitages (eremi) of the Majella, some are still nothing more than simple caves with a bed and altar chipped out of the stone, others like the eremo Santo Spirito have, from around the XII century, become elaborate structures built into the rock of the deep gorges.  

The trail starts and finishes at an elevation of around 400m asl, but throughout it’s 85km length you will scale three major peaks, the highest at just over 2000m asl, and steeply descend into the gorges of two spectacular valleys.  

You will follow the tumbling waters of mountain rivers, wander amongst wolves and bears of the forests and walk amongst wild horses on the high plains.  Throughout your journey the views are breathtaking and you will barely see another soul.  

Your accommodation will be a combination of wild camping in your own tent, sleeping in a rifugio (below) and, should you wish it, a bit of luxury in a B&B as you overnight in the spa town of Caraminico. 


We chose to go from east to west, starting from Serramonacesca and finishing in Sulmona, for the simple reason that it was far easier for us to get back to Serramonacesca from Sulmona, rather than the other way round.  

How to get to Serramonacesca:  Ryan Air ( has regular flights to Pescara which is only 30km from Serramonacesca.  Buses and trains run from Pescara to Chieti Scalo:  Arpa ( for buses, Trenitalia ( for trains.  

Arpa buses run twice daily from Chieti Scalo to Serramonacesca, timetables can be viewed online from Arpa as above.  

If its easier for you to fly into Rome, buses between Rome Tiburtina and Chieti Scalo run throughout the day, take only 2.5 hours and cost around 15€.  Again, see Arpa for timetables.

If you stay at Kokopelli Camping in Serramonacesca (see below), they will do transfers from Pescara (35€) or Chieti Scalo (25€).

Where to stay in Serramonacesca:  

Kokopelli Camping, just off the Spiritual Trail, has excellent facilities for camping and also has rooms available and bell tents for hire (; Ostello San Liberatore in the heart of Serramonacesca village, has bunk style accommodation (  For a B&B there is Le Pietre Ricce in nearby Roccamontepiano which is an hour’s walk across the hills from the start of the trail (

Day 1, Serramonacesca to Roccamorice

20km, 400 - 950m asl (1097m ascent, 682m descent)

Monasteries, hermitages & caves:  Abbazia di San Liberatore, Eremo di San Onofrio (opposite), Grotta San Angelo
Terrain:  Beech woods, open plains & gorges
Water points:  Fonte San Onofrio, Fosso San Angelo
Where to stay:  B&B Santo Spirito Roccamorice ( is immediately on the Spiritual Trail just above the Eremo San Bartolomeo.  Alternatively, extend your day an extra 5km and wild camp in the woods beyond the eremo.

Day 2, Roccamorice to Rifugio di Marco
20km, 820 - 1700m asl (1370m ascent, 610m descent)

Monasteries, hermitages & caves:  eremi San Bartolomeo (above), Santo Spirito and San Giovanni
Terrain:  Beech woods, rivers & gorges
Water points:  Fonte at Santo Spirito, fosso Santo Spirito, Fonte Centiate (signed en route to rifugio di Marco
Where to stay:  Rifugio di Marco

Day 3, Rifugio di Marco to Caramanico Terme
12km, 1700 - 600m asl (210m ascent, 1273m descent)

Monasteries, hermitages & caves:  eremo San Onofrio, Orfento valley
Terrain:  Woods, rivers and gorges
Water points:  Orfento river

Where to stay:  Caramanico Terme (opposite) is a reasonable sized town with accommodation ranging from a luxury thermal spa to camping and hostels.  

The following can be recommended:  camping & hostel type accommodation at Casa del Lupo (, which is also a key visitor centre to the Park, B&B Antico Borgo in the historic centre (

Day 4, Caramanico Terme to Eremo San Pietro
18km, 450 - 2000m asl (1700m ascent, 670m descent)

Ascending Monte Morrone

Monasteries, hermitages & caves:  eremo San Pietro
Terrain:  woods, open plains, mountain summit, gorges
Water points: village of San Vittorino, fonte della casetta in the woods just before eremo San Pietro
Where to stay:  wild camp in the woods close to the water source of fonte della casetta just before reaching San Pietro

Day 5, Eremo San Pietro to Badia Morronese, Sulmona
15km, 1400 - 400m asl (370m ascent, 1340m descent)

Monasteries, hermitages & caves:  eremi San Pietro (above) and San Onofrio, Badia Morronese
Terrain:  woods and tracks
Water points:  Sulmona

Travel from Sulmona back to Serramonacesca:  trains between Sulmona and Chieti run regularly throughout the day for around 5€ per person.  The train station is a 7km walk from the Badia Morronese, a point worth remembering before you have your second celebratory beer at the little bar next to the monastery!



The official map of the Park in scale 1:50,000 can be purchased at any of the visitor centres of the Park or online at

An interactive online version of the map can be viewed on the Park website: 

A more detailed hiking map (1:25,000) can be purchased online from Edizioni il Lupo:

For sat nav devices, there is the Trek Mappa Italia from Garmin, which although costly at around €180 does cover all the main hiking regions of Italy, including the Majella.  This can be purchased from the Garmin site at

For a cheaper option, an excellent digital map of the Majella, compatible with Garmin devices, can be purchased for around €60 from Digital Walking Maps at 

How long to take

Although we completed the trail in 4 days and 3 nights, to fully appreciate the scenery, the villages you pass and, of course, the eremi themselves, we do recommend taking longer.  

The eremi are fascinating structures.  Some, such as Santo Spirito (opposite), are quite elaborate and warrant at least an hour or two wandering the labyrinth of corridors, cells and rooms.  

Others, such as San Giovanni (opposite), are tricky to get to as they are hidden within steep, rocky gorges with narrow approaches requiring sure-footedness and a head for heights.  Five days and four nights would be ideal.

When to do it

Winters on the Majella can be harsh and much of the route will be snow bound between November and March.  Although much of the route is in the dappled shade of the woods, a lot is on open plains.  August, when temperatures can easily reach 30 - 40 degrees celsius, will be far too hot to make the route comfortable.  You will also need more water, which will mean carrying extra weight in already heavy packs as the water points are, at times, far apart.  Early spring, March and April, is a beautiful time with the hills finally shaking off the weight of winter and everything is bursting into glorious life.  However, it can be wet at this time.  

The optimum time, therefore, for taking the trail is either May, June, early July, September and October.  We chose the last week of September and this was just perfect.

B&Bs, wild camping & rifugio (mountain huts) in the Majella

So long as you’re sensitive as to where you stay, and leave without a trace in the morning, you can pitch up along the route.  Be aware, however, that you will be sharing your space with the wildlife of the Majella, which does include wolves and bears, so keep your food and rubbish away.  With so many nocturnal animals, nights can be noisy!  

Wild camping on the Morrone, next to the rifugio Laccio Rosso

There are a number of rifugio along the way where you are more than welcome to stay.  Most have fireplaces and a table and chairs.  Some have a store of wood, but generally you will have to collect your own.  Some have basic bunks for sleeping, but be prepared to bed down on the floor (or pitch your tent outside).  Any mattresses are best avoided or you may find your sleeping bag becomes host to a number of itchy visitors who will be reluctant to leave!

If you’d rather break your journey with the luxury of a hotel or B&B, you will pass close to the small village of Roccamorice and go throughout the spa town of Caramanico Terme. 


There are a number of drinking fountains (fonte) along the route utilising mountain springs, these are perfectly safe to drink.  Indeed some, such as the waters at San Onofrio in Serramonacesca, are said to have health giving benefits.  These are often marked on the map as “fonte”, or with a sign post directing the way.  

The Orfento Valley, Caramanico

The waters from the tumbling streams that you will cross are clean and fresh.  We are happy to drink directly from these, and have done so many times, but, to be safe, you may want to add a purifying tablet.

As you will be collecting and carrying your water, it is recommended that you take two x 2-3 litre water bladders.  You will need water for cooking as well as drinking.  The route involves long climbs in places, so don’t underestimate the amount you will need to drink.


The Hermits and the Celestine Monks

My journeys of ley line research along the St Michael/Apollo axis have taken me not only to the hermits, but to dragons, myths & legends, Knights Templars, pagans and archangels.  Knights Templars and pagan worship I have found in the Majella, myths and legends a plenty.  As critical as the Archangel St Michael is to the theory of ley lines, I shall park him for now.  

Statue of the Archangel St Michael in the Grotta San Angelo, that can be found
on the Spiritual Trail as it passes Lettomanoppello

The hermits, on the other hand, being better documented, particularly Peter of the Morrone who, for the simple reason that he was to become Pope Celestine V and the founding father of the religious order of the Celestine monks, I could follow, both literally across the Spiritual Trail of the Majella and through the written history of his life.  

To fully understand the phenomenon of the hermits, we start our journey in the 4th or 5th century with San Onofrio (or Onophrius), of which three of the Majella hermitages are dedicated.  Onophrius lived at the time when Christianity was emerging as the dominant faith of the Roman Empire, a period when many Christians were inspired to live a life of solitude in prayer and penance for the love of God.  

Onophrius lived his hermit life for 70 years, dwelling in the harsh environment of the desert of Upper Egypt dressed in nothing but his long hair and a loin cloth of leaves, the figure that you see in the eremo in Serramonacesca (opposite). 

Word of the way of life of Onuphrius spread across the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, where many churches and monasteries have been built in his honour.  The long list where he is depicted, amongst many others, include Poland, Russia, Jerusalem, Germany, Turkey and, of course, Italy and the Majella.  His feast day is marked on June 12, the date of his death, which is celebrated every year in the Majella village of Serramonacesca where we begin our travels.

From the life of San Onofrio, we jump about 700 years to the 13th Century and the life of the hermit, Pietro (or Peter) of the Morrone.  Born in 1215 to a poor and humble family in Sant’Angelo Limosano in neighbouring Molise, Pietro became a Benedictine monk in his late adolescence, but left the monastery in his early 20s to pursue life as a hermit in a cave on Mont Morrone of the Majella.  He led a pious life, fasting every day apart from Sunday, wearing a haircloth shirt roughened with knots and a chain of iron around his emaciated frame.  His entire day, and much of his night, was dedicated to prayer and labour.  

Pietro’s life of solitude was not to last.  As news of his saintly piety spread, others tried to follow him and imitate his rule of life.  Pietro withdrew to a deeper, wilder and more inaccessible cave of the Majella (Eremo di San Giovanni), but a community of fellow hermits still developed on the Majella that grew incessantly.  By the time of his death in 1296 he had established the religious order of the Celestine monks, with 600 Celestini and 36 monasteries.

The late 1200s was a battlefield of religious and political controversy with France, England, the Spanish Aragon and the reigning Popes in bitter conflict.  It was into this turmoil that Pietro, in the latter years of his life, was thrown.  In 1292 the reigning Pope Nicholas IV died and the feuds amongst infighting cardinals and their clans meant that more than two years passed with the conclave being unable to agree on the succeeding Pope.  

After a two year impasse, the unrest between the rival factions became more serious and the legitimate election of a new Pope became more urgent.  It was amongst this chaos that the powerful Cardinal Orsini reported that God had told him to elevate a pious hermit to the papacy, or face divine chastisement.  This proposition was seized upon by the exhausted conclave and the election was made unanimous.  Who better to control and manipulate, thought the Cardinals, but “an aged, simple and almost illiterate Benedictine hermit?”

Eremo San Pietro, Majella Morrone
Pietro, now aged 79, reluctantly left his beloved Majella and, with tears in his eyes, accepted the decision and became Pope Celestine V, reasoning that it was the will of God.  He was crowned not in Rome but in his familiar church of Santa Maria Collemaggio in Aquila within Abruzzo, a church that he had had constructed many years before when inspired by a dream that the Virgin Mary had asked him to build a church on that spot. 

He was, however, a weak and ineffectual Pope within a power-laden ecclesiastical system and made many serious mistakes in the five short months of his papacy.  Eventually he expressed a wish to resign and, possibly manipulated by the wily canon lawyer Cardinal Caetani (who was later to succeed Celestine V as the next Pope, Boniface VIII), effected his resignation, donned his hermit’s garb and retraced his steps back to the solitude of the depths of the Majella.  The legitamacy of his resignation was challenged and Boniface issued orders that he be “detained”.  Celestine escaped capture within the Majella for several months before attempting to flee to Greece with the help of his friends and compatriots.  He was finally captured at the foot of Mount Gargano in Puglia, southern Italy and delivered into the hands of Boniface VIII who confined the old man to a dank and dark cell in the castle of Fumone near Anagni.  Celestine died here, in his 81st year.  

In 1313 San Pietro was canonised and his remains were transferred to the church of Santa Maria Collemaggio in Aquilla, where they remain to this day despite the Basilica (as it is now) being severely damaged by the earthquake of 2009.  San Pietro’s remains miraculously survived.

Understood in the context of all that has gone before, The Spiritual Trail becomes far more than simply another multi-day hike, albeit amongst spectacular scenery.  It is a journey through time and history that you cannot fail to feel deeply, becoming completely absorbed and in awe.

Wild camping on the Majella Morrone


Feel free to email or call if you'd like further information, or would like help in planning your trip:  

Cell:    +39 333 4636075

You can also download this article, with the details of the Spiritual Trail from:

Saturday, 16 August 2014


Calling all hikers, bikers, climbers, runners, or any sort of outdoor nature lover really

It's September, and do you know what happens in September?

Nothing, absolutely nothing.  And it's a tragedy.

Well, not exactly nothing, a few wise people come, but not many.  And that is the tragedy.  

September here in Abruzzo, and the whole of the autumn for that matter, is arguably the best time in the whole calendar year for outdoor people to explore off the beaten track.  

For late summer sun, warm enough for lazy days on the beach, or cool enough for hiking the endless trails of the wilderness that is the Majella National Park, there can be no better place to come in all of Europe.  

And we're here to guide you.  We're open all year, we have rooms available, we have gorgeous canvas bell tents cosy enough to take you through the cooler autumn months, we have stacks of information to get you out there and up into the hills and mountains.  We have equipment and guide books for climbers, we have Majella maps and our own hiking guides for hikers and walkers, we have mountain bikes you can use, and all the camping equipment you could ever need if you want to travel cheap and light - all you need bring is your tent and sleeping bag, we provide the rest.

Need any more persuasion to take your late holiday with us here in Abruzzo?

Here's our offer to all you outdoor and active nature lovers:

Email us with the dates you want to book, attach a photo of you being active in the great outdoors and we'll give you a 10% discount for September or October.

And there's more...

Because we know that you, like everyone else, will absolutely want to come back, we'll put all the photos into a popularity contest for a free, yes, free, holiday next year.  Any time you like, in one of our rooms or bell tents, for up to one week in 2015.

And there's more...

For everyone who comes, so confident are we of the wilderness in which we live that, for all those who hike all day long following one of our self-guided hikes and not see a soul, there's a bottle of superb Abruzzo wine at the end of it for you.

Boom boom.

What are you waiting for?

Here's where you can find out more:

Cool Camping
Trip Advisor

Go on, send us an email...
     you know you want to ;-)

Sunday, 6 July 2014


"Do I need a car?"

Ah.  That simple question, asked a million times, but without a simple answer.


Depends on lots.  But depends mainly on the type of traveller you are and what you're looking for in a holiday.

To begin with a few facts:


We are 2.5km from Serramonacesca.  Easy walking distance, until you bring our hill into the equation; it's a 200m climb back up.  I love the walk, as do many others, but some will only do it once.

Serramonacesca, her hills & views
Castel Menardo in the foreground, sea on the horizon, 
Kokopelli Camping just out of view bottom right

Evening walk into the village

You see lots of things along the way: plants for foraging in the hedgerows, wild flowers, lizards , butterflies, snakes.  Yes, really.  And, my goodness, do they make you jump.  Most of the time, however, completely harmless, but not for the squeamish.

There are buzzards calling, oriels singing, mistle thrush, redstarts, and hoopoes to name but a few.

Smiley :-) 
You'll most likely be joined by Smiley, the local character who will love your company.  You won't go far without a nod, a smile and a "buongiorno" from people sweeping their steps, tending their gardens or hanging out their washing, and the chances are you won't even need to walk.

Offers of lifts from passers-by will be many.  In fact, so insistent can they be that it's often easier to graciously accept than to explain that you do, actually, really, strangely enough, want to walk.

Local produce
Once in Serra, all your needs can be catered for.  So long as you shop like a local.

There are two small shops, limited in choice but, thankfully, a world away from a supermarket.

There is a butcher and a pharmacist, two restaurants, two bars, two gelateria and a fattoria where their own cheeses and arrosticini are produced from their own goats and sheep that you'll see grazing the hills with the shepherd and his dogs.

Cheeses & yoghurts from the Cheese Man
There's a vegetable seller in the piazza twice a week, a fish man who does the rounds on a Tuesday, a vegetable van that visits the campsite every Thursday, as well as the cheese man who comes on a Friday with home made yoghurts and far too tasty ricotta, pecorino and mozzarella.  So, yes, you can do very nicely indeed.

If you shop like a local and travel slow.

The Beach

A half hour's drive.  So, yes, if you fancy a day on the beach you need a car.  There are buses, they go from Serra into Pescara and back 2-3 times a day.  Early morning (6.30am), early afternoon and evening.  They take a while, they go round all the villages, you won't go anywhere fast, but you can get to the beach.  And back.  But it can be tedious.

Our beautiful river, the Alento,
it's source bubbling out of the mountains in Serramonacesca

Or, you can just take a blanket and a book, walk for half an hour or so, and go and sit by the river.


If travelling around from village to village, town to town, castle to castle takes your fancy, you could feel a little restricted without a car.


If you're a slow traveller and just want to absorb what is around you, really feel it, really experience it, get to know those who know it best, then, no, you don't need a car.  Within walking distance (for seasoned hikers and the hardy) we do have some of the most beautiful places and buildings in Abruzzo here in Serramonacesca, so long as you're happy to just explore what's on your doorstep and not venture further.

The Abbey of San Liberatore a Maiella

The Abbey of San Liberatore a Maiella
The Hermitage of San Onofrio
The Hermitage of San Onofrio

But what if you fall somewhere in between?

If you're happy to explore and get to know what's close to you, but wouldn't mind venturing further every now and then, here's what we can do to help, just a few of the little Kokopelli extras:

Drop you off, pick you up, take you out

Local markets
We're frequently out and about shopping in the local markets and towns, we go hiking, we go to the beach, we explore the higher mountain peaks, we'll go to a restaurant in the evening or just for a pizza or a party.

Anyone is welcome to hitch a ride.

Lend you a bike

We have mountain bikes that you're free to use, just pack up a picnic, hop on and pedal away.

Let you use our Vespa

Our little baby.  The essential part of slow Italian life, and fairly groovy too.  Think Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.  Roman Holiday

For just €40 a day you can take off, with the wind in your hair, the sun on your back, and live the Italian dream.  Even if for just a day.

So there you have it.

Do you need a car?   Entirely depends on you.

Saturday, 31 May 2014


It’s about time we went biodegradable.  

Kokopelli sunflowers
Slowly we’ve been disentangling ourselves from a way of life out of harmony with the natural world.  The easy ones are well entrenched now: shopping locally, eating seasonally, growing our own, making, mending, re-using, re-cycling, and so on, and so on.  

But to extract yourself completely and live a truly “green” lifestyle isn’t easy.  

Kokopelli bell tents & hens

We are a campsite with toilets to keep clean, showers, sinks and floors.  We have bell tents for hire, along with their cleaning and the laundry of linen and towels.  

Our campers cook and they wash their clothes, they wash their dishes and, if we’re lucky (and we usually are) they clean the cookers too.  Lots of chemicals going down the pan.

However, two problems:

1. Eco products are not cheap
2. Eco products are not easy to find here in Serramonacesca.

Abbazia di San Liberatore a Majella, Serramonacesca

I have been pondering this for a while.  If I can make my own creams and lotions from products that are all natural and good (and at a fraction of the commercial cost), then why can I not do the same for household products?  

This last month, a rather wet spring with a number of rainy days have given the opportunity of enforced inside labour.  So I surfed and shopped and experimented, and found we can do it and cheaply too.  Cheaper, in fact, than using commercial chemical products.  Here’s how, and how much it costs (details of where to purchase are at the end):

Universal Detergent from Solara

This wonder product is completely biodegradable and can be mixed and used for almost anything.  

It’s €4.50 a litre, is super concentrated and unperfumed.  

This is how I’m diluting and mixing it for household cleaning and laundry:

Large surfaces cleaning (€0.02 per litre - yes, really!)

15ml diluted in 4 litres of water = €0.02 per litre.  No brainer.

It works, its good.  Add a few drops of your favourite essential oil and you're away.  Lavender, geranium, peppermint, tea tree, lemon, all enhance the cleaning properties and smell delicious too.

Small surfaces cleaning (€1.15 / 500ml)

Popped in a spritzer, 50% dilute and you have a kitchen cleaner, bathroom cleaner and just about anything else cleaner for only €1.15 for a 500ml spray.

Again, mix & match with essential oils, different ones for the kitchen, different ones for the bathroom, drop some citronella in for the kitchen one and help keep the pesky bugs at bay too.

Further dilute it and you've got yourselves a furniture cleaner.

Washing the dishes (€0.46 / 500ml)

Buy an eco washing up liquid from the supermarket (I used Winni's bought from Conad for €1.32 per 500ml) and mix it with Solara's Universal Detergent diluted for large surfaces (as above).   Use two thirds Solara, one third Winni's and, bingo, you've got a pretty effective washing up liquid that cuts through grease at low temperatures for €0.46 for 500ml.

Damned kind to the hands too.

Now this little baby is totally gorgeous.  Pure soap flakes of the gentlest kind, lightly scented with rose.  All natural and not an animal fat or chemical in sight.  Beautiful used on their own, and I will certainly spoil myself from time to time (loads of information on the Marsiglia soap below), but I needed to bring the cost down.

I mixed one third soap flake solution (soap flakes dissolved in a small amount of hot water) with two thirds Solara (diluted for large surface cleaning, ie 15ml Solara in 1 litre of water), filled the dosing ball supplied with the soap flakes, gave it a go and, by jiminy, it worked.  Not only did the wash come out sweet smelling and clean, but it was soft too.

Used with a cube of Marsiglia (see below) for rubbing on stubborn stains and you have the perfect solution.  Doing the laundry becomes an absolute pleasure.  

No going back for me.

Il Marsiglia - Natural Soap from Marseille

The picture is not complete without a little information (or a lot) about sapone di Marsiglia, of which I cannot believe I have gone all these years without.

Il Marsiglia is soap from Marseille, and is about as natural as it’s possible to get.  It’s made only from vegetable oils, soda, water and sodium chloride (normal salt).  It is therefore truly hypoallergenic, 100% biodegradable and completely free of the fragrances, preservatives, animal fats, petroleum and other synthetics found in commercial soaps.  

What is more, it is a completely universal cleanser as it can be used gently, safely and effectively for both yourself and your house. 

Seven good reasons for using Marseille Soap:

  • All cleaning needs, of the person and household, can be met
  • Little expense achieves great results
  • Completely biodegradable
  • The scent is delicious, yet never intrusive
  • This soap is not tested on animals
  • Antiseptic properties
  • Natural repellent for pests of people and animals

Two Types

Each true Marseille manufacturer has its own recipes and many "secrets", but substantially the soaps can be divided into two types:

“The Green”

Dark green in colour that comes from the olive oil that it is made with.  “The Green” is definitely the most suitable for personal hygiene, but can also be used for hand or machine washing, or as universal cleanser.

“The White”

More clear with a slight cream or beige tint.  It is made ​​from seed oils (palm, peanut or coconut).  This type is recommended for hand or machine washing, or as a neutral detergent.

The properties & uses of Marseille Soap

The extent of this product can only be fully appreciated when we start to look at its properties and uses.  Whoever thinks that Marseille soap should only be used for washing clothes, will be amazed to discover how many of their current products can be thrown away in favour of a bar of Marseille.

Personal Hygiene

Bolognano swimming hole, Valle dell'Orta, Abruzzo
The “Green", based on olive oil, is perfect for all aspects of personal hygiene and leaves your skin feeling clean and fresh and with the delicate aroma that is characteristic of this soap.  

It rinses easily and can be used by the whole family.  

Eating arrosticini, Serramonacesca, Abruzzo

Being hypoallergenic it is also suitable for the little ones and those with the most sensitive skin.  

With its known bactericidal effect it is also effective against parasites, and regular use can benefit those with skin problems, such as eczema or acne.

As an exfoliant, well lathered into an exfoliating glove the Marseille can be effective for the removal of dead skin cells, leaving the body silky and shiny.


Used with a good (ideally badger hair) shaving brush and very hot water, lathering the area to be shaved until you get a soft foam softens the hair making it easier to shave and allows the blade to flow beautifully. 

Hand washing

Sheep, Passo Lanciano, Abruzzo
Being an effective, yet gentle, cleanser the Marseille can be used on any fabric, even the most delicate, such as wool, silk and lace.  

All you need do is lather the soap directly onto the clothes, rub and rinse.  If you’d like to leave the clothes to soak, simply grate the soap into flakes (or buy a bag of the soap already flaked) and dissolve about 10 grams of soap to 5 litres of warm water.    

In the washing machine

Drying washing, Abruzzese style.
The soap flakes can be used in the washing machine either alone or, as I do, mixed with another (biodegradable) detergent which gives a more cost effective solution.

It is recommended to always use a dosing ball placed directly into the drum as this gives a more even distribution of soap, increases its effectiveness and reduces the amount required.

Revive shoes

Winter shoes!  Serramonacesca, Abruzzo
If your shoes (even those with leather parts) have reached the point of no return, you can make them look like new by leaving them to soak overnight in a solution of 1 tablespoon of soap flakes and 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 5 litres of warm water.  After soaking, rinse thoroughly and allow to dry in the shade.

Shine your jewellery

Soak your gold and silver in a solution of 1 tablespoon of soap flakes dissolved in 1 litre of hot water.  After a quick rinse your jewellery will shine like new. (Should not be used ​with pearls, coral, bone or ivory.)

Clean and soften brushes

After cleaning paint brushes with the appropriate solvent leave them to soak for a few hours in warm water saponified with Marseille.  Just let them dry, no need to rinse.  Soap is great protection for the bristles and keeps them soft.  Even works for make-up brushes.

Leather cleaner

Shoes, handbags, furniture, biker suits, etc. The leather can be cleaned with a brush or a cloth soaked in Marseille soap.  After washing, rinse and allow to dry slowly (never in the sun)

Tile cleaner

Kitchen and bathroom tiles clean well and quickly with a Marseille soapy sponge. If dirt has accumulated in the grouting, prepare a cream of equal amounts of soap flakes and baking soda and dilute with a little water.  Apply with a brush, leave for at least an hour and rinse.


The majority of the floors, including wood, can be cleaned effectively and without rinsing with a weak solution of Marseille. Once dry the soap leaves the floor shiny, unlike many detergents.  (Test on a small area first to check the compatibility of Marseille with your floor.)

Perfuming & protecting clothes

A cube of Marseille (or a bag of flakes) when placed inside cabinets or drawers will release its fragrance for a long time.  You can also use the “scented” versions.  Your fabrics will also be protected against moths and pests .

Plants and flowers

Tomato growing, Kokopelli Camping, Serramonacesca

Aphids can be easily combated by spraying the plants with a solution of 5-10 grams of flakes dissolved in a litre of water.  The parasites will disappear and the effect will be long lasting. 

Antique restoration

Due to its absolute absence of synthetic chemicals, solvents, fragrances and preservatives, Marseille soap is often used by restorers to remove dirt from walls, furniture, wood, frescoes, paintings, etc

The Alento, Serramonacesca

Where to buy:  provided the majority of the info above and sells all the products listed.  

The website is only in Italian, let me know if you need help ordering.  

If anyone locally (Abruzzo) would like to avoid the delivery charges for orders under €60, let me know as I'm happy to do combined orders.

Looking down from Mammarosa, Parco Nazionale della Majella, Abruzzo