Friday, 26 June 2015

A Micro-Escape to the Sea

Yesterday evening, he said let's go and camp at the seaside.  Within an hour we had packed a few bits, delegated the task of campsite monitor to one of our trustworthy campers, scooped up Finn the Dog and were trundling our way down from the Mother Mountain and along the valley that joins mountain to sea.

You can do that in Abruzzo, you see.  The land of fairy tales where you can be on the high, snow-clad peaks one minute and swimming in the sea the next.  Well, not quite that quickly but you know what I mean.

We arrived and set up camp in time to get our chairs out at the top of the cliff and watch the sun sink slowly into the sea, a crisp and cold pecorino (the wine, not the cheese) the perfect accompaniment.

A fish supper in the cove below at the one and only restaurant, and then we were ready to snuggle up in the tent for the night.  Not too late to bed as we knew dawn would be calling all too soon.  

And so it was.  Up at 5am marvelling at the fresh air and bird song and the changing colours of the sky.  Breakfast on the beach was a must, as was a quick swim, before returning home once more.

Home and back to work by 9am, a micro-adventure it may not have been (not a bivvy sack or motorway in sight), but a micro-escape it certainly was.  

Eating sea food and watching the sky change from red
to a deep, deep inky blue scattered with a million stars

Slowly awakening before the sun has risen

The joy of just sitting and waiting for dawn

As the sun climbed higher, so the sky became redder
and the ships slowly crossed the horizon

Can there be a better way to take your morning coffee?

Almost light and sunrise almost over, so nearly time to go home

...but not before a quick swim before breakfast

Time to go home Finn.

Until the next time.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A weekend of hiking, food, sheep dogs and a classical concert

For the first time we have joined forces with a restauranteur, a shepherd, a wedding planner and a B&B, yes really.  There is, however, a common denominator:  our passion for showcasing this our combined lands of Serramonacesca and Roccamontepiano. 

Serramonacesca "The Land of the Monks"

Both are steeped in history, immersed in nature and perfectly positioned for exploring this exciting wilderness area of the Majella.  

One of the many waterfalls along the Alento river of Serramonacesca

Over the weekend of 30/31 May, along with Abruzzo Parks, we will take you through some hidden trails recently cleared and uncovered, we will cross rivers, climb hills, walk ridges, visit a castle, a tower, an abbey and a hermitage.  The views from all, and the sights you will see, will take your breath away.

Overlooking the gorge and valley of the Torre Polegra

Furthermore, there will also be an opportunity to taste the award winning cheeses of Ennio di Francesco, produced here on these hills of Serramonacesca in La Tua Fattoria, and also to meet the traditional Abruzzese pastore dogs of his son and shepherd, Mirko.  

One of Mirko's beautiful & proud dogs, with the flock below

There will be a chance to visit the Abbey of San Liberatore a Maiella and listen to a classical concert "Napoli in Concerto".  To round off your evening, why not have supper cooked by first class chef, Stefano Tomassetti, at Ristorante Villa dei Monaci, which sits enticingly above the Abbey?

Restaurant "Villa dei Monaci" above the Abbey of San Liberatore a Maiella

Programme of Events

Saturday 30 May

2pm:   Registration at the Abbey of San Liberatore

3pm:        Commence walk:  from the Abbey through woods & across the river, climbing up to the ancient hamlet of Garifoli.  From Garifoli climb up to the montepiano of Roccamontepiano, walk the ridge before descending down to the Torre Polegra.  From the Torre, continue descending to the Alento river, cross the river and return to the Abbey via the deer sanctuary.

6-7pm:       Return from walk, relaxing aperitivo of tastings of local produce, cheese & wine and a chance to meet the Pastore dogs of Mirko di Francesco (more info: Mirko di Francesco).

(Supper at Villa dei Monaci)


Walk only:  €7 per head
Walk & aperitivo:  €10
Ristorante Villa dei Monaci:  to be booked & paid for separately, more info here:  Villa dei Monaci 

For more info & how to book:  email me at or phone: +39 333 4636075

Where to sleep

Kokopelli Camping:  "Glamping" bell tents for hire, space for your own tent and two self-catering rooms available, more info here:

B&B La Pietre Ricce: Beautiful Majella stone B&B perfectly positioned in Roccamontepiano for hiking into the Majella, more info here:

Ostello San Liberatore:  hostel style accommodation in the heart of Serramonacesca, more info here:

Sunday 31 May

9.30am:  Meet Serramonacesca to commence hike taking in the Abbey of San Liberatore, the Alento river and waterfalls, the Castel Menardo and the hermitage of San Onofrio.  The hike is with Abruzzo Parks, more information and booking here:

5.30pm:  Return to San Liberatore in time for the classical concert "Napoli in Concerto"


Excursion:  €15 a head (or €10 for guests of Kokopelli Camping and the Ostello San Liberatore).  Booking via Abruzzo Parks

Concert:  Free

A few pictures of the team hard at work clearing the trails:

Come & join us

Weekend of 30/31 May

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Absolutely yes! #microadventure

We had our weekend planned.  Saturday working, Sunday skiing. 

All things considered, not a bad weekend by normal standards.  The working Saturday involved grass cutting, seed sowing, weeding, finishing the new kit room.  The Sunday skiing was to be ski hiking back country.  But, mid kit room organising, late in the afternoon, he said "let's go on a micro-adventure".

So, instead of stacking the kit on the shelves, we shoved it into the rucksacks, the freezer was raided for a pre-prepared ready meal, the cupboards were sought for wooly hats, gloves and extra layers, and the thermals were put on under our jeans.  We scooped up Finn the dog along the way.

We camped no more than 3 miles away from home, somewhere we pass so many times each week, either walking the dog or out running, but we arrived in a different world.  

Our tent was pitched in the woods that was a stones throw from a path we know so well, yet a million miles from our normal world.  This is the surreal world of the Microadventure.  And this is a pictorial account of how a very average weekend suddenly became the best weekend ever, and one that we'll remember forever. 

A walk up a very familiar hill, with a very unfamiliar objective

Quite a climb, but here's our secret spot in the woods

Ready for anything the night may throw at me.

Plastic beaker of wine in hand and time to watch to sun go down

The joy of just sitting and watching.

No hurry at all.  Just enjoy.

But we needed to get warm and fed,
and eventually the fire was burning nicely

Fed and warmed, think it's time for bed

Oh joy of joys.  To be up for sunrise.  It may have been too cloudy
to watch the run rise over the sea, but to emerge from a tent, bleary, sleepy eyed,
on a crisp misty morning, listening to the bird song, makes your heart
just want to lift and soar and sing.

Feeling the warmth of the rising sun

Slowly the black & white world of the night became the
technicolour world of the day

A sleepy world, slowly awakens

And breakfast calls!  But what is a #microadventure
without a bubbling coffee pot first thing in the morning?

...and what is a #microadventure without a good old fashioned English breakfast

of ham & fresh free range eggs cooked
in the great outdoors with cold noses & rosy cheeks

Someone is a little exhausted by his impromptu expedition maybe it's time to go home
and finish the jobs we'd put on hold


Thursday, 5 March 2015



I didn’t even know it was until I starting reading up on the ancient grains of Abruzzo, simply because they fascinated me.  Then I started to dig deeper and to get angry and now it all makes sense.  When I make my own bread I have always favoured spelt flour and never knew why.  Now I do.

The wheat products we eat today may often look and taste totally delicious but they bear very little resemblance in their nutritional and genetic make up to those from merely 50 years ago.  

Grains have been at the heart of our diet for thousands of years. They are easy to cultivate and store and are full of fresh life and nutrients.  Bread.  The staff of life.  But not any more.  Wheat has been subjected not only to some of the most intense cross-breeding efforts ever seen, but also to irradiation of wheat seeds and embryos with chemicals, gamma rays and high-dose X-rays to induce mutations.

The aim has been to produce a high yielding crop; one that is resistant to disease, pests and drought and has a long storage and travel life.  

All of this has been achieved, but wheat has now been hybridised to such an extent that it has been completely transformed from its prehistoric genetic configuration.  It is now postulated that the protein structures have been changed so much that toxins have built up within the grain to the extent that they naturally repel insects and pests.  

An achievement of an aim perhaps, but if rats don’t touch these grains, do they know something we don’t?  

Wheat doesn’t even look as it did just 40 years ago.  Rather than the tall and elegant plant wafting in the breeze of Constable’s England, we now have a stocky little plant struggling to support its oversized high-yielding head that is made all the more productive by complimenting fertilisers and pesticides.  

And it’s safety for human consumption has never been questioned or tested.  

But the problem doesn’t end there.  Not only do we have an unhealthy, modified, and hybridised strain of wheat, we have also removed and further degraded its nutritional value by processing.  Modern steel roller milling methods may produce the purest and finest of white flour at low cost, but they also eliminate those portions of the wheat kernel that are richest in proteins, vitamins, lipids and minerals.

Buying “healthy” whole wheat flour isn’t quite the answer you’d expect it to be either.  Sadly, “whole wheat" is often nothing more than white flour with some bran added back in. There’s nothing “whole” about it.  Stoneground, “whole meal” flour is slightly better, the entire wheat kernel is ground and the germ is crushed into the flour, but you are still dealing with (in the most cases) a grain that has grown from a mutant seed in synthetic soil bathed in chemicals.  

Is it therefore surprising that, in the last 40 years, cases of people “gluten intolerant” has grown by over 400%?  Yet, many who cannot eat wheat seem remarkably fine with ancient grains, even when they contain gluten…


Ancient grains are virtually unchanged from what they were thousands of years ago.  They are free of hybridisation and genetic modification and have a higher nutritional value than modern wheat.  They are a simpler, purer food, just as nature designed them and you can supplement any of them for modern wheat flour in breads and other recipes, in any way you like.  

Furthermore, many are still grown here in Abruzzo and what follows is a brief introduction to the more common ones (ie, easier to find).

Firstly, however, we must start with Kamut®, for the simple reason that it is the better known ancient relative of modern wheat.  

It is important to know that Kamut® is not a grain in itself.  It is the trademark of khorasan wheat, which is grown mostly in American and Canada and sold all over the world at high prices.  The company justifies the cost with the fact that it is a high quality organic product, free of genetic modification.  

That as may be, but if you’re not in America and if you’d rather not add to transport miles, the following are all excellent alternatives, all displaying similar nutritional properties of khorasan wheat, all still intact with their ancient gene pool, and all grown in Italy, all grown in Abruzzo.


The list of grains grown in Abruzzo may never end.  Some of them have already been lost over the centuries, but many are still thriving with their cultivation and protection being jealously guarded.  Here are just a few of the most popular and fairly easy to find:

Grano Saragolla

Saragolla wheat has been grown in Abruzzo since at least 400 AD and can be considered one of the founders of modern durum wheat.  The remarkable quality of this cereal was highly sought after for pasta making in Naples as it was considered the best durum wheat available.

In common with other ancient wheats, Saragolla contains a higher content of protein, lipids and minerals than modern wheat.  The grain is still used today for high quality pasta distinguished by it’s beautiful yellow colour.  Saragolla also has excellent cooking properties and is superb in many dishes due to it’s intense and spicy flavour.

Grano Solina

This soft wheat is high in protein and is grown mainly in the mountain and foothill areas of Abruzzo, where it has been cultivated since at least 1500. It is particularly suitable for organic farming methods as it is naturally resistant to weeds, cold temperatures and poor soil.  Despite being low in gluten, Solina has always been used in bread making, shaking off the myth that you can only bake bread with “strong” bread flour.

The ability of this grain to survive in poor soil and hostile weather has, in the past ensured the sustenance of families and, therefore, their survival.  The quality and authenticity of Solina are still appreciated by many farmers today who admit that they cannot do without the taste and scent of the bread and pasta made from this cereal that is often referred to as “the mother of all grains”. 

Senatore Cappelli

Another superb alternative to Kamut® is Senatore Cappelli, an excellent variety of durum wheat.  Again, it has never been genetically modified and is rich in lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It is also easily digestible. The flour of Senatore Cappelli is considered perfect for making sourdough breads. 

Gentil Rosso

Gentil Rosso is the oldest of Senatore Cappelli durum wheat varieties, called “Red” for the colour of the ripe wheat ear. The flavour of Gentil Rosso is very intense and gives the bread a characteristic aroma, making it ideal for break making, pizzas and cakes.  It also has a very low gluten content making it perhaps better suited for flat and unleavened breads.  


There is some confusion as to what farro is due to three different species all being called farro in Italy.  

The three types:

Spelt (Triticum spelta):  farro grande
Emmer (Triticum dicoccum):  farro medio
Einkorn (Triticum monococcum):  farro piccolo

Emmer is by far the most common variety grown in Italy and is considered to be of a higher quality for cooking than the other two grains.  It’s sometimes called "true" farro and is often confused with spelt, although it is an entirely different species.

Farro, cranberry & goats cheese salad
courtesy of
As to which farro can be considered the best (or most healthy) of the three is an almost impossible question to answer.  They’re all only marginally different from each other in terms of offering slightly different flavours and by having slightly different attributes.  

All three are ancient ancestors of modern wheat and date back to at least 12,000 BC, a time when farro was the staple food of ancient tribes.  In common with the other grains, farro has not been subjected to intense human selection and retains its ancient gene pool.

Although farro can be purchased in milled form as a flour, it truly comes into its own as a whole grain cooked and eaten as an alternative to rice, or as a salad combined with raw vegetables and drizzled with olive oil it is utterly delicious.  

As to its nutritional make up, Farro has few carbohydrates and calories, more protein and more fibre compared to wheat or durum wheat.  It contains minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and iron and has 40% more magnesium.  It contains vitamins from the B group but it must be noted that it is low in amino acids such as lysine, so therefore it is recommended to eat farro with beans and vegetables.


No account of the ancient grains grown in Abruzzo would be complete without mention of Grano Saraceno, or buckwheat as it’s more commonly known.  Grano Saraceno is not actually a type of wheat, but a “pseudo-cereal”, a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel. The triangular seeds of which are known as buckwheat groats.  

Saraceno is low in calories and has been providing essential nutrients, vitamins, energy, and fibre to humanity for approximately 8,000 years.  

The protein in buckwheat contains the eight essential amino acids and is also high in lysine.  Buckwheat is also rich in many B vitamins as well as phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese.   

A 1995 study from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute showed that eating 30 grams of buckwheat daily can lower blood pressure.  What is more, because buckwheat grain is digested more slowly than other carbohydrates it can leave you feeling fuller longer and improve glucose tolerance among the carbohydrate sensitive.  It is also gluten free.

Grano Saraceno has a strong, distinctive, slightly sour and nutty taste.  The groats are used whole in hot cereals, soups and porridges and is a perfect substitute for rice.

Buckwheat & spring veg,
courtesy of


Not particularly easy to track down if you're outside Italy, but it is worth the effort.  Amazon and Ebay are good starting points for finding the companies that are happy to ship abroad.  


The following are a selection I have come across, but not used due to high shipping costs - for once it's cheaper to shop in store than it is online.

In store (Abruzzo)

Viversano, Via Villa Breda, Turrivalignani (PE)
Ben Altro, via Arniense, Chieti
Agriturismo Tholos, C.da Collarso 105, Roccamorice (PE)  Web:

Any of these are worth a punt:  Directory of health stores in Abruzzo:

If anyone comes across any more, I would love to know so please share with everyone by leaving a comment below.


To round off, a few suggestions as to what to do with your grains once you have them.

1.  A lovely account of the ancient grains of Abruzzo from Majella Home Cooking, with a delicious farro & cheese recipe at the end:  

A couple from me (I'm no foodie, but these work pretty well):

Soft Unleavened Multi-Grain Bread

125g  Saragolla flour
100g  Farro flour
30g    Oatmeal
25g    Farro flakes
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs (beaten)
2 tabs olive oil
Sesame seeds

Mix all the dry ingredients together.  Add the beaten eggs, oil and enough water to make it reasonably easy to pour.  Tip into a well-greased baking sheet (ideally with sides).  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake for 15-20 minutes in a 220 celsius oven.


500g of any ancient flour you like
1 sachet of dried yeast or 25g fresh yeast (or a lievito madre)
1 tab salt
approx 300ml warm water
glug of olive oil

Put the flour, yeast (crumbled if you're using fresh) and about 200ml of the warm water into a large bowl with a glug of olive oil.  Mix well, adding more water if necessary - it needs to be pretty messy and sticky - then start kneading on a floured board (or in a mixer with the dough hook).  Knead for at least 12 minutes until you have a good, elastic dough.  

Form the dough into a ball, put in a warm bowl lightly coated with olive oil (turning the ball once to ensure covered with the oil), cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place to double in size (usually 1-2 hours).  

When risen, give the puffed up ball a punch to knock the air out of it, a light knead (no more than one minute), form into your loaf shape and put it on a baking sheet.  Cover loosely with your clingfilm and leave again until it's puffy and almost double in size (about half an hour).

Put into the oven pre-heated to 220 celsius for about 35-40 minutes.  Eat whilst hot!