Monday, 14 January 2013

iMajella - Review of the App

As one with an attention span of a newt who’s always looking to move on, to go, to do, I wanted to launch into the app and find out, right, what can I do, where can I go, what’s to discover.  My first stop in the app was initially a disappointment: Discover the Park!  Hoorah, let’s jump straight in!  But no.  Just a lot of words about  “Why is the Park so unique”   Yeah, yeah, I know all that, just tell me something I don’t know.  And it did.  Almost immediately.  Bite sized morsels and a few stats that reminded me why we feel such a pull to this deeply fascinating and endlessly changing area of the Appennines.  From the 118 species of butterfly, the rare spectacled salamander, the 6 brace of golden eagle and the 39 municipalities, I was left wanting to learn more and to get out there and discover.

For the first time visitor to the Majella, the app is great to start you off.  It highlights where the key Visitor Centres are (a must visit for any first timer), the Botanical Gardens, Information Centres, Museums and where to find the enclosures to view the wildlife (red and roe deer, otters, chamois, wolves).  

The map itself has very useful colour coded pins showing the location of all the visitor centres, accommodation providers, agriturismos, restaurants, etc, and the main road network through the Park.  But it is not a hiking map, there are no trails on the map.

With the section on the trails, again the app is perfect for anyone new to the area as it gives good pointers for the best trails to begin with, both on foot and on horseback.  There are 22 trails listed for hikers (6 for horse riders), ranging from  the 20 minute hike up to the hermitage of San Onofrio here in Serramonacesca, to the 12 hour round trip from the Blockhaus to the Majella’s highest peak atop Monte Amaro (2793m).    

Be warned, however, that this section should only be used as a suggestion from which to plan any excursion.  It provides a summary of distance, difficulty level, where to start and when to go, but that is all.  Do not try to rely on the app alone, but plot your route in conjunction with a detailed map (available from the Visitor Centres or online (, and stay within your level of fitness, experience and mountain awareness.  

Should you get into difficulty the app has an ingenious feature for emergency signalling: to activate, simply shake your device!  Personally, I’d be terrified that any movement would result in being swooped on by search and rescue helicopters and a load of burly mountain men.  

Hmmm... on second thoughts, I might just have to test it out....

The only section that did disappoint me, was the section on the flora and fauna.  As it states in the summary, the Majella “has always been considered a privileged place for the richness and quality of its flora”, so if there are over “2100 species” why limit it to 21?  The same goes for the fauna, 12 species listed?  I would love to see more.  In our explorations of the Majella we are constantly seeing new plants, new animals, new birds.  Yes, we have reference books at home, but to have a comprehensive section for quick reference and identification on this app would be fabulous.

But, hey, it’s a free app that you don't need a wi-fi connection for, and it's in English as well as Italian.  In summary, it’s a great way to begin exploring and discovering this beautiful wilderness.  As it probably won’t be long before you’ve outgrown it, maybe a more detailed (paid for) upgrade should be made available?  I’d be happy to pay for one if it listed more flora and fauna.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

16 January - The Farchie of Fara Filiorum Petri

To eventually (over the next week or so) bring together in one place the festival calendar for our little corner of Abruzzo, we begin with next week's Farchie of Fara Filiorum Petri:

16 January:  The Farchie of Fara Filiorum Petri

Fara Filiorum Petri, one of our favourite local villages, is an old town of Longobard origins with many of its ancient buildings intact and, most famously, is home to the grandest farchie celebration of Abruzzo.

The History of the Tradition

The tradition of the farchie most likely has its roots in pagan agricultural rites, many of which are still celebrated by the rural people of Abruzzo.  The burning of sacred fire was a ritual carried out, in pre-Christian times, in the early months of the year as protection from evil and a talisman of hope that sunshine in the warmer months to come will lead to rich harvests of crops in the year ahead.

An historic event during the 1798-99 French invasion of Abruzzo was probably responsible for the resurrection of the ancient ritual and its embodiment into popular tradition.  It is said that, on Christmas Eve of 1798, the French entered Fara's main city of Chieti and, despite the resistance of the inhabitants, the invasion ended in a massacre at nearby Guardiagrele.  Fearing for their lives, the people of Fara barricaded themselves into their homes and awaited the enemy invasion.

On the night of 16 January 1799, as the French were surrounding the town, Saint Anthony of Abate is said to have appeared.  As he did, the oak trees around the outskirts of Fara burst into roaring flames and, from a distance, looked like enormous warriors.  Seeing this, the French soldiers fled and Fara Filiorum Petri was spared from certain destruction and ruin.

Preparation of the Festivities

Starting in the February of the previous year, "contradaioli" (members of the local villages) begin collecting the green indigenous canes that will later be used to make the enormous farchie.  They are stored and dried and guarded with care over the next 11 months.  Neighbouring villages and mischievous teenagers have been know to surreptitiously steal into Fara in an attempt to make away with this valuable bounty.  So far, none have been successful.

The following January, "contradaioli" from each of the Fara neighbourhoods begins the highly competitive construction of its own farchie.  Two or three of the most skilled craftsmen spend the better part of several days working together on this task to very specific standards.  The beauty and flawlessness of each farchie is as important as the manner in which it burns, which must be in a unified way from bottom to top.  The completed farchie are huge - approximately 25 feet high and 3 feet in diameter - and enormously heavy.  Their transport and erected is not without danger.

Whilst the men prepare the farchie, so the women of the town put themselves to the equally enormous and important task of preparing the large feasts for all to enjoy.

The Day of The Festival

Although the festivities continue for a week, the main procession starts around mid-day on the 16th January.  Following a brief service at the church, all the farchie are brought to the town piazza from the neighbourhoods of Farawith much music and singing.  Some of the farchie are secured to decorated tractores, whilst others are carried on the shoulders of the enthusiastic contradaioli.  Tambourine players lead the procession and, straddling the farchie, is a contradaioli playing a horned instrument.  Traditional hymns are sung by the numerous people who complete the procession.

Under the strict control of the Commander of the Farchie, each farchie is secured into an upright position and the main ceremony begins.  

As the sun sets, the farchie are set ablaze and fireworks light up the sky.  There is heckling surrounding the construction of the various farchie with the contradaioli lauding praise on their own masterpiece while heatedly denouncing the slightest imperfection they perceive in the farchie of their neighbour.

After the farchie have been set ablaze, so the festivities begin.  Traditional songs are sung and great quantities of food, sweets and wine are consumed.  The statue of Saint Anthony d'Abate is carried on the shoulders of the townsmen to the burning farchie where a blessing takes place before the neighbour groups knock over their respective farchie.  The burned sections ar cut off and the the farchie are then carried back to their villages where they are again set on fire!

To follow:  
January:  Farchie of Serramonacesca
February: Carnival Time
March:  Easter
April:  Liberation Day
May:  Bucchianico Festa, Giro d'Italia
June:  Serramonacesca Festa di S'Onofrio & S'Antonio!  Ironman Italia
August:  Serramonacesca's Magna Majella
September:  Serramonacesca Festa di S'Onofrio & S'Antonio
October:  Serramonacesca's L'Aneme del la Morte
December:  Christmas

...And more!!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


There's a little spot at 760m asl, high up in the hills above Serramonacesca, where the vista takes your eyes along the mountains of the Gran Sasso, to the hills of Le Marche and takes in nearly all the 130km of the glorious Adriatic coastline, finishing with a sweeping view of all the Abruzzo towns and villages in between.  



The Croce D'Alpini.  A spiritual plateau of tholos and terracing, and ancient trails and pathways.  Linking the spiritual sites and the northern settlements of the Majella; this is where the shepherds, still following the traditional ways, drive and graze their flocks.  A  fabulous place to begin any exploration of this beautiful Majella wilderness.  And what an amazing spot to wave farewell to the old year and a big hello to the New.

And so we did.  On a whim.  


The weather right now is glorious: the brightest blue crystal clear skies, snow on the tops and endless sunshine all day long.  Sharp and fresh at night, mind you, but, oh the stars...  

The setting sun painting her crimson colours in streaks across the darkening sky is only rivalled by the rising one.  

It had to be done.  


The afternoon saw us packing and preening Rosemary ready for her trip up the mountain.  Brakes checked, engined tinkered, test drive done, the dear old girl is in fine fettle. 

Food, wine, chocolate, blankets, and a whole host of other essentials were loaded, and Rosemary just grinned from wing-mirror to wing-mirror.  Started her up and she whooped and hollered, then purred out of the drive and down the lane.  


A couple of drinks, chin chins and good cheers in the village and we were bouncing our way out and up the hill.  And up and up we went.  Switch back after switch back, first gear mostly, or the co-pilot hanging on to the gear stick attempting to keep it in second.  Rosemary doesn't like her second gear, and without a second thought will pop it out when you need it the most.  A few more creaks and groans and the grand old lady made it. 

We built a fire and set up home.  It was good to be back, and we easily became hobos once more.  We ate, drank, walked higher and deeper into the hills and marvelled at the stars up above and the lights of Abruzzo way, way below. 




And then midnight struck and the whole damned world erupted.  Apocalypse and a thousand blitzes into one.  We thought we might be in for a treat, but nothing had prepared us for this!  Fireworks on and on and on and everywhere, across the whole of Abruzzo and beyond.  Flashing, exploding, mushrooms of colour, sparkles and droplets and way, way below us.  On and on it went.  For over an hour, someone somewhere was letting off a firework.  And we saw every single one.  Welcome 2013!

Bed was cold, but soon warmed. The air was frosty, with your breath hanging in front of you, but soon turned to droplets of condensation on the windows.  Despite the steamy interior, any thoughts of passion quickly passed with the feel of cold hands and many clothing layers.  But we were toasty warm, snuggled and cocooned.


Apart from a minor incident with an axe murderer opening the door in the wee small hours (don't ask), we slept briefly but well.  Sunrise had to be done.  6.30am and we were outside in the crisp morning, still dark but with a long line of deep red to the eastern horizon. Slowly, it built and deepened and brightened, and awoke a sleeping world.  Snuffles in the undergrowth, birds in the branches above, yet still the moon shone.  




Finally, the sun burst through with all her winter strength and warmed the cold, cold ground.  Her rays were joy indeed.  

Time for a long slow, breakfast whilst we watched the morning unfold.

 Most importantly, however, it was awaiting the thawing of the icy hill for our safe passage down!

Happy New Year everyone from the Kokopelli Team
May it be a good one!

Kokopelli Camping, with some great self-catering options (including our dear Rosemary the VW Camper), is open all year round with a winter wonderland awaiting exploration!  

Much more than just camping (with snowshoe hire thrown in):

Hiking guides, escorted walks, snowshoeing, mountain bike hire, skiing, snowboarding, its all here, just ask: