Monday, 3 June 2013

A Blogging Conference & A Microadventure

So here I am lying in my tent at 7am having breakfast in bed fully clothed, including coat and wooly hat, snuggled under my sleeping bag and the blanket crocheted by my dad.  I'm reading whilst listening to the rain outside, and the birds of course.  Lots and lots of birds.  

In fact the birds have been my comforting companions over my little two night microadventure.  All alone, just me and my tent amongst the pine trees on the side of a hill a little below Santo Stefano tucked amongst the Apeninnes mountains of the Gran Sasso.  All night long the nightingales sing.  A beautiful, haunting song, broken every now and then by the call of a little owl and the snuffles, yaps, squeaks and snorts of my fellow inhabitants of these woods.

I was at an international conference about the art & business of blogging (an amazing conference actually) and I was asked incredulously "Don't you worry about the wolves or the bears or the wild pigs"?  Not a chance, says I.  Whilst I can hear all the sounds of the nocturnal world, then I know all is well, and can turn over and go back to sleep.

Bird boxes in the woods

It's been a wee while since I've camped alone, and will admit to passing feelings of apprehension over the two nights, and a few questions to myself as to why I'm doing it.  I could have joined my fellow delegates and taken one of the wonderful rooms dotted around the ancient and fabulously restored Santo Stefano.  

I could have bunked in with my friend, Giulia, who found herself in possession of a suite of rooms.  But I chose to stay in my tent.  

The weather has been foul, it's been cold up here at 1250m and fresh snow has peppered the mountain tops whilst I've been here.  I've been all alone, the only inhabitant on this tucked away little campsite.  

Santo Stefano

I've kept the light down low at night so nobody can see that I'm here, and a cosh by my bed in case I was wrong.  I've had an escape route planned, and the car close for a quick getaway.  

But now, having done it and as I'm lying here all tucked up and cosy, I'm as warm and as happy as can be.  And I'm smiling, a big cheesy grin.

My little camping spot, in the woods below

So, what I'm trying to say is, regardless of your age or gender, whether alone or with others, every now and then take a little microadventure, it could be just what you need.  

Bat boxes in the woods

As a little aside, if you do fancy it but feel a bit too apprehensive, why not give it a go here at Kokopelli?  Single travellers are always welcome, and if you don't have the equipment, you can always use my lovely little Hillberg tent.  

If, during your trip, you start to feel comfortable and fancy pushing it a bit further, we know some great wild camping spots...   


The Art & Business of Blogging:

Gran Sasso National Park:

Kokopell Camping (that's us, by the way):

Camping Gran Sasso (the delightful campsite where I spent my two nights):

Camping Gran Sasso

Friday, 24 May 2013

La Maielletta and Beyond

As beautiful as the foothills of the Majella are, if you want to explore the high peaks then head up to Passo Lanciano and La Maielletta - the masts that you can see from Kokopelli camping field.  

It takes about 25 minutes to drive up, or about 3 hours to cycle.  The climb is steady and steep, but the road is good and there are plenty of switchbacks to test your technical skills on the descent.  

With the highest point accessible by road lying at around 2000m asl you will have a respectable 1630m climb.  
Passo Lanciano is a key ski resort in the winter, so the roads are kept open and clear.  There are a couple of bars up there, plus a hotel, restaurant and spa.  The bars (only open at weekends outside peak seasons) serve good, honest nosh (including sausages cooked over the open fire in the winter) and, as such, are a favourite with hikers, bikers and cyclists at the weekend.

Every Sunday there is a small market, and throughout August the ski lifts run from Passo Lanciano up to La Maielletta.  
This summer (2013) the National Park will be running a free shuttle bus between the two ski resorts (complete with tourist guide) during the weekend of 13/14 July: 8am - 11am and 3pm - 6pm.  (

On the way up, just beyond the turning to Pretoro, there’s also a wolf sanctuary.  Although terribly sad to see these majestic creatures in captivity, remind yourselves they are there because, for various reasons, they are unable to be returned to the wild.

The hiking routes from the top are endless.  You can do anything from just an hour’s stroll taking in the incredible views to a full day’s hike up to Monte Amaro.  At 2793m asl Monte Amaro is the second highest peak of the whole Apennine range.  

Be aware, however, that these are serious mountains and should only be tackled by experienced hikers.  Weather conditions can change in an instant and it’s very easy to get caught out.  The higher peaks are also usually snowbound between November and May, so do take advice before going.
For our campers, if you’d like to explore these peaks, have a look at the Majella map (on sale in the barn) and come and have a chat with us as we’d be more than happy to advise.  
If you'd like to start at the top and walk down through one of the incredibly stunning gorges, for a small fee we'd be very happy to drop you off at the top and pick you up from either Bocca di Valle or Pennapiedimonte.  There are some great bars and restaurants in both places, so we could always pick you up after you’ve revived over a cold beer and a bite to eat.  

You can even walk all the way back down to Serramonacesca and Kokopelli, taking in the eremo di San Onofrio, the Abbazia di San Liberatore and the Torre Polegra along the way (approx 15km).

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Don't be a Tick Head

From one who spends humongous amounts of time in the great outdoors, frequently off-piste rummaging through deep undergrowth and dense vegetation, I speak from the heart.

These are not only nasty, disgusting, repulsive little critters guaranteed to send me into a "totally over the top freak out" at the sight of one of their gross, swollen bodies sticking out perpendicular to my skin, but they also carry the really really nasty Lyme's Disease.  A horrid disease that can be with you (or your pet) for a lifetime, causing symptoms that range from joint pain and inflammation to irregular heart beats, heart failure, facial paralysis and memory loss.

Tick awareness is therefore critical in (a) preventing the little bleeders in attaching in the first place, and (b) safely removing them when they do get you (or your pet).

Now, this is what I didn't realise before the lovely people behind "Tick Prevention Week" brought it to my attention:  Lyme's Disease is caused when an infected tick regurgitates into your blood system.  Nice.  What you need to do is safely remove the tick (complete with mouth parts that can cause localised infection) without squeezing its belly and/or causing it trauma, both of which will cause it to regurgitate into your blood system.  Forget all you have heard about burning it with a cigarette butt, or a lighted match, or smearing it with vaseline to suffocate it.  Tempting as they may be, all will cause trauma.  

Using pointed tweezers (not the blunt ones for eyebrow plucking, as these will squeeze its torso), get them as close to the mouth parts that are in your skin as possible, and gently tug, removing the mouth parts from their point of attachment.  This method will also be as kind and gentle to the poor little tick as possible.  Then throw it on the ground and jump up and down on it until it's pulverised. 

Actually, don't.  It may make you feel better, but it's not recommended.  What is recommended is that you put it in a box, labelled it with a date and location, and save it for the medics just in case... 

If I've freaked you enough to find out more, there's loads of information here:
and here:

For updates and ongoing info, any Twitterati can follow:  @tickbiteprevwk

Happy hiking!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Genius! Absolute bloody genius!


Well, almost.

It just needs to be finished.

But it works, it actually bloody works!

So here it is.  This is the shower base, to be completed with a shower (obviously), attached to the post, and a decking base (currently under construction).  Perfect for cooling off on those gloriously hot summer days, and ready for rinsing off before jumping in the jacuzzi/hot tub on the terrace (but don't get too excited - scheduled for year 3, ie next year). 

The drain from the shower is attached to a hose that goes, gently down hill, to our rows of beans and tomatoes.

It stretches the entire length and it actually works.  All. The. Way. To. The. End.  Shower watered tomatoes!  I love it!  I really really love it!  What a clever sausage that KP is.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Eating Out - A Beginners Guide!

Eating out in rural Abruzzo may be a little different to what you’re used to.  Your tried, tested and trusted criteria for finding a good place to eat may not hold up here, so we’ve listed a few pointers to help you find and enjoy some superb dining experiences, even in the tiny, off-the-beaten track mountain villages.  There’s also a few recommendations for some local places not far from us here in Serramonacesca.


Go where the locals go:  When traveling around the region and looking for somewhere to eat, follow the first basic principle of independent travel - go where the locals go.  Don’t be put off by run-down, back street exteriors (or interiors come to that), if the locals are eating there you can be guaranteed excellent food, wine, prices and, without doubt, you’ll get a great experience too.  Try Lu Gattone in Manoppello to prove me right!

Lu Gattone, Manoppello

Ditch your ideas about fine cutlery and freshly laundered linen:  Plastic table cloths, plastic cutlery and even cups can never be taken as a sign of poor quality.  It is often quite the opposite, particularly on the coast, where some of the best seafood in Abruzzo is served this way.  The Blu Mare in San Vito Chietino is a classic example.  

Don't expect fine china & the best linen!

Don’t expect a menu:  if you’re looking for restaurants with (horror of horrors) menus in English, or even menus at all, make an about turn now!  Leave these to the Costa Blanca; even worse, in the unlikely event you spot photographs of the food on the menu, run!  Be brave and enjoy a “typical Abruzzese” experience.  Casale Cenurione is wonderful in this respect. No menu, but exquisite handmade pasta, fine, homegrown ingredients and wine, and a Tiramisu to die for!

Casale Centurione, Manoppello

Don’t expect choice:  If there is no menu, typically the waiter (or proprietor) will tell you what they’re cooking that day.  This will almost always consist of an anti-pasta, a pasta course and a meat course, with maybe a choice of salad and/or side vegetables.  

Anti pasta of Abruzzo

If you’re lucky you will be given a choice of one or two different dishes for each course, but don’t expect it and please, please, please don’t be put off either!  Ditto not being able to understand or be understood.  The Abruzzese are typically patient and kind and will love having you in their restaurant.  If you end up with something completely unexpected, just look on this as part of the fun.  


Or tagliatelle?

Vegetarian diets:  The fun of the unexpected stops, of course, if you’re vegetarian or have special dietary needs.  If this is the case, make this known to the restaurant straight away.  Be warned, however, that vegetarianism isn’t really understood or expected so vegetarian choices are likely to be very limited to the point of being almost non-existent.

Finding fish:  If it’s fish you’re after, head for the coast.  Even though we are only a short hop and a skip from the sea, you will struggle to find any fish.  Anywhere inland is mostly just meat, meat and more meat.  Superb though it is.  You can prove me wrong here, by popping along to Brancaleone, always a varied and unusual menu with exquisite food, and fish often on the menu.

Ristorante Brancaleone

Salads and vegetables:  
For a country where the most glorious fruit, salads and vegetables grow in chin dribblingly, bursting with flavour abundance they are surprisingly sparse on restaurant menus.  Your yearning for a bowl of fresh crunchy salad may have to be prepared yourself from the wonderful produce available from the local markets.

Breakfast:  Not really done here or, for that matter, in Italy at all.  Breakfast for the Italians is simply a shot of coffee on the go, preferring to save themselves for a big, long, slow lunch.  Therefore, don’t expect to find the gorgeous warm, flaky, tasty croissants of France.  At best, you’ll get a cold “cornetto”, invariably filled with jam (marmellata), sweet cream or chocolate.  And certainly don’t expect to find muesli!  If your breakfast is important to you, do it yourself.  The best (only) muesli we have found is from Lidl’s in Pescara.

When to eat:  Here’s where it gets tricky, particularly if you’re hungry and want to eat NOW!  Sod’s law it’ll be at the wrong time or on the wrong day.  Most restaurants close all day on Mondays, (Rintocche in Pretoro, in its amazing cave-like setting, being a superb local exception to this rule), many are closed for lunch on Tuesdays and very, very few open between 2pm and 7.30pm.  Indeed, if you’re looking for the “authentic Italian dining experience” leave it until after 9pm or you may find yourselves dining alone.

Rintocchi, Pretoro

In summary, therefore, be a traveller not a tourist.  This way you’ll have a fabulous experience and find the superb cuisine for which Abruzzo is famous.  If you want to really submerse yourself in the food experience of Abruzzo, then you must get in touch with Emiliana from Abruzzo4Foodies for an individual tailored off the beaten track foodie tour. 

Discover the flavours of Abruzzo with an individual foodie tour:

But, whatever you do, don’t you dare go home without at least once sampling the delicacy for which Abruzzo is the most famous: arrosticini!  


For this locally, get yourselves down to the Parco dei Carpini on a Saturday night - packed with locals, no menu (simply arrosticini and a plate of super ripe tomatoes dressed with nothing but a bit of salt and olive oil), plastic plates and cutlery and great live bands.  Oh, and don’t even bother turning up before 10pm!  

A couple of familiar faces rocking it at the Parco on a Saturday night!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Spirit of the Microadventure!

Ever wondered why some people have bundles of endless zest, energy, enthusiasm and passion?  How they always seem to be off doing exciting things, having adventures?  How, for them, the mundane just never seems to apply?

Even breakfast can be exciting, all you need do
is find a spot and lay the table with an old blanket!

I reckon they've learnt the art of the microadventure, and there are lots of people out there doing it.  It’s the easiest way in the world to change your life, even if for a short time.  It doesn’t cost much, it doesn’t take much time, it doesn’t need any skills.  Just a state of mind.  Anyone can do it.  The adventures are out there for the taking.

The founder father of the microadventure, the indomitable Alastair Humphreys (my hero, by the way), is a great adventurer.  Some of the expeditions he has conquered, most of us can only dream of.  Alastair Humphreys I am not, but I like to think I could row across the Atlantic (if I wanted to, which I don't) or cycle around the world (which I do), maybe one day we will, but, for now, it’s the microadventure and everything it stands for.

Recently Alastair Humphreys left work early one Friday afternoon, on his bike with his tent and pedaled off for the weekend.  In early February.  It was freezing.  It was even snowing.  And yet I found myself wistfully yearning to be in his place and eating his fish and chips that night.  But it wasn’t just the fish and chips.  

My hero

I could have gone down the chippy and bought some (actually, I couldn’t. I live in Italy where there are no chippies).  But it’s the whole experience that goes before putting that first big fat steaming juicy salted chip into your mouth.  There is nothing more amazing than hot fish and chips when you’re cold, tired, wet and hungry.  The pleasure is immense.  I know, I’ve been there.  

A miserable ride, and still a looooooong way to go.
But still we smiled.  Just.

Sitting on a harbour wall in the rain one night, on my own, just me and my bike, deflated and close to tears.  After that first hot chip, suddenly everything was alright and I grinned from ear to ear, knowing exactly why I was there doing what I was doing.  That is the spirit of the microadventure.  Removing yourself from all that is familiar, warm and  cosy, throwing yourself into an alien world, feeling fear, discomfort, cold and uncertainty.  And succeeding.  Realising the discomfort will go, the fear will pass, the warmth will come, and the uncertainty really doesn’t matter.  Big lows, big highs, big energy, big zest.  I know for a fact that when Alastair Humphreys returned to his desk that following Monday morning he was buzzing.  Energised.  How many of us can say that on a Monday?  Yet he spent little and didn’t go that far.

Dire conditions

Even the sheep didn't get it

But we still had a great weekend

Another one I read about recently, made me realise how you don’t even need to go that far.  How to spice up your travel.  A microadventure in a day:  7 ways to experiment with travel   

Visiting a city, forget the monuments and “must sees”, just get an A-Z and follow the streets.  In alphabetical order.  As many as you can in a day.  I can guarantee you will be amazed by the sites you see, and learn so much more, without a single museum in sight.  You will find great places to eat, great bars to drink at, great parks to wander through.  Or why not pick a number?  Get on the number 12 bus, get off at the 12th stop, eat in the 12th cafe you pass, pick the 12th hotel in the 12th street, and so on.  

The Olympiad, Barcelona

But my most favourite of all, is to find your partner.  Not in a singleton get a new partner sort of way, I’ll leave that to dating agencies, but find your partner.  The one you came with.  Split up and see if you can find each other.  Go to the sort of places you expect them to go, do the sort of things you expect them to do, travel in the way you expect them to travel.  Is it possible to immerse yourselves in a city, separately, and find each other?  No idea, but it sounds like great fun trying!

It’s not just for the grown ups either.  Families can do it too.  Have a read of this to inspire you:  It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s cheap, and the kids will love it!  

My two, camping under the stars on one of our many microadventures when they were little!