Tag Archives: agnone

In the hills of Alto Molise, in Agnone,Mercedes rises at 3.30 to prepare loaves for the wood fired oven, using logs from her woods, and grain from her fields. The pane casereccio of her childhood was nothing like modern bread, even from the best local bakers.

Using methods traditional in her family, alternating crops, using animal ‘sterco’ (manure, no chemicals) and keeping part of their 15 hectares fallow, she’s able to produce a high quality wheat, with only a small amount of gluten. I love rising early and driving out to the little forno to chat with Mercedes, although I have never been there before 6.30!

30 kilos of bread are made daily and once that’s done, Mercedes makes delicious trays of pizza and a traditional breakfast cake, ‘pagnottini’, sweetened with a little local honey. A small quantity of potato in the dough, keeps the bread softer for longer – a very old recipe from a time when bread needed to last weeks. And hers does, in fact, it’s better after a few days.

It’s a long morning, and around 10.30 Mercedes cleans up and shuts the bakery, tending next to the vegetable garden. The whole family helps with the grain fields – but then the house needs cleaning, and there are all the other chores. When the family’s 25 goats are giving milk, she also makes cheese, and once a year they slaughter a pig.

An immersion holiday experience in an Italian small town where no one speaks English.

Her son, Luca, who’s very capable and entrepreneurial, would like to carry on the work and expand the smallholding but he’s been forced to find a factory job. This kind of rural life is dying out because laws and heavy taxes make it pretty much impossible for the younger generation to earn a living.

Baking was traditionally a women’s job – and the men tended the land. But today, with regulations really working against small farmers, the women have to keep the land singlehandedly and bake, while the men get jobs in factories, or run their own enterprises. An example of this is our driver, Fernando – he’s a cattle farmer, but has a 9-seater vehicle and a thriving taxi service. Mina, his wife looks after and milks their 50 dairy cows.

Mercedes is an engaging and amusing woman, full of insights and observations. She’s cautious about the future but resourceful, and tough. It’s an incredible pleasure and privilege to spend time in the bakery as she works, tasting the crusty pizza with tomatoes and herbs, right from her garden. She tells me stories and from time to time I have to say, piano piano, per favore, piano, as she gets caught up in a memory, and her words start to tumble out far too fast. I can honestly say I’ve never eaten pizza like hers. Next summer I’m bringing our students out for breakfast before Italian lessons starts. I can’t wait, Jenifer

Jenifer is the founder and owner of Live and Learn Italian; an immersion holiday experience in a small town where no one speaks English.


Meet and engage with the locals, study with qualified teachers, and practise the language. liveandlearnitalian.com

Contact Jenifer @ jenifer@liveandlearnitalian.com


Where to study Italian: Agnone, Molise


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We asked Helen to tell us why the programme Live & Learn in Agnone was crucial for her to learn Italian. 

First thing you do when you arrive back in Agnone?

Wander up to the Caffe Letterario in the centro storico to see friends – like sisters Ilenia and Luciana  who work there – and always have a welcoming hug and smile as they serve the first prosecco. Then I know I have arrived!

What advice would you give to a tourist?


Agnone is and has cobbled streets, passageways, fabulous views and dozens of small family-run shops. So wear comfortable shoes, have your camera in your pocket and just wander – it’s the kind of place that if you take a break on a town bench, someone will come and start chatting to you.  

If you had to be locked in a building overnight, which would it be?

Right at the end of the town there’s an old palazzo with breathtaking views over the valleys – worth waking up early to watch dawn break on the countryside.


Where else would you visit in the area?

Pietrabbondante is a pre-Roman archaeological site with small but spectacular ruins which you can explore in peace. And there are medieval walled towns such as Vastogirardi and Belmonte to discover. Personally, I’d make a beeline for one of the small family dairy farms to watch them produce caciocavallo and stracciata cheeses.

Earliest Agnone memory?

The immediate sense of welcome I felt from everyone I met has brought me back each summer – though this year I’m trying September for a change.

Best meal you’ve had in Agnone?

Too many to pick one in particular – the quality of the food is stunning. But maybe the most special was being taught to cook (stuffed zucchini and melanzane, vegetarian and regular) by Maria in her home and then eating every crumb with her family in the garden, by candlelight on a balmy summer’s evening.

Sample programme for Summer 2018: click here

If you could buy any building in Agnone, which would it be?

It would definitely be somewhere romantic in the old town  But do you know what? I would rather just stay as a guest – the history of the place is amazing and I’d love to see it sustained and kept within local families.


What are your favourite late-night hangouts?

Agnone isn’t really a late-night place, but we sit as late as we like in Caffé Letterario drinking in the atmosphere and maybe something stronger…

What is your favourite Agnone discovery?

I know gelato is an Italian invention and found everywhere, but as it is in rich dairy country, the ice cream and cheese in Agnone are both truly special. Just visit one of the gelaterie or cheese shops selling local homemade produce and you’ll see what I mean.

Best advice for students of Italian


On every language holiday you get classes plus trips around the area. But the special thing about Agnone is the opportunity to talk to local people, and practice your Italian. No-one is bursting to try out their English on you, but they are so friendly and love to chat – and everyone wants you to enjoy their magical town. So don’t be shy!

by Helen, student @ Live & Learn Italian in Agnone

The best teacher ever

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Way off the beaten track, nestled in the Apennine hills in Molise, is the little town of Agnone, home of my ancestors. Here, our family have been making bells for the Popes for over 1000 years in the world’s oldest bell foundry.

This is a rural community, not of contadini, but of world-class artisans. At one time in the early middle-ages there were 9 bell foundries, yet the main industry of the town which brought it wealth and prosperity, was always copper.  Today, sadly, most of the workshops are silent, but at one time the centro storico buzzed with the sound of little hammers deftly refining and decorating the many utensils and vessels. There were 13 copper foundries and over 300 family botteghe.


Along the Verrino river, water turned huge wheels in the foundries, pounding the copper into basic shapes.  Cold winters and a chilly autumn and spring in the mountains facilitated the craft, as hours were spent in front of a hot furnace or over a constant flame. This work was extremely hard, but copper stamped “Agnone”, achieved the highest price in the marketplaces of Italy. The town had brought in strict rules of manufacture, not only for copper but for all the trades: bronze sculptors, stonemasons, jewellers, watchmakers, blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, and many more.

These regulations became law in 1457, and anyone found cheating the standard was fined heavily; thus Agnone maintained its position as one of the 5 cities of Italy producing the best artisan work. Today every house in Agnone proudly displays inherited copper utensils handed down through generations. During our summer courses we join the local women to cook, and we acutally use these ancient tools, the quality is superb and clearly not just for one lifetime, but for several!


Next door to the workshop of master coppersmith, Franco Gerbasi, is the newly established Museo Del Rame. Franco is 4th generation, and has taught the trade to his sons who work beside him. They sell copper vessels all over the world, the most popular being for distillation, but so many other items, impossible to list.

Franco spent years collecting the copper pieces and archive material. When asked why he simply responds, “Per non dimenticare……….”


Live and Learn Italian offers Italian learning holidays, off the beaten track. We welcome anyone wishing to improve their Italian and explore a traditional community far from tourism and commercialism. Local hosts and guides are brought together to share the extraordinary culture and ambience of this town.

We aim to help preserve the many ancient traditions, customs and crafts of the region, and to bring income to the community without in any way compromising its authenticity.
by Jenifer, founder of

Check Summer school programme here

In Italy,where no one speaks English!




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Here in Agnone, Alto Molise since ancient times, the shepherds of the Apennines have been moving their herds along the tratturi, the wide tracks that weave through Abruzzo and Molise down to the plains of Puglia. This seasonal migration is called la transumanza – which translates as crossing the lands – a constant search for better grazing in the changing seasons. The tratturi are a network of trails, extending more than 250 kilometres.

Learn and Live Italian in Agnone, Molise

In the past, the shepherds left their families in late November and often did not return until May. This constant change and movement had a profound effect, not just on the cultural traditions of the region, but on the psychology of its people; the search for greener pastures, through endless generations, might well be the primary reason that emigration from Molise and Abruzzo during the mass exodus of the early 20th century was highest per capita of all of Italy. These were not by any means the poorest regions of Italy – yet they left in their droves, mostly travelling to Argentina and the United States. Perhaps this ancient tradition of moving, constantly, to better one’s conditions is the reason?


In 1662 Leonardo Di Nucci was a shepherd moving his herds along these same tratturi, carrying on horseback the copper basins and wooden tubs for the daily production. Using a whey starter and raw milk, the family became masters of their craft, and was asked by the Italian government to teach other young men of the region. They have been making award winning artisan cheese here in Alto Molise for 11 generations.

Today Franco Di Nucci and his children still use the same methods, avoiding the use of any preservatives or milk enzymes. They do not keep their own herds, asserting that to concentrate on their craft and leave the excellent husbandry of the animals to carefully chosen local producers, gives the finest possible results.



Caseificio Di Nucci continues to win international recognition, in 2013 gaining the ‘Supergold’ of the World Cheese Awards. Ricotta, stracciata, scamorza and caciocavallo are the most distinctive cheeses of this region.

After a visit with the students of Italian to il caseificio to see the daily production, we always enjoy scamorza alla griglia, an Agonese favourite!

Join us to interact with a community steeped in ancient traditions and full of these fabulous family histories.

Language and culture visits off the beaten track.. by Jenifer, student and founder @ LiveandLearnItalian.com


off the beaten track…Learn and Live Italian in Agnone, Molise

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..in a country full of tourists and English speaking waiters, it is a great treat to find such an authentic and unspoilt place..

None of the Italian visitors whom we joined around the table at Agriturismo di Santa Lucia had ever been before, or knew anyone else who had! They marvelled at what they had discovered, and in a country full of tourists and English speaking waiters, it is a great treat to find such an authentic and unspoilt place – and to be able to practice Italian of course!

Agnone in Molise is full of variety – one aspect being high quality food products, most made by hand using ancient methods and recipes passed down through generations. In an area rich with natural beauty and forests, another of Molise’s ancient treasures – are truffles (tartufi).



Italy is the world’s largest producer of truffles and the region of Alto Molise is Italy’s second biggest contributor. Known primarily for white and scorzone varieties, found during spring and summer, Molise’s clean and remote forests also produce black summer truffles, from June to November. These are more plentiful, so gain lower prices, but are of exceptional quality and flavour, loved by chefs.

Truffles develop over several months and only when conditions combine to create the right environment, surrounding vegetation, acidity of the ground, temperature and dampness. Essentially they are mushrooms that grow underground, those above the soil are prone to destruction and have been prized for over 2000 years.

This summer we befriended Valentina Di Niro and her husband Enzo who run he beautiful restaurant at Colle Verde. Enzo is a keen truffle hunter and has trained his springer spaniel, Paco, to help.



Next season, during our summer courses in Agnone, we will be cooking with Enzo and Valentina, check out the websites for dates:  Live&LearnItalian.com

by Jenifer, founder and student @ liveandlearnitalian.com

Who we are: meet Jenifer from Live & Learn Italian in Agnone, Molise



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Maria has a soft voice and a very easy manner, nothing seems to stress or worry her.

Even though she is planning a wedding for her daughter in 3 weeks, we are welcomed in and offered cakes and coffee around the large table before getting started.

Maria is unable to sit still and if she is sitting, her hands are at work on the tombolo (to make lace) or embroidering a bedspread, or crocheting clothes for her grandchildren. Even the caciocavallo hanging in the cantina are homemade and having watched this regional formaggio stagionata a pasta filata (stretched curd cheese) being formed by the strong arms of the lavoratori in the artisan caseifici of the countryside, we are stunned not only that she has the time, but the strength.

The amarena are ripening on her trees so we plan to be back making sour cherry jam over the next weeks. But tonight we are cooking in two groups: the first to make ravioli con ricotta e spinaci al burro e salvia, the second to make contorni ripieni.



The pasta is pummelled and rolled first by Mary who is a natural, being a bread maker, the rest of students were not so skilled, but everyone has a go.We roll the pasta through la macchinetta over and over before it’s smooth enough to go in the moulds and filled with ricotta e spinaci. Very satisfying and worth the effort!

Next is the simple, southern Italian cucina povera recipes of melanzane, peperoni e zucchini ripieni, hard to grasp how stale bread crumbs and a few bits of seasoning can be so tasty, but the fresh seasonal ingredients put together in just the right amounts combine to make a delicious dish.

Recipes on the website:LiveandlearnItalian.com

pasta makers


Around a big long table in the garden outside, the students were joined by some of Maria’s family and friends, we share the meal and had a relaxing conversation in Italian over dinner. Everything we have made is delicious, and we finish off a lovely afternoon and evening with Maria’s crostata di albicocca. 

Cooking and sharing a meal together is a great way to loose any inhibitions about speaking  Italian and this group of students is fantastically open and easy, really taking every opportunity to find conversation. It’s been a great start to the sessions of summer 2016.

by Jenifer, founder of LiveandLearnItalian.com, off the beaten track

Students’ testimonials: click here

Join Jenifer: click here and get an idea of programmes and prices

The last undiscovered region of Italy: Molise


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On the beautiful Adriatic coastline shared by Molise, Abruzzo and Puglia, lies the  “La costa dei Trabucchi’: here large wooden platforms rooted to the rocks jut out into the sea. The arms of the trabucco or trabocco hold a narrow fishing net, il traboccetto.  A complicated series of winches is used to lower and raise the net, literally catching the fish as they swim over it. Today some of the winches work electronically, others still turned by the efforts of at least 2 trabuccolanti. Some of these old constructions have been restored into restaurants where fish is cooked literally before your eyes, minutes after being caught.



A bridge of wooden boards allows the fisherman to get out to the platform to haul their catch. Aleppo pine which grows abundantly in the Mediterranean region, extending as far as Morocco, Greece and Turkey, is used to create these solid structures. Not only very abundant, it is tough, weather-poof and resistant to salt.  The earliest documented evidence of trabocchi is from the 18th century when Gargano fishermen devised this ingenious method of fishing without having to subject themselves to precarious weather conditions during the harshest months. At that time, up to 100 kilos of fish could be caught in one trabocco daily.

I first discovered the existence of these beautiful structures a few summers ago on a drive up the coast from Vasto to Giulianova to visit friends. They look like giant spiders sprawled out into the shimmering sea. Since then it has been a plan of mine to visit one of these family restaurants for Sunday lunch to sample the fresh, regional dish of brodetto alla Vastese.



One of Live and Learn Italian’s new events this summer will be a visit to the centro storico at Vasto and out to a trabocco for lunch. 

by Jenifer @ liveandlearnitalian.com

Click here and watch the video: Agnone, off the beaten track

Courses are booking up in Agnone, so do visit the website for dates. Beginners classes are proving popular this summer, intermediates continue to grow strong.

Practice, refresh and learn Italian @ liveandlearnitalian.com

 Discover the traditions of a historic town in Molise, and get to know the locals. Learn Italian where no one speaks English.


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Still today in the hills of Molise, and particularly in Agnone, the old tradition of la serenata is alive and well.

In days gone by when a young man had set his sights on a particular girl and felt he had a chance of being accepted, he would serenade below her window, encouraged and supported by other local lads and men. Sometimes the bride was quite surprised and sometimes not very keen, in which case he might be greeted with a bucket of water! Today, this tradition continues, although the marriage day is by now planned (for the next day) and there are few surprises. But the bride can spin it out as long as she likes and everyone has a lot of fun. On Friday night on the beautiful steps of the piazza white ribbons and flowers decorated the trees outside an old palazzo in quiet anticipation.



We had been ‘tipped off’ to arrive around 9 pm and sure enough, minutes later a group spilled around the corner, a folk band and accordion accompanying the groom bearing a large bunch of roses. The steps were suddenly flooded with townspeople: old, young, even babies, teenagers and grannies, all singing together. Some had sheet music, others singing by heart.

The fearless groom sang his required solos with great aplomb, all the more touching in that he didn’t have a very good voice. It just didn’t matter! This bride played very hard to get, the singing continued for at least 50 minutes by which time we had more or less learned the words and were joining in with the young priest, the folk band, some of our B&B hosts, and all sorts of other people we had met during our time here. Eventually the girlfriends appeared at windows teasing the lads outside, until finally the bride herself appeared and a ladder was raised to allow the groom to climb in.

The family opened the doors of the house to offer the townspeople food and drink as the festa continued. The beautiful cantinas of the house were filled with trays of pizza and beautiful cakes.



What a wonderful closing night of our programme; a chance to engage in the community life of a town and to see at first hand the cultural traditions which bind its citizens so closely to their heritage.

Visit liveandlearnitalian.com for more about the programme, and sign up for the newsletter!

by Jenifer@ liveandlearnitalian.com

Summer 2016 will be booking from September

Read more

How to make award winning cheese

Exploring and learning Italian: Molise

The oldest bell foundry in the world

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Doing some dedicated research on the ancient town of Isernia, about 30 minutes away from Agnone, our base at Live and Learn Italian.

I always knew Isernia was there, not least to use the train station, but I had not explored the old town until last summer. It was a revelation – originally settled over 700,000 years ago, it then became an important Sannite colony. It is first mentioned in 295 BC, by which time it had already fallen into the hands of the Romans.

Barbara was a really wonderful guide, first taking us to the Fontana Fraterna in the main square – built of Roman and Romanesque materials. It was built in the 14th century and dedicated to Pope Celestine V. Barbara’s Italian is beautiful and she was careful to speak piano, piano and to engage us. It is always my aim to have our guides bring visitors into a conversazione rather than a lezione and she was quick to pick this up.


liveandlearnitalian.comWe then went underground to see the amazing Roman ruins still in the process of being excavated. Wandering through the alleyways afterwards we happened upon these women making lace. Clicking bobbins are still heard in these narrow alleyways  – where for 5 centuries the skills have been passed down generations. Today small family companies continue this work, managing both the production and marketing of the hand made lace. The cotton yarn is wound around a pair of bobbins, held in either hand, following a pattern traced on card. The yarn is fixed with pins and the four bobbins are crossed over, the right hand passing to the left and vice versa. These movements are repeated until the lace begins to take shape.  Over time the motifs and designs have changed but the basic stitches, techniques, and equipment have remained more or less the same.



This summer we will spend some time with the lace-makers. There is so much more to explore and I really want to get to understand just why this region is so rich in artisan culture – bell making, copper work, ironwork, stonemasonry, lacemaking …………and more!The pizza was the best – we were joined by our teachers, Alessandro and Erminia, in their favourite restaurant. They both live in Isernia and were really glad to welcome us there!

by Jenifer @ liveandlearnitalian.com

Summer sessions about to begin: 20 June – 25 July

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It so happens that the 2 oldest continuously family-owned firms in the world are Japanese – One constructing shrines and holy buildings since 578, and the other, inn-keeping since 718.

And the 3rd oldest continuously family-owned business in the world is in Molise, Italy – in the small town of Agnone where my grandfather’s cousins have been making bells since the year 1000.



La Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli is the oldest bell foundry in the world and continues today to use the original ‘lost wax’ technique of its founders. Artisans first imprint a wax form of the design onto a brick structure covered in clay, which is then overlaid with a second layer of clay to form a ‘false bell’.  When the wax inside is melted, it leaves the design imprint on the inside of the ‘false bell’. Still today, using an ancient wood-burning furnace, the molten bronze is heated to a temperature of 1200c (2200f) and poured into the space between to form the bell.

Study Italian in Italy:Agnone



Depending on the size of the bell, the process can take up to 10 months and is done entirely by hand. The work takes enormous strength, courage and concentration as any false move can ruin the process. As the pouring takes place, a local priest blesses the bronze and the workers pray. As the bell begins to cool, good wishes are exchanged.

1924     Pope Pius XI grants Papal status to the foundry – hence, its official name is       Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli

1954     Italian President honours Marinelli Family with gold medal for their prestigious     work and status as the oldest family business in Italy

Some of the famous bells created at the Marinelli Foundry:

1923     Pompeii –restoration of the Mariano Sanctuary

1950     Monte Cassino – reconstruction of the Church of San Benedetto, destroyed during the     battle of Monte Cassino in WWII

1961     Rome – commemoration of 100th anniversary of the founding of Italy

1992     Washington DC – to commemorate 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America

1995     NYC United Nations Building

2000     Rome – Jubilee Bell for St Peter’s Square, inaugurated by John Paul II



2004     Pisa – Leaning Tower, a 600k replica of the 17th century bell damaged in the bombing       of 1944



the Marinelli Bell in Pisa


Take a look at the foundry …

Agnone is a simple and modest place, its inhabitants are fiercely proud of their heritage and the traditions of their ancestors.







the Marinelli brothers today, Armando and Pasquale

LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine study with exploring the traditions and everyday life of the region, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities. Of course, a visit to the Foundry is high on the list of special events.

Few places left for this summer! Book your Italian course in Agnone, Molise

Read more:

The last undiscovered region of Italy: Molise

Italian courses in Italy:few places left for  this summer, join Jenifer in June and July 2015, live and learn Italian,off the beaten track 

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