Every time I return to Abruzzo, I go to Guardiagrele. It is one of my favourite places, because it is a lively town. There are so many things to see and do, also for children. It has a breath-taking view of the hills all the way to the sea, great food, and the “Sise delle monache”! So, here are my 3 reasons to visit Guardiagrele.
First reason: artisanship
The first thing we encounter when we arrive to the old centre of Guardiagrele, are the craft shops around Porta di San Giovanni. The shops, built in the city walls, display objects made of iron and copper, but also ceramics. This is the home of Nicola da Guardiagrele, a famous sculptor and goldsmith of the Italian fifteenth century. The artisan skill remains the soul of the town that dedicates an exhibition to the artistic crafts of the Majella. Artisanship knowledge has passed from one generation to another. Entering the shops you can have a chat with those artisans, who have always lived and worked here. In addition you can admire, and perhaps buy, something that will take us straight back here in our memories.
Guardiagrele hosts also goldsmiths, who make and sell beautiful jewels, such as the earrings called sciacquajje, circeje or caravelle, which look like magic objects, coming from far away. They are eye-catching half-moon-shaped earrings that are reminiscent of caravels. With pendants and pendent chains, are made of chiselled and gold or silver foil. In the past, people worn daily, and the clinking also served to ward off negative influences. There are, of course, also some beautiful versions of the presentosa, in classic or modern takes. In short, pleasure for the eyes and an opportunity to go shopping at KM 0.
Second reason: pastry shops and other delicacies
Another of the 3 reasons to visit Guardiagrele, is to eat the Sise delle Monache (nuns’ breasts). No, this is not a ferocious cannibal tradition: the Sise delle Monache are a delicious cream-filled dessert, whose origin is not certain. Some say they are called that, because the nuns of the Clarisse Monastery in Guardiagrele prepared them, to celebrate Saint Agatha. The nuns often wore a padding between the breasts, to make their forms less obvious (hence the three “sises”). There are those who think the name comes from the local poet Modesto della Porta. This soft cake, as also another name: “Tre Monti” (three peaks), with reference to the three beautiful peaks of the nearby Majella. As for the origin of the dessert, it is thought that at the end of the nineteenth century the nuns entrusted the Palmerio family to the recipe; others say instead that it was Giuseppe Palmerio, the pastry chef himself who invented the dessert, inspired by a study trip to Naples. Whatever the origin, today you can find the Sise in Palmerio’s pastry shop, in Via Roma 70, or at Lullo’s, founded in 1889, at the civic 105. Often, in these fragrant laboratories, you have to wait a few minutes, because these sponge cakes are made fresh. We challenge you to eat them without getting dirty with the very light layer of sugar that covers them, and to be able avoid buying other wonders sold in these charming shops (one of the owners still remembers one of our dear Norwegian friend, who shopped a great amount of sweets and candies).
Savoury lovers should not despair. They should go to the Tempio del Gusto in Via Roma, 212 to stock up on cold cuts, including Guilmi’s Ventricina (link to Chiara’s article), Montazzoli’s mozzarella, and a thousand other delights , and why not, to get sandwiches for that mountain excursion that we set out to do before getting lost in Guardiagrele.
The challenge will be to be able to leave, I always end up spending more time than I had planned, but I never regret it.
Third reason: path (which makes children happy too)
Having filled up with sugar, there are two options: consume them, or indulge in a nap on a bench. In both cases, you need a park. Here is another of the 3 reasons to visit Guardiagrele: the visit of the village can open and close in a playground, which means the town is fun for both adults and children!
We prefer to start the walk at the top of the village, from Largo Giuseppe Garibaldi, and immediately descend via Roma. In reality, here is a beautiful park under the pines. However, we prefer first to take a tour, and stop here on the way back, to run and play before getting back to the car. So, we go down via Roma and fill our eyes, ears and often the belly of what the street has to offer. Certainly, we must stop to admire the beautiful Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, built around the 11th century.
When via Rome comes to an end, (it might have taken 10 minutes or 5 hours to walk this short Corso), we turn to the right to go to the Villa Comunale. A pretty little park, with a playground, fountains with fish, benches under the trees, and a breath-taking viewpoint. For those who managed not indulge in any temptations all along the way, there is a kiosk/bar. The last time we had lunch in this area, we happily eat at Santa Chiara restaurant. After the break at the park, we “go back” by taking every time a different vicolo, until returning to the park in Largo Giuseppe Garibaldi. There you can enjoy the shade, take advantage of the playground and also have a nice picnic!
Bonus: fourth reason
The visit of Guardiagrele can be combined with the Adventure Park in the nearby Piana delle Mele. Guaranteed fun!
Guardiagrele is easily accessible and is a pleasant stop on the road to the mountains, or vice versa, to the sea. The challenge will be to be able to leave, I always end up spending more time than I had planned, but I never regret it. It is indeed part of Borghi più belli d’Italia, a list of the most beautiful villages of Italy. We will return to writing about it.
Strasburgo, Marzo 2019