Our HQ was Agriturismo La Brocca in San Martino sulla Marrucina, where our tour begins. San Martino is a sleepy little town which was put on the wine map because it’s home to the Masciarelli winery.
The legendary producer Gianni Masciarelli (who unfortunately passed away much too early in 2009) was the one who, together with his wife Marina Cvetic, pretty much single-handedly put Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on the map by proving the grape of the same name is capable of producing quality wines with character, rather than just the typical “pizza wine” it’s usually known for.From La Brocca we make our way towards Casacanditella, which is a light but constant uphill ride all the way to the neighbouring town. It too is small and sleepy. Actually, any town mentioned here is small and sleepy, so I’ll stop mentioning that. But each has its own charm.
We enter through the main part of Casacanditella and ride on through. On a side note: Near the outer edge is the car repair shop of Aligi Mariani, and this just happens to be the spot where I bought my 1970 FIAT 500 back in 2002, which I still own and has become the “official” VELOVIN team car. It just happens to be the only team car which is slower than its riders.And not far down the road, the route takes us past Aligi’s brother’s little dairy farm (La Fattoria di Manuel Mariani), where he and his wife Ada make fresh cheeses and other products on a daily basis. Visitors are welcome and they have a little shop at the main entrance of the farm (address below). Once you’ve reached Casacanditella a fun and winding 4-5K descent awaits all the way to the state road. There is a very steep shortcut one could take (Via San Giacomo) which will lead you directly to Fara Filiorum Petri, but I prefer the extended route since the road is wider and the downhill flow that much more fun.
The climb towards Pretoro
Once we reach the Val di Foro (state road SP214) we take a left towards Fara Filiorum Petri, which is known for the Farchie Festival in January, where each town burough makes, stands and burns long reed bundles (known as a ‘farchia’ (sing.) and ‘farchie’ (plur.)) in honour of Saint Anthony the Abbot. A ‘farchia’ can be as much as 1 metre thick and 10 metres long. If you happen to be passing through on a Wednesday, Fara hosts a weekly open air market.
Rather than staying on the busy SP214 to get to Pretoro, we recommend driving through Fara and taking Via Colle Pagnotto (called Contrada Colli when it ends), which is much more scenic and almost void of cars. The 6 km ascent towards Pretoro has an incline between 4-7% and gets steeper the closer you get the mountain village – as much as 14% for short sections. And not to mention, the route is lined with olive groves and vineyards bursting with rich colours. Definitely more pleasing than the cement bunkers on the parallel route along the Foro river. Once you reach ‘Strada Provinciale 539’ I can highly recommend the small hut at the corner, which sells regional cheeses and fresh scamorza (a soft stringy cheese similar to mozzarella but drier and firmer).It is on this stretch of road that Pretoro is visible in the distance, like a toy town perched on a rock. The village is known far and wide in the greater region for its woodworking artisans and the fact that it’s the ‘door’ to Passo Lanciano, the local skiing area – the next one being in Roccaraso on the opposite side of the Maiella range, which is much larger. Pretoro is very close to my heart because it’s my mother’s hometown. So I guess I can call this ride a ‘Back To The Roots’ tour in many ways because Roccamontepiano, the next town on the route, is where my father was born and I still have relatives there.
It’s not uncommon to find parts of houses dug directly into the stone in Pretoro. The wine cellar and small barn of my grandparents’ house was literally chipped out of the mountainside by hand. Taking the time to walk around the village, which is like a labyrinth of small alleys and stairways, is definitely worth it. If you happen to speak or understand Italian and stumble upon some locals speaking in a ‘foreign’ language, it’s actually the Pretorese dialact. No worries, not even the neighbouring townsfolk understand it.
Though Pretoro has been bestowed with the ‘Borghi più belli d’Italia’ (Italy’s most beautiful villages) title, it has definitely seen better days, considering every time I return it seems to get quieter, a bit more decrepit, even somewhat melancholic. It’s such a pity because I feel the village has so much to offer. But just like the exodus of yesteryear (for example, there are more Pretorese in Ottawa, Canada – where my parents emigrated to and I was born – than there are in Pretoro today), the village has also lost a lot of ‘young blood’ due to Italy’s economic downturn this past decade or more. But it definitely has charm and is worth a visit.If you happen to visit in early May, the first Sunday of that month they celebrate ‘San Domenico’ by parading with live snakes… if you don’t mind snakes that is. And in August (dates vary) they celebrate ‘Le Notte di San Lorenzo’: a three day festival where the village streets and alley ways are lined with torches, stands offering regional handmade fare, merchants, music and generally, a very nice and vivacious atmosphere.
Passo Lanciano – the only way is up
The route continues towards Passo Lanciano on a slight positive incline for a couple of kilometres. You can’t miss the route up to Passo Lanciano as it’s marked by a roundabout with a wolf statue, the symbol of Pretoro. The climb starts off quite steep for approx. 4 km (with stretches between 10-14%) but gets more gradual as you ride.
The route is lined with trees and there aren’t many parts that offer a view. Our ride ended in Passo Lanciano where we had a bite to eat in the little lodge and warmed up in front of the fireplace.
But if you continue on to ‘Mamma Rosa’, the hotel and restaurant in the skiing area a few kilometres further on, the view is very rewarding. Beyond that is the ‘Blockhaus’, also the name of the famous Giro d’Italia mountain stage, which ends there but ascends from the other side of the Maiella. ‘Blockhaus’ also happens to be the first major tour stage Eddy Merckx ever won back in 1967. And in 2017, the the 50th anniversary of the win was commemorated with a special edition Merckx bike aptly named BLOCKHAUS 1967.Roccamontepiano and vino cotto
As mentioned, if you prefer to leave out the climb, just follow the road right of the wolf roundabout and enjoy easy sailing for 5 km all the way to Roccamontepiano. The upper part of the town has a single road (turning left, leading to Serramonacesca) and here you will find the sanctuary of San Rocco – the town’s patron saint. Our ride continued to the right towards Terranova (a burrough of the town) and down a steep hill leading towards the cemetery. The view is beautiful from here: you see olive groves and vineyards, the Gran Sasso, Bucchianico, Pretoro and the ‘calanchi’; deep, jagged furrows.
Roccamontepiano is also known for the production of ‘vino cotto’, literally translated, cooked wine. Traditionally produced for personal consumption, the wine is semi-sweet and quite viscous (think Vin Santo). It’s made by boiling wine must – of red or white grapes – till you’ve reduced it to an almost syrupy consistency, which will then ferment in a vat together with freshly squeezed must.
The fermentation process can take quite a while as the sugar content is high due to the boiled must being very concentrated as it was reduced by ca. 70%. One tradition is: when a baby is born, a batch will be made that year to later be served at their wedding. The wine is usually served with intense cheeses or dry homemade cookies. It’s a dying tradition but one my family has maintained for generations. On a side note: ‘vino cotto’ is not to be confused with ‘vincotto’, a compote made of wine must which is not fermented and used as cookie/pastry covering or filling.We backtrack and continue the route back up to the top of the town – the long way. There was no way I was going to try my hand at the steep climb we rode down to get here, especially after having lunch at my aunt’s – more of an event than just a meal. The 4K climb isn’t necessarily a killer but I don’t recommend doing it, or any climb for that matter, on a full stomach. I was sweating bullets and whining like a baby but I could have also eaten less. Shoulda, woulda, coulda! Oh well.
Once you arrive at the top, there’s a road on the left (Via Colle San Donato), just a few metres from where we came in, which leads back to Fara Filiorum Petri. This is probably one of my favourite stretches of road anywhere in the area. It’s truly beautiful, offers a relaxing ride and breathtaking views to right and to the left.Once we reached Fara, and the dark clouds which had slowly rolled in decided to open up, we chose to take the more direct route back to San Martino – the state road rather than the side roads. It’s not the most scenic route but the road is wide and since it’s popular with cyclists, it offers an ample shoulder to ride on. The Masciarelli winery is located on this route, just a kilometre or so away from La Brocca, so we quickly popped in to their wine shop to pick up a good drop so we could wet our beaks and warm up when we got home.
We got back to La Brocca cold and soaked to the core, but happy nonetheless after a truly fun and fulfilling ride.
Ride safe, ride ON, ride far and drink slow.
If you enjoyed this ride description, maybe you’ll enjoy the others in the Abruzzo series:
Ride summary:This ride takes you through lush rolling hills and up to Passo Lanciano for a total distance of ca. 60K with 1.590 metres (5.200 ft.) of vertical climbing (the route and downloadable .gpx file is located below). The main loop is approximately 40K loop with 800 metres of vertical so if pass climbs aren’t your thing, you can just leave it out. The main loop takes you through the following villages: San Martino sulla Marrucina, Casacanditella, Fara Filiorum Petri, Pretoro and Roccamontepiano.
Mentioned in this article:
Agriturismo La Brocca
Via Fonte Giardino, 39
66010 San Martino sulla Marrucina
+49 0871 809 100
Room prices are €50 p. night based on double occupancy and includes a simple Italian breakfast. The restaurant offers four course menus with typical homemade regional delicacies (including wine, water and espresso) for only €16,00 per person.
Masciarelli Tenute Agricole s.r.l.
Via Gamberale, 1
66010 San Martino sulla Marrucina
+39 0871 85241
La Fattoria di Manuel Mariani
Contrada Foro, 22
If freshly made bovine cheese purchased on-site is your thing, you won’t want to miss dropping by Manuel Mariani’s farm. Choose from ricotta cheese (made daily), mild caciotta flavoured with herbs and spices, caciocavallo, yogurt and a variety of other products.
Albergo Mammarosa (Passo Lanciano)
Via SS Majelletta, 35
+39 0871 896144
Other interesting places to eat or drink along this route:
La Vineria di Salnitro
Via S. Salvatore, 31
66010 San Martino sulla Marrucina
+39 328 392 0553
A stylish little wine bar and restaurant which wouldn’t be out of place in a large metropolitan city. Reservations are recommended if you plan on eating dinner, dropping by for a glass of wine on the fly isn’t a problem.
La Torre di Pretoro
Via Rua di Livio, 1
+39 0871 898 400
Concettina D’Innocenzo opened La Torre di Pretoro in 1998 and it was the first restaurant in the area which offered handmade regional dishes with a modern twist. Not to mention La Torre has a great regional wine list with older vintages available. The establishment is literally, for the most part, carved into the bare stone of the Maiella. Definitely an experience: great food and friendly service. Reservations are recommended.
Via Corsi, 36
+39 0871 77571
Maurizio Basile has been running Brancaleone for a couple of decades now and his reputation is impecable. The restaurant is quite hidden and not the type of place one would stumble upon by accident but that doesn‘t change the fact that it‘s always full. The quality truly speaks for itself. Definitely worth seeking out. Great wine list with older vintages available.
Il Castello di Semivicoli
Via San Nicola, 24
+39 320 417 9875
A beautiful stately manor transformed into a premium boutique hotel by winemakers Marina Cvetic and Gianni Masciarelli, Italian modern wine production protagonists. The quality of the wine list needs no mentioning. Located approx. 20 minutes from the coast. Please visit their website for prices and availability.
Ristorante Pizzeria Il Lago
66010 Fara Filiorum Petri
+39 0871 706 004
As attractive and bright as a high school cafeteria, televisions blaring with typical Italian ‘Tutti Frutti’ type shows, but I can’t deny they make a damn good brick oven pizza. Just bring headphones and sunglasses… or better yet, order take-away.