The Running Madonna – “La Madonna che scappa”

Running Madonna, Italywise

The big moment

The Running Madonna, The Madonna Who Runs, and The Runaway Madonna – this Easter event goes by several names.

This is a spectacular event, and one of the biggest events in Italy. It’s been acted out for centuries in Sulmona, a medieval city in Abruzzo. If you get the chance, I strongly urge you to experience The Running of the Madonna in person. You’ll find yourself swept along in the weekend’s highly charged emotional events, which all lead up to a singular, breathtaking moment in Piazza Garibaldi.

Book your travel and accommodations early for the Running of the Madonna!

My precious friends Novelia and Peppe (also residents and superb ambassadors of Sulmona) started enticing me to block out time on my calendar, and book accommodations, well over a year ago. Even securing a room at a B&B almost eight months prior to the event before was a challenge. I almost didn’t get a place.

So what exactly is The Running of the Madonna all about?

Much attention is given to the pivotal moment on Easter Sunday when the Madonna races across Piazza Girabaldi,

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In the Face of a Sheep

Abruzzo, Italywise

 

My recent sojourn with shepherds, goats and sheep in the stunning Apennines mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo left me musing about what I had learned about myself while communing with the flock.

On the day of the journey, we had arrived early morning at Nunzio Marcelli’s La Porta dei Parchi agriturismo, a good forty-five minutes before the trek up the mountains was to commence. I wandered around the property, first stopping to observe the goats being milked (an upcoming post). The shepherd dogs were lounging about, getting their last respite before a full day’s work, while staying faithfully close to their charges, who were safely contained in pens. It was then that I captured the photo featured in this post, and this singular, arresting face of a sheep. Only later, when I was doing my editing, did I realize the reason the image resonated with me so much…

I saw myself in the face of that sheep.

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Finding Respite in a Shepherd’s Journey in Abruzzo

abruzzo, Italywise

A Shepherd’s Journey

As most of you know, I recently had the good fortune to go on a “walkabout” with shepherds in the majestic Apennines in Abruzzo. This is the fourth in a series of photos that chronicle my experience. As I perused the multitude of images to choose one for this post, this one leapt out at me.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating this special experience in Abruzzo, the area just above the heel of the boot of Italy. It was a dream opportunity for a photographer. And, it was a golden opportunity to escape the madding crowd of relentless digital and media onslaught to which we fall prey on a daily basis. I confess I’ve willingly allowed myself, all too often, to be sucked into this vortex of distraction, and angst. Yes, angst. I believe it would take a supremely enlightened being to deflect the anxiety-inducing effects of the

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In Abruzzo, Nunzio Marcelli is a Master Shepherd

Nunzio Marcelli

Nunzio Marcelli

 

If you’ve been following my recent posts you’ll know that I recently had the extraordinary opportunity to take a five-hour trek with shepherds in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo. Chronicling life with a flock of sheep and a flock of goats, along with two shepherds and several hard working dogs, was a photo assignment life luckily dropped in my lap.

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A Dog’s Vigilance – A Trek in Abruzzo

Abruzzo, Italywise

A Dog’s Vigilance

Recently, when I was fortunate enough to join two shepherds and two flocks (one of sheep, one of goats) up in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what would stand out, so I just made sure I had my camera ready for “whatever”. I also worked to be quick on my feet. Following a flock on the move and capturing a unique perspective can be a bit of a challenge.

In this photo, which I have entitled A Dog’s Vigilance, I was fortunate to capture an unexpected “stand out” moment. I was trying to stay ahead of the flock of goats and capture their wonderful faces. And, there in the middle of the flock, was this amazing canine face.

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My Day with Shepherds in Abruzzo

shepherd, italywise

Heading up the mountain.

Just two weeks ago I took the long, but stunning drive down to Abruzzo and to see my dear friends Novelia and Beppe for a three day stay in Sulmona. After my first trip, early in the summer, I had resolved to return as soon as possible. Novelia had orchestrated a day for me and three friends to “shadow” the shepherds from Abruzzo’s organic La Porta dei Parchi agriturismo, run by Nunzio Marcelli, in the Majella National Park’s Sagittario Valley.

Our day took us with the shepherds high into the majestic Abruzzi Apennines.

Oh what a day we had. The weather was spectacular. The views were the kind that made you want to slap yourself to make sure you weren’t dreaming. The two shepherds were kind young men who seemed happy to have us along for the journey. Or course, the real stars were the flocks of goat and sheep.

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Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo Will Take Your Breath Away

Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo, Italywise

A window to the drama of the Apennines

I’ve returned recently from my second trip to Abruzzo. If you read my previous post on Sulmona, you’ll know that i’ve been chomping at the bit to return and explore further. Tops on my list was a visit to Rocca Calascio.

Rocca Calascio, which sits at 4,790 ft, is the highest fortress in the Apennines.

I made the journey with my friend David, who was kind enough to play tour guide and navigator. Having him along was a real treat, because he clearly loves these mountains and the treasures they contain. As we departed Sulmona early in the morning David lamented the overcast and rainy weather that seemed to have rolled in overnight. I, too, was feeling like the day would be a bust. After all, I’d been told Rocca Calascio is one of the most stunning places in all of Italy. Why else would the movies Lady Hawke and The Name of the Rose have featured it so prominently?

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Fall into the Warm Embrace of Sulmona, Abruzzo

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona is set amongst the majestic Morrone mountains.

Just a week ago I made my first journey to Abruzzo and the wonderful town of Sulmona. Boy, did I get lucky. You see, Abruzzo, hadn’t really been on my radar, with the exception of sadly noting the devastating earthquake in Aquila in 2009.

The universe works in mysterious ways, and my new mantra is allowing the river of life to take me to new places and experiences. Trying to overly orchestrate life if for the birds. Serendipity is my friend, and I’m discovering magic, indeed, can happen in our lives if we just get out of the way.

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona’s finest ambassador, Novelia Giannantonio

So, the universe brought me Novelia Giannantonio. She found me through my blog and began writing me and weaving her magic spell to coax me to come to discover the warmth and beauty of Sulmona, which is in the heart of Abruzzo. My busy schedule was threatening to delay a trip there indefinitely. But, thanks to Novelia’s kind persistence, a small window of opportunity presented itself, and I seized the moment, and booked train tickets for a two-day stay in Sulmona.

In typical fashion, as I quickly learned, Novelia sprang into action, helping me to secure a beautiful place to stay in a 16th century structure (next time, with more notice, I’m booking Novelia’s beautiful penthouse!). She and her kind husband Peppe insisted on meeting me at the Pescara train station. She also informed me, quite proudly, that she had included me in a very special guest list for a private concert by an amazing soprano singer who was coming from Modena (more on that later in this post).

I could not have been welcomed more enthusiastically to Sulmona. What did I do to deserve this kind of good fortune? Novelia and Peppe were my loving shepherds for the two days of my visit. Feeding me (quite deliciously, I might add – Novelia is an AMAZING cook), giving me a guided tour and history of the town, and introducing me to their circle of friends, which included a delightful community of expats (from New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, the U.S. etc.). Incidentally, several of the expats were a tad afraid of my exposing their hidden treasure in this remote corner of Italy.

If you read no further in this post, I encourage you to reach out to Novelia through her website about her sweet penthouse, the “House of the Heart”, which contains her full contact information. I can vouch for her enthusiasm and desire to welcome everyone with open arms. Novelia clearly loves her Sulmona!

I hope you find this post compelling and informative – without being cumbersome. My challenge is the abundance Sulmona offers – which is ironic since my stay was so brief. Novelia and I agreed that this “maiden voyage” was simply my antipasto, and a return trip in early autumn, is in order.

So, now I endeavor to hit the high notes of things to do and experience in Sulmona. Again, my thanks to Novelia for providing me so much information to share. If you wisely decide to include Sulmona in your explorations, you will not find a better guide.

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