Molise is Italy’s most unexplored region, often nicknamed “the region that doesn’t exist”, because even Italians think it has nothing to offer. But Molise does exist and is a little jewel full of surprises for the curious traveller.

6 reasons to visit Molise, Italy's most unexplored region

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on a mission to find out what Molise has to offer and guys, what an incredible journey! I will be writing a series of articles about this region and I thought I’d start from the basics: the main reasons why you should plan to visit this under-the-radar region of Italy!

One region, countless experiences

Molise is the second smallest region in Italy, but it truly has it all: mountains, sea, lakes, tratturi (the ancient, seasonal trails used to move livestock between pastures) and charming hamlets in just about 4,400 sqm of land!

The Lake of Castel San Vincenzo in the region of MoliseContrary to popular belief, the beauty of Molise lies in the wide variety of landscapes and activities it offers to visitors. For example, one day you could relax in one of the fantastic beaches of Termoli and the next you could explore the mountain villages in the north of the region.   

The most welcoming people

Italy is a very welcoming country, but I must admit that in Molise I felt particularly pampered. Locals have been very generous with me, sharing their time, knowledge and tips to make me experience the best of Molise. I know what you’re thinking – give us examples! Well, I’ll share a couple…

While exploring the historic centre of Isernia, I bumped into two ladies who were creating some beautiful lace products just outside their front door. I asked if I could take a couple of pictures and ended up taking a seat and having the most enjoyable conversation with them, spanning from traditional recipes to the difficulties of handing down the art of lace-making to the new generations. They suggested the best trattoria in town to taste the best home-made food and even took me right in front of the trattoria entrance door when I went back asking for help because I got lost in the alleys! 

The knife workshop of Rocco Petrunti in FrosoloneThe second example is from the day I explored Venafro. I entered the knives shop of Mr Rocco Petrunti and unashamedly asked for information about the local knife forging tradition. Minutes later I found myself in his amazing workshop just outside the town centre, surrounded by the most incredible machinery. Mr Rocco shared the story of his family business and showed me unique knives of all shapes and sizes. He even invited me to have lunch with his family the following day and to spend some days at their place to further explore the area!

There are amazing historic sites to explore

I’ll be honest with you, this is a topic that equally amazes me and makes me angry. Molise is filled with incredible historic sites just as good as those of Rome and other Italian rockstars, but it’s not always easy to visit them. Lack of regional funds means that some sites are closed, especially in smaller towns, and you need to look for the keeper in order to visit them. In some cases it also means poor maintenance.   

One of the most amazing places I visited during my trip is the archeological site of Altilia, which is often referred to as Molise’s little Pompeii. It’s a fantastic example of a provincial Roman town, where you can wander among the remains of the ancient forum, a basilica, artisan shops, thermal baths and a fantastic theatre. All of this for free, and you’ll likely have the site all to yourself!

Altilia archeological site in MoliseAnother top site in Molise is that of Pietrabbondante, perched on a hill at about 1,000 meters above sea level. Here you’ll see ruins that date back to the V century BC and include a monumental theatre, a necropolis, a sanctuary and several temples.

Pietrabbondante archeological site in MoliseOne of the places that surprised me most was the Pandone Castle in Venafro, for the richness of its exhibit. On top of a series of beautiful paintings and artifacts, there’s a fantastic cycle of frescoes depicting a selection of magnificent horses from the renowned stud of Count Enrico Pandone – surely not a standard design!

The castle of Pandone in Venafro, in the region of Molise

A gastronomic heaven

In Molise recipes are simple and deeply rooted in the local culture. They make use of the fantastic products of the land and taste absolutely divine. One of the best meals I had during this trip was at Osteria Paradiso in Isernia, where I feasted on sagne e fagioli, the most delicious home-made pasta served with a rich bean sauce.    

I’m sure you wouldn’t expect this, but Molise is one of the biggest producers of truffles in Italy! Although I’m not a huge fan of this delicacy, I will remember the pasta with mushrooms and truffles I had at Porta Tammaro forever (it’s right at the entrance of the Altilia archeological site).

Eating pasta with mushrooms and truffles in Altilia, in the region of MoliseOther products that I strongly recommend you to try when in Molise are cavatelli (a pasta shape typical of the region), caciocavallo cheese (try it grilled, it’s pure delight), ostie of Agnone (kind of wafers filled with walnuts and almonds) and i ciell (the traditional biscuits of Civitacampomarano stuffed with grape must). Also, don’t forget to ask for Tintilia, the red wine variety native to Molise. 

A land of fascinating little towns and villages

Molise is all about slow rhythms. Here you can forget big cities, crowds and traffic and embrace the quiet pace of life of this incredible region. The three biggest cities are Campobasso, Isernia and Termoli, but they are pretty small compared to the “standard cities” in other regions. For example, Campobasso, the region’s capital, is home to just about 49,000 inhabitants!

The fraternal fountain of Isernia, in the region of MoliseMolise is punctuated by incredibly charming villages, like Bagnoli del Trigno, built on a rocky spur, Casalciprano with its interesting open-air museum of rural life, and the little hamlet of SepinoI personally fell in love with the romantic corners of Oratino and the fantastic murals of Civitacampomarano.

The murals of Civitacampomarano, in the region of MoliseAncient artisanal traditions

Molise is home to centuries-old traditions that continue to be passed on from generation to generation. The village of Agnone, for example, is specialized in bell making. The biggest production center is Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli, which has been creating bells for over 1,000 years and is the oldest business in Europe!

The art of bell making in Agnone, in the region of MoliseKnife forging is the speciality of Frosolone, while Scapoli is the town of zampogne (bagpipes), with lots of workshops of local artisans that still realize them completely by hand. And don’t forget to explore the backstreets of Isernia in search of the lace-making ladies – watching them at work is truly fascinating!

The ancient lace-making tradition in Isernia, in the region of MoliseUseful tips

  • There are no airports in Molise, but you can easily reach the region with a train from Rome or Naples (it takes about 2 hours to get to Isernia). However, I strongly recommend to explore Molise by car, because public transports are pretty limited and it could take you hours to move from one town to the other. You won’t find any major international car rental companies in Molise, though, so you may want to get a car in Rome, Naples or Pescara.
  • Molise hosts some pretty cool events throughout the year and you might want to plan your trip around them. The biggest ones include the Festival of Mysteries in Campobasso, a major religious procession that takes place on the day of Corpus Domini in June and the ‘Ndocciata of Agnone, a spectacular parade of torches running on 8th and 24th December. I would also keep an eye on the Bagpipe Festival in Scapoli (in July) and the CVTA’ Street Art Festival in Civitacampomarano (in June).

 

Until next time,

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19 Comments

Nina 6 August 2019 at 12:57

I love finding the under-explored regions of a country. I never knew this part of Italy existed. It is simply amazing and beautiful.

    Val 8 August 2019 at 10:34

    Even Italians (sadly) tend to avoid Molise, which makes it even more adventurous! Seriously, there are so many beauties just waiting to be explored in this region!

Summer Austin 7 August 2019 at 03:41

It’s very cool that Molise has a combination of mountains and sea in the same place. The water is very pretty there. The towns look quite charming and it sounds like the local business owners are very friendly! I didn’t know there were so many ruins in the area, I would love to explore them. A less crowded version of Pompeii seems wonderful. Also, wow the bells are stunning!

    Val 8 August 2019 at 10:35

    There’s such a variety of things to see and do here in Molise!

Bhushavali N 8 August 2019 at 16:14

Wow! Molise sounds like a place that I’d totally enjoy!
I’m sold, the moment you wrote about the little Pompeii. I can’t believe there’s no entry fee! As a history buff, this looks like a must-visit for me!
Pietrabbondante is just wow! I can understand that the whole place would be yours with no other tourists.
Also, the old lace-making technique is fascinating!

    Val 12 August 2019 at 09:46

    If you love history, then Molise should definitely be on your travel list 😉

blair villanueva 8 August 2019 at 16:40

It is always lovely to explore the towns that not even the locals bother visiting. I am glad I’ve found your website sharing stories around the life in Italy, because this is my dream country to visit soon! You look so much relax and I bet you love living in Italy!

    Val 12 August 2019 at 09:48

    I tried to live abroad but missed my home country too much ahah 🙂

Clare 9 August 2019 at 09:18

Molise sounds beautiful! I love the combo of mountain and sea. And so cool about it being a gastronomic heaven! I really love trying local cuisine when I travel. I also can’t believe there isn’t an entry fee to such historic treasure? What! This should definitely be on everyone’s Italian travel list! Thank you so much for sharing.

    Val 12 August 2019 at 09:49

    I know, sounds crazy right?!

Kristy Bullard 10 August 2019 at 03:10

I would love to visit Molise one day – with it’s historic sites and hospitable locals. And, it’s so nice that you don’t have to choose between enjoying the mountains or the sea. This area gives you both!

    Val 12 August 2019 at 09:50

    That’s one of the things I liked the most about Molise, the variety of its landscape!

Mijia Eggers 13 August 2019 at 11:17

I like the ruins that date back to the V century BC. Italy towns or villages have in general the old settings. They look so sentimental and that is also what I like very much.

    Val 10 September 2019 at 10:26

    Yep, I like that “sentimental” feeling too 🙂

Medha 15 August 2019 at 13:43

A little place with so much to offer, that’s amazing! What can get better than being able to find mountains, sea, lakes and hamlets? I am not surprised that Molise is a gastronomical haven given that it is in Italy! I’d love to explore the charming villages and historical sites. Molise’s little Pompeii sounds like the place I would definitely want to head to!

    Val 10 September 2019 at 10:21

    Molise was a total surprise for me and I’m already planning my next trip there!

Shreya Saha 30 September 2019 at 15:48

Molise looks so pretty. The villages are really charming and I agree, it is a gastronomical haven indeed. I would love to spend a week there.

Adenuga Samson 7 October 2019 at 21:09

I love this content. I have already planned a trip to live in Molise, Italy as a village member and become a citizens . please enlighten me how to go about this. I have read about Molise and I love to live there. I hope to be moving there by December. Whoever has commented here wishing to go to Molise for December contact me so we can be chatting and hangout together in Molise. My email:
bigsamconcepts@gmail.com

    Val 21 October 2019 at 09:06

    Wow, so you’re planning to visit Molise in December? That’s amazing, drop me an email if you need help with anything!

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Ciao! I’m Val

Ciao! I’m Val

Ciao! I'm Valentina, an Italian blogger with a huge passion for my country, its culture and traditions. My Italian Diaries is the online space where I share my expert knowledge of itineraries, activities and off-the-beaten path places to help you experience the best of Italy like a local.

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