The Molise is a region of central Italy that's not often visited by foreigners, but it offers some astounding vistas from a hilly region that has a border on the Adriatic Sea. The Molise is noted for its cheeses, its regional cuisine, and its rural atmosphere.
The Molise's many rivers flow from the Apennines to the Adriatic, while the Volturno flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea after crossing the region of Campania.
Molise Introduction and Main Cities
The Molise is undoubtedly one of the most unknown regions of Italy. Vacations in the region are often combined with a visit to the Abruzzo to the north since the landscapes are similar. The area is mountainous and is sometimes referred to as "between the mountains and the sea" as the small region contains both a little seacoast and a mountainous center. The attractions are decidedly rural.
The regional capitals are Isernia and Campobasso shown on the Molise map in bold type. Both cities can be reached by train:
- Campobasso is known for its engraved cutlery, its religious procession and festival in early June, and the National School for Carabinieri. The upper part of town is the older part and has a couple Romanesque churches and a castle at the top. From Campobasso, there is a bus service to some of the smaller villages nearby.
- Isernia was once the Samnite town of Aesernia and claims to be the first capital of Italy. Evidence of a Paleolithic village was also found at Isernia and finds are displayed in a modern museum. Today Isernia is famous for its lace and its onions. Isernia has a small historic center, the highlight of which is the 14th century Fontana Fraterna, made from pieces of Roman ruins.
Molise Towns of Interest
- Termoli is a fishing port with a long, sandy beach. The town has pale stone buildings and an interesting 13th-century cathedral. Termoli has a castle, good views, and great seafood restaurants. It can be reached by train on the coastal rail line.
- Campomarino is another seaside resort, is smaller and sometimes less crowded in summer than Termoli.
- Agnone is a charming small town known for its bell factories. For the past thousand years, Agnone has made bells for the Vatican and many other countries. Today one foundry still operates and has a small museum. Agnone is also home to a number of coppersmiths with shops along the main street.
- Acquaviva Collercroce is an interesting town established by Slavs that still maintains some Slavic traditions and has remnants of its Slavic origins, including its dialect.
- Larino is a small town in a pretty setting among hills and olive groves. It has an impressive cathedral dating from 1319 and some good 18th-century frescoes in the nearby church of San Francesco. There's some good art in the Palazzo Comunale. There are also remains of the ancient Samnite town near the station including an amphitheater and ruins of villas.
- Ururi is an old Albanian town that still maintains some Albanian traditions as is Portocannone nearby.
- Pietrabbondante has extensive Samnite ruins including foundations of temples and a well-preserved Greek theater.
- Pescolanciano is topped by a picturesque 13th-century castle, Castello D'Allessandro, with a pretty arcade. There's another castle in the old village of Carpinone, 8 km from Isernia.
- Cero ai Volturno is the best castle in the Molise region. Originating in the 10th century, it was rebuilt in the 15th century. The castle is perched on a huge rock towering over the town and is accessible by a narrow path.
- Scapoli is known for its summer bagpipe (zampogna) market where you'll find a great display of bagpipes traditionally used by shepherds of the Molise and neighboring Abruzzo region. Shepherds still play the bagpipes at Christmas time, both in their hometowns and in Naples and Rome.
- Venafro is one of the oldest towns in the Molise and produces good olive oil. Its oval-shaped piazza was originally the Roman Amphitheater and the arcades are incorporated into the front doors of the houses. The National Museum, in the former convent of Santa Chiara, houses other Roman remains. There are several interesting churches and castle ruins with some nice frescoes. Leading up to the town are Cyclopean walls.
- Ferrazzano is a hill-top medieval village with a good historic center and a megalithic wall 3 km long. It's also the home of actor Robert de Niro and holds film fests in his honor.
- Saepinum was a Roman town in a remote and beautiful setting, making it one of the most impressive examples of a provincial Roman town you can visit in Italy. The site is surrounded by defensive walls, built in diamond patterns, with four gates leading into the town. You can see some of the original road paving, the forum with civic buildings and shops, a temple, baths, fountains, a theater, and houses. There is also a museum with findings from the excavations.
Getting Around the Molise Region
Larger cities of the Molise are connected by a train line to Naples, Rome, Sulmona, and Pescara. You can generally find bus transportation from village to village, although they are mostly timed to work and school schedules, and are likely to be inconvenient for the tourist. A rental or lease car is recommended.