Nestled in the hills west of Sulmona in the Abruzzo region, Cocullo has a population of 250 on any given day. That number swells to thousands every May 1st when pilgrims from other provinces and people interested in this 985-year tradition converge on the village. The official name of the festival is the Festa dei Serpari di San Domenico (Festival of Snakes of San Domenico). Why snakes? San Domenico is honored for ridding the village of snakes in the 11th century and his statue, draped with these serpents, is paraded through the town for about 1.5 hours.
The snake handlers (serpari) start gathering them in March for the May celebration. The snakes used to be housed in clay pots but are now kept in wooden boxes and fed mice and hardboiled eggs in the days leading up to the festival. There are four types of non-venomous snakes used in the procession. The statue with the snakes and its escorts are accompanied by two women dressed in traditional costumes carrying breadbaskets on their head that contain five ciambellati. Ciambellati are local, sweet, round breads that have been blessed by the parish priest and given to the escorts carrying the statue in the procession.
Stands are set up around town to feed the thousands that have descended on the town for the spectacle. There is a fireworks display at the conclusion of the festival. Parking is quite difficult so expect to walk or be shuttled from wherever you park to the edge of town.
Introdacqua is a town in the Abruzzo Region of Italy, Province of L’Aquila, situated on a hill between the Contra and Sant’Antonio valleys. It dates back to medieval times and has a medieval tower dominating its landscape. The tower was used as a watchtower between Abruzzo and Naples in the medieval period when it was a fiefdom of the Trasmondi family. Loosely translated as “where the water comes in”, Introdacqua is a member of the “Borghi piu belli d’Italia” club (Most Beautiful Villages in Italy) and has been lucky to escape the major earthquake damage befallen its neighbors in recent years.
Thanksgiving begins with a blessing of the crops and tractors followed by a parade of floats and musical groups throughout the village. Though it is an ancient tradition of tribute to the land and crops that sustained them, the festival has been rediscovered and is now in its 10th year. Thousands will descend upon the town this Sunday, November 8th to sample the authentic local food, watch the folk musicians, and discover the local flavors of the area. Food carts will be set up to display local products such as: extra-virgin olive oil, salami, cold pork meats, cheeses, red garlic, chickpeas and a multitude of sweet desserts. If you are not lucky enough to be staying in Introdacqua, it can be easily reached by car in about two hours from Rome.
If you’ve ever been to an Italian wedding, chances are you were greeted at your place setting with a small tulle bag of confetti; not the paper type, the almond type. Used to celebrate significant unions and births, the candy coated almond treats are used as a thank you to guests and come in many different colors, each with its own meaning. Casa Pelino has been making confetti in nearby Sulmona since 1783 but the family got their start in Introdacqua.
The 37th edition of the Rassegna dei Cuochi (Festival of Chefs) returns to Villa Santa Maria in the Chieti Province of Abruzzo this weekend. Known as “La Citta dei Cuochi” (City of Chefs), this town has produced chefs turning out delicious dishes around the world for heads of state and mere foodies alike. This is no surprise since its home to the highly touted cooking school Istituto Alberghiero Villa Santa Maria.
On the second weekend of October each year, chefs return to this village to meet, perform cooking demonstrations and of course, enjoy the food. The event is paired with religious celebrations this evening in honor of Saint Francis Caracciolo, patron and protector of all cooks in Italy. The weekend program lists several cooking demonstrations in the afternoon and evening with booths setup for food tasting and local products.
Two of the highlights of this festival are the Saturday night feast and the competition for chefs. On Saturday night at 8:00 PM there is a large dinner served on what seems like a mile of tables in the Old Town. On Sunday, fifteen chefs are invited to participate in a competition juried by foodies from around the world. Winning this competition gives the victor a prestigious entry on their resume and a substantial cash prize.