Samnium Project 2: Bikes and Bread

Story and photos courtesy of Mario Casmirro

Samnium is a vast territory. From the Matese mountains, it reaches up to the lands overlooking the Trigno river, which passes through the Biferno valley. It climbs the green hills of Torella del Sannio, Macchiagodena, and Campobasso; crosses the heights of Frosolone, Carovilli, and Trivento; up to the beating heart of Petrabbondante and Agnone; the cradle of the people themselves, the valiant Samnites.

The Samnites are both shepherds and warriors, dedicated to pastoralism and control of the territory, ancestral supporters of freedom against the tyranny of the Roman Empire.

Mario’s red Journeyman bicycle rests on top of a stone arch bridge over the Carpino stream, below the city of Carpinone.

Samnium is a territory where landscape and gastronomy come together to create wonder and delicacy. Caciocavalli and pieces of cacio, spotted sheep, and bread of all variations. This Samnium Project, my second, focuses on bread—a staple food in the Mediterranean diet.

The journey will be roughly 350 kilometers divided into two days of riding.

Loaded with bikepacking bags, the Journeyman leans against an old stone and brick building with a slate-tiled roof.

I start from Campobasso, going up the hills that lead me to Isernia. I pedal past hills still dressed in winter. The wind is blowing, with strong gusts coming down from the Frosolone mountains. This will be an intense day.

The Caldora castle stands out on high ground in the center of the small village of Carpinone.

Among the villages that I pass through along the way, one stands out: Carpinone. I can see it from afar through an oak forest. The Caldora castle, a splendid 15th-century monument, stands over the houses below. Sinuous and flowing slowly below it all, the Carpino stream passes in front of a large natural cave where I take a break. I am curious and explore its dark and humid interior, observing a few small bats hanging from the walls.

Mario pushes his bicycle toward the entrance of a large dark black cave, vines and brush hanging above it.

My second stop is Isernia, a city famous for its annual Onion Festival and for the Homo Aeserniensis, an ancient primitive of the area. I ride my Journeyman on a cobblestone tour along its historic alleys, the smell of baked bread in the air and the sounds of conversation rising from the market in the town square. I exit the city walls, pedaling toward the high hills and mountains of Mainarde.

The Journeyman bicycles stands on a narrow cobbled street built entirely from stone block.

The red Journeyman bicycle’s bikepacking setup includes frame, top tube, and seat bag, along with bottles and pump.

I ride to Castel San Vincenzo, an ancient place of worship, then to Longano, a town known for its excellent bread. My friend, Alfredo, is waiting for me in Longano, and we will make our way to the Matese Mountains together.

Alfredo rides up a winding climb as three curious cattle, grazing along the road side, watch him approach.

Country lanes, wooded trails, and state roads provide a mixed-surface experience that my bike tackles delicately, the perfect steed for a fabulous adventure. The climb is long, sometimes warm and pleasant in the sun, sometimes cold and wet in the snow. Cows sleep in pasture along the way. The barks of shepherd dogs keep us alert—they enjoy a fierce reputation among cyclists.

Alfredo stands on top of a large boulder on the shore of a bright blue karst lake high in the alpine.

We’re almost 1,000 meters up, and I can feel the difference in altitude but also the kilometers I have traveled. We arrive at Gallo Lake and its almost-alpine scenery, and then Matese Lake, the highest karst lake in Italy. Here we camp for the night and enjoy evening conversation about the route we have traveled.

The following morning, the sun rises between the peaks of the Matese, and we resume pedaling along the "bufalara" mountain mule track before heading toward Bocca della Selva, which sits at 1,400 meters.

Alfredo rides through a village built on a steep hillside, the houses moving upward on the terraced mountain side.

We ride to Pietraroja, a town famous for an ancient small dinosaur called Ciro that once lived in the Matese region. A long valley stretches towards the Gulf of Naples. The climb seems endless but finally we begin to descend. We ride on toward Altilia di Sepino, where the remains of the Samnite city are a popular tourist destination. The ruins have been there for 2,000 years, silent at times but often quite noisy as herds of oxen and sheep cross along the Tratturo Pescasseroli-Candela.

Many types of freshly baked bread rest on the table as two bakers attend the large oven; loaded trays beside it.

At last, we arrive in Cercepiccola. Pino, the master baker, awaits us. The bakers are already at work in front of large ovens, and several trays are filled with baked goods and placed in the baskets that will soon leave for the daily deliveries.

Loaves of bread cool on a worn wooden rack, taken fresh from the oven.

Cloth-lined baskets wait for their loaves on a wooden shelf not far from the oven.

Cereal, durum wheat and rye, walnut, and sun-dried tomato; so many varieties of bread await true connoisseurs of good food.

This is no ordinary bread, but bread that has the flavor of history and true tradition. He gives us loaves to take home and we load them into our bikepacking bags. From here we will begin the descent that will take us to Gildone, the town famous for their annual Bread Festival.

Along the way, we notice an elderly lady sitting on the bench in front of her house. We stop to chat. Maria is 90 years old, and she has just returned from the countryside where she has her garden. She wishes us a good journey.

Dionisio stands alongside the mill in the Cofelice Mill, among the tools of his trade.

The town of Jelsi and its fraglie structures, the vast wheat fields, the Tappino Valley, and Puglia on the border are our last stops. The miller Dionisio awaits us at the Cofelice Mill. He is a skilled flour expert, an alchemist of magical mixtures. His mill is history with a capital H.

Our finish line is in Campobasso, a historic city with a long tradition in the art of pasta making. We are almost to Tappino, where we will enjoy a pizza and ricotta tasting with Andrea, Vinz, and their oven/experimental laboratory inside a cabin immersed in the oak forest.

The Samnium Project is a culinary cycling adventure in search of stories to share.

Twigs and sticks burn send bright flames high in a brick oven destined to bake something delicious.

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#SALSARIDERS: MARIO CASMIRRO

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Guest Blogger Journeyman Road

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