Authentic Italy

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on April 29, 2019. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here. 

Authentic ItalyMy wife, Rebel, and I were having dinner with Italian friends in Rome recently, who asked, “Why not a Wheeler Expedition in Italy?”

I answered, “We’d love to, but it has to be an adventure to really cool places in Italy that folks who’ve been to Rome-Venice-Tuscany don’t know about and would love to go to if they did. It has to be to the real authentic Italy for a true experience of a lifetime.”

Our friends smiled – to us and each other. “We’ve been exploring just those places for years – it’s our hobby. We’d start in the Apennines, of course, Italy’s mountain spine, to Abruzzo…”

And that is how, after many months of exploring and planning, Rebel and I with our Italian friends created the unique and extraordinary adventure of Authentic Italy. I’d like to invite you to experience the Italy you’ve dreamed of and you’ll never ever forget.

No use wasting time. Relax or see Rome at the end of our adventure. Arrange to arrive in Rome by mid-morning this coming Saturday, September 28, and you’ll be whisked up into the heart of Abruzzo to the preserved fortified medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio.

Authentic ItalyHere we find a medieval clifftop village dating back to the time of the Romans — with cobbled, quirky streets, arches, tiny passages, it’s a world apart from any city or town in the modern world, with no TV, internet, or fast food.

We check-in at the peaceful and charmingly restored former 500-year-old monastery, the Convento di San Colombo.

Authentic ItalyAfter a lunch of authentic Abruzzo cuisine, we have a short walk to the Rocca Calacio fortress built over a thousand years ago to enjoy the magnificent view.

Authentic ItalyWe’ll spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Santa Stefano – and enjoy a glass of wine with the friendly locals.

Authentic ItalyDinner tonight is at the marvelous Locanda sotto gli archi restaurant.

Authentic ItalyWe’re off after a great breakfast on Sunday, September 29, for a beautiful drive through the Apennines, where in the region of Molise we come to a haven of nature, the Montedimezzo Forest Reserve, famous for its serenity and wildlife. We can’t resist a walk on its paths.

Authentic Italy

Authentic ItalyFrom here, we make our way to a hidden jewel of the Apennines, the ancient hill town of extraordinary history, Agnone.

Authentic ItalyIt is older than the Romans, the capital of a Bronze Age tribe called Samnites who fought many wars with Rome, the earliest in 394 BC. A medieval village to this day, it has 19 medieval churches – and the oldest continuously-run family business in the world. The Marinelli Pontifical Bell Foundry has been making bells using the “lost wax casting” method for over a thousand years.

A visit here is a fascinating learning experience both for the history and the amazingly intricate technology. Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis were mesmerized by his experience here and you will be too.

Authentic Italy

Authentic ItalyAfter our visit and exploring ancient Agnone, we enjoy our stay at the charming Masseria Santa Lucia Inn.

Authentic ItalyThe heart of our immersion into Authentic Italy begins this morning. For at least 3,000 years, shepherds in the Apennines have practiced transhumance, taking their flocks and herds up to summer pastures in the mountains and down to the winter plains below. The ancient well-worn trails of their annual migrations are called tratturi (singular: tratturo).

Many are still intact today, and even though most shepherds now use trucks, there are a few families that practice the old way. You’ll be getting to know one of them. The tratturi however are off-road. To traverse them, you must walk, ride a horse, or take a 4WD jeep. And that’s the joy of it, for you resonate with the rhythms of millennia amidst pure tranquility of natural beauty.

For the next four days – Monday, September 30 to Thursday, October 3 – we will live in this dreamworld and find the unexpected, like the funky La Fucina Brewery in the tiny Tratturo Trail village of Pescolanciano – that makes the best craft beer in all of Italy.

Authentic ItalySo here we go, off on the Tratturo Trail!

Authentic ItalyWhile walking is an option for some, and a 4WD jeep for others, we hope you’ll choose to ride a gentle well-trained trail horse. You can see why.

Authentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyBut Jeeps can be fun, too! You can trade off – ride, walk, or jeep whenever you wish.

Authentic ItalyWe’ll have picnics with local foods – and wine, and La Fucina beer.

Authentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyAnd every night, we’ll stay at wonderful inns and lodges with sumptuous food in stunningly picturesque small hill towns – like Bagnoli del Trigno…  

Authentic ItalyAuthentic Italy…Guardiaregia or Basilicata.

Authentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyWe finish our Tratturo adventure at Saepinum, where we can see the shepherds leading their flocks through the spectacular ruins of the Samnite and Roman sacred city dating back to 600 BC.

Authentic ItalyWe end the day at a country lodge overlooking idyllic Lake Occhito.

Authentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyWe wake up Friday, October 4, to an early breakfast and lakeside stroll. By mid-morning, we drive deep into the region of Apulia – and by  noon we’re at what many consider “the most spectacular city in Italy,” the “oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world” where people have been living for the last 9,000 years (7,000 BC), the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Matera.

Matera is a place you have to personally experience to believe it exists. Homes here are cave dwellings carved out of the soft rock.

Authentic ItalyIn fact, our Luxury Five Star Hotel, the Palazzo del Duca, is the same. Who could imagine sleeping in a cave could be so luxurious?

Authentic ItalyMatera is a magical place that will completely entrance you.

Authentic ItalyWe wake up Saturday, October 5, realizing this is our last day and we’d better make it special. But how can we top Matera and all else we’ve seen? Let’s try.

After a marvelous breakfast, let’s be off by 9, for an hour away is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Trulli of Alberobello. Trulli are the world-unique homes found only here with conical dome roofs of unmortared rock slabs. They are found nowhere else.

Authentic ItalyAuthentic ItalyIt’s a wonderland to explore – but soon, the sea is calling, for it’s just 30 minutes away – the Adriatic Sea. How about having lunch right here?

Authentic ItalyFor this is where we’re staying tonight, Covo dei Saraceni, right on the water at Polignano a Mare. Directly below is this gorgeous pocket beach for your pleasure.

Authentic ItalyJust relax and enjoy.

Tonight is our Farewell Dinner. What could be better than the best seafood you’ve had in your life while watching the sunset on the Adriatic? We have a lot to celebrate – for we will have seen the real and authentic Italy in a way few others ever have.

Authentic ItalySunday, October 6, is our Departure Day. We are close to Bari and its international airport with flights to Rome and major cities in Europe.

To make Authentic Italy a part of your life, Click here to find out how you can join us on Authentic Italy. I’ll see you on the Tratturo Trail!

Carpe diem. If not now, when? Life is short. The time for a great adventure is now.

Jack Wheeler is the founder of Wheeler Expeditions.

Click here to get advance notice of expeditions you can join & stunning photos of Once-in-a-Lifetime Adventures

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on April 29, 2019. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here. 

©2019 Jack Wheeler – republished with permission