ABRUZZO FOOD AND WINE TOURS 2008
SANTO STEFANO DI SESSANIO, little piece of Tuscany in Abruzzo!High in the mountains, at 1,251 metres above sea level, enjoying a wide view to the Tirino and Pescara valleys, Santo Stefano di Sessanio is a typical Abruzzese mountain borough, with narrow alleys and stone houses, many dating back to the 15th century. This picturesque village rose in the 11th century and for a long time belonged to the Barons of Piccolomini from Siena until 1569, when the whole territory was bought by Francesco de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Medici family owned these lands until 1743. Their presence was very helpful for the economy of the village, because of their strong relationships with Florence, especially in wool trade. At the end of the 18th century Santo Stefano came under the King of Naples.
The territory of Santo Stefano have seen for thousands of years shepherds with their flocks moving south and back north according to the season ("transhumance"). Each year, since time immemorial, millions of sheep, thousands of shepherds, moved in early autumn from the mountain pastures of these lands to the wide plains of Apulia to come back in late spring, with the melting of snows, to the green ancestral land. The age-old practice of transhumance marked the economy of this village, and has exerted an enormous historical and cultural influence on the character, lifestyle and traditions of the local people.
The decline of the village started together with the transhumance crisis, and at the end of the 19th century most of the local people moved, both in other parts of Italy and America. Agriculture was the main occupation of the people who decided to stay here. At the beginning of the 20th century there were about 1,500 inhabitants, which became about 900 after the Second World War. The decrease continued in the following decades, and nowadays the village has only about 200 inhabitants.
The Torre Medicea (Tower of Medici, XIV - XV century), right in the centre of the borough, is the symbol of Santo Stefano and actually one of the symbols of Abruzzo. Cylindrical, it is more sophisticated than the other, promitive sighting towers of the area since it was more difficult to attack and climb, and loopholes are better arranged. The merlons at the top are in the "guelfo" style, and there are three rows of beccatelli alternated to loopholes. Among the other buildings and monuments, we can mention the "Casa del Cavaliere", a fine parish church (with a terracotta statue of the Virgin Mary) and the 17th century church of the Madonna delle Grazie.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio is famous in Italy for its production of lentils ("lenticchie"), and every year, in the first weekend of September, here takes place a famous festival ("Sagra delle Lenticchie"), with hundreds of people who enjoy tasting different lentils dishes. And, just to anticipate our detailed tour program, we'll have lunch with the group right here, in a local typical "agriturismo", a local farm that use their own homegrown and homemade products, such as oil, cheeses, wine, meats and, obviously, lentils!
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