Updated: Dec 28, 2018
Of all the 20 Regions, we chose Molise first - why?
There is a particular hand gesture of which the Italian is most fond, which cannot fail to bring a smile to the face of anyone of a Northern European or descendant heritage. It is formed by simultaneously touching one's thumb with all of one's fingers, usually on the right hand, producing an almost triangular shape. Said hand is then often raised, roughly to the height of the breast, fingers directed to the skies, before being shaken gently. This may be accompanied by an appropriately quizzical facial expression, the lower the sides of the mouth, the better.
It was this very gesture that so often faced us when we told our Italian friends, students and acquaintances that the first stop on our adventure was to be the Italian region of Molise. "Molise? Ma perchè?!" would swiftly follow ("Molise? But why?!). But then, in a select few cases, it would instead beckon forth a smile, followed by "Bello il Molise!" - "Ooooh Molise is beautiful!". This most peculiar reaction served only to heightened our already growing interest in one of Italy's most unknown regions, unknown to Italians as much as foreign travellers.
So why Molise?
Molise is Italy's second youngest out of its 20 regions, dating to 1970. It is also Italy's second smallest, losing out purely to Valle d'Aosta in the far northern Alps. Yet Molise borders Lazio, Rome's own region, and is therefore squarely in the middle of Italy.
Its modest size, and mixture of mountains, unspoiled villages and Adriatic coastline seemed a recipe for a wonderful trip, and a fabulous region in which to start our journey, being of manageable size for just one week. With the entire region's population being 300,000, Molise is barely more populous than the English city of Derby, where James grew up. Meeting a Molisano is something of a distinct rarity even in Rome. If we could count the number of Molisani whom we have met over the last six years with our fingers, we would not need a second hand.
There is also an oft-repeated joke among Italians that Molise, being so unknown and small, doesn't really exist and isn't truly a region.
"Molise non esiste" - "Molise doesn't exist" - Italian saying
Poor Molise receives so much stick, and is so stereotypically 'sfigato' ('the butt of jokes'), that it appeared such a noble underdog. It being decidedly English to cheer for the underdog, we were only too happy to start our adventure there!
Our first train was to depart at 9:07am on the 25th April, 2018. We could hardly wait!