Travel: Hear wolves howling in Abruzzo and taste Confetti in Sulmona, Italy

A howling wolf

A howling wolf - Credit: Archant

As twilight faded and we stood stock still in the forest, in the thick of the dark, the magical, eerie noise of howling wolves broke the silence.

A wolf in Abruzzo, photo Stefano Tribuzi

A wolf in Abruzzo, photo Stefano Tribuzi - Credit: Archant

In reality the haunting sound was just a recording pumped through a loudspeaker, designed to entice any wolves nearby in Italy’s Abruzzo National Park to answer back in what is an extraordinary means of distance communication between packs or between members of the same pack

A bear in Abruzzo, photo Stefano Tribuzi

A bear in Abruzzo, photo Stefano Tribuzi - Credit: Archant

Unfortunately on this occasion there were none around – although we did hear a deer, whose rather alarming barking noise is designed to scare off their predators, and owls hooting.

Sulmona's main square.

Sulmona's main square. - Credit: Archant

But to hear the recorded melodious, melancholic noise of the wolves echo out into the night from this secluded spot was still pretty awe-inspiring, and a magical adventure for my five-year old daughter and 12-year old twin sons.

The Pelino confetti factory.

The Pelino confetti factory. - Credit: Archant

The technique was used in the past by wolf hunters in Abruzzo and is now used for research purposes, to study wolf populations in the Apennines.

The sugared almonds known as confetti.

The sugared almonds known as confetti. - Credit: Archant

Ecotur who organised the night walk decided to use the wolf-howling to help promote a favourable view of the wolf.

The statue of Ovid in Sulmona.

The statue of Ovid in Sulmona. - Credit: Archant

Once it became clear that tonight our hunt for wolves was fruitless, Paulo our guide from Ecotur told us a bit more about the demonised creatures, which virtually died out during the Middle Ages in a bid to exterminate the animals which kill humans as well as livestock.

Jousting in Sulmona's main square.

Jousting in Sulmona's main square. - Credit: Archant

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As we huddled around him, he told us that in the 1970s the wolf population in Italy was as low as 100 individuals, but a ban on shooting, trapping and poisoning has achieved spectacular success, with numbers now estimated at around 800.

The establishment of the Abruzzo national park in 1923 to protect nature has also played a part, and other species like Marsican brown bears, golden eagles, deer, otters, wild boar and chamois have also flourished amongst the remote valleys and inaccessible Appenine mountains here.

Sadly though, Paulo explained that an increase in wolf numbers has been perhaps too successful.

This year in particular has seen a backlash by farmers taking the law into their own hands in response to the number of wolves roaming the country, illegally shooting the predators and dumping them in towns and villages as a public reprisal for the death of their livestock.

This is why alongside the conservation, an education drive encouraging people to value wolves is necessary if their reintroduction is going to be successful.

Paulo told us all then to turn off our torches and the wilderness of Abruzzo seemed to encompass us as we marvelled at the spectacular sight of the stars which littered the entire breadth of the darkness, twinkling from one side of the horizon to the other.

Ecotur is based in Pescasseroli, a gorgeous little town, where we stayed in the Albergo della nonna, a three-storey medieval house in the middle of town, which was previously the home of the grandparents of Marco.

He and his Scottish wife run the Albergo Paradiso, which is kitted out with bagpipes from her native country alongside those which came from the Alps too.

Friendly and hospitable, they encouraged us to spend a relaxing afternoon keeping warm front of their fire, eating cake and a brew of thick hot chocolate before we had set off on the night walk.

The animal park here in Pescasseroli is also worth a look-in, where you can see a brown bear who has lived here since her mother died and she was unable to fend for herself in the wild.

Heading out of the protected park and back towards Pescara airport, we made a stop off in Sulmona, which has become the area’s capital in all but name since L’Aquila was devastated by an earthquake in 2009.

The birthplace of the Roman poet Ovid, the mountains provide a stunning backdrop to Sulmona’s main square, which is taken over for a jousting tournament in the summer.

We stayed in the Albergo Stella Ristorante which belies its one star rating.

Pristinely clean with massive rooms stylishly decorated in a trendy minimalist way, it’s set in a charming historic town centre street and makes the perfect base to explore the town.

The owners, brothers Giuseppe and Roberto, get to hear all the town gossip as councillors frequent their bar which is opposite the town hall.

Osteria del Tempo Perso in the Vico del Vecchio serves up out-of-this-world pizzas, with unusual flavours like courgette and walnut sauce, and at just 4.5 Euros for a Margherita the prices are top notch too.

Its atmospheric high-ceilinged rustic-style dining room was totally full to capacity with Italians on the Saturday night we visited - a sign it’s rated highly amongst locals.

To find out more about the area’s rich culinary traditions you could join the Aperitivo Experience, where for €29 a head you can try wines from local vineyards and seasonal snacks on Friday nights.

It’s organised by expat Katy Gorman, whose passion for the town soon rubs off on you.

It was only February when we visited, yet the town was buzzing on a Saturday night as locals of all ages “promenaded” up and down the main strip, socialising and catching up with each other.

The Pelino factory, which makes sugared almonds - known as Confetti - is another manifestation of Sulmona’s vibe which embraces families and tradition.

We were lucky enough to be shown around by Mario Pelino, the sixth generation to run the factory founded by another Mario Pelino in 1783.

Mario, who is also a university lecturer, and his brother, are trying to overhaul the image of confetti and promote their artisanal value, and have set up a museum here with all the old machines used to make the sweets which are traditionally given at weddings and christenings.

They come in all different shapes, colours and sizes and Alfonso gave us some to taste.

I was expecting the rock-solid teeth destroying specimen which you find in England, but made with the finest Sicilian almonds, Pelino’s are a different species altogether, with a thin crispy outer layer.

Our first port of call in town once we made the five minute walk back down the hill into town was to stock up in one of the Pelino shops, of which there are many.

The kids even asked to spend their pocket money on them which is really saying something.

A trip to this part of Italy is really is all about connecting with the things that matter in life –f amily, friends, quality food and nature.