Encounters: Learning Italian in Molise, a Hidden Gem

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers an inside look into a typical day on her company’s travel program, which focus on learning about Italian language and culture. 

First things first: learn how to order coffee. We get down to basics in Caffè Letterario where the owner, Pasquale, greets our new arrivals, putting them at ease.  It’s caffè (never espresso!), cappuccino – just like English, but say latte and you’ll get milk, so ask for caffè latte, or even, latte macchiato – milk with a dash of coffee, or un macchiato – coffee with a dash of milk. And on it goes…

Caffeinated- up, we cross to Palazzo Bonanni for a morning of Italian with Alessandro and Giovanna, both fully qualified to teach Italian to stranieri. Lessons in very small groups allow them to structure learning pretty individually.

At break, in the piazza, Francesco the butcher is interested to know where we have come from, and why? He interrupts his sausage making to sell us a picnic lunch to have on the terrace after class with un bicchiere di vino – the softest prosciutto and local cheeses, and it’s easy to engage in conversation.  After lunch, a refreshing siesta is followed by some pronomi revision and, when the town wakes up again, half of the group walks over to the bell foundry to find Ivo, well-versed in talking piano, piano, and getting us to speak by prompting questions.

The foundry really hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages, each unique bell hand crafted over three months. The casting is a dramatic and emotional event, attended by a priest or bishop, who recites prayers. It’s quite an experience to be in the oldest bell foundry in the world – making the bells for the Pope!

Maria then invites the rest of us into her home to cook simple, seasonal food. We start by making pasta from scratch, and there’s always someone who takes to the kneading like a pro. While the dough rests, a quick batter is made – we stuff zucchini flowers with mozzarella and anchovies, dip them in the batter, and then fry them.  How much flour? Quanto basta, Maria says – as much as you need.

Creating fresh ravioli with ricotta and spinach turns out to be a breeze with Maria at the helm, and the tomatoes we stuff them with were picked today. Later, we admire the tablecloth she’s embroidering and watch as she makes lace on the tombolo. There is no end to her skills – le mani di Maria non hanno prezzoMaria’s hands are priceless, her daughter-in-law says.

Cooking together helps loosen inhibitions, and Maria and her family don’t speak English anyway, so we all have a glass of wine and join in on the conversation. We share dinner around a big table in the garden, joined now by the bell foundry visitors, and it is simply delicious. Just when you can’t eat another thing, out comes a crostata Maria made earlier with home-made apricot jam. Although we are all full, we are offered different digestivi (laurel, amarena, mint….), and we all manage to eat a piece of the crostata.

No two weeks are the same at Live and Learn Italian – the program is structured, but there’s plenty of flexibility to explore. Events depend to an extent on what’s going on at the time. We meet whoever’s interesting, do whatever helps us learn and practice Italian, and go wherever engaging people draw us in for a stimulating and sociable convivial program.

I first visited the historic town of Agnone to trace my family’s roots and learn the language. Inspired to share this unique experience, I founded Live and Learn Italian; with a rich cultural history, world-class artisans, and exceptional local produce – Agnone is the perfect place to learn Italian!


  LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN offers language and culture holidays in the small historic town of Agnone, Alto Molise, far from tourism. Mature students of Italian come to live among a friendly community to practice, improve, listen and engage.  Cook with the locals, visit family businesses, and discover the culture and history of a beautiful region.

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