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This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Dream of Italy.

It would seem that every region of Italy has been fully explored and is brimming with visitors wanting to discover ancient history or escape to a countryside retreat — but, as ever, there is still more of Italy to uncover. Molise, the country’s last undiscovered region, is as rich in history as it is in beauty and, unknown to both Italians and foreigners, it is free of the crowds and traffic that fill other regions. The 20th region in the country, Molise was part of the region of Abruzzo until it separated in 1963 and officially went solo in 1970.

About 100 miles southeast of Rome and 56 miles northeast of Naples, Molise is a small region (the second-smallest in Italy, following the Valle d’Aosta) where green hills of the Apennine mountain range surround valleys cradled between forested peaks. In the eastern part of Molise lies 21 miles on the Adriatic Sea, where visitors can swim, relax on beaches, go boating and tour islands.

The mountainous region experiences all four seasons, with warm summer nights lasting well into September and snow descending on the hills by November. Because Molise’s climate is unsuitable for grazing animals in the winter, shepherds have traditionally used paths called tratture to move their animals to greener pastures at the end of summer and the start of spring (although shepherds used to travel these routes on foot, the practice continues today using modern vehicles). The tratture remain a defining feature of the Molise landscape, and the transhumance (meaning “crossing the lands”) has shaped the region’s history and culture as an agricultural area.  Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 8.06.09 AM

Local Sights

Molise is comprised of comprises two provinces (Isernia and Campobasso, with capital cities of the same names) and a collection of small villages, each with something different to offer. Like the shepherds conducting their twice-yearly ritual, life here moves at a slower pace to different rhythms. Here family-trained artistans and a stunning array of local products for such such a small area are the norm.

In Sepino, wandering among ancient ruins of a Roman town that flourished in the 2nd century BC gives visitors an idea of how the transhumance defined villages in Molise centuries ago. Sepino’s location along the grassy tratturo roads meant that it was a main thoroughfare for shepherds looking for food and commerce. The town was founded by the Samnites, an ancient and little-known population group who battled the

Romans for control of the area — often victoriously — before finally succumbing in 293 BC. Although the majority of the Samnites were killed in an ethnic cleansing by a Roman leader in 82 BC, their legacy can still be found in the ruins. When peasants arrived in the 18th century, they used some of the fallen stones to build houses, which stand intact next to outlines of ancient shops, baths, and walls. Sepino, framed by four gates, contained a ampitheater used for Roman plays and a large public piazza. Today, Sepino is a functioning town whose ancient framework intermingles with modern homes

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 8.09.30 AMAt the Marinelli Bell Foundry in the town of Agnone, one of the world’s oldest crafts — the making of church bells — is on display. The foundry, established in the 14th century by the Marinelli family, is still a working factory that crafts custom church bells. Customers specify a design and a note that the bell should play, and then a bell is crafted out of a mold of brick and clay with wax-casted decorations imprinted on the mold. To ensure that the bell will play a certain note, craftsmen carefully measure the height, thickness, and diameter of the bell; making the bells is a three-month process. intermingles with modern homes. At the Marinelli Bell Foundry in the town of Agnone, one of the world’s oldest crafts — the making of church bells — is on display. The foundry, established in the 14th century by the Marinelli family, is still a working factory that crafts custom church bells. Customers specify a design and a note that the bell should play, and then a bell is crafted out of a mold of brick and clay with wax-casted decorations imprinted on the mold. To ensure that the bell will play a certain note, craftsmen carefully measure the height, thickness, and diameter of the bell; making the bells is a three-month process