The popular tradition of “Novelli”, which took place when several mansions were unified into a single castle, up to speaking about “Navelli” to indicate the local population that participated at the Crusades in the Holy Land.
Although formerly famous for its chickpeas, the reason why today Navelli is known all around the world (at least among kitchen lovers) is because in its valley is produced saffron – also called the “Abruzzo’s red gold” – the spice that gives a fragrance and a unique color to dishes with whom he marries.
Since centuries between October and November, in the Navelli valley constantly bloom the purple flowers: small and delicate petals that suddenly emerge from the dark soil breaking the balance of yellow and red autumn palette.
A unique show, the one of the purple fields silhouetted against the sleek profile of the village lit by the golden colour of the stone that cannot be missed.
While oncoming to the village, chapels, churches and residences seem to blend altogether, creating one environment with tangle of strings and roads.
A stroll through the narrow streets of the village will give you unforgettable moments for your vacation that you can capture with your digital camera.
If you are more interested in the historical and religious aspect, in our opinion you can’t miss the church of San Sebastiano, whose bell tower was once a watchtower, Santa Maria in Cerulis (XI century) and the two sheep-tracks churches, Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Madonna del Campo.
Saffron, the golden spice
Bulbs are planted at the end of August, after they have been picked, cleaned & divided.
Early morning harvesting is required as quite literally the saffron flowers pop up overnight and need to be picked at first light before they begin to open their 6 petals.
This is because dissecting the precious saffron become much speedier. An operation that – as you can imagine – requires a lot of patience and professionalism as the threads need to be picked out by removing the white precious ovary that connects the 3 stigmas.
Saffron stems finally need to be toasted; the threads are placed into an upside down flour sieve over hot walnut or almond coals until they will have lost 5/6 of their weight.
Just to give you some figures, 600 gr of fresh saffron yields just 100 gr of ready-to-use spice, which in turns means roughly 200,000 flowers, 500 hours of labor produce 1 kg of saffron.
Now that you know how much hard work is necessary for producing the saffron, we are sure you won’t argue anymore once at the till.
Some cooking notes, finally. Saffron is an essential ingredient in Risotto alla Milanese the spice also features in other main course, cakes and liqueur across Italy. For example, the fish soup served south of Monte Conero in the Marche region.
In order to use saffron you normally take between five to ten stems and put into a little container covering with hot water, that will rehydrate the spice turning the water into a yellow gold color releasing it’s intense perfume.
It’s better to make the saffron ready no longer than half an hour before you are going to use it; failing in this, your dish will take the typical yellow color but neither the fragrance nor the taste.
What to see in
- The historical centre, with fine medieval houses;
- Annunziata Church;
- Church of S. Salvatore (Civitaretenga hamlet;
- Chiesa di S. Antonio (Civitaretenga hamlet);
Further reading about
As mentioned between the lines, Navelli is famous all over the world for the quality of Saffron. A nice article about the spice can be read on this site.
Map & car route to
We thought to make your life easier, and we have provided the itinerary from Villa Ducale straight to Navelli. The journey will let you drive for about 50 miles passing through beautiful mountain landscapes of priceless beauty.
This route requires the use of the motorway A14.