Andy Mossack, a British travel writer and the creator and presenter of BBC Radio’s “Where in the World is Andy” travelogue series, transports us to one of Italy’s hidden gems – Abruzzo. Be sure to check back in for more articles based on his travel exploits.
With its miles of unspoiled mountains and beaches, Abruzzo is Italy’s hidden treasure. Lying right where the north of Italy meets the south, it is a region of complete contrasts. With the towering Gran Sasso range and the Apennines to the east, and the dramatic 80 miles (130 kilometers) of Adriatic coastline to the west, it offers the best of both worlds. And as an added perk, Abruzzo’s pricing is 40% lower than other more touristy parts of Italy.
Yet there is something achingly sad about this beautiful region that has seen its tourist traffic reduce by half since the tremors that shook its mountain capital L’Aquila in 2009. However the truth is that L’Aquila’s historic buildings have stood proudly for hundreds of years and, realistically, it could be hundreds more years before any threat returns – if at all.
Two thirds of the area is above 2,450 feet (750 meters), and dotted all about the hillsides and mountains are hundreds of little towns and villages, all of them offering traditional homemade produce of the highest quality.
Along the coast you will find curious structures called trabocchi that resemble giant spiders sitting in the sea, waiting patiently for their prey. But in reality they are traditional hand-built fisherman’s huts on stilts. They were also just one of the many pleasant surprises that came my way when I visited this extraordinary and unspoiled part of Italy.
Things To Do
I spent a wonderful day just meandering from one mountain village to the next, indulging in glorious nibbles of pressed olive oil, crusty bread, fresh pecorino and aged bresaola, not to mention the wild saffron and generous and delicious dollops of the famously flavorful Abruzzi black lentils. I visited tiny Santo Stefano and took a walk along its narrow cobbled streets and passages, and then went on to Atri to have a peek at the glorious 13th century duomo and dramatic wind-carved sandstone valleys. I ended my day in the lovely Castel Del Monte, a medieval town that was recently the location for George Clooney’s movie The American.
While you’re up here, the Gran Sasso and Majella national parks and nature reserves are not to be missed. In summer, the area is a magnet for hikers and bikers while the winter slopes offer challenging courses to experienced skiers. There’s also no shortage of wildlife, with chamois, wolf, lynx, otter, eagle and even brown bears.
Look out for the wolf sanctuary at Impianezza near Popoli where €8 bought me three hours of an up-close-and-personal Apennine wolf experience. It’s a reserve where injured or outcast wolves are slowly nursed back to health and then reintroduced into the wild. A small exhibition helped me first understand wolf culture and then I was off with a guide walking around the reserve looking at these mysterious creatures. Fascinating.
Back down at sea level, the principal town on the coastal stretch is Pescara. Almost flattened during World War II, it’s now the modern beating heart of the region, and I managed to grab a pair of cut-price designer shirts in the cheap fashion shopping along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. You can even grab a ferry across to Croatia if you have a day to spare. The coastline is also a study in contrasts, from the wide sandy beaches in the north near Pescara, Martinsicuro and Francavilla al Mare to the wild and rugged landscape in the south.
For me though, the coastal jewel in Abruzzo’s crown is Vasto, only an hour south from Pescara. This is a stunning Romanesque town with a glorious bay and beaches and it is brimming with antiquities and ancient charm. Caesar thought very highly of it, and its lofty position within the Roman Empire is born out through the many examples of granite and marble remains. I fell in love with the town museum, a beautiful old building, full of ornate original marble and offering breathtaking views of the bay from its top floor.
Abruzzese cuisine relies on simplicity, using fresh local produce. Virtù includes seven types of dry pulses (beans), seven fresh pulses, seven types of vegetables, seven meats, seven pasta shapes, seven seasonings, and seven hours cooking! La Panarda is a traditional gargantuan village feast lasting all day and all night–you have been warned.
Abruzzo is a taste of vintage Italy without the crowds. It’s like time has stood still, and as far as I am concerned, long may it continue to do so.
To keep up with Andy and his travels, be sure to check out:
Featured Image: Village of Loreto Aprutino in Abruzzo (Shutterstock.com)
Fly.com Expert Tips
How To Get There: The best (and cheapest) way to access Abruzzo is by flying into Rome Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport (FCO), which is approximately 130 miles southwest of Abruzzo, and is serviced by over 100 domestic and international airlines, including Air Canada, Delta Airlines, Lufthansa, and United Airlines. From the airport, you can either rent a car and drive to Abruzzo, or take a bus or train from Rome’s city center. If going by train, you can take a train from the airport to the Tiburtina station, and hop on a train to Abuzzo and get off at either Sulmona or Pescara. If you choose the bus, you’ll also take the train to Tiburtina and get on a local or express bus. Information regarding area transportation is available here.
Best Time To Visit: Abruzzo is a year round destination. During the spring and summer seasons, you can go hiking, trekking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Winter sport enthusiasts have the peaks of the Apennines to ski and snowboard in winter. The weather is fairly moderate in April and May, and that is when wildflowers blanket the rolling hills, creating a cascade of colors on the hillside. July and August are the hottest months, like most of Italy, and are also the most crowded with tourists. You can save money on airfare and accommodations by visiting in the off-peak months.
Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Rome from:
* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Fly.com.