I spend each summer exploring Abruzzo – a blessing I don’t take for granted. Here are a handful of my favorite places – of course, this list doesn’t even nick the surface and will undoubtedly grow as I continue to discover the remarkable riches of this region of mare e monte.
CITIES, TOWNS & VILLAGES
Sulmona – This small city in the Valle Peligna might very well be my favorite place in all of Italy. A cultural and architectural jewel and the birthplace of the Latin poet Ovid, Sulmona is home to several important churches, a medieval aqueduct and several confetti factories, including the famed Pelino. Each summer, Sulmona hosts La Giostra Cavalleresca, a horse joust that includes an elaborate Renaissance procession along its wide pedestrian corso. Welcome to Sulmona is a fantastic source for all things Sulmona and the Valle Peligna, from history to food to current happenings.
Guardiagrele – This picturesque town has one of the prettiest piazze in all of Abruzzo and no shortage of artisanal shops. On Sunday mornings, Guardiagrele has a bustling market and is a perfect place to people-watch. Contact my good friend Emiliana at Abruzzo4Foodies for a fabulous tour of Guardiagrele. And stop in and visit Cantinarte, my friend Francesca’s olive oil mill and museum in nearby Bucchianico after lunch.
Civitella Alfedena – Home to a wolf preserve and an adorable museum dedicated to the endangered lupo appenninico, you will encounter breathtaking views en route to this lovely town near Lago di Barrea in the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo.
Scanno – Truly one of Abruzzo’s “borghi piu belli,” strolling through Scanno is like traveling back in time. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a town elder wearing the traditional black Abruzzese dress of tempi fá. A boat ride on heart-shaped Lago di Scanno is a must.
Pacentro – This beautiful hilltop village of many towers is one of my favorite towns. The drive from Sulmona to Pacentro is breathtaking.
Sant’Eufemia a Maiella – A charming village and the gateway to excursions within the Parco Nazionale della Majella, Sant’Eufemia a great place to pick up some crusty bread and artisanal cheese (there are two casefici next door to one another – they’re both good!) for a picnic in the mountains.
Caramanico Terme – I have a special place in my heart for Caramanico as it neighbors my dad’s village of Salle. In addition to thermal baths and a lively evening passeggiata, the town is also home to medieval churches and incredible mountain views.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio – I know some people regard this restored village outside of L’Aquila as a medieval theme park of sorts. However, I think it’s lovely and my kids had a ball playing hide and seek in its winding streets and secret passageways. Sextantio Albergo Diffuso is, simply put, a really cool hotel, and the tiny prized lentils are reason enough to visit. Have lunch at the casual family-owned La Bettola di Geppetto.
Castelli – A quaint village dramatically positioned near the Gran Sasso, the town is known for its artisanal hand-painted ceramics.
Calascio – The home of Rocca Calascio, a majestic mountaintop fortress at an elevation of 1,460 metres (4,790 ft) overlooking the Navelli plains. Near the fortress, at a slightly lower elevation, is Santa Maria della Pietà, an octagonal church built in the seventeenth century. After climbing back down, stop at Rifiugio della Rocca for a drink and a snack.
San Vito Chietino – The gateway to the fabled Costa dei Trabocchi of Abruzzo’s southern coast, this charming beach town has some excellent “tavola calda” style places to get your fill of fresh seafood. Heading south along the lungomare, you’ll find the fascinating spider-like fishing platforms called trabocchi, many of which are now restaurants, including Trabocco Punta Tufano, owned by my friends Maria and Rinaldo. Maria makes the best stuffed mussels I’ve ever eaten. If you’re planning to stay on this part of the coast, look no further than Bagni Vittoria – it’s a secret slice of heaven on Earth in Vasto Marina.
L’Aquila – Of course, the historic center of Abruzzo’s capital should take top billing on this list. Unfortunately, the 2009 earthquake that devastated this beautiful city rendered many of its sites inaccessible.
MOUNTAINS, BEACHES & MORE
Parco Nazionale della Majella – http://www.parcomajella.it/
Campo Imperatore & il Gran Sasso – http://www.ilgransasso.it/
Parco Nazionale D’Abruzzo – http://www.parcoabruzzo.it/
Calanchi di Atri – http://www.riservacalanchidiatri.it/
Punta Penne & Punta Aderci – http://www.puntaderci.it/
Torre di Cerrano – http://www.torredelcerrano.it/en/
Eremo di Santo Spirito (Roccamorice)
Eremo di San Bartolomeo (Roccamorice)
Eremo di San Domenico (Villalago, en route to Scanno)
FOOD & WINE
Agriturismo La Pagliarella – Frazione di Sant’Elia, Caramanico – call ahead and tell Lida and Andrea that Michelle sent you….and ask her to make ravioli! – 085 928474
Agriturismo Tholos – Roccamorice – Imaginative dishes using the grains, legumes and vegetables grown on the property. The farro dishes are particularly inspired. – 085 857 2590
Country House Casale Centurione – Manoppello – This warm, inviting restaurant and B&B is owned by my good friend, the dynamic Giulia Scappaticcio. She will welcome you with open arms and serve you exactly the sort of home-style cooking you want when you’re in Italy – 085 854 2093
Locanda del Barone –San Vittorino (Caramanico Terme) Chef Biase’s creative spin on traditional Abruzzese specialties and insistence on the highest quality ingredients makes this restaurant one of my absolute favorites. – 39 085 92584
La Locanda di Gino – Sulmona – refined dishes using artisanal products from all over Abruzzo. – 0864 52289
Gelateria di San Valentino – San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore – The stuff from which my dreams are made from September through June! (They finally come true in July and August!)