The idea of a slow-paced vacation was always on our mind. We got some time off in August so we decided to avoid the crowds and spend a week in Abruzzo. We are sharing our amazing itinerary full of great findings and gorgeous spots, and hopefully, inspire you to check out the part of Italy that gets forgotten. Abruzzo is no doubt a true a hidden gem of Italy, due to its location and landscape including three National Parks, mountainous countryside, picturesque castles, stunning vineyards and olive groves and finally sandy beaches. It’s a perfect place for a slow-paced vacation and to follow the leisurely rhythms of life.
Abruzzo is one of the least populated regions of Italy and the earliest remains of civilisation date back to around 6,500BC.
We started our adventure in Rosciolo de Marsi. Rosciolo is a small village located on the hill at 900 m of altitude, above the Porclaneta Valley, and the foothill of MonutVelino. The village still has a visible medieval structure and cute narrow alleys that invite you to explore them. Interesting parts to visit is the two churches: Santa Maria Delle Grazie and Santa Maria in Val Porclaneta.
But our main reason to visit this little village was to have lunch at Locanda dell’Arco. It’s a family-run restaurant housed in an old manor house, at a thousand meters above sea level. There are a few outdoor tables from which you can enjoy a beautiful view. The cuisine which you can find here is a successful mix of the traditional dishes from the area together with some modern twists. In season, you can get some game and truffle dishes, a nice choice of meats and cheeses, fresh pasta and homemade desserts.We had a great meal here, and the view made it even more special. We started with a cold platter of local cuts. Then a lovely truffle pasta with some red wine. And finally, some coffee and sweets to wrap up this experience.
For our base and accommodation, we chose a little town called Pescosensanesco, situated in the natural park known as the “Gran Sasso e Monti Della Laga National Park. We stayed at Tenuta Testa Rossa, a real refuge from hustle and bustle, an oasis of tranquillity and beauty. The residence has very cosy rooms with wood-beamed ceilings, a beautiful outdoor space with a pool and seats to relax and read a book. A delicious breakfast is served every morning with homemade products. They also offer lunch or dinner option prepared with their products like wine, olive oil, veggies and fruit. It is possible to buy at the Tenuta olive oil, wine and other products.
Day 2 On our second day in Abruzzo we decided to spend in Rocca Calascio.
Rocca Calascio is known as one of the oldest standing forts in Italy, and the highest fortress in the Apennine Mountains. It’s a quiet, sleepy settlement with only 127 residents. Throughout the centuries Rocca Calascio, together with its castle and the small community was ruled by different local noble families. The fortress was built to be a military facility and included no accommodations for civilians. This small village, supported a small community until an earthquake occurred in 1703, destroying housing and the fortress.
The location itself is famous internationally and was used for filming The Name of the Rose (the film in which a medieval monk played by Sean Connery is solving a crime). It is also known as the setting for the final scene in Ladyhawke. Iconic movie with Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauer and Matthew Broderick.
Once you arrive it is possible to park quite close to the fortress. However, it is far more enjoyable to leave your car at the earlier car park and to follow tracks up the hillside, as we did.
From the village, a path follows along with the impressive fort and reaches the 17th-century church of Santa Maria della Pietà. The church was built over an older votive shrine and has an octagon-shape that is similar to others found in Abruzzo. It is a truly unique place, standing majestically surrounded by mountains. We continued the walk upwards to the fort itself. Finally, we stopped for a while to soak in the atmosphere, and take some time to admire this medieval structure.
After this amazing hike, it was time to move to the next stop on our itinerary: Santo Stefano di Sessanio – a lovely little village great to get lost in its narrow alleys.We spent the afternoon just wandering around the village, browsing tiny shops, which are selling souvenirs and local products. We didn’t find any crowds, just a few locals sitting outdoors.
An interesting story to share: in late 90’ a man named Daniel Kihlgrengot lost on a motorcycle trip in the Gran Sasso Mountains and stopped by this little village. He was surprised that there were no modern structures. He was taken by its medieval charm, feeling like stepping back in time. So he decided to purchase the properties and then created a diffused hotel without modifying the original medieval look. The “Sextantio Albergo Diffusio” initially had 32 properties although some have been sold as private houses. As a guest, you can experience the Middle Age vibe, interact with locals, and learn about traditional crafts or cooking. The rooms are spread out in the different village houses. All use local materials and old furniture. It’s worth staying here a night so make sure to add it to your trip plan.
Day 3 of our Abruzzese adventure was a special experience.
We visited the Wolf Visitor Center in Popoli, in the Majella National Park, where we took a guided tour that was a super educational activity. The Center cures and temporarily hosts wolves which have been found injured in nature, and also carries out scientific research. In Italy, in the early 1980s, the wolf (Canis lupus) was in danger of extinction and just over 100 specimens were estimated throughout the country. From this dramatic situation a project ‘’the genetic bank of the wolf’’ was born.
Our visit lasted two and a half hours and included a stop in the Wolf museum. Then we continued to educational path “From the Prey to the Predator” and have seen all the rescued wolves. This was truly amazing to see the wolves so close and to hear stories about them from the guide.
On the way to our next destination, we stopped in Bussi sul Tirino.
The town is crossed by the Tirino river which comes from the Campo Imperatore aquifer system. The river (rich in trout and shrimp) is known for being the most beautiful and cleanest river in Italy.The town is surrounded by greenery and breathtaking views.It is a lovely spot to have a nice relaxing walk and to see the uncontaminated nature.
After the long walk we start feeling hungry so we decided to try some prawns from the river. This place was recommended by locals – Restaurant Il Salice, a great restaurant immersed in nature. And I must say we were not disappointed. The menu is based only on prawns and trout but it is super tasty and fresh.
Next, we headed to a picturesque town of only 960 people in the province of L’Aquila called Capestrano. We took a walk around its cobbled medieval streets. Stopped at Piazza Mercato’ where we found lovely little shops, restaurants, a beautiful parish church – Santa Maria della Pace. A few steps away from the piazza stands CastelloPiccolomini, that was built on the remains of a medieval fortification. Today some rooms of the Piccolomini Castle are housing the municipal offices.
Day 4 was exploring Italian wilderness.
This place is a must for visitors to Abruzzo – we are talking about Campo Imperatore, a mountain formed by a high basin shaped plateau, located in the Gran Sasso National Park. It’s a perfect spot for nature lovers, hikers and those who enjoy being outdoors. The plateau is commonly known as Italy’s Little Tibet, it was covered by extensive glaciers thousands of years ago.
Campo Imperatore is surrounded by a lot of magical places which deserve to be seen. I will never forget the feeling of amazement the first time I reached that place.
You can find here an Observatory, that was created as an observational site for the Rome Astronomical Observatory (OAR) and is still one of the very few structures of this kind in Italy.The observatory also hosts an astrophysics institute with a museum displaying 19th-century astronomical instruments. From this point, you can hike the Corno Grande, Gran Sasso, highest Apennin peak.
We stopped briefly at the Observatory but the cold stopped us to do the proper exploration. The snow can be found here even in summer. So, if you think of coming here make sure to get the proper warm clothes and lots of stamina!
After this, we headed to Fonte Vetica, the southeast area of Campo Imperatore. It’s known for its restaurants where you can enjoy a bbq outside in nature. You stop here, go to one of the butcher shops/huts and chooses fresh meat to cook. Outside you will find wooden tables and barbecue stoves for grilling.
The most popular the spot is Ristoro Mucciante, a butcher shop settled in an alpine green meadow and open especially during the summer. Here you can get some meat for arrosticini (sheep skewers), as well as pork sausages and gorgeous thick beef filets. You can also purchase an assortment of cheese, cured meats, homemade bread and drinks.
Localita’MadonninaCastel del Monte
(39) 0862 938357
Open daily from May 1 to October 31, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Open on weekends during the rest of the year, weather permitting.
We stopped at this splendid location and enjoyed a farm to table experience, with fresh skewers, delicious bread and some beer. I recommend highly this place, as it gives you unique experience of dining outside surrounded by unspoilt nature.
Day 5 A beach day
The weather was super sunny and we decided to spend this day on the beach.
Even though Abruzzo may never have the beach reputation of the Amalfi Coast or Sardinia, you can still find here long stretches of sandy beach along the Adriatic.
Worth adding is that part of the coast called The Trabocchi Coast, a 70-kilometre region stretching from Ortona to San Salvo, marked by the spread of Trabocco, fishing machines on piles. This part of the coast is famous throughout Italy for its natural beauty and its diversity and traditions. The Trabocchi are very old structures that now play an important role in the region. We have not visited that part of Abruzzo and decided to keep it for the next time. But I wanted to mention it so you can add it to your itinerary if it sounds interesting to you.
Our plan for the day was to drive to Montesilvano that is the ideal destination for those who wants to enjoy a break in complete relaxation. The city is divided into two areas: Montesilvano village (old town) located about 150 meters above sea level, and Montesilvano Marina, the modern part situated along the coast. The upper part of Montesilvano, is certainly worth a visit, to enjoy an enchanting view of the sea as well as a very pleasant summer breeze. In the village, there is the Church of San Michele Arcangelo, together with the Church of Villa Carmine.The latter has the painting of the Black Madonna with a child. A popular legend arose here, which tells of a vision of Madonna’s appearance, who performed a miracle in the same place.
After exploring the old part we headed to the beach and relaxed there for the second part of the day. The beach is super nice and you can find many stabilimenti here, to rent out the beach chairs and umbrella.
Day 6 relaxing at our accommodation
Another day of relaxation this time we decided to stay around the farmhouse and explore the grounds. After breakfast, we took a walk in the vineyards. The area itself is quite vast so you can even get lost a bit in the grapevines. Looking for some shade we discovered some woods with remain of a church. We sat down a bit and enjoyed the silence. The rest of the day we spent by the pool, enjoying the lunch outdoors and sipping cold drinks.
Day 7 Returning home with a stop in L’Aquila
L’Aquila is the capital of Abruzzo and has a population of 70,000. On the 6th of April, 2009, an earthquake struck here in the middle of the night, killing 308 people and, damaging buildings. Since then the city has not recovered. We have arrived here in the morning, parked the car and took a walk in the old part of the city. Immediately I felt sadness, for the city that fell apart and it is still in ruin. It has been years since the earthquake and not much was restored. Italy has struggled with the recessions of the last years, and rebuilding a city was a visible struggle.
There was a positive sign though, the reopening of the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, the city’s most important church and the largest in Abruzzo. Also, I must add that the cities’ surrounding scenery is breath-taking, with four of the mountains around it.
Walking further and further into the centre I was delighted to find many narrow streets and lanes alongside many magnificent buildings.
Worth passing by are the Basilica di San Bernardino and Church Santa Giusta, one of the oldest ones, dating back to 1275. At San Bernardino, we stopped at a lovely outside café to rest a bit and get some refreshments. Then the streets lead us to Fontana delle 99 Cannelle, an example of original architecture found in the city. It is a long fountain with 99 streams of water pouring out from it. It was built to stand for the 99 founding villages which combined and established the city of L’Aquila that we know today.
Afterwards, we walked back towards the car, that was parked nearby Forte Spagnolo, a fort with beautiful architecture that is now home to the National Museum. We didn’t visit the museum, just strolled around to admire this giant fortress.
So if you are asking yourself should I visit L’Aquila? I would say: absolutely yes. Even though it is not restored yet it has some pretty unique spots to discover. And it’s important to remember there are still businesses to support and you can make a difference here.
Our trip came to an end as usual too quickly. We enjoyed every single moment of it and we are looking forward to coming back. Hope this trip inspires more people to visit Abruzzo and uncover its beauty.
To close this post I would like to touch on another subject the cuisine of Abruzzo region, that varies significantly from the coast (based on fish and seafood dishes) to the inland areas (legumes and meat like mutton and pork). Arrosticini, thin lamb skewers, is one of its most famous dishes, and we enjoyed them a lot.
Another amazing discovery was the wine, that became my favourite wine of all. The region has three main, DOCs, including the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, white Trebbianod’Abruzzo and the third DOC of Controguerra. Do not confuse it with the town in Tuscany of the same name. Montepulciano grape really shines, and once it ripens, it brings deep red colour and moderate acidity to the wine. Another gem in wines is classic rosé wine – known as Cerasuolo.
Cheeses of Abruzzo are also wonderful so we made sure to get some and bring it home. The region has 3 recognised kinds of cheese: Canestrato di Castel del Monte, Marcetto( A “Presidio Slow Food”), and Pecorino di Farindola.
The variety and richness of the food make it easy to find things produced locally (extra-virgin olive oil, tomato sauce, olives, wine, cheese) and bring them home to enjoy later on. With these lovely products, we created a delicious Abruzzese feast at home.