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Road Tripping Through an Abruzzo, Italy National Park

I like variety—so I love travelling, exploring and writing fiction and non-fiction on a daily basis.

Monte Velino

Monte Velino

Taking a mini road trip, we have found, is one of the best ways to explore our favourite region of Italy, Abruzzo. The region is considered southern Italy, though the western portion is just 80 kilometers from Rome. The eastern side is the Adriatic Sea coastline. Abruzzo is rugged, wild and mountainous, and the best way to travel to the hard-to-reach spots is often by car. In the article we detail the circular trip we took, taking in the Sirente-Velino National Park and the popular ski resort of Ovidoli.

A Small but Perfectly Formed National Park

Although the Sirente-Velino National Park has probably the smallest area of the National Parks of Abruzzo (covering a rough area of 564.5 square kilometres), it makes up in beauty for what it lacks in size. Just south of the L’Aquila and bordered by the A24/A25 on three sides, the park is easily accessible by car. Our drive through this exceptional park started from the A25, taking the turnoff for Pratola Peligna/Sulmona and initially following the signs for the typical Abruzzen town of Raiano. After driving straight through Raiano the road takes you gradually up into the mountains affording spectacular views of the Peligna valley along the way.

Chamois in the mountains

Chamois in the mountains

Up Into the Clouds

As you climb into the park you enter an impressive gorge following the signs for Castelvecchio Subequo. Don’t forget to stop for a drink at the natural spring a mile or two into the park, this is by the side of the road and is now connected to a tap/drinking fountain for ease of use, as this is believed to bring good luck. Upon reaching the small mountain town of Castelvecchio Subequo (population less than 1000 at last count) we took the road and climbed to the small village of Gagliano Aterno (650m above sea level), and from there we joined the road that cuts across the ‘waist’ of the park heading for the town of Rocca di Mezzo (Elevation: 1,329 m).

As you climb higher into the park the roads show signs of the extreme conditions it has endured over the years by way of potholes and cracks to its surface. Even given these blemishes, it is still a reasonable mountain road to drive in the milder seasons. In the winter, as with all the wilder places in Abruzzo, you need to take all the necessary precautions including having a set of snow chains in the boot as required by law over the winter season (check locally for the exact dates as these are subject to change).

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Amongst the Mountains

Even on a grey, misty day in October when we made this trip, the scenery was still magnificent, with the peak of Monte Sirente (2,349 m) slowly emerging from a halo of grey cloud. Following the road along the side of this peak, we were warned by signs bearing the silhouettes of boars and chamois to look out for the wildlife that frequents these high places like wolves, red deer or birds of prey. Sadly, on this day we were only greeted by some wandering cattle appearing out of the mist, their plaintive ‘moos’ echoing spookily across the valley (on a previous evening we had been luckier when on the way to L’Aquila, when we were forced to an abrupt halt by a family of wild boar nonchalantly crossing the road ahead of us!).

A mile or so before reaching the T-junction at Rocco di Mezzo, the landscape flattens into a large upland valley dominated by the peaks encircling it, the most obvious on this day being Monte Rotondo (1,731m) directly ahead, and presents a great walk for those souls hardy enough for it. At the T-junction, we turned left and shortly took coffee in the ski resort of Ovindoli, which offers around 20 kilometres of slopes for skiers and snowboard enthusiasts. At the time it was just starting to wake up in preparation for the new winter season.

Wild boar

Wild boar

To Celano

Back on the road again, heading south and with the weather turning from spots of rain to an insistent drizzle we came upon the town of Celano, which is totally dominated by the massively impressive Piccolomini castle (even in the rain and a land of many castles). The castle was seriously damaged during the 1915 earthquake and left in disrepair until 1940, and finally restored to its former glory by 1960 it now houses the Marsica Religious Art Museum. This is well worth a visit and is easily accessible by a more straightforward route directly from the A25 autostrada—take the Aielli-Celano exit where you can clearly see the castle from this road.

After exiting the south end of Celano, we soon picked up the A25 autostrada heading east back to our original starting point, leaving the imposing edifice of Celano castle and Sirente-Velino National Park behind us.

Please note some of the references below are Italian language websites, but you should be able to translate them via Google easily enough.


© 2022 Jerry Cornelius

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