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Abruzzo is one of Europe’s last great natural regions. Nestled in the heart of Italy, it has generally been overlooked by the hordes of tourists that descend upon the hills of Tuscany and the short break destinations such as Venice and Rome.
This undiscovered region of Italy still has a lot to offer those who want to get away from the crowds, so here’s my top 10 of all things ‘Abruzzen’ should you wish to take the road less travelled.
1. Take a Hike
Abruzzo isn’t known as ‘The Garden of Italy’ for nothing, the region boasts three national parks covering a third of this large region. Abruzzo encompasses parts of the Apennine mountain chain, including the highest peak, the Gran Sasso d’Italia at 2912 metres (or 9555 feet), and with over half the mountains in the area rising over 2000 metres, there is no shortage of spectacular views. This often rugged landscape makes it the perfect place for keen walkers who are not afraid of the occasional steep gradient.
Most of the major towns have a tourism office (un ufficio del turismo) that will point you in the direction of traditional accommodations such as an agriturismo (often a working farm that offers accommodation), which are usually well placed for walking adventures.
2. Explore Beautiful Towns and Hidden Villages
Along with hiking in the countryside, it is also worth taking the time to explore the medieval towns and villages that are sprinkled across the Abruzzen landscape—from sleepy villages that transport you back to the Middle Ages to hill towns such as Santo Stefano di Sessanio in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, the highest region of the Apennines, or Sulmona (birthplace of the poet Ovid), nestled in the Pelina valley.
You will find no shortage of piazza cafés to enjoy your morning coffee, nor labyrinthine streets to get lost in. At last count, Abruzzo had won no less than 21 of the prestigious “Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia” awards (The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy)—even more than fabled Tuscany.
3. Enjoy Some Culinary Delights
Every region of Italy claims to produce the best food to please the palate, and Abruzzo is up there with the best of them. Staples of Abruzzo cuisine include bread, a bewildering variety of pasta, meat (lamb and pork are very popular, as is salami), cheese (especially Pecorino, made with sheep milk), and, of course, excellent local wine.
4. Take a Wine Tour
Abruzzo is renowned for its world-famous wines, which in recent years you might have found adorning shelves in the UK and US. Probably the most famous exports are the wines of the Montepulciano D’Abruzzo grape variety (red) along with the Trebbiano wines (white) produced at local wineries dotted throughout Abruzzo, where you can often take a tour to learn how they are made.
5. Hit the Beach
The is no shortage of beaches along the eastern edge of Abruzzo, which butts up against the clear blue waters of the Adriatic. Pescara is one of the main centres and is easily accessible by road or train, but there are many beautiful beach resorts to the north of the town, such as Pineto with its pine tree-shaded beaches from which it takes its name, to the beautiful town of Vasto to the south of Pescara (formally a Roman fishing village) with spectacular sea views.
6. Find an Activity for the Kids
If there is not already enough to do for children exploring this rugged landscape, you can always take them to one of the water parks along the coast to burn off some extra energy. The main ones are Acquapark Onda Blu in Tortoreto and Aqualand Del Vasto (near Vasto).
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Other options for keeping the children amused might be a visit to one of the many wildlife centres where they can discover wild boar and wolves (such as the centre near Popoli, the Centro Visita del Lupo), or the donkey sanctuary at Introdacqua, near Sulmona (Asinomania). They can even trek with donkeys in Gran Sasso National Park (with trek organisers Gira e Rigira who are based in Santo Stefano di Sessanio).
7. Satisfy Your Adventurous Side
The naturally rugged and diverse landscape of the region make it a playground for adrenalin junkies. From mountain climbing and white water rafting to horse trekking and kite surfing on the coast, there really are options for all preferences.
Again, the local tourist offices will be able to put you in touch with the relevant experts should adrenaline be your thing.
8. Hit the Slopes
Continuing in a thrill-seeking vein, skiing is also well catered for in Abruzzo, with over 386 kilometres of ski runs throughout the region. Many of the main ski areas in the region are a mystery to the vast majority of foreign tourists, but not to Italians, who leave the urban centres of Naples, Rome and other major cities seeking a ski fix every winter. Some of the main areas for playing on the white stuff are located at Pescasseroli, Ovindoli and Roccaraso.
9. Go Shopping
Although Milan and the north may be the centre for all things fashionable in Italy, Abruzzo, too, has plenty of places to browse the aisles and pick up the latest styles.
One area great for shopping is in the cosmopolitan coastal resort of Pescara, where you will find many shops selling all the top brands often at discounted prices along the wide boulevard (Corso Umberto I) leading down from the railway station to the beach.
10. Explore the Trabocchi Coast
Trabocchi are fishing-net structures that you will find along a 70-kilometre stretch of the Abruzzo coast from Ortona to San Salvo in Chieti province.
Trabocchi are as traditional and Abruzzen as you can get. Although many are no longer in use, some have been converted into excellent restaurants where you can taste the freshest produce the Adriatic has to offer—an ideal way to spend an evening in this part of the world.
Abruzzo in Italy
This article seeks to give a taste of what this mostly undiscovered part of Italy has to offer, so please feel free to use the comments below to add your suggestions should you have been lucky enough to have visited the area.
More About Abruzzo
- Festivals in the Abruzzo Region of Italy
This article provides a description of some of the main festivals by month and location in the Abruzzo region of Italy.
- A Concise History of the Italian Region of Abruzzo
A short article detailing the history of the Abruzzo, a rugged and rural region of Italy.
- The Maremma or Abruzzese Sheepdog
The Abruzzese Sheepdog is an indigenous breed from central Italy, and in particular, the regions of Abruzzo and the Maremma. It is primarily bred for the protection of sheep flocks from predators such as wolves.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Jerry Cornelius