I knew very little about Abruzzo other than that it’s a region to the east of Rome, on the other side of the Apennine mountains, and that it’s home to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a sublime red wine that instantly makes you daydream of rolling hills bathed in sunshine and fragrant herbs – well, that’s the effect the wine has on me. A friend of mine at Directline Holidays insisted that I visit Abruzzo and that I would love it. I still wasn’t sure what to expect of Abruzzo when my partner and I picked up our rental car at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. We headed in an easterly direction on the A24 highway towards the Apennine mountains. One and a half hours later, we found ourselves in a simply enchanting region: imposing snow-capped mountains (with peaks exceeding 10,000 feet) formed a spectacular backdrop for quaint medieval towns perched (often precariously) on hilltops and mountain ridges, whilst the surrounding hills and plains were a colourful patchwork of forests, grassy fields, olive groves, fruit orchards and vineyards, and in the distance, I could just about see the bright blue shimmer of the Adriatic Sea. I was stunned!
Impressions of Abruzzo
We explored more of Abruzzo in the following week and I found myself wondering out loud on various occasions why this region was still pretty much off-the-beaten-path. The first thing that grabbed my attention were the mountains. I never expected them to be this huge.
The Gran Sasso and Majella mountain ranges are the highest in Abruzzo and are visible from practically the entire region. The Gran Sasso mountains are also home to Europe’s southernmost glacier – I never knew there was a glacier so close to Rome!
When I turned my gaze away from the majestic mountain scenery, I noticed many hilltops, with medieval villages hugging the slopes and crowned with ancient castles or fortresses. With a history going back more than 2,000 years, Abruzzo is awash with historic towns and archeological sites.
We got to explore some of the towns in Abruzzo in the following days. I quickly drew one conclusion: fans of medieval towns are spoilt for choice in Abruzzo. There are so many of them, each with its own charm, history and traditions.
We strolled around the towns, stopping occasionally for a coffee at one of the local cafés. One of my favourites was Bar Abruzzo, a café in Scanno, simply for the fascinating historical photos of people and life in Abruzzo on the wall.
One of the highlights for me was a visit to Campli, a small town in the far north of Abruzzo. Campli is home to one of Italy’s most important archeological sites, as well as the Holy Staircase (one of only three in the country). Oh yes, and Campli is also famous throughout the region for its porchetta (roast pork)! The Holy Staircase was a truly breathtaking sight and the best part: unlike its counterpart in Rome, there were no crowds, just us!
Then there was the food and wines. I’m a big fan of porcini mushrooms so I had lots of it with all sorts of pasta, mostly fettucine and pappardelle. I discovered types of pasta which are unique to Abruzzo such as ‘ceppe’ (each bit of ceppe is hand-made!) and chitarra. And yes, I had my fair share of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Pecorino wines. Absolutely gorgeous stuff!
Remember when I talked about the effect Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines have on me? Well, this one from the Illuminati estate hit the right notes within moments!
The towering peaks of the Gran Sasso mountains, pristine beaches along the Adriatic coast, a treasure chest of medieval towns and historic sites, unique local food and wines, spectacular hiking trails and ski pistes… it was clear to me that Abruzzo has a lot going for it, and all this just an hour and a half’s drive east of Rome! I’m truly happy that I visited Abruzzo. If you’re reading this and thinking that you should visit too, I suggest you hurry while Abruzzo is still delightfully off-the-beaten-path!
View Towns in Abruzzo in a larger map