Impressions of Abruzzo

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The mighty Gran Sasso peaks in Abruzzo

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.

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The mountains of Abruzzo

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!

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The snowcapped Gran Sasso mountains and forested hills

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.

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The medieval village of Scanno

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The villages of Calascio & Rocca Calascio (with its imposing castle on the hilltop)

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Civitella del Tronto – the medieval village with one of Europe’s greatest fortresses

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The fortress and rooftops of Civitella del Tronto 

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.

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A charming street in Civitella del Tronto

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The main square in Pescocostanza – one of my favourite towns in Abruzzo

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The historic town of Sulmona (famous for its confetti candy) with its Roman aqueduct

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.

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The photo wall in Bar Abruzzo, Scanno

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!

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The Holy Staircase in Campli

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!

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Fettucine with porcini mushrooms

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Ceppe with a light tomato meat sauce served at Hotel Zunica, Civitella del Tronto

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A gorgeous Montepulciano d’Abruzzo at Hotel Zunica

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! 🙂

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This one from the Illuminati winery topped my list!

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

Note: a big thank you goes to Abruzzo Turismo, Hotel Zunica 1880 and Hotel Santa Croce for taking such great care of us in Abruzzo. We greatly appreciate your generous hospitality.

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8 Responses to “Impressions of Abruzzo”

  1. velvet 11/05/2012 12:08 am
    #

    Thanks Jim. Yes, your surname gave it away. 😉

    Cheers,
    Keith

  2. Jim Ferri 10/05/2012 9:42 pm
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    I love Abruzzo. In fact, I love all of Italy (I’m certain that since my name ends in a vowel that comes as a schock!). Right now it’s late afternoon here and I would kill for that pasta and wine in your photos. Nice blog.

  3. velvet 09/05/2012 4:09 pm
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    Wow, thank you for your kind words Barbara! Glad you enjoyed my Abruzzo photo essay. Sure has made my day. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  4. Barbara 09/05/2012 3:40 pm
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    Thanks for the wonderful tour of Abruzzo! You couldn’t have captured it better had you lived there for several years!!!!

  5. velvet 09/05/2012 10:02 am
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    Neither did I. Hehe! 🙂

    Thanks for your comment Dean.

  6. Dean 09/05/2012 1:22 am
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    I never made it here when I went to Italy. What a beautiful place! I had no idea that there were such high mountains so close to Rome.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The fortress town of Civitella del Tronto | Velvet Escape - 14/02/2013

    […] del Tronto is a historic fortress town in the northeastern corner of Abruzzo, the Italian region that stretches from the slopes of the Appenine mountains (east of Rome) to the […]

  2. Illuminati winery in Abruzzo, Italy | Velvet Escape - 11/05/2012

    […] of the sublime Zanna Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red or the fragrant Pecorino white.Read about my impressions of Abruzzo.View other Velvet Moments from around the world. Posted on 27/04/2012 by velvet in Cuisine, […]

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