The wild and unspoiled landscapes of the Abruzzo, with their little villages clinging to the slopes, have never managed to capture the hearts of American travelers. While many Italians I've spoken with have visited countless national parks in the US, the Abruzzo's abundance of parks and reserves goes unnoticed by the American tourist. And that's a shame. Castelvecchio Calvisio in the Gran Sasso awaits your spring visit in the picture below.
There are fantastic archaeological sites as well, like Alba Fucens. While the mountains are nice, you can go underground and visit the Grotte di Stiffe and its underground waterfall. It's spectacular.
But let's start with the map.
The Abruzzo stretches from the heart of the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea. It's composted of regional provinces centered around L'Aquila (the regional capital), Pescara, Teramo and Chieti.
The city of L'Aquila was known as the Florence of Abruzzo or the Salzburg of Italy until things got shaken up in the 2009 earthquake. The province that surrounds it, however, still manages to be quite appealing: 13 of the villages are designated as the "Most beautiful villages in Italy" are within its borders. They are: Anversa degli Abruzzi, Bugnara, Castel del Monte, Introdacqua, Navelli, Opi, Pacentro, Pescocostanzo, Pettorano sul Gizio, Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Scanno, Tagliacozzo, Villalago.
Sulmona is one of our favorite cities in the Abruzzo. Sulmona is known as a center for production of "Confetti", sugar coated almonds, chocolates or sweets that are traditionally given to relatives and friends, especially at weddings. Sometimes they are made into flowers, like the picture on the right. The red garlic is know for its flavor and healing powers. There's lots to see. You could make this your hub and see much of the Abruzzo on day trips.
Near Sulmona are some very interesting villages. Aielli, a mural town, comes alive with street art, music, and astronomy for the Borgo Universo festival in early August. Its 14th century tower has been turned into an astronomic observatory called Torre delle Stelle. Cocullo is a small village connected to ancient snake rites; the snake charmers and their critters can be witnessed in procession at the beginning of May at the Feast of St. Domenico. There's a fascinating account with pictures here. If you're staying in Sulmona at the time, Welcome to Sulmona advises, " As an alternative, consider taking one of the special trains from Sulmona. On any other day of the year Cocullo is still worth a visit and you will be able to park easily in the village itself." Finally, the Piccolomini Castle with large, square towers on each corner dominates the town of Celano. The castle is home to the Museum of Sacred Art and the Celano Archaeological Museum.
Scanno, another "Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia" is a beautiful town of 2000 residents tucked into the Sagittario Valley and encircled by the Majella mountains. Nearby is Scanno Lake, stocked with pike and perch. Shoppers might take note of the local lace and handmade jewelry the village is known for. In late April or early May handicrafts are celebrated in an event called L'appuntamento con la Tradizione.
Teramo sits between the Vezzole torrent and the Tordino River in northern Abruzzo, a town that began to develop in prehistoric times. For a while it was isolated on the border between the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and the Papal States. There are two great monuments to visit, the Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, 1176) and the Roman Theater. The archaeological Museum is found inside a restored complex of 17th-century buildings belonging to the Co-cathedral Chapter of Atri. You can get a guided tour--and there is disabled access to the museum.
Pescara was the birthplace of the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, an advisor to Mussolini. His home on Corso Mathone holds a collection of his letters and documents. Beach goers will appreciate Pescara's ten-mile stretch of beaches. The promenade called Vale della Riveira gets the stroller a good look at them. Join one of the stabilimenti to get access to one of those chairs and umbrellas so geometrically arranged on the sand. There are also free beach areas. If you're tired of really old cathedrals, the Cattedrale di San Cetteo, dedicated to Pescara's patron saint was built in the 20th century. Likewise, if you like your art modern, the Museo d'Arte Moderna Vittoria Colonna awaits your visit. In July, Pescara Jazz is held.
The Roman site of Alba Fucens, which also contains some interesting Medieval works, is a large site set in what was once an ancient lake in the northeast of the Abruzzo surrounded by the Peaks of Monte Velino and the Majella range.
As beautiful and evocative as Alba Fucens is, the site of Peltuinum, shown below, might take the prize as a place situated in the most beautiful spot in the Abruzzo. Peltuinium was founded in the second half of the first century BC. The site is located 20 miles to the east of L'Aquila.
The parks are full of authentic little villages perched on hills and on the side of mountains. You can just pick a road and likely be surprised at what you might see. There is a facebook page of Abruzzo Wildlife where you can see what's being photographed these days in the parks.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio is one of the most picturesque towns in the Abruzzo, and you can start in Santo Stefano on a 48 hour exploration of the Gran Sasso National Park Villages.
If you want to save time and see the "best" of them, you may wish to take a tour. Viator offers many treks and tours of the Abruzzo.
Life in Abruzzo has a fine events calendar for the region.
Lamb is the king of meats in the Abruzzo. Try the famous arrosticini, skewers of lamb roasted over an open fire. The very traditional fricassee called agnello cacio e oro is lamb cooked in wine, eggs and cheese.
Maccheroni all chitarra is the pasta of the Abruzzo. It's a square sort of spaghetti made by pushing pasta dough through a contraption of wires called a chitarra, literally a guitar. Try it with the lamb and sweet pepper sauce. The pasta on the right is chitarra sauced with asparagus and the famous red garlic of sulmona.
My favorite salami is Ventricina, a specialty made of coarsely chopped pork, sweet and spicy pepper, black pepper and wild fennel seed. Sometimes a little orange peel is added. I've found a spreadable version of Ventricina in Sulmona, almost like a pinkish Calabrian 'Nduja.
Bourbon and French rule around Teramo left vestiges of the common French andouille (tripe sausage) the Italians turned into Nnuje.
For other food specialties of the Abruzzo, see the Abruzzo Food and Drink Guide.
Wines are predominantly Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (red) and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (white). These days, the wines might surprise you, as the industry has recently upped its game and is producing some aged and complex wines from these grapes. The bottles you get for cheap in an American chain liquor store don't represent what they're serving in a good restaurant in the Abruzzo these days.
Abruzzo International Airport is located about 4 km from the center of Pescara. The next closest airport in in Rome.
My preferred time to visit the Abruzzo is spring, because you'll see this spectacular land green and floral like this in April:
In May the cherries blossom. Since it is cooler in summer, that's not a bad time go to either.
Here is an average high and low temperature graph in Fahrenheit for your travel planning; the data is from Sulmona, at 400 meters above sea level: