Vacations in Abruzzo, perhaps the most unchanged region of Italy
Abruzzo is one of the most sparsely populated regions on the Italian peninsula. Always a wild and empty region, since the Second World War it has depopulated further, as people have left the land, and the traditional mainstay of sheep farming, for the cities and for America. A vacation in Abruzzo offers a taste of the unspoiled Italy.
This region, where the north of Italy meets the south, is also one of the most beautiful in the country. Bordered by the Apennines to the west and fringed by the Adriatic on the east, it has some of Italy's most unspoiled scenery. In the Gran Sasso it has the highest mountain of the Apennine range. Stand atop the Gran Sasso and you have views of both the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian (Mediterranean) Seas, across the entire width of Italy. You could journey through the Abruzzo's valleys for days, never encountering another person, and when you travel up to the broad mountain plains of the Abruzzi, you'll meet the eerie sight of entire abandoned hill towns. Plan your holiday in Abruzzo with plenty of time to walk, drive and explore.
The unspoiled heart of Abruzzo
These remote settlements were the centres for the sheep farming that once formed the backbone of the Abruzzi economy. Bleak little structures, made of stone, and seemingly huddled together against the wind, the narrow slit windows give the look of a castle or fortress. And that was part of the purpose too. High up in the mountains, they were safely remote from the continual waves of invaders that swept across early medieval Italy. But if marauders did come, the villagers could retreat behind their thick stone walls.
Descend from the plains and you'll encounter thick forests of chestnut, beech and oak, and a natural population of wolves, chamois, wild cats and golden eagles; there are deer and even bears. Farming in the mountains has pretty much disappeared, but winter sports have created new jobs. In the north, around L'Aquila, there are 22 ski resorts.
Large stretches of western Abruzzo are protected as national parks. There is the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso, the Parco Nazionale della Majella and the Parco Regionale Sirente Velino. The south-west of the region, where Abruzzo meets Lazio, is covered by the Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo.
Abruzzo vacations - good communications
But if sparsely populated, Abruzzo is neither remote nor barren. There are good air and road communications, and you are within easy reach of the motorway network. The A14 coastal motorway puts the coastal towns of Pescara, Ortona and Roseto degli Abruzzi within a few hours' drive of Puglia to the south and Bologna to the north. The A14 intersects with the A24 and A25, which cross the country and meet the A1 north-south motorway, which in turn runs up the west of the region and just east of Rome. The A1 will take you south to Naples or north to Florence and northern Europe.
There is fine coastline and beaches, with good sandy shores to the north, and rockier coastline to the south. The Sette Sorelle (seven sisters) are seven resorts in Teramo province, including Martinsicuro, Silvi and the beaches at Pescara and Francavilla al Mare. With good stretches of sand, night clubs and some excellent accommodation, and the modern marina at Pescara, this part of the coast contrasts dramatically with the more untamed southern stretches around Ortona, Vasto and Termoli. Here, the Mediterranean vegetation reaches down to the sea, and little fishing villages still follow their old trade. Between San Vito and Fossacesia you'll see the travocchi, little fishing huts raised on piles, and still used today by the fishermen.
Holidays in Abruzzo - the history
Until 1963, Abruzzo and neighbouring Molise to the south formed one region called 'Abruzzi' and you'll still hear this name used today. During Napoleonic times the region was split into the provinces of Abruzzo Ulteriore I (now Teramo), Abruzzo Ulteriore II (now L'Aquila) and Abruzzo Citeriore (Chieti).
The first inhabitants we know of in what is now Abruzzo were the Picenians. One of the Italic tribes which inhabited the Italian peninsula in pre-Christian times (others included the Equians, Vestinians, Praetutians and Marsians), they were unceremoniously crushed by the military might of Rome in 90BC.
Roman historian Sallust was born in the region around 86BC and the poet Ovid in 43BC. Other famous sons include St B ernadino of Siena, who died in the Abruzzo mountains in 1441. The father of the English pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an Abruzzi, as was Gabriele D'Annunzio, the poet and military hero of the Italian Risorgimento.
Abruzzo, L'Aquila and the Gran Sasso
The town of L'Aquila, as well as being a gateway to the ski resorts and sitting at the entrance to the Gran Sasso national park, has a fascinating history. At the foot of Gran Sasso itself, the town was founded by German Emperor Frederick II in 1242. He pulled the people of 99 local villages together to form a new city. Each village had its own part of town, each with its own piazza and church. Only two of the churches remain, though the town-hall bell chimes 99 times every night.
Abruzzo has a superb and very distinctive cuisine. Main courses include maccheroni all chitarra and scrippelle'mbuse, thin pancakes sprinkled with sheep's milk cheese and cinnamon. Timballi are savoury rice or pasta baked in moulds; legend has it that this dish was brought to Teramo by a Breton sailor who deserted from Napoleon's army, who married and settled in the town. May Day sees the preparation of virtu, which includes seven types of meat, seven types of dry pulses, seven types of vegetables, seven shapes of pasta and seven seasonings ... the whole lot cooked for seven hours. On May Day in Teramo, virtu is sold in the streets of Teramo.
Apart from the elaborate virtu, the hallmark of Abruzzo cooking is simplicity. Sheep, pork and kid are the basis of most of the meat dishes. And in this peasant culture every part of the animal is used. You may or may not decide to try sheep's head and there are imaginative uses for sweetbreads and offal. Even the blood of the pig is used: sweetened with cocoa this sanguinaccio is used as a spread on slices of bread.
Jump directly to an area of interest in Abruzzo:
A map of Abruzzo:
FEATURED ACCOMMODATION IN ABRUZZO
Holiday in Abruzzo - a trip back in time
Turkey, rabbit and stuffed fowl are other mainstays, and the long expanse of Adriatic coastline provides bountiful seafood and the classic local dish of brodetto: fish soup. The town of Pescara even owes its name to the Italian for fish (pesce). The wines will be familiar to visitors, with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo reds and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo whites. There is Ratafia, a wine made from black cherries fermented under the sun, and the Doppo Arancia orange liqueur.
Holiday in Abruzzo - must sees
Abruzzo's castles - start at the fairytale castle of L'Aquila, then explore more than two dozen more within 35 miles of the city, including Ocre, Celano, Castel di Ieri, Gagliano Aterno and Fontecchio. A holiday in Abruzzo or a holiday in fairyland?
Atri - rolling, olive-planted hills give way to the calanchi, smooth clay gullies creating a dreamlike landscape. And finally the hilltop town of Atri, with its museums, cathedrals and marvellous frescoes. An essential stop during your Abruzzi vacation.
The Corno Grande - the highest mountain in the Gran Sasso massif ... and indeed the highest mountain in Italy. From this vantage point you can gaze west to the Mediterranean and east to the Adriatic. Hiking holidays in the Gran Sasso are a superb way to explore Abruzzo.