Italy is no doubt one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Still the country has areas which are largely undiscovered (and unspoiled) by tourists, Abruzzo being one of them.
Some of the reasons why Abruzzo is not a popular tourist destination are understandable: The area is not easy to reach. Pescara, which is the commercial capital of Abruzzo, has an airport but it is served only by a few airlines. The heart of Abruzzo, L’Acquila, requires a further drive through winding mountain passes. The area is earthquake-prone and the last one, only in 2009, left several of the most historical architectural masterpieces destroyed.
But none of these facts should stop you from travelling to Abruzzo.
The area’s nature is very striking – the sea, mountains, lakes, forests, vast plains, mountain villages. I don’t think there are many places in the world where you can be one minute lying on the beach and the next making your way up high mountain peaks.
The lifestyle of Abruzzis is modest, rustic and very authentically Italian. I’ve been always very impressed how proud and passionate the Abruzzis are of their land, their food and their produce. No single tomato is just a tomato but it has always a story behind it: who produced it, what kind of soil did it feed from, is it the right season to enjoy it. This notion of living hand-in-hand with the nature is such a delight to me, and such a contrast to the life in the UK where, most often than not, vegetables are wrapped up in plastic, available any season but filled with so little taste.
The weather in Abruzzo is gentle thanks to the mountains and constant sea breeze. The highest peaks are covered with snow during the winter so it’s even possible to do a ski holiday in the area.
During my first visits to Abruzzo, I stayed in my boyfriend’s relatives’ neighbourhood in Lanciano. This time we decided to go on a roadtrip and discover some parts of Abruzzo where I had not been before.
Abruzzo, just like the most of Italy, is equipped with rather good road network – as long as you feel comfortable in participating in a road race. We found ourselves on a big autostrada heading from Pescara to Bolpoli. Within an hour we had reached our first destination, Castel Del Monte.
We climbed up to the old town which dates back to the Roman times. The old town is very rustic, modest but largely abandoned. We enjoyed spotting little architectural details on the streets and stopped to have a delicious plate of pasta in one of the simple restaurants. Unlike some of the famous Tuscan ancient towns such as Sienna, where you are surrounded by tourist crowds, Castel Del Monte gives you a chance for solitude in a place less “discovered”.
From Castel Del Monte our roadtrip continued to Santo Stefano di Sessanio, which was our home for one night. Santo Stefano is by far the most beautiful mountain village I have visited in Italy. Nestled between mountains, this medieval town is so tiny that it hardly takes 10 minutes to do a full circle around it. But also so fascinating that one could just as easily lose hours, days or months to soak up the atmosphere which you feel like hasn’t changed in the past hundred of years. Then there are all the numerous hikes you can do in the surrounding mountains.
We stayed in Albergo Diffuso di Sextantio, where else. This famous and possibly the only hotel in Santo Stefano is marketed in many boutique hotel guides. The hotel offers a unique experience which is hard to find elsewhere.
I felt like staying inside a museum setting of medieval Italy: A room inside an ancient stone construct. A wooden door locked with a key so large that I needed a special purse to carry it around with me. A tiny window covered with old shutters. A quilt folded on a bed which reminded me of something I had seen at my grandparents’ house when I was little. A rustic fireplace.
This hotel was an apt setting to stay in a place like Santo Stefano. Its cantina had a fabulous timeless atmosphere, and breakfast table was served with the most delicious treats. I really enjoyed living through this romantic experience but truthfully after one night I was happy to move on and find some more modern premises.
From Santo Stefano we continued our road trip south, visiting Sulmona and passing by stunning lakes Lago di Scanno and Lago di San Domenico.
We were heading towards Castel di Sangro where we had the second stop of our road trip. I had booked us in to the hotel Casadonna which housed a cookery school and a Michelin star restaurant Ristorante Reale.
The hotel, which was surrounded by the hotel’s own vineyards and farmland, was super beautiful with impeccable minimalist, somewhat Scandinavian inspired decoration. The service was fantastic, too, as we were one of the few guests staying in the hotel. Most visitors seemed to just come for the evening to enjoy the cooking of Niko Romito, a fantastic chef of Ristorante Reale who we briefly met after the dinner.
It was worthwhile to stay the night in the hotel Casadonna even just to experience the hotel breakfast. The staff wanted to know the time when we wish to eat our breakfast which I thought was a little strange at the time but in the morning it all made sense. The waiters had laid out an impressive breakfast table for us. Italian pastries, fresh juice, ricotta cheese, berry compote and home-made yoghurt. Everything was again impeccably served and laid out.
Our road trip may have been just three days but I felt like I had seen and experienced so much during that time and gained a further insight into my boyfriend’s family’s homeland and background. I am looking forward to my next visit to Abruzzo already!
Contrada Santa Liberata, 67031 Castel Di Sangro, Italy
Tel: 0039 0864 69382
Via Civita 28, 75100 Matera, Italy
Tel:0039 0835 332744
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