Abruzzo

To the east of Lazio, about halfway down the Italian peninsula on the Adriatic side, is Abruzzo. This sparsely populated, hilly/mountainous region has remained largely unchanged for centuries and is a great place for walking and hiking, and for communing with nature. Wolves, bears and wild cats live in the ancient forests of Abruzzo, although they are very wary of humans and you will be lucky to see any of them. Several excellent national parks (see below) protect these creatures and the other wonderful animals and plants that inhabit this region.

 

Historically, this area was divided into three parts: Abruzzo Citeriore (now Chieti province), Abruzzo Ulteriore I (now Teramo and Pescara) and Abruzzo Ulteriore II (now L'Aquila). Collectively, these were known as gli Abruzzi - the plural of Abruzzo - and you will still hear this form today, although in 1963 the boundaries changed and today the area is two regions, Abruzzo and, to the south, Molise.

 

Despite its central location, Abruzzo is officially classed as Southern Italy. Over the past decade or two, the shift away from agriculture towards industry, services and tourism has led to an improvement in the region's economy. Although it is still poor compared to the northern regions, Abruzzo is up and coming.

 

The vast majority of Abruzzo's depleted population lives by or near the sea, with the result that the coast has been developed far more than the rest of the region. Inland, you can find extraordinarily well preserved castles and, indeed, whole villages, which have been there for many hundreds of years. Preservation, of historical buildings and traditions as well as of wildlife, is taken seriously.

 

The earthquake that struck L'Aquila, the region's capital, in 2009 was, of course, terrible. However, the damage was restricted to the city and the surrounding villages and, contrary to the impression given by the media, did not extend to the whole region. What was destroyed is slowly being rebuilt. The vast majority of Abruzzo remains unshaken and is there for you to explore.

 

 

 

What to see and do in Abruzzo

Enjoy the mountains

Abruzzo's mountains are diverse and lend themselves to a variety of activities: walking, hiking and climbing for both beginners and experts; downhill and cross-country skiing; horse-riding; or just enjoying the views and the proximity to nature.

 

A third of Abruzzo is made up of national parks, which means both natural and man-made history and beauty are well preserved. The parks are all well organised and each has its own atmosphere and characterists.

 

The Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise is a conservation area of nearly 200 square miles. Within it, you'll find mountains, rivers, towns, forests and exceptional wildlife.

 

The Parco Nazionale della Majella is even bigger than the Abruzzo National Park, wilder and less managed.

 

The Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, taking in parts of Abruzzo, Le Marche and Lazio, is one of Italy's largest national parks and contains the Corno Grande, the tallest peak of the Apennines and, in fact, the highest mountain in Italy.

 

Enjoy the sea

As well as mountains, Abruzzo has a long coastline, popular with Italian holiday-makers. In the north of the region, the beaches are sandy and carefully kept, with sunloungers and so on for tourists. Further south, the coast gets rockier and more dramatic, with steep cliffs, caves and promontories.

 

Explore the cities and towns

L'Aquila is, sadly, not what it was before the earthquake. However, to spur recovery and regeneration, the city is a candidate to be a European Capital of Culture in 2019.

 

Abruzzo coastPescara is the biggest and busiest conurbation in Abruzzo, though - sadly again - it was badly damaged by bombs in World War Two. These days, it is a modern, happening city with useful transport links, good shopping, vibrant nightlife and a long, sandy beach. The controversial poet, writer and journalist Gabriele d'Annunzio was a native of Pescara.

 

Teramo, nicely positioned with easy access to both the Gran Sasso mountains and the coast, is an interesting place in itself. It has Roman remains, several stunning churches and the mysterious Castello della Monica, which unfortunately can only be seen from the outside.

 

Sulmona is famous for being the birthplace of the Roman poet Ovid (Ovidio), as well as for the production of confetti (sugar-coated almonds used as wedding favours).

 

 

 

Eating and drinking in Abruzzo

The food in Abruzzo is fresh and delicious. If this cuisine is not widely raved about, it's only because not enough people have tried it. Most of the great Italian cooks and chefs come from this region, many of them from the town of Villa Santa Maria, where there is a prestigious hotel-management school and a long tradition of embracing the art of cookery.

 

In the mountains, lamb is the most frequently served meat, though goat and pork are also popular. At the coast, of course, it's mainly fish. A regional speciality is chitarra (guitar) pasta, so named because the strips are cut using an implement shaped like a guitar. You'll also find a variety of marvellous local cheeses.

 

Something to watch out for is that Abruzzese cooking is much spicier than that of the northern Italian regions. Peperoncino, dried red chili peppers, is used in abundance and packs quite a punch.

 

The wines from Abruzzo are excellent and accessibly priced. The best known is the red Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

 

Recommended reading from Abruzzo

Ignazio Silone

A communist leader during the fascist regime, Ignazio Silone wrote powerful novels about the plight of the poor in Abruzzo. Although questions have been raised recently about whether he was also a spy, there is no doubt that Silone's work is an important testament to the struggles going on in the region at that time. I've read several of his books and definitely recommend them. The Abruzzo Trilogy comprises three of his most famous novels.

 

For more information about Abruzzo...

Buy a guide book for travelling around Abruzzo.

 

Check out this website:

Abruzzo Turismo (in English)

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