I love a travel bargain, especially when least expected, and the Abruzzo region of Italy is both an incredible and amazing deal. How this beautiful area isn’t overrun with visitors and high prices is a bit of a mystery to me, but I’m thrilled to take it for what it is. I suspect you (and your wallet) will love it as much as I do.
Abruzzo is a region in south-central Italy, east of Rome. It consists of four provinces: L’Aquila, Teramo, Pescara and Chieti. There are numerous transport links from Rome, including trains, buses and even carpooling. I recently planned a trip and was pleasantly surprised that ridesharing was able to get me to my destination at a fraction of the time and cost of the train. I take it! You can also reach Abruzzo from eastern Italy (there are trains from Venice and Bologna to Pescara) and the south (via direct buses from Naples). Abruzzo airportin Pescara, serves international flights and is becoming increasingly popular with low-cost airlines such as Ryanair.
But Abruzzo is much more than its transport routes. The motto of the region is forte e gentile, means “gentle and kind”, and I think that captures the spirit of the area perfectly. Here are some of the reasons why Abruzzo will make you swoon.
1. It is calm and quiet
While I wouldn’t go so far as to call Abruzzo sleepy (it’s next-door neighbor to Rome, after all), this is a quiet region.
To be fair, Abruzzo has big cities (Pescara is home to around 120,000 people), bustling seaports, and bustling towns, but the general atmosphere is calm and tranquil, especially as you venture away from the coast and towards the rugged interior . The province of L’Aquila has one of the lowest population densities in Italy, with an average of 150 inhabitants per square kilometer. In some areas, visitors may simply be outnumbered because…
2. Abruzzo is Europe’s capital of nature
Abruzzo is the heart of untouched Italian nature. Foxes, porcupines, wild cats, wild boars, badgers, otters and even bears and wolves live in the region. It is also one of the few places to see the Pyrenean chamois. The chamois, a small, reddish-brown goat antelope, was once almost wiped out to make chamois leather, but has since recovered.
Abruzzo’s animals find shelter in the region’s three national parks, as well as in several regional parks and game reserves. Together these protected zones make up half of the country of Abruzzo, and the area has been nicknamed ‘Europe’s greenest region’.
3. There are spectacular national parks
There are also three national parks in Abruzzo: Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park (often just called Abruzzo National Park), Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park and Maiella National Park.
Abruzzo National Park
Established in 1922–1923, the Abruzzo National Park provides important protected habitat to several endangered species including wolves, bears and chamois. It is an excellent bird watching site and is home to six nesting pairs of golden eagles. Visitors to the park enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing, hiking, and horseback riding.
Gran Sasso National Park and Monti Della Laga
The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park is home to the southernmost glacier in Europe, the Calderone. There are more than 120 miles of dedicated trails for horseback riding, and the area is equally famous for snow, skiing, and mountaineering. When this relatively young park was designated in 1991, a number of tiny centuries-old communities were within the park boundaries. Now Gran Sasso is as popular for its village attractions as it is for its natural ones.
Maiella National Park
The Maiella National Park is a scientific marvel. From 1998 to 2005 it was home to a major international geological research project known as Task Force Majellaand in 2001 it was called a UNESCO Global Geopark. However, you don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy this beautiful destination. The park is home to more than 300 miles of hiking trails and is an excellent spot for caving (and to see cave paintings!).
4. It’s also a foodie hot spot
Is there a part of Italy that isn’t delicious? If so, I haven’t found it. In a land of culinary dominance, Abruzzo cuisine really stands out. There is a strong emphasis on goat and lamb, reflecting the region’s agricultural and ranching heritage. The region is Italy’s saffron capital, and the prized saffron crocuses grow along the Navelli Plateau near L’Aquila. Abruzzo is also famous for licorice, which has been harvested in the area since Roman times.
Other local favorites include confetti di sulmona: icing-coated almonds, often brightly colored and arranged to look like pretty flower petals. “guitar spaghetti” Spaghetti alla guitara is another hallmark of Abruzzo. It’s named for the guitar-shaped device that slices eggnoodle spaghetti into a square shape instead of the typical rounded edges of traditional spaghetti.
5. Abruzzo is a master of winemaking
Wines from Abruzzo don’t have the same buzz as, say, Tuscany, but they’re hugely popular with wine connoisseurs (and that lack of big-name recognition means plenty of bargains). You may have already tasted Abruzzo’s best grapes without knowing it, as about two-thirds of the region’s annual wine harvest is actually sold to other Italian regions to supplement their own production.
The most famous wine of Abruzzo is the red wine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (not to be confused with a similar-sounding Tuscan name) and white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Fans of rosé will want to try it Cerasuolo, which is made from the Montepulciano grape in vineyards in the mountainous hinterland of Abruzzo. These wines are typically a deep, light cherry pink color – definitely different from your usual rosé at home!
6. You can explore Homey Hill Towns
One of my favorite things to do in all of Italy is exploring a mountain town. Ranging from small communities with limited amenities to bustling cities with tourist-friendly services, these scenic destinations are always charming and fun to explore. Some notable places are:
Castle del Monte
Castel del Monte means “fortress of the mountain”, and evidence of human habitation dates from the 11th century BC. However, the town you see today, with its huge defensive walls, dates back to the 16th century. Today the small hamlet is recognized by about 500 inhabitants I Borghi più belli d’Italia, Italy’s official association of its most beautiful villages. It’s also a leading Slow Food cheese-making company and is known for its annual August festival, where the entire community takes part in a folk tale re-enactment known as La Notte delle Streghe, or ‘The Night of the Witches’.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio
Located in the Gran Sasso National Park, this mountain village has just over 100 inhabitants. Like its neighbor Castel del Monte, Santo Stefano of Sessanio Named one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and recognized by the Slow Food movement for its gourmet lentils. There’s even a lentil festival every year! Every September the Sagra delle Lenticchie celebrates the village’s most famous meal.
The hotel accommodations here are unique. A program called albergo diffusion has a central check-in area, but the hotel rooms themselves are in multiple locations throughout the community.
Also in the Gran Sasso National Park, this community of about 1,300 people is famous for maiolicas, a type of decorative pottery that was once all the rage among European nobles. castelli remains popular with ceramists and artists and is home to a ceramics museum (the Museo Delle Ceramiche) and a prestigious 17th-century church, San Donato.
7. It’s an underrated archaeological hotspot
Some of Italy’s finest archaeological finds are found in Abruzzo, but the area tends to be overshadowed by more famous and robust sites like Pompeii, Rome and Tuscany. But the city of Chieti houses a true archaeological jewel, the National Archaeological Museum of Abruzzoand its precious treasure, the statue of the warrior of Capestrano, which dates back to the 6th century BC. B.C. and is in excellent condition.
In the town of Teramo you will find the Teramo Cathedral (where construction began in 1158), an archaeological museum and a Roman theater. And in the town of L’Aquila that is National Museum of Abruzzo, Exhibits include artifacts from Roman times, medieval and modern art, and even a giant skeleton of one Archidiskon meridionalis, a type of prehistoric elephant. The museum was based in the 16th-century Castello dell’Aquila but had to be relocated after a devastating earthquake in 2009 – and as of May 2022 the Castello dell’Aquila itself is undergoing a full restoration.
Not all of Abruzzo’s ancient history can be found in one museum. In fact, some of the region’s most significant cultural practices still take place today, albeit in a limited form. The best known of all is the transumanza, a seasonal movement of sheep flocks dating back to the region’s earliest times as a grazing area. The activity is still practiced today and is often celebrated at community festivals.