Abruzzo could be Italy’s best kept secret


I grew up with the word Abruzzo but didn’t know what it meant. The older generation, whose parents were born in Italy, often spoke words that I did not understand. Words of emphasis, words of food, sometimes whispered words. As I got older I realized that Abruzzo is a place and not just any place, it is the most beautiful place in all of Italy, spoken lovingly with watery eyes by immigrants who wondered if they would ever return to their place of birth.

The first time I looked it up, I found it on a map. Italy has 20 regions; some like Tuscany and Sicily are known. Others like Abruzzo, which lies between the sea to the east and Lazio (home of the city of Rome) to the west, are unknown to most travelers. In a land of UNESCO-listed monuments and iconic cities, Abruzzo has neither. But it is precisely the lack of a traditional tourist infrastructure that makes Abruzzo so attractive to me – and that makes it ideal as the latest selection in our series on underrated travel destinations, It’s Still a Big World.

For as long as I can remember, I have longed to go to Abruzzo. When my mom retired there was only one place we both wanted to go to mark the milestone. We found a cooking school Abruzzo Cibus, in a medieval hilltop village called Carunchio, 600 inhabitants. A vision quickly emerged: a week in a hilltop palace in our family’s home region, whipping eggs into flour for fresh pasta dough, trying our way through a local cheese shop and learning the traditional recipes of our ancestors. As soon as we imagined this mother-daughter cooking vacation, it became irresistible: we booked straight away.

We flew to Rome in May and giggled like two schoolgirls with excitement when the plane took off. A driver from the cooking school picked us up at the airport and we set out on the three-hour drive to Abruzzo. Carunchio first comes into view from a distance on a hill. It’s a stone-walled village with red terracotta roofs and a charming church with a tall bell tower at the top of the hill. As the van began climbing switchbacks, the village’s wildflowers, crooked streets, stone steps and old wooden doors came into view. Carunchio is a long way from Italy of t-shirts and jewelry; there are church bells and linen hung on lines and a simple wooden table in the shade of a trellis.

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“Abruzzo has no well-known brand or emblematic landmark, there are no big cities,” said Massimo Criscio, host and owner of Abruzzo Cibuswho met us on arrival in his 12 room palazzo. “The Abruzzo is already hidden in Italy and Carunchio is hiding in the hidden place. This can be very attractive for certain travelers. ”As we got out of the van at dusk, we were greeted by a wide view back over the grassy slopes of the valley. “In Carunchio, the locals don’t even expect tourists. You are surprised to see tourists, ”Massimo told me. “This is a very different experience than in other parts of Italy.”

Within an hour of arrival, we moved into our cozy room on Palazzo Tour d’Eau, a magnificent house from 1730, and went out onto the terrace for an aperitif. Was it just jet lagging or was the spritz we drank while lounging around sunset the best spritz I’ve ever tried? After a welcome dinner with pasta, free flowing Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and conversations with our classmates from the cooking school, we sank into a deep sleep that not even the morning church bells could disturb.

The next day, I wanted to find my way around the village before breakfast and a cooking class, so my mom and I put our trainers on. We walked down steep stone stairs and alleys so narrow that we could smell morning coffee on the stove, practically peer into the villagers’ windows and listen to their insistent conversations. We were the only customers in the central bar / cafe and the bartender took time to steam milk for our morning cappuccino. We sat outside at a tiny table and watched the locals go by, enjoying the cool morning breeze and the peace and quiet and a growl in our stomachs as we knew a day of good food was ahead of us.

Back at the palazzo, it was time to cook. When we entered the kitchen of the cooking school, we were greeted by a wood stove with fragrant, smoldering logs and tables with knives and tea towels next to bright eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Italy is, of course, a country of regional cuisine, and Abruzzo The food has its own style and taste. This region with its history of poverty is known for its rural dishes. “Our kitchen is straightforward, it’s about taste,” says Massimo Criscio. “We use a very small amount of ingredients, but each ingredient has to be top notch. If we use a tomato, it has to be the best tomato. “

During the week we cooked a menu of fine rural cuisine, including several vegetarian dishes such as pallotte cacio e uova, or bread and cheese dumplings in a sauce made from peppers, tomatoes and onions. We tried a local hot mix of spices called pepe tread, waved over spaghetti, that was wonderfully simple and yet surprising. (“It has to be simple, it has to be spicy,” said Massimo.) We rolled Cavatelli by hand and brought stale bread to life. So much life? I watched my mother with one of the biggest smiles on my face that I had ever seen; she fell asleep with that smile on her face even at night.

This 7 day cooking holiday offered plenty of time to process pasta dough and bake almond biscotti and learn about local DOC wines during a sommelier-led wine class, but the trip also included several trips to Abruzzo. We walked through an olive grove, came near a traditional olive press and tasted extra virgin olive oil at the source. We visited a cheese maker to witness the process of making it caciocavallo Cheese is made from start to finish. We tasted our way through the regional flavors that our ancestors would have missed so much when they left Abruzzo for America.

The most noticeable excursion was to the Adriatic coast and the town of Vasto, where my maternal family comes from. This stretch of coast is home to the traditional trabocchi, or fishermen’s houses. These spindly wooden structures on stilts, which were once used for fishing, are now being converted into simple restaurants. Entering the dock to go traboko On a sunny afternoon we were surrounded by the different colors of the Adriatic Sea, the sound of the sea breeze and the melody of the local dialect.

In these fishermen’s houses, an open-air deck is the setting for a seafood lunch. Where our ancestors once fished sardines and sea bass, we feast on crudo with olive oil and lemon; tiny fish, beaten and fried into a crispy bite; and salty seafood noodles. There are too few really perfect afternoons in life, but this one was one of them and besides the pleasures of the food and the cold white wine and the company, these hours also offered a feeling of education and connection with our roots.

Visitors who are interested in the trabocchi Coastline can do this by bike too; one new bike path recently opened and follows a former railway line along the coast. The trail stretches from Vasto north towards Pescara, a distance of 42 kilometers with views of the sea, the beaches and the trabocchi. Back at the Palazzo, Abruzzo Cibus guests can recover from a long bike ride in the new on-site spa, which features three outdoor hot tubs, a steam room, and an all-glass sauna on a hill with panoramic views (massages and spa treatments including facials are available) .

On our last night in Carunchio we put on aprons one last time to roll out pizza dough for the wood-burning oven. I had spent more time with my mother – talking about hopes, happy memories, and hardships – than I had all year before. We gathered around a table for scorching hot pizza from the oven, wine glasses always full, accordion music and laughter. There’s a reason people dream about Italy, why it’s always at the top of travelers’ wish lists. The joys are simple, and maybe even more so when you choose to explore regions that travelers sometimes overlook. That night I fell asleep, grateful that our ancestors had led us there.


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