Discovering Italy’s Abruzzo Region
Mountain ranges, the countryside, walking,
and hearty local food and wine epitomises the Abruzzo region. One hundred
kilometers from Rome, at the heart of Italy the bear is the symbol of the
Abruzzo National Park, once a Royal hunting reserve where bears and wolves still
roam. A delight for lovers of the outdoor life where, in autumn, with the sun
still shining the leaves are a blaze of colour and where, in winter, there are
numerous ski slopes.
Common to all villages is the main square
with a fountain at its centre, accessed via narrow cobbled streets. During the
summer, they compete to be the prettiest so houses are covered with cascading
In the village of Pescasseroli, owners of
food shops came out to entice visitors to taste the local food, pecorino cheese
made from sheep’s milk; crudo, ultra-thin smoked slices of ham; and cornmeal
cake made with either hazelnuts or almonds. In the restaurants the local red Montepulciano
d’Abruzzo is served in carafes while the better quality wine is by the bottle.
An animal rescue centre cares for wild, injured animals. that are cared for
until they can be returned back into the wild. Sadly not all are considered safe
to be released. Lauretta, the local Marsican brown bear found as a cub in 1994,
has been kept there ever since.
At Civitella Alfedena a museum is devoted
to wolves with an enclosed large wild reserve bordering on the man-made Lake
Barrea, which is home to a pack of wolves. Apparently a couple of wolves that
subsequently mated were rescued and had cubs. It was felt they wouldn’t be able
to protect themselves in the wild. We visited as night was falling, the best
time to see the animals. Sure enough, although at a distance, I was able to see
several of them from a road above the reserve.
In Pescocostanzo we ate at Locanda Tre
Frati in what used to be a 16th century Franciscan monastery. The village
was rebuilt after a volcanic irruption in the 15th century, and the
streets in the old part are paved with volcanic rock. I was able to climb up to
where the original settlement would have been, not to see the ruins, but for
the panoramic view of the valley below.
In the northern part of Abruzzo, the medieval
town of L’Aquila was largely destroyed in the earthquake of 2009. However in
the last couple of years the area has become a building site. The restoration
project uses the latest techniques for buildings to resist tremors if there is
a similar occurrence. Completion is hoped for by 2019. A short walk from the
centre the exterior of the town’s most important church, the 13th
century Basilica di Collemaggio, the
Church of Celestino V, known as the Pope of the Poor. has remained intact. As
well as restoring the buildings as much as possible to look as they did
originally Rome’s MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Art
& Architecture is opening an off-shoot in one of the restored palaces.
Near the train station six
kilometers of the town’s original walls remain intact. Within its boundaries,
is an enclosure known as the Fountain of the 99 Spouts, which dates back to
1275, and is where the locals came to wash their clothes. For me one of the
most endearing moments of my visit was seeing a huge furry dog sitting by the
door of my hotel. On further enquiry, I learned that she lives in the nearby
park, where the local municipality has built several kennels for stray dogs. Within
this park, a castle built by the Spanish in the 16th century as a
fortress, houses the town’s museum.
Worth noting in this part of Italy that
breakfast rather than being leisurely is a quick meal, usually coffee with
something sweet, such as cake. The main meal is at lunchtime when portions, cooked
using local ingredients, are substantial. It is very normal to have a pasta
dish, with freshly made pasta, in between the starter and main course. Saffron,
which is grown locally in Navelli an area near L’Aquila is used frequently
giving their pasta and risotto a yellow colour.
The roads are winding, and driving up and
down a mountain will take longer than a straight road so its something worth
remembering when calculating distances. For lovers of nature, the mountains are there to be enjoyed. What
makes this region so special is that, in every village there is something
special, different, or just part of history that is waiting to be discovered.
Natasha flew to Rome. Access to the area is also possible via Naples and Pescara.
www.heathrowexpress.com - The non-stop train takes 15 minutes from Paddington Station to Heathrow Airport.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hedonistic Hiking.