Where To Go ? What To See ?
Abruzzo doesn’t have the renaissance wonders of Florence; or the unique surroundings of Venice; or the prime bucket-list sights of Rome; or the scary traffic and slightly edgy atmosphere of Naples.
Neither does it have their crowds. Nor their prices.
You do Abruzzo at your own pace, and yes – there are some astonishing surprises waiting for you to discover.
They’re all within easy reach – and you won’t have to elbow your way through any crowds to see what you want to see.
Dating back to 600BC and only rediscovered in 1934, is the immensely imposing – and incredibly well-preserved – 2m tall statue known as ‘The Capestrano Warrior’. Thought to have originally ‘guarded’ the tomb of a local king, the Warrior – who was carved with a full array of armour and weapons – is displayed with great atmosphere and presence at the National Archeologic Museum in our regional capital Chieti. He’s protected here only by infra-red rays and an alarm goes off if you try to touch him. (As we discovered…)
The Museum is extremely well-presented and small enough to be approachable, with excellent displays of Abruzzo’s heritage from pre-history to Roman times.
A little tip: The Museum doesn’t close at lunchtime, so if you turn up in the early afternoon, it’ll be like walking around your own private collection…
There are three especially good Roman sites in easy reach. The nearest – a little under an hour away – is Iuvanum. To the north-west of L’Aquila is Amiternum. Just off the A25 on the way to – or from – Rome, north of Avezzano, is Alba Fucens.
Iuvanum and Alba Fucens are the most accessible. Essentially, arrive and walk around. Though it has a great number of scattered remains, Iuvanum perhaps doesn’t have the instant impact of the other two, but give it a little time and the plan of the roads and buildings of what was a sizeable Roman town will start to reveal itself.
Alba Fucens offers a well-preserved Arena – and more that’s instantly accessible. As does Amiternum, with a Roman Theatre and an Arena a kilometre away. Of the three, Amiternum is the only active archeological site, which can be a problem as both the Theatre and Arena are fenced off, with no regular, set opening times – though a little research nearer any planned visit should reveal if you’ll be able to get in.
There’s no doubting that Abruzzo is richly served by its antiquities from the medieval period – especially round the regional capital L’Aquila Perhaps the jewel in its crown is the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio. Dating from the late 13th century, the Basilica is justly famed for the extraordinary beauty of its facade,while inside is the tomb of Pope Celestine V.
The ‘Fountain of the 99 Spouts’ – about ten minutes away from the Basilica – dates from the same late 13th century period, and is steeped in mystery and legend. Each of the 99 spouts is different and to this day, nobody is quite sure of the source of the water that pours from them.
According to legend, the Fountain’s architect – Tancredi of Pentima – is buried somewhere behind its red-and-white chequer-board stones, either for refusing to name the source of the water – or to ensure that he could never build another Fountain to rival this.
Look carefully – and you’ll see a Knight’s Templar cross carved into one of the white stones. Randomly-placed (or not ?) within the pattern, its significance is unknown.
Just to the north of the spa town of Caramanico Terme in the Majella National Park, you’ll find the early 13th century church of San Tommaso, dedicated to the English saint Thomas a’ Becket.
Some wonderful medieval wall paintings are inside, but perhaps the outstanding attraction is the carved lintel of Christ and the Apostles above the main door. Considering its great antiquity, this has an extraordinarily modern feel.
A drive from San Tommaso through the Majella National Park will bring you to the village of Pacentro and the famous ‘twin towers’ of Cantelmo Castle. Pacentro is a pretty – and very walkable – little village and boasts a restaurant – La Taverna dei Caldora – which claims to be a favourite of George Clooney, who made his film The American in this area.
(Then again, so does every other place nearby where George ate during his stay…)
But if we’re talking castles, Abruzzo’s most famous and iconic is the 10th century Rocca Calascio, which looms over the Campo Imperatore in the Gran Sasso. At nearly 5000 feet up, it’s the highest castle in Italy, but reachable (nearly – and with a little care) by car.
There’s then a not-too-demanding walk of 15-20 minutes uphill for your reward of incredible views and a full-on photo-opportunity that won’t be rivalled during your stay.
But if heights aren’t for you, stay at…
Abruzzo has nearly 100 miles of coastline – and much of that is blue-flag beach, a European-wide standard denoting the highest standards of water quality, safety and cleanliness.
We’re around half-an-hour from the coast, and your choice of either shingle or sand beaches.
No getting away from the fact that from mid-July until the end of August, the beaches get incredibly busy – but outside those periods, (and especially in June and September), the crowds just melt away; parking’s easier; and the food in the beach-side cafes arrives quicker !
And even at the seaside, there’s still something to see…
Our stretch of the Adriatic is known as the ‘Costa Trabocchi’- named after the trabocchi – traditional fishing platforms – which were built when local fisherman needed a safe and reliable way to catch fish, when it was too rough to take their boats out to sea.
Not many are still in regular use, and there’s a current trend to transform the larger ones into bars and restaurants. Which can be pricey…
Fairs, Feasts and Feste
Abruzzo’s passion to eat and drink provides a year-round attraction – though much more frequent in summer.
Some occupy fixed dates on the calendar every year. Our own little hamlet of Ascigno celebrates its patron saint on the first Friday and Saturday every September, (when we always take a table and lay on food and wine for Villasfor2 guests at the time.) Always a great evening, rounded-off with spectacular fireworks at midnight.
Casoli breaks out the lights every October 7, 8 and 9. The mountain village of Pennapiedimonte holds a Wild Boar festa throughout every August; there are big medieval pageants in Lanciano from the last Sunday in August to the first Sunday in September.
The village of Filetto hosts a Chilli Festa in August, when even the beer and the chocolate ice-cream have a hot kick added; most of the local wineries hold Cantine Aperte – open house – for you to sample their wares on the last weekend each May; and November sees the arrival of new season wine, olive oil, and roast chestnuts, with a round of fairs to celebrate.
Each event – and the nicest tend to be those that take over an entire village centre – will have a different theme, but all will have the staple ingredients of food, wine, usually music, and always limitless good humour.
It’s one of the best aspects of Abruzzo life that at all the feste we’ve attended since we arrived on 2007, (quite a lot, as they are a key aspect of the local social scene), we’ve never experienced even the tiniest hint of trouble or problems.
If you visit a festa during your stay with us, you’ll always enjoy a safe and friendly atmosphere.
Strictly speaking, it’s not in Abruzzo – though it’s not that far from our boundaries – but if you fancy going just a little further afield, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Tivoli Gardens and Fountains, easily reached off the A25 on the way to Rome, justify every superlative that’s ever been lavished on them. It’s a wonderful day out.
It’s also possible to enjoy a full day out in Rome during your stay here, thanks to a very efficient, non-stop bus service from Lanciano. Ask us for more details.