Three hours east of Rome lies the quiet unassuming region of Abruzzo. With clean air, majestic mountains and hilltop towns dating to the medieval and renaissance period, this region possesses a beauty that has to be seen to be believed. Framed by both the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic coastline, you get the best of both Italy’s iconic landscapes in one area.
We made our journey from Abruzzo from Rome via car. Negotiating Italian drivers on the high-speed autostrada is always a bit of fun and the pit stops at the Italian road houses makes the journey all the more enjoyable! You can get some of the best coffee and snacks at these roadhouses, from sliced focaccia with mortadella to mozzarella and basil-topped pizzette.
Both Eugenio’s parents were born in a tiny town named Fontelecassa. Their meeting is a classic Italian love story – they were both raised on the same street just houses away from one another before they met and were married when they were young – true amore! Eugenio’s mother still has her two sisters living in the area, so all together we made the pilgrimage to spend time with our Abruzesse family.
Eugenio is very familiar with the area, spending his childhood holidays here, and it was by memory that he found his aunt and uncle’s house when we visited. We were welcomed by the two family dogs as we parked our van and we were all instantly overcome by emotion as we saw Eugenio’s cousins and his mum greet us with true Italian spirit. It was a feeling of coming home – even though hardly anyone in this region speaks English there was no need for any interpretation (for the non-Italians in the group such as me!) as the love and kindness could definitely be felt.
Their family stone house is something out of a picture book – it is so beautiful. Surrounded by bountiful vegetable patches, winding vineyards and ripe fruit trees it is rustic and real. Chickens roam freely and a bunny rabbit is endearingly protected by one of the dogs and ducks waddle across the green lawn as if Dr Do-little is coordinating the whole scene.
It is here in Abruzzo that we learn about true Italian hospitality and generosity that requires no return. It is enough to make you feel so content with very little. During our time here we were spoilt with lots of local wine, local delicious vegetables simply dressed and lots of local delicacies including homemade Ventricina (a local pork sausage), local regional truffles (found by the family dog!) and arrosticini – strips of lamb, skewered and cooked over coals on a custom-built vessel.
Palmoli is the next closest town upon the hilltop, a three minute drive or about a 30 minute walk. Here the winding roads and steep hills are adorned with beautiful houses dating back to the 18th century, completely made of stone with vaulted ceilings and cotto tiles. Much of the younger generation have had to move to the larger coastal towns for work leaving a lot of these stone houses empty, and there are less than 900 people living in this town. Forget the hordes of tourist (and even locals!) here – this is a tiny town in which you can wander around, in solitude and contemplation.
We stayed in a beautifully restored country house about a 20 minute walk at the bottom of the hill from Palmoli – we found our place on Homeaway, which is great if you’re looking for places fit for a family with a touch of Italian luxury! With a big kitchen, a sweeping verandah with views out to the mountains and a big pool it made for the perfect place to enjoy a few spritz and take in the beauty of this area.
If you are after a place to relax and unwind with unpretentious food and people then Abruzzo is for you. From here, you can also do day trips to the seaside towns of Vasto and San Salvo. This is where the Italian locals go on holidays – think great beaches and beach clubs (our pick is Da Mimi) without the tourist price tags!
Make sure you make the most of the region’s beautiful walks, explore the local castello Marchesale (which has been beautifully restored) and visit the baroque church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie (which houses the remains of St Valentine!). We visited a local agroturismo, called Montefreddo Palmoli, and were spoilt with a regional 12 course feast, which showcased the region’s best produce.
At each lunch and dinner we ate together at a long communal table – the A Tavola! The sense of occasion at every meal was heart-warming. We sourced some local seafood and had the entire family over to our house for dinner on our final night. What is clear is the high level of respect and care that Abruzesse have for family and food.
Abruzzo now holds a very special place in my heart. I am told that in winter it is even more magical. If you want to experience the true Italy I would recommend looking far from where the tourists travel and travel a path a little less travelled. Ciao Abruzzo. We can’t wait to visit again soon!