Where is Abruzzo?!
Abruzzo is a region in Central/Southern Italy, stretching from the Apennine mountains to Adriatic sea, with population a bit over one million. Even if it’s very close to Lazio region and the capital of Italy, Rome, Abruzzo does not attract many non-Italians visitors. Such a shame! Amalfi coast is more popular but here are some great reasons to visit Abruzzo instead ; apart from the fact that it is way more budget- friendly than the traditional Italian touristic places!
Let’s start from the basics: How to get there!
Even though there are two airports in the region, only one of them hosts international flights the (obvious!) “Pescara or Abruzzo International Airport ” . Located only 20 minutes by bus from the biggest city in Abruzzo, Pescara, this is a tiny airport that offers low cost routes to/ from a bunch of European cities. It is located also close to one more big (and important) town of the region, Chieti, which is one of the most ancient Italian cities and an interesting destination for a weekend. If you stop/ stay here please pay a visit to a traditional (and bonus cheap!) Abruzzese trattoria such as La Tavernetta Da Ianni.
A railway connects Rome with Sulmona town (a great base for exploring many hilltop villages, the Apennines mountains, the nearby ski resort etc.) and Pescara. There is also a route connecting Bologna and Bari multiply times per day that stops at Pescara too and many more smaller lines. The trains are a great way to travel from place to place in Italy but please check in advance for potential strikes!
Reaching Abruzzo via the highways is not a problem at all as there are 3 major ones serving the region. In my point of view this part of Italy can be a fabulous road- trip destination; the mountainous area of it is difficult to be explored by public transport but, on the other hand, not to be missed, so renting a car can be ideal! Nonetheless, a trip here is perfectly doable by buses/ trains entirely, in case you just want to enjoy the Adriatic sea and to do some daily excursions in the surrounding villages/towns.
I had arrived in Pescara few weeks before Christmas, thanks to Ryanair and the extremely cheap flights during wintertime. The road-trip around Abruzzo was a last-minute decision after a training I attended in a city 2 hours away from Pescara. The city has a beautiful small centre and a long coastline; summertime is definitely a high season here! The same applies for other areas along the coastline which has been designed for tourists – heaps of accommodation and food options for any budget can be found all around!
If you are up for shopping there is an outlet village called Citta Sant’Angelo next to Montesilvano town (and less than 20 minutes by car from Pescara centre) that offers mostly Italian brands and it is very beautifully designed. After some shopping, and as we had only 3 days to explore the area, we decided to rent a car and head to the mountains to have a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Best decision ever!
The highway is the quickest way to reach the mountainous area but, if you would rather avoid the (pricey) tolls, the “old” road is totally functional as well. Many small villages are scattered all over the region so you can stop anytime to check them out! Dont forget you are in Italy and you can find food till late (yeah!!) but not during the siesta hours; friendly reminder: the catnaps here are not that short! One more advantage of this part of Italy is that the driving hours wont be endless; everything is quite close to each other and in about one hour you can hit the first hilltop villages. But let me talk about 2 places I especially loved here!
The Confetti Museum
Not the colourful paper stuff thrown at carnivals (in Italy, Greece etc!) or at weddings but instead the sugar-covered almonds with their unique history dated back to Romans. This typical confectionery has its roots in L’Aquila province in Abruzzo where the oldest confetti manufacturer can be found. Sulmona town is the centre of confetti production and the main manufacturer founded in 1783 by B. Pelino.
Well, if you have never received a bonbonniera (aka a gift with a pouch full of sugar coated confetti given after ceremonies such as weddings, baptisms etc) you might have yet to understand what I am talking about! So, hopefully, the confetti museum will answer your questions! Should you are lucky enough you may watch their machinery working! I am not a big fan of confetti taste but their (still handmade in nowadays!) designs stole my heart! The history behind them is also very interesting and you can taste some flavours for free- even if the confetti are widely used in Greece too I had never tried some of the unexpected flavours they produce here! Fancy a visit? I can’t stress it enough : come prepared and double check the opening hours as they have a big… siesta for about 4 hours every afternoon before they open again!
The heart-shaped lake
When you look at the map, lago di Scanno ( lake of Scanno ) looks almost nothing like a heart; unless you are gifted with a rich fantasy. However, if you find the correct viewpoint, you will be fascinated by the shape of this hidden gem. As any other… heart, the path leading to it is well hidden and special! You need to park around here (see map below, there is a spacious parking lot) and find the beginning of the path ”Sentiero del Cuore” that will take you to the right viewpoint (south of the lake) after an easy to moderate hiking of 40-50 minutes.
The path is well- signed and you can’t missed it; however, the ending point is not 100% specific and it depends on the season as there are many trees around that usually hide the view from different ankles from time to time. In some point the path splits in two and the new trails lead pretty much to the same point , we followed the first and we came back from the second one! Apart from the spectacular shape (tricky to be captured by a camera though, if you have a drone here is your dream destination!) the lake itself offers swimming facilities, pedal-boats , many restaurants and hotels/ guesthouses/ camping etc. At the southern edge the very old village Scanno is worth a visit too!
Other beautiful towns and villages are: Popoli , Anversa degli Abruzzi (in the road to lago di Scanno), the stunning hilltop village Roccacasale (built on the slopes of the Monte della Rocca, very close to Sulmona and Popoli) etc. I stopped counting after a while! A splendid spot is the overlooked lake San Domenico (close to Villalago village that is north of Lago di Scanno) with the old chapel hanging on the bank, a place for picnic, a hiking trail and the most wonderful small arched bridge I have ever seen! As if that were not enough, this tiny lake has crystal clear bluish water, here my memory recalled the superb Scottish Highlands landscape with the mirror-y waters!
The trip ended back at the airport in Pescara. After this Abruzzese sneak peek I am convinced I have to come back in this region at some point for further adventures! The breath-taking landscape and the friendly locals reminded me once more how much I love Italy (especially the out of the beaten path destinations) and why! What do you think? Would you make the effort to explore these lesser known places?