As beautiful as Rome is, after a while we longed for the off-the-beaten-path experience that my husband and I typically enjoy. So, we booked a rental car and headed 50 miles east of Rome for Abruzzo. There were many things we didn’t know about Abruzzo before heading there. For one, it’s a small, rugged region of Southern Italy, with steep and narrow switchbacks up giant mountains that are terrifying to say the least. Between the lack of guard rails, flash flooding, and hundred-foot cliffs, I was on edge as we drove into the village, literally and figuratively. It was hard to find someone who spoke English, especially when we first got there and tried to get directions to the villa we had rented.
However, once you get there, the natural beauty of the village is simply breathtaking. With ancient villages, castles, lakes and rivers nestled between soaring mountains, the place provided many opportunities for photography.
A wine region, Abruzzo’s more well-known wine is the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, one of my favorites – even before we ever planned our trip to Italy. It’s made from Montepulciano grapes which are grown throughout the region, but even more so in the provinces of Chieti and Pescara. It’s a soft and fruity wine that isn’t typically left to age for long periods of time.
L’Aquila is the regional capital of Abruzzo, and Calascio, the village where we stayed, is within the capital. We stayed in a beautiful villa owned by an Italian-American, who lives in the U.S. He often comes back to visit since he has relatives in the area, but rents out his villa to friends and family when it’s not in use. The views of mountains from the garden gave me a sense of peace.
Nearby the villa, we were able to take a quick drive to Rocca Calascio, which is the oldest standing Italian fort built as a watchtower around the 10th century, or earlier. Destroyed in an earthquake in the 19th century, the fort now stands in ruins since it doesn’t serve a purpose, but it’s beauty still remains.
Within L’Aquila, we also visited Campo Imperatore, a national park which contains Abruzzo’s largest and highest Alpine meadow, perfect for nature lovers. It was a beautiful drive past gorgeous mountains and across vast expanses, and at one point we passed a number of cows grazing in the grass with their bells ringing.
When you finally get to the top of Campo Imperatore, there is an observatory for star gazers, as well as cafes, where you can get a quick bite while you take in the scenery and the wild horses grazing. This area was the summer refuge of Benito Mussolini and his generals during World War II and is now a popular skiing and hiking destination.
In addition to L’Aquila, Abruzzo also contains the province of Pescara, situated along the Adriatic Sea. We packed our swimsuits to head to the beach, which took a little while because we were unfamiliar with the roads and the signs. But once we got there, it was everything we wanted and more. There were cafes selling food, drinks, and even gelato as well as stores to shop for clothes and souvenirs. After being in the remote mountain village for a while, the beach and city life were certainly a welcome change of pace.
On our last day there, we headed to Castle Del Monte, also in L’Aquila in northern Abruzzo, which was heavily featured in the George Clooney movie The American.
Castel Del Monte is a medieval renaissance village atop a hill, so the views from up there are gorgeous. However, the recent earthquake destroyed some of the buildings, so they were under construction at the time.
The beauty of our visit to Abruzzo was that it was the most authentic Italian experience that we had, and it provided a sense of unspoiled history and culture that is a drastic departure from the touristy parts of Italy, like Rome. Once we’d had our fill of peace and quiet, we headed back to Rome for our last day. I would highly recommend Abruzzo for travelers that love off-the-beaten-path adventures. Just make sure to bring your camera, because the views are unique and you wouldn’t want to miss the photo opportunities that the village provides.