If you want to visit a less touristy part of Italy then you should explore Abruzzo off the beaten path. The region, titled as the Greenest Region in Europe due to the fact that it has one third of its territory designated as natural reserve, is lying between the Apennines slopes and the Adriatic Sea.
It is characterised by a morphological variety of landscapes. It offers vast mountain plains, populated by wolves, roe deers, wild boars and chamois, green hills used for pastures, pine forests and an attractive 130 km sandy coastline surrounded by dunes covered with typical Mediterranean maquis.
Of the 3 main national parks occupying the region, the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga park is the biggest and most famous and it is also one of the largest protected areas in Europe. Its main highlight is certainly the Gran Sasso massif, that, with its Corno Grande, reaches almost 3000mt and it’s the highest peak of the Apennines. Visiting the park is an unforgettable experience; the scenery is beautifully wild and there are plenty of free ranging animals. It is the perfect place for active travellers with its trekking, cycling and horse riding trails, but it is as well a great location for skiing.
The smaller but not less beautiful Majella National Park is centered around the imposing Majella mountain group. It has around 500 Km of hiking trails through the mountains and a couple of remarkable caves, although only one of them, the Grotta del Cavallone, can be visited. This national park is unique for several factors but mainly for its harshness and peculiar wilderness.
There is also a third park, once called Abruzzo National Park that also includes some territories in Lazio and Molise. The park offers spectacular mountain landscapes and is the oldest of central Italy as it was founded almost a century ago. It features beech forests, Mediterranean vegetation and a rich fauna of Abruzzo’s chamois, Apennine’s wolves, golden eagles and wild boars. And if this is yet not enough for you, there are plenty of great hiking trails and a few interesting medieval villages.
Abruzzo coastline stretches for little more than 130 km. The Northern part of the region boasts what are considered the most beautiful beaches: Pineto, Punta Penna and Martinsicuro, long tracts of golden sand dividing the Mediterranean pine woods to the clear waters of the Adriatic Sea. All these beaches are fully equipped.
In the Southern part, in the province of Chieti, lies the wild Trabocchi Coast, featuring some very peculiar huts anchored to stilts on the beach with nets hooked on to outriggers. These structures called `trabocchi` were used by fishermen to access deeper waters without needing boats. Most of them have been left unused for a long time but have recently become a particular tourist attraction. As a consequence, some have been refurbished and converted into accommodations and restaurants.
Wine and food
The region’s cuisine is mainly based on peasant dishes. It is quite simple but has a strong local character.
The lamb is dominating on the mountains where you will easily come across `abbacchio`, baby lamb usually roasted or grilled, but one of the most typical preparations are `arrosticini` tiny pieces of lamb skewered and flame grilled. They are an authentic delicacy and the perfect companion for a BBQ by the sea.
On the coast, obviously there are many fish and seafood dishes often prepared following the local recipe called `guazzetto`, which is a kind of watery stew preparation.
Local traditional products also include tasty `pecorino` and sugared almond confetti especially from Sulmona.
Abruzzo wines are extremely interesting especially from a value-for-money point of view. The red Montepucliano di Abruzzo, not to be confused with the Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is a red wine made from 100% Montepulciano grape. It’s rustic and round and matches beautifully the lab dishes. On the white side, the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is a simple wine, often produced with high yields, but some good producers can do very good things with it and the quality is increasing.