Unassuming, unheralded, or underrated. However you see it, Abruzzo is a beautiful and historic playground that you can discover as the world ventures elsewhere.
Its proximity to Rome makes travel easy, without overwhelming the trio of national parks, alpine villages, and coastal hideaways. The nature within Abruzzo makes it a haven for hikers and explorers, plus skiers when the temperature drops.
The mountains which are so stunning were seen as natural fortresses for the region’s towns. These villages and cities tucked away along mountain ranges, have connections to pre-Roman times. Their culture, craftsmanship, and recipes survive as the generations pass.
As travelers venture further north in Abruzzo, Italy, or to the western coast, take time to explore a place as raw and wild as any in Italy.
In this post, we'll cover:
12. Civitella del Tronto
Home to the highest fortress in Italy, Civitella del Tronto is a trip back in time. In the 1860s, the fortress helped the city become the last bastion of resistance against Victor Emmanuel’s plans to unify Italy.
Much of Civitella del Tronto is encased in the Bourbon Fortezza, whose origins can be traced to the 11th century. Its almost 700 years of defending the town allowed its cobbled streets to blossom with sightly buildings, delicious cuisine, and gravity-defying stairways.
One of these stairways rises steeply out of the valley to the fortress entrance. Soon you’ll pass the old Governor’s house and the Church of San Giacomo where the parapets guide you around the fort’s entirety.
With a history that began with the ancient Italic people of Peligni, Sulmona has been around for thousands of years. Once it fell under Roman possession, it became known as the birthplace of Ovid, a 1st-century Roman poet.
Fast forward to now and Sulmona is synonymous with confetti. No, not the kind that blasts into the sky. Instead, Italian confetti is a collection of colorful, flavored almonds.
Designed in all sorts of artistic fashions, including colorful bouquets, the streets of Sulmona are laden with confetti. While you wouldn’t want to eat those, head into the town’s many shops to find delicious confetti featuring fruit flavors, Nutella, hazelnut, and even tiramisu.
10. Trabocchi Coast
Connecting Ortona to San Salvo, the Trabocchi Coast, is beautiful and fascinating. The name derives from the centuries-old fishing net designs that are spread along the coasts 70 kilometers (43 miles).
These “nets” are in face lengthy wooden platforms that run into the Adriatic. From the end of them, fishermen could essentially deep sea fish. As old as many are, they stand before you, some with their own restaurants.
A memorable coastal drive takes you from town to town with an endless blue sea to enjoy along the way. Other highlights include the Abbazia of San Giovanni. The gothic abbey is set upon an ancient Roman temple looking out to the sea.
9. Majella National Park
One of three national parks in the Abruzzo region, Majella National Park, features spectacular Apennine mountain scenery. Among the high peaks are jaw-dropping valleys where vast canyons have carved their way ruggedly through the otherwise pristine landscape.
Under the delightful Italian sun, lather on the sunblock and make your way down the park’s miles of hiking trails. The extensive system guides you to postcard-worthy views, with each step bringing the chance to discover Majella’s rich natural diversity.
One trek to add to your Majella National Park itinerary is the jaunt to the Gorges of Fara San Martino. A brief hike takes you to a natural rock entrance where a vast valley spreads out before you and you’ll uncover the ruins of the historic Benedictine Abbey of St. Martin. If you’re still energetic, continue on to Mount Amaro, the park’s highest peak.
Aside from nature, this national park is packed with ancient culture and archaeology. Aside from the abbey, there are roughly 40 hermitages that were first developed to house monks.
A 16th-century castle in Roccascalegna will redefine what you can expect from medieval architecture. Rising out of an angled limestone cliff, the Castle of Roccascalegna sits in an impressively precarious location.
Lying in the valley beneath is a small village whose origins can be traced to the 7th-century. Designed to protect it, the aptly named Castle in the Sky looked over the village and helped slow the rise of invaders. The very folks that led people to think of Roccascalegna as Death Valley.
The castle’s most famous inhabitant was the Crow Baron, Corvo de Corvis. He was an evil ruler who forced high taxes and made all new brides spend their first night of marriage with him. A fact that would eventually lead to his downfall, with a newlywed plunging a knife into his heart.
Today, you can visit the castle’s keep, courtyard, and prison.
The alpine town of Scanno is known as the Pearl of Abruzzo. In many ways, it combines the best parts of the region into one, featuring medieval architecture, surrounded by mountains and fresh alpine air.
In the 15th century, thanks to agriculture and a talented community, Scanno was a wealthy town. Today, its buildings tell the tales of the era’s past but the old skills and craftsmanship survive.
As you explore the ancient streets of Scanno, shops selling handmade ricami (lace work), orafa (goldsmiths), and high-end ceramics are direct descendants of a time when affluent goods were in high demand.
The maze of streets makes Scanno a great place to get lost. But be sure to find time to see the Sarracco Fountain and the Church of Santa Maria Dalla Valle.
L’Aquila may be the capital, but Pescara is the biggest city in Abruzzo. Famous for its golden coast, line with marinas that jut out into the Adriatic, Pescara is the place to develop a terrible tan line.
Compared to other parts of Abruzzo, Pescara is refreshingly modern. Its now lively waterfront owes its recent developments to its predecessors being heavily bombed during the Second World War.
Boasting just shy of 20 kilometers (12 miles) of pristine waterfront, Pescara is a buzz of action during the summer months. The beaches are lined with umbrellas, locals reading in the shade, and hordes of swimmers making use of the refreshing Adriatic that is just as easy on the eyes.
As the sun falls behind Pescara, restaurants quickly fill out and the DJ beats flow out of nearby nightclubs into the happening streets.
5. Roccaraso Ski Area
Come winter, do as the locals do, and visit the Roccaraso Ski Area. While international tourists venture further north to France and Switzerland, Roccaraso is home to a ski culture that is pure Italian.
With little outside interests (aside from those in Rome and Naples), the ski area has developed its own way of doing things. Once we are sure you’ll appreciate it. Roccaraso is the most popular of Abruzzo’s budding slopes. It covers all abilities, from beginners to experts with over 1000 meters (3,200 ft) of vertical.
In town, you’ll find a relaxing cafe culture, bars for après-ski, and shops for when the slopes aren’t calling out. In addition, Roccaraso connects with other ski resorts, vastly increasing the amount of downhill and cross-country trails all on the same pass.
Overlooking the vast and scenic Adriatic Sea, Vasto is as charming as it is unassuming. Its eye-catching coastal location makes it a great beach getaway along Italy’s east coast. While its architecture adds plenty of medieval brilliance to the mix.
From the Adriatic Sea, the coastal hills rise quickly towards the center of Vasto, which sits elegantly along the peak. With great views around every corner, Vasta is a joy to discover on foot. Fortress walls blend in with spots of gorgeous green vegetation and narrow streets guide you by 500-year-old buildings.
At the heart of Vasta’s history is the stunning Caldoresco Castle and the San Guiseppe Cathedral. Their delightful Romanesque facades will stop you in your tracks. After a day of walking, stop by Piazzo Rossetti for an afternoon espresso surrounded by a quaint local atmosphere.
Beyond the center of town, Vasto offers lovely beaches. Pick between the resort-laden Vasta Marino or go off-trail and seek out the crystalline waters of San Nicola.
3. Gran Sasso National Park
Epitomizing the beauty and personality of Abruzzo, Gran Sasso National Park is spectacular yet unheralded. As one of the biggest national parks in Italy, Gran Sasso boasts astonishing scenery. Its towering mountains have taken inspiration from the Swiss Alps, and its alpine lake offers a hint of Patagonia.
Home to three mountain ranges, there’s plenty of exploration for travelers to embark on. Hiking, mountaineering, and rock climbing are the main sports when the sun is high and warm. Come winter, snow falls heavy and climbing shoes are switched for snowshoes and cross-country skis.
One hike not to miss takes you from the valley floor to the above treeline and into the alpine tundra. Clouds waft by and after a hearty 8-hour trek, your feet bring you to the park’s tallest peak. At almost 3,000 meters (9840 ft), the peak’s 360-degree views will be a memory for years to come.
As the capital of Abruzzo, there’s no missing L’Aquila. The town’s center is surrounded by medieval fortress walls while the broader landscape has a different kind of encasing. Just beyond L’Aquila are four towering peaks.
Set in a beautiful yet small valley, L’Aquila is laden with history, gorgeous architecture, cultural highlights, and amazing food. The town’s well-kept buildings feature Renaissance and Baroque-style facades, and behind each door lies something more captivating.
L’Aquila’s rich heritage has survived into the modern era. Conservatories, symphonies, churches, and historic academies peel back the curtain on life here, long before the 21st century. A highlight is the National Museum of Abruzzo. Housed in the 16th-century San Giorgio castle, the museum focuses on pre-Roman era artifacts, Renaissance works, and historic religious art.
1. Abruzzo National Park
Wild animals, epic hikes, and ancient history come to the fore in Abruzzo National Park. In Italy’s most protected region, this national park is the centerpiece. Just two hours from Rome, you’ll feel a world away, in a raw paradise where bears and wolves linger.
Spotting either is not an easy task. But in such a wild and lively landscape, evidence of both lies around every corner. Thus, Abruzzo National Park is a perpetually unfolding journey. One you can embark on along the park’s well-maintained trail system.
Guided or on your own, seek out the hundreds of miles of trails that lead you into a wilderness where evidence of human interference becomes almost null. The primeval forest full of beech tree words hides various ecosystems and mountain huts fit snugly within the surrounding landscapes.
The park’s huts are the perfect spot to kick back after a day of exploration. Hosts cook up a feast of Abruzzo cuisine, which is notoriously hearty.