The Best Attractions in Abruzzo
Abruzzo is a beautiful region in central Italy. Tourists typically flock to big cities such as Rome, Naples, and Venice, so this uncommon location is the perfect place to visit if you don’t want to compete with droves of other travelers for the best views. This region of Italy is home to beautiful and unspoiled natural scenery, small villages, and delicious local cuisine. The attractions in Abruzzo are perfect for backpackers and hikers on a budget, for family vacations, and for those who are looking to travel with their pets.
Getting to Abruzzo
The airport with the best connections in the region is located in Pescara, a city on the Adriatic coast. The Italian capital is also less than two hours from Abruzzo. Therefore, if you arrive in Rome at the Ciampino or Fiumicino airport, you can do a brief tour of the capital before leaving for Abruzzo.
While public transportation is available throughout the country, you should anticipate that the trip will take longer than you might initially expect, especially if you have to cross the border between Lazio and Abruzzo. This land is particularly mountainous, meaning that the buses that connect the various mountaintop villages take some time, even though the straight-line distance does not seem that far apart.
In addition, there are only a few train connections through these areas, resulting in layovers between trains. For this reason, we recommend renting a car or travelling in a camping van. Both of these means of travel will give you the freedom you desire as you explore the country. There are also plenty of campsites along the route that will fully meet your needs.
Abruzzo: Between the Mediterranean and the Mountains
As we’ve mentioned before, the region of Abruzzo is characterized by mountainous landscapes made up of the Apennine Mountains ─ primarily Gran Sasso, Majella, Sirente-Velino, and Monti Marsicani. The only level part of the region is the coastline. However, you can get from beaches to mountain tops in less than two hours. Therefore, if you are a lover of the sea but also enjoy hiking in the mountains, this is undoubtedly the destination for you.
Trabocchi Coast in Pescara
For those who are arriving at the Pescara airport, we suggest staying for a few days to enjoy the coastal town, especially since the city is so full of life and a key attraction of Abruzzo! Numerous bars and restaurants offer a view of the sea and invite you to rest in their relaxed atmospheres. Pescara is also a university town, meaning there are lots of activities and events. If you like to party, Pescara boasts streets and clubs filled with partying youths.
Costa dei Trabocchi is located further south of Perscara. This coastal strip stretches from Ortona to Vasto and includes two important nature reserves that we think are well worth visiting ─ the Lecceta di Torino di Sangro and the Punta Aderci Nature Reserve. There are also many protected beaches lining the coast, including Ripari di Giobbe and the coves of Golfo di Venere. We recommend visiting these areas off-season in order to avoid the many tourists that flock to these idyllic places.
But the real attraction of this part of Abruzzo’s coast are the so-called Trabocchi. The Trabocchi are mysterious wooden constructions by the sea that date back to the Phoenicians. Although there are different theories about their origin, scholars are certain that these huge poles were once used for fishing. Some of these structures have been renovated and now house restaurants and bars.
How about dinner or an early breakfast on the water surrounded by this breathtaking landscape? While travelers tend to fixate on sunsets, it is important to remember that the sun does not set over the sea on this part of the Italian coast. However, it does rise out of the Mediterranean each morning, providing a spectacle that is just as memorable.
This is also a wonderful stop for sport and fitness enthusiasts. An almost 50-kilometer-long cycling path is currently being built along the coastline. This will enable you to enjoy the coastal scenery and villages by bike.
Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park
About 70 kilometers and less than an hour’s drive from Pescara, you will find yourself in the high mountains. Here, the landscape drastically contrasts the coastline, with steep valleys replacing towering hills. Equally remarkable is the change in climate, as the high altitudes make the air quite chilly. Therefore, we advise you to pack both light and warm clothing when visiting this attraction of Abruzzo.
The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park is one of the largest in Italy and is home to the peak of Gran Sasso. Measuring 2,912 meters in height, it is the highest mountain in the Apennine chain. This park boasts various trails for both hiking and biking!
Campo Imperatore Ski Resort
At the heart of this natural fixture lies the Campo Imperatore Ski Resort, which also has an observatory and botanical garden. The plateau is accessible by car, but only if the roads aren’t blocked by snow. If driving is not an option, you can ascend the mountain on the cable car that departs from Assergi every 30 minutes, which we found to be a truly impressive experience. Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain, you can admire the view while sipping a refreshing iced drink or a comforting hot beverage.
While visiting the area, we suggest trying the local specialties ─ arrosticini, or lamb skewers. These are available regardless of season, so you can be sure to try them regardless of when you visit. However, the locals make a point of eating them on important holidays. You can buy Arrosticini at almost every local food stop. It is not an uncommon sight to witness a competition to see who can eat more of them. An odd but enjoyable attraction of Abruzzo.
Rocca di Calascio
The Rocca di Calascio is the park’s real highlight. It’s a fortress at an elevation of about 1,500 meters that dates back to the Middle Ages. The picturesque village of Calascio lies about 40 kilometers further south, under the Corno Piccolo (Little Horn) of the Gran Sasso. However, the Rocca can only be reached on foot. But don’t worry, the route is not very long and is suitable for beginners.
The Rocca was originally built for protection and, astonishingly, it was possible to communicate with other fortresses as far as the Adriatic coast. At night, the fortresses used light signals to communicate. And during the day, they used mirrors to send messages back and forth. Entrance to the fortress, as well as guided tours, are completely free. Visitors are encouraged to make a voluntary donation or buy a souvenir to support the local community. They are responsible for maintaining the fortress, after all.
The structure of the Rocca di Calascio ─ built entirely of white stone ─ beautifully contrasts the blue sky and the surrounding mountainous landscape. We’re not the only ones who find this fortress absolutely breathtaking. In fact, it has served twice as a film set for the movies The Name of the Rose, starring Sean Connery, and Ladyhawke, starring Michelle Pfeiffer.
Caves of Stiffe
The Caves of Stiffe are among the most fascinating attractions in the Province of L’Aquila. These caves, formed because of the deterioration of soluble rocks, are located in the municipality of San Demetrio ne’ Vestini, near the Rocca di Calascio.
The path inside is approximately 1,000 meters long, leading through several connected caves. There is a waterfall with a 20-meter drop, and another 25-meter one. The caves also house a black lake and countless limestone formations, such as stalactites and stalagmites.
You only have to pay 12€ to enter the cave and participate in a guided tour. We assure you that it is worth the money! We especially recommend visiting the site around Christmastime. You will get to experience an extra special event: a live nativity. Real actors spread the story of Christmas through the caves!
The Gorges of Abruzzo
Gorges of Celano
Heading southwest, you will come across another attraction of Abruzzo: the Gole di Celano. Keep in mind that you can also travel to Abruzzo from Rome, and the Gorges of Celano are located halfway between Rome and Pescara. You will surely marvel at this spectacular natural formation.
At the highest points in the Sirente-Velino Regional Park gorges, the rock walls reach 200 meters. This park also has many opportunities for hikes and observing the local wildlife, including wolves, foxes, deer, and the Marsican brown bear. Exploring the park allows you to see what we think is the most beautiful part of the gorges ─ the Fonte degli Innamorati. The park also houses an ancient monastery and a number of other breathtaking natural landscapes. We recommend tackling this route in the summer months. The fall and winter months often result in rain that causes the river to swell, making the path impassable.
Gorges of Sagittario
A little further south, the Gole del Sagittario are equally breathtaking. These canyons in the municipality of Villalago boast astonishing rocks, cliffs, and crystal-clear waterways. From the gorges, you can set out on one of the many hiking trails, most of which can be accomplished in three to four hours, making it a wonderful option for a day trip.
The road to access the gorges has tight curves ─ like many mountain roads ─ but will provide you with an exciting and beautiful drive. This route is especially enjoyable for motorcyclists.
Lago di Scanno – the Heart-Shaped Lake
If you are already at the Sagittario Gorge, we suggest making a short detour to visit the Lago di Scanno ─ the heart-shaped lake. It is located at the foot of the charming village that is also known by the same name.
If you’re the athletic type, you can spend the day surfing and kayaking, or leisurely exploring the area by pedal boat. This is also an idea stop for birdwatchers, because the lake has a large population of ducks, herons, grebes, peregrine falcons, eagles, and owls.
Three hiking trails branch out from the lake. Of these three, the Heart Trail (Sentiero del Cuore) is the most exceptional. It leads to a view from which you can see the heart-shaped lake in all its magnificence. Furthermore, the fascinating Hermitage of Sant’Egidio, an ancient Roman Catholic church, is nestled along this one-hour-long hiking path. There are also several hermitages, dwellings of hermits similar to monasteries, spread throughout this region. A particularly notable hermitage is the one of San Bartolomeo, which is completely carved into the rock, and can be visited on the way back to Pescara ─ your starting point.
As you can see, Abruzzo is a diverse region. While you are obviously free to choose your own path through Abruzzo’s various sites, we think these are the most remarkable. In just a few hours, travelers can find themselves at the fascinating Trabocchi Coast or in one of the numerous national parks ─ including some of Italy’s most important mountain ranges.
The magnificent Rocca di Calascio will transport you back in time, wheras deep diving in the caves of Stiffe will offer a daredevil adventure. The natural wonders of the Celano and Sagittario gorges are also necessary stops while exploring the attractions of Abruzzo. Finally, we recommend a relaxing day on the shores of Italy’s most romantic lake.
Whether you’re a sportsperson, or your entire family is looking for a bit of rest, relaxation, and clean air, Abruzzo will fulfil all of your vacation desires. Are you to pack a bag and book a flight to this exceptional Italian region?