We visited Abruzzo in a camper van nearly 20 years ago and ever since then we’ve been meaning to get back. With the highest peaks in the Apennine range this region boasts vast expanses of wilderness and, for a country as urban as Italy, Abruzzo is sparsely populated. But the biggest draw for us was its spectacular landscape. For one reason or another its taken us two decades to get back to Abruzzo, which is surprising because it’s less than a 3 hour drive from Petraia. In the midst of the hottest summer on record in this (young) century, and in a later model camper van, we finally decided it was time to return.
Our thought was Abruzzo would provide a relatively easy escape to higher ground and a welcome respite from the heat. But our trip there reminded us so much of this country’s breathtaking scenery is found here, in the heart of the Apennine range. While the region does boast a stretch of Adriatic coastline popular with holiday makers, most of the hinterland has yet to be discovered by travelers. Here valley floors are wide and fertile, perfect for grazing but also for growing a wide variety of grains, legumes and vegetables, not to mention grapes and olives at lower altitudes. The mountains rise up from here, heavily forested and teeming with wildlife including wolves and even some brown bears. They give way to gentle domed peaks and, here and there, picturesque ancient mountain villages cling to rocky ledges. But these are few and far between.
Our visit to this area in high summer enabled us to experience the age old tradition of the transhumance, the yearly migration of animals from the lowlands to their rich mountain summer pastures. We even met a fourth generation transumanza shepherd and cheese-maker who I’ll introduce you to in Part 2 of this post. We ate succulent meat from a sheep that had not given birth and it was better than any lamb I’ve ever had. I also tasted the best pecorino cheese of my life (to date). That’s something coming from me, because I never thought I’d top the fresh pecorino cheese I made myself using the warm milk I got directly from my sheep at Petraia.
This trip we spent most of our time in the Gran Sasso National Park, a stunning area of natural beauty and, at this time of the year, populated mostly by a few shepherds and their flocks. Sadly, we only had a few nights to spend and didn’t get to explore the region as much as we hoped. We’re already talking about going back. Next time it will be in the winter to experience the landscape turned white and with any luck it won’t take us another 20 years. Abruzzo is off the beaten track, even by Italian standards. But its surprisingly easy to get to. You can reach it’s border in less than an hour from Rome and it’s capital, L’Aquila, in about 90 minutes. Here’s a few pictures and below them a couple of fabulous links for sleeping and eating if you happen to go….
If you go:
to stay: Albergo Diffuso Sextantio in Santo Stefano Di Sessanio is a “diffused hotel” that has taken over most of this small village. They also have a sister hotel in Matera.
to eat: http://www.osteriailborgodeifumari.it for fresh pasta with local truffles and saffron and delicious grilled lamb in a beautifully restored osteria in a small village that still appears devastated by the 2009 earthquake. The restaurant is comprised of a series of small rooms, each one with a wood burning fireplace and many with lovely vaulted ceilings. There is no menu or wine list, the server will tell you what the daily specials are. There is house wine or you can choose one of the few carefully selected local bottles displayed in each room. We decided on a delicious Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2010 from Emidio Pepe, Abruzzo’s legendary biodynamic winemaker. It was a steal at €24. Like so many osterie in Italy, the mark up on the wine here is close to 0%.