Abruzzo is one of those unique places where you can admire the strength of Mother Nature in all its purity. One third of its territory is a protected area: it can boast three National Parks, a Regional Park and over thirty Natural Reserves that make the region the absolute leader in the field of “green tourism”.
Lakes with changing reflections, peaks that touch the sky and wide sandy beaches: all of this is Abruzzo. But it is also a land rich in history and culture, dotted with suggestive villages and medieval fortresses.
So are you ready for an adventurous journey between sea, hills, mountains and luxuriant nature? Here are the 10 things to see in the green region of Europe.
1. Rocca Calascio
We begin our itinerary with a postcard and one of the undisputed symbols of the region. Perched on a rocky spur in the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park , indifferent to the passage of time, lies the Castle of Rocca Calascio . A fortification entirely in white stone that dominates the Tirino Valley and the Navelli plateau and stands at about 1500 meters high.
It is famous for being one of the highest castles in Italy and is one of the must-see things in Abruzzo. The beauty of this place is truly poignant, it is no coincidence that it has been included by National Geographic in the list of the 15 most spectacular castles in the world.
In addition to having been the setting for numerous cult films including Lady Hawke and the Name of the Rose. It is the ideal destination for hiking and trekking lovers who can reach the castle through winding paths that climb the mountains and admire breathtaking views.
2. Santo Stefano di Sessanio
Also in the Gran Sasso National Park, not far from Rocca Calascio stands Santo Stefano di Sessanio , a tiny medieval village and an architectural jewel that has remained virtually unchanged. It is famous for being an unconventional tourist destination thanks to a project carried out by Daniele Kihlgren, a young Swedish entrepreneur who bought part of the Chalets and Apartments rentals in the historic center and made them a hotel structure perfectly integrated into the aesthetics of the village.
To discover the main attractions of Santo Stefano, all you have to do is get lost among the streets and white stone houses. Along the way you will meet the Porta and Piazza Medicea , the Casa del Capitano and the Palazzo delle Logge and, just outside the center, the suggestive church of the Madonna del Lago.
3. Alba Fucens
Are you passionate about history and want to travel through time? We have the solution for you! Let’s go to Alba Fucens , the ancient Roman colony at the foot of Mount Velino. After being buried for years, the city of Alba was rediscovered in 1949 thanks to an excavation campaign that lasted about thirty years and conducted by a group of scholars from the University of Louvain.
In this archaeological site of incredible cultural value you can observe numerous monuments. The best preserved are the Amphitheater, the 3 km long walls and the macellum or market. It is also possible to recognize the remains of the baths and some religious buildings such as the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Isis and the Sanctuary of Hercules.
4. Stiffe Caves
If you like to visit unusual places or if you have always dreamed of experiencing an adventure like that of the Goonies, the Stiffe Caves are for you! Located in the municipality of San Demetrio ne ‘Vestini, in the province of L’Aquila, they are one of the main attractions of the Sirente-Velino Regional Natural Park as well as an Classic destination for a trip out of town .
It is a very vast and articulated complex of karst caves . The speleologists have advanced up to 2,900 meters from the entrance and the one accessible to the public is only a small part (about 700 m).
Along the way, an expert guide will accompany you through the 3 main rooms of the caves: the Hall of Silence, the Hall of the Waterfall and the Hall of Concretions. Canyons, pitch-colored lakes, thundering waterfalls and draperies of stalactites and stalagmites in the most bizarre shapes await you. Are you ready to delve into the depths of the earth?
5. Lake of Scanno
Lovers of film or instagrammable shots, we take you to Scanno , the “pearl of Abruzzo”, also known as the ” city of photographers “. In fact, professional and non-professional photographers who love to immortalize the glimpses of this enchanted village in the Upper Sagittario Valley are ever increasing.
An ups and downs of cobbled streets where you can get lost among stone houses with wrought iron balconies and baroque portals and from which you can see the wooded slopes of the mountains, so close that it seems to touch them with a finger.
To frame the village there is wild nature and a blue lake that, seen from above, seems to take the shape of a heart. The Scanno Lake is the largest natural basin of Abruzzo and, in addition to offering beautiful landscapes, lends itself to numerous activities. You will be spoiled for choice: you can practice sports such as canoeing, take a ride on a pedal boat, cycle around the lake or just lie down on the banks to have a picnic or relax.
6. Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio
Superb and majestic, the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio stands in the regional capital L’Aquila . Commissioned at the end of the thirteenth century by Pope Celestino V, it is one of the greatest masterpieces of Abruzzo architecture .
This magnificent building will captivate you in every little detail starting from the facade, a hypnotic but orderly succession of white and pink tiles that form the background of three rose windows and as many portals. Inside it is possible to observe Byzantine, Arab, Sicilian and Tuscan influences.
The structure, which was severely damaged by the 2009 earthquake, has been totally restored and today is presented in all its glory.
7. Hermitage of San Bartolomeo in Legio
If you are looking for an experience that immerses you in rural Abruzzo or if you simply want to enjoy a solo journey to disconnect from the hectic routine and reflect surrounded by nature, we can only recommend you to visit the Hermitage of San Bartolomeo in Legio. Literally set inside a rocky spur of 50 meters at about 700 meters above sea level, it is located in the territory of Roccamorice, in the province of Pescara .
You will be able to access the hermitage through a staircase carved into the rock, the Scala Santa , which leads to a rocky balcony at the end of which there is a small church, also almost entirely carved into the rock. The Hermitage of San Bartolomeo in Legio is one of the stages of the ” Path of the Spirit “: about 70 km of paths in the Majella National Park that can be done in 3-4 days.
If you feel like going on the complete itinerary, arm yourself with your trekking equipment and get ready for a regenerating adventure between deep valleys and unspoiled nature!
8. Costa dei Trabocchi
Having survived the storm surges, the whipping wind and the inexorable passage of time, they continue to reach out to the sea and watch over it, like silent guardians of the Adriatic coast. These are the trabocchi, wooden constructions similar to stilts, once used for fishing and scattered along the Abruzzo coast.
The Costa dei Trabocchi corresponds to the stretch of the Adriatic coast of the province of Chieti that goes from Francavilla to San Salvo and the greatest concentration of these structures is found on the portion between Ortona and Vasto .
Numerous regional nature reserves are also concentrated in the Terra dei Trabocchi, 10 to be exact. Among all we recommend you to visit the Regional Nature Reserve of Punta Aderci , one of the most evocative coastal stretches in Abruzzo and the Regional Nature Reserve of Lecceta di Torino di Sangro, a unique natural setting consisting of a vast wooded area in which the largest land tortoise population of the region.
9. Fortress of Civitella del Tronto
With an area of 25,000 square meters and a length of 500 m, the Civitella del Tronto fortress is one of the largest and most majestic in Europe . With the vast squares of arms, the patrol walkways and the soldiers’ quarters, the structure dominates the village of Civitella, in the Val Vibrata and, inside, houses the Historical Museum of Weapons and Ancient Maps .
After visiting the stronghold, a tour of the village is a must. Stroll through the historic center, an intricate web of crossroads, stairs and alleys. Among these he looks for the “ ruetta ”, the narrowest street in Italy , only 43 cm wide.
Do not miss the Collegiate Church of San Lorenzo , of Renaissance style, the Palazzo del Capitano , characterized by the Anjou coat of arms on the facade and, in Largo Rosati, the monumental figure in Carrara marble by Matteo Wade. Finally, go to the Abbey of Montesanto , to discover one of the oldest Benedictine complexes in Abruzzo and, all around, admire the wonderful panorama of the Gran Sasso National Park.
10. Orfento Valley
Located in the province of Pescara, in the Majella National Park , the Orfento Valley has one of the most significant biodiversity assets in Europe . In order to preserve the area in the 70s it was decided to create the State Natural Reserve of the Orfento Valley . There are so many things to do and see here, but most visitors come to this area to indulge in hiking , trekking and nature walks .
The Reserve, in fact, offers various hiking trails with different levels of difficulty. During your walks you will be able to observe scenarios of wild beauty with varied vegetation and, if you are lucky enough, you will also be able to spot the local fauna. Visit the Otter Wildlife Area, an important center for the protection of the European otter, an endangered species.
Finally, among the things to see in the area, it is impossible not to mention Caramanico Terme , one of the most fascinating villages of the Majella National Park. In addition to entering the alleys of the historic center, you can undergo various spa treatments, for a holiday dedicated to wellness.
About the Author
More Places to Visit in Europe
About the Photo
The photo in the header above is of the Orfento valley near Caramanico Terme in Abruzzo (Italy). Photo by Adamico from Chieti, Italy.
About the Author
Julien Chbib is interested in hiking, skiing, and adventure holidays, and is the founder of Julius Homes.