Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 192: Abruzzo, Where They Don't Pronounce Vowels
By Alice Twain from Italy, Summer 2003
Trip Description: A short four days holiday in a mountainous area of Southern Italy.
Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Abruzzo
Categories: Family/Friends; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People
Page 1 of 1: Abruzzo
My friend Federico explained me that the local dialect, though sounding quite arcane, is very simple to understand once you learned that it is Italian pronounced without vowels. GRUNT! Easy!!!
My trip to Abruzzo has not been a long one, but four days, but it was the first time I got to see that bit of Italian territory. The peculiarity of Abruzzo is that half of the region's area is parks. Abruzzo has the oldest of Italy's parks (Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo) and other parks dot the whole region. Also, the region is mainly a mountainous one, but it also has a thin strip of coast that this year gained 11 FEE blue flags (Martinsicuro, Alba Adriatica, Tortoreto, Giulianova, Roseto degli Abruzzi, Pineto, Silvi, Alcione e centro di Francavilla al Mare, Calata Turchino, Molo sud San Vito Chietino, Vasto, San Salvo), that signal the cleanest beaches in Europe and worldwide.
One of the first things one notices on arriving in Abruzzo, is the almost barren look of some mountains compared to greener areas fully covered in woods. Until a few decades ago, the trees of this area were used for building railway lines all through Italy; besides, the areas not protected by the parks often are burned in hope of either being allowed to build on these areas (that's the reason for so many southern European woods burn each summer) or to get some refund from the insurance, so that the areas not included in the several parks of the region often burn. Another thing you may notice is the way most of the area is not inhabited. Clusters of villages dot the mountains, divided by large areas of empty land.
Basically Abruzzo (at least the area we visited) IMHO, despite being dryer and harsher and lacking some of the artistic richness of Tuscany, looked like what Tuscany had to be before its countryside got discovered by the mass tourism (quality mass tourism, but it is still mass tourism).
We stayed in the mountainous area of Abruzzo, near the Sirente mountain, sleeping at our friends' Consy and Federico house in Gagliano Aterno, a village placed in the Parco regionale del Sirente Velino. Gagliano is a smallish village that dates back to the Roman era, but that reached its top development in the XIII century. Like most villages in this area, it is now largely abandoned during winter, with the houses filling up with people only during the summer months, when it gets crowded with people from Rome on holiday (Abruzzo is Rome's mountainside, just like Liguria is Milan's seaside ^_^). The village is topped by a castle that has been restored and turned into a luxury holiday rental, whose rooms and apartments are usually rented by Italian VIPs (sic!) by the year. The houses are, for the most part, and like many villages in the area, built in stone on the steep sides of the mountain, and many amongst them, despite looking quite unimpressive and run down, have doors with sculptured arches at the entrance. Many of the houses also sport writings dating back to the Fascist era, probably drawn for some athletic races (W la piazza, W i suoi atleti, "W the square, W its athletes").
Navelli is a similar village, but with an even more typical and, at the same time, run-down look. The buildings sprout directly from the rock bed; the streets are often made of steps cut into the sale rock, and often the rock has also been cut to allow people walking on streets that would otherwise be choked by outcrops and irregularities. The nearest thing that comes to my mind and that some of the readers might know of are the villages of the Amiata area, such as Santa Fiora, the difference being that, unlike in Santa Fiora, where everything is quite groomed, here some houses have really crumbled down, plainly due to the fact that these villages are all almost empty of inhabitants.
Navelli (and the neighboring "frazione" village of Civitaretenga) are at the sides of a fertile plain called "Piana di Navelli" whose main product is saffron. Sulmona is a more touristy village in the Parco Nazionale della Maiella, also dating back to the Roman period, but a rather rich with medieval and baroque buildings, churches and palaces, showing its importance in the area.
The most well known product of Sulmona are confetti: not the colorful scraps of paper one throws in the air, but candies made of almonds and other nuts covered in sugar. The streets of the center of Sulmona have lots of shops selling these candies, often arranged as to look like flowers. Poet Giacomo Leopardi sang "cannellini", small confetti shaped after "cannellini" beans (small white beans) and flavored with cinnamon, but the confetti factories in Sulmona produce them in a huge variety of flavors.
Grotte di Stiffe is a cave placed right outside the Stiffe village. Near the village, you find the signs leading you to a parking. Once there, you can buy the tickets for the cave (9 euro, but very well spent). One cannot drive up to the cave because there is no parking space enough for all the visitors; the ticket allows you to ride up to the cave's mouth by bus, with a pretty scenic (and Luca said quite frightening) ride. One bus load forms one or two groups of tourists that are led across the cave by a guide (speaking only Italian, but the foreign visitors of the area are really few). Since the temperature inside the cave is 10°C, dress yourself warmly! The cave itself is very scenic: a young cave, with little concretions (stalagmites and stalactites) but with a small river running through it. In order to visit it, three passages had to be dug. Even so, only the first 700 meters can be visited (there is a plan to extend the touristic path another 100 meters, beyond that the cave will only be open to expert speleologists). The river, running through the cave, forms small lakes and waterfalls.
Quite obviously, the area is also rich in footpaths and almost deserted roads allowing easy walks, as well as harder paths for fit people ^_^ leading to the tops of the several mountains. Federico said that at the top of his athletic shape, it took him 7 hours to climb some of the mountains, so we just had a couple of very easy and very short walks, but they were still gorgeous. One meandered on Sirente mountain, leading us to a meadowy area with cows, a source of cold, delicious water and saffron flowers. The other was a walk on paved roads surrounding Gagliano Aterno, with lots of blackberries growing at its sides (I ate a lot of them while walking, and Consy, the day of our departure, picked 2 kg of them for making some jam).
Staying at our friends' house, we ate at home, but I still have a few food suggestions.
In Gagliano Aterno's Piazza del Popolo, a small bakery (the site is horrible!) sells the local "panepizza" bread, a flat loaf with lots of oil and a pizza-like texture, and great "amaretti", almond macaroons in four different flavors (plain almond, chocolate, cinnamon and chocolate and orange).
In Civitaretenga, the Cooperativa "Altopiano di Navelli" sells very pure saffron produced from the flowers growing in the area. Last year the production was very low, so the prices doubled up (a 2 grams jar used to cost 6 euro, this year we spent 12).
In Sulmona, don't let yourself be attracted by the many shops on the main streets of the village, and visit instead one of the many confetti factories, selling the same products at a far better price. Consy has chosen Pelino for the confetti for her marriage (in Italy confetti are distributed to family and friends at marriages, births and similar occasions). The factory is in the outskirts of Sulmona and the building also hosts a museum.
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