5 Reasons Why Under-the-Radar Abruzzo Should be Top of Your Italian Bucket List

by  Christina Valhouli | Jan 16, 2024

If overtourism has you rethinking a trip to Italy, think again. Abruzzo is an under-the-radar Italian gem located about two hours east of Rome along the Adriatic. This region is known as the “green lung” of Italy as nearly half of its land is designated as national parks and reserves — and all that greenery translates to fewer people and more tranquility. With mountains, beaches, and national parks (you could even hit the slopes and the beach in one single day!), it’s a stunning spot to visit year-round.

Abruzzo delivers an authentic Italian experience that feels delightfully stuck in time as well as deeply personal. During my recent visit, the Doc Martens-wearing female mayor of Casoli joined my group’s tour, and an older woman came out of her house to give us a basket of chocolates as a pick-me-up. At a small grocery store, where I stocked up on treats like aged Parmesan and pistachio butter at a fraction of their U.S. prices, the friendly shop owner turned a mundane shopping excursion into a party, handing out slices of prosciutto, cheese, and cups of local Montepulciano wine. Only in Italy!

Read on for 5 reasons why the Abruzzo region should be your next Italian destination.

1. Stunning Beaches 

The UNESCO World Heritage-designated Trabocchi Coast stretches 33 miles from Ortona to Vasto, winding past white beaches and coves with turquoise water. Explore the coast on an e-bike (available through Green Road Bikes, or spend the day at a chic beach club such as Il Cavalluccio. Stop at a trabocco for lunch, which are antique, wooden fishing structures where nets hang right in the water beneath. Tuck into platters of mussels, anchovies, and shellfish pasta at Trabacco Sasso Della Cajana.

Courtesy of Christina Valhouli

2. Skiing with Views of the Adriatic

Roccaraso, L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy / iStock/lucamato

In the late spring, it’s possible to ski and go to the beach in Abruzzo on the same day. While the ski resorts here may lack the altitude and drama of the Italian Alps, what they offer is a more low-key ski experience as well as unique views. The Apennine mountains are home to 21 ski resorts, catering to all skill levels as well as both downhill and cross-country skiers, and are popular with day-trippers from Rome. Passo Lanciano-La Majelletta is the only resort in Italy to offer a breathtaking view of the Adriatic from the slopes, while Roccaraso is central Italy’s largest ski resort. Campo Felice and Majella National Park are some of the top areas for cross-country skiing.

3. Incredible Food and Wine

La Macina Ristorante e Birreria / Courtesy of Christina Valhouli

No trip to Italy is complete without indulging in food and wine, and Abruzzo delivers. Sample local Montepulciano, Merlot, and Rosato wines while enjoying views of the Apennine mountains from the family-owned Azienda Tilli in Casoli. In Pennapiedimonte, enjoy a traditional meal of local cheeses, lamb stew, and tomato salad at the subterranean La Macina Ristorante e Birreria. This former olive oil mill dates back to the 1800s and used to be powered entirely by a donkey. Look closely and you can still see hooks embedded in the stone walls to secure the donkey’s harnesses.

4. Picturesque Medieval Towns


The medieval towns of Abruzzo are filled with the picturesque cobblestoned streets, churches, and plazas you’d expect from a trip to Italy — minus the crowds. Head to Ortana to see the enshrined relics of St. Thomas the Apostle at the Cathedral of St. Tommaso Apostolo. Or, throw on a pair of sneakers and drive to Roccascalegna, which is topped by its namesake castle. It's a steep climb to reach this ninth-century structure built by Benedictine monks, but well worth it for stunning views of Majella National Park. Visitors can explore the castle’s prison tower and its gruesome torture devices, a chapel, and various exhibits. You should also try to time a visit to the town of Casoli on a Friday, which is market day, when vendors sell everything from freshly roasted porchetta and vegetables to shoes and pink Italian cycling jerseys.

5. Unrivaled Hiking

Roccaraso, L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy / iStock/phbcz

Abruzzo is sometimes called the greenest region in Europe. The area is home to three national parks and 38 nature reserves that are ideal for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. It’s estimated that 75% of all European flora and fauna may be found here. The Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Italy and is crisscrossed with rivers, waterfalls, and beech forests. It’s also home to animals such as the Apeninne wolf and the Marsican bear. Explore the caves, gorges, and rivers of Majella National Park, which is also notable for its spiritual connection. Its caves have been used as places of worship, and its 52-mile-long Spiritual Trail follows an ancient pilgrim route.

Where to Stay:

There are plenty of options for where to stay in Abruzzo, ranging from agriturismo stays at farms to bed and breakfasts and even castles. I recommend Chieti’s Castello di Semivicoli, a 17th-century castle surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Its 11 guest rooms are all unique, but what they have in common are original features such as exposed beams and fireplaces, offset by modern furniture and free-standing tubs.

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