Driving through endless sweeping hills in Italy, there's nothing for miles, except for the occasional religious relic on the side of the road. It was hard to believe that we'd just come from bustling Rome, which is about 120 miles away.
The region of Abruzzo, the least populated of Italy's 20 regions, is also its greenest, with one third of its territory preserved in national parks. It's also one of the few areas in the world where you can ski in the mountains in the morning and surf (on the Adriatic Sea) in the afternoon.
As we pulled up to our castle hotel in the small, centuries-old village of San Martino sulla Marrucina, we saw jagged peaks in the distance and valleys below. Vineyards surround the 18th century estate, Castello Di Semivicolli, which, after having been abandoned in 1956, was rescued and restored by vintner Gianni Masciarelli. The now-boutique hotel boasts an 1836 olive oil press, an original bell tower, and fourteen rustic-chic suites. The vineyards on the property yield grapes for Masciarelli’s finest wines, and keep company with rows of olive trees. Food is fresh and locally sourced, and views from the rooms overlook the vineyards below and the Maiella Mountains. Best of all, rates at this regal retreat start at €170 ($234) per night.
I recommend venturing off property to the nearby town of Guardiagrele. Stop in at Pasticceria Lullo, a pastry shop that's become an institution in town. Further up the cobblestone street is Il Tempio Del Gusto, a well-known butcher and cheese shop filled with local prosciutto, ventricina, sausages, parmigiano, truffles, and pastries.
Adventure enthusiasts will be pleased, too, with local mountain resorts Pascaseroli, Rivisondoli, and Roccaraso. Outside of the winter season, hiking, mountain biking, and trekking are popular, as is sailing, windsurfing, and horseback riding, all activities can be arranged easily by local operators.