The Abruzzo - Rome's Store Cupboard
The internal border of Abruzzo is only 70 miles inland from Rome. If you choose to fly into either Fiumicino or Ciampino airports and cross the country along the motorway, heading toward the Adriatic sea, you will be rewarded with stunning scenery: mountainous and spotted with Italy’s most well-preserved medieval and Renaissance hill towns. This landscape provides the ideal soil and climate for producing world-class wine, Italy's best olive oil and regional food that will always be locally sourced, seasonal and fantastic.
Nestled between the Adriatic sea to the east and the Apennine mountains to the west, the area around Casa del Colle offers something for everyone; Beautiful beaches are a 30 minutes drive in one direction and mountains a similar distance in the other.
Until recently the whole region was cut off from the rest of Italy by the vast Apennine mountain range, creating an isolation that has left its legacy; a simpler rural economy, almost untouched by the effects of mass tourism. Now with much better transportation to and around the region it has never been a better time to visit Italy's undiscovered gem.
It is Tuscany on a budget, the Himalayas without the distance; visit Casa del Colle and discover why so many people are choosing to holiday in Abruzzo instead of Provence or Tuscany.
Local delicacies include arrosticini (a type of kebab) and a wide variety of high quality pecorino cheese made from ewes milk (cheese is normally served at the start of the meal, as an antipasti). Meat is excellent and most frequently cooked on the grill. Local specialties of pasta include mugnaia (a course hand rolled pasta) and chitarra (something more akin to spaghetti, traditionally made by pressing the pasta through what looks like a guitar fret – hence the name). The town of Penne has no less than 3 pasta shops; interestingly these are the only shops that open on a Sunday - clearly no one could cook their Sunday lunch without the benefit of fresh pasta! The pasta will often be made before your eyes, to order. Ravioli filled with ricotta is commonplace, fresh, simple and divine
Abruzzo produces some 22 million cases of wine annually from 30,000 hectares of vineyards, roughly half devoted to DOC production, making it the seventh most productive region in Italy.
At their best these wines can be a revelation, but what we get in the UK is too often seen as cheap and cheerful, with too many estates content to make decent but not particularly interesting wines. The Montepulciano grape always delivers something decent, but its wines can be so much more than just that; and Pecorino, provided you choose the right examples, can give one of Italy’s five or six best white wines.
Things to do
A wide range of local shops, restaurants, more bars than can be counted, a Saturday market, a small fruit and veg market every morning (in the covered square opposite the only garage), butchers and a fishmonger (that seems to stay open until all the fish are sold!). Start an evening out in Penne with a glass of prosecco and tapas and absorb the easy going atmosphere of the main square.
If you make only one day trip during your stay then this is it. A high plain (over 2000 metres up) consisting of 80 square miles of alpine pastures. A haven to escape the heat in the summer but cut off for much of the winter by deep snow. The scenery is dramatic, so much so that it has been the location for numerous films, including – for obvious reasons when you see it - various spaghetti westerns. The highlight of the trip must by to try one of the two mountain butchers: there, in the middle of this vast plain, sits 2 shops surrounding by miles and miles of grassland, as far as the eye can see. In the butchers you buy meat from the mountain herd, local wine, bread and cheese and then cook your food on one of the BBQs that the shop will light for you outside. A truly magical moment. If you make it up to this point (and you must) go to the butchers on the right – Ristoro Mucciante.
Santo Stefano di Sessanio (and Castel del Monte)
The tiny medieval village of Santo Stefano lay largely abandoned until recent years. Now restored (but having also suffered after the earthquake in 2009), due mainly to its proximity to Rome, the small village has become a fashionable weekend and summer retreat, including amongst its most notable part-time residents is Lucio Dalla, the Italian singer and songwriter. Plenty of small boutiques, art galleries and eateries tucked into ancient stone structures. Along with its neighbour, Castel del Monte, Santo Stefano has been named one of Italy's prettiest villages, and recognized by the Slow Food movement for its sustainable agriculture, in particular its gourmet lentils. The town holds a festival the first weekend September of each year, the "Sagra delle Lenticchie", celebrating this food.
Not far from Santo Stefano (between Santo Stefano and Castel del Monte), sitting above the town is a 10th century fortress, the highest in the Apennines. Well worth the journey. A number of our guests have said this was the highlight of their journeys out.
Penne Lake & National Park
The lake is a pleasant walk from the house and a good place for a picnic. There is a waterfall (Cascatelle) just above the lake that you can walk to from the house and swim (used by the local children in the heat of the summer). A delightful place to relax. Take a right at the bottom of the dirt road to the house and after 200 metres take the left fork down the hill. At the bottom of the hill take a right along the dirt road and the waterfalls are 400 metres or so on the left.
For a half day excursion try Atri - an attractive hill top medieval town with much of the old town wall still intact. The main attraction is the 13th century cathedral. For a longer day trip choose a route that takes in Silvi town and maybe the coast between Silvi and Pineto.
Another pleasant medieval town, worthy of a trip. A little further than Atri but consider combining it with a trip to the Vechio Teatro restaurant.
Citta San Angelo
A pleasant local hill top town ideal for a half day excursion (with an outlet shop on its outskirts). The main church was rebuilt in the 14th century with a 48-metre-tall bell tower and houses remains of an early medieval pulpit from the 7th-8th centuries. Other sights include the churches of St. Francis, St. Clare and St. Bernardo.
The area between Pineto and Silvi is probably the closest pleasant beach, a little over 30 minutes. Best to avoid the area right around Pescara. If you want to make a bit more of a journey try San Vito, just below Ortona (and on the way back try the Vechio Teatro restaurant in Ortona itself).
Near to Casa del Colle lies some of the most rewarding road cycling this side of the Alps. Bring your own bike or make arrangements and hire from WolfTours in nearby Penne town. You’ll forget all about the Dolomites when you, like Pantani, complete the Gran Sasso d’Italia ascent.