Bordered by a craggy spine of the Apennines Mountains to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east, the Abruzzo region lies just a two-hour drive from Rome’s Fiumicino international airport. Remarkably little-known, it offers a combination of Tuscany’s rolling landscapes and Umbria’s verdant scenery. Today Abruzzo is being discovered by connoisseurs of Italy who love its leisurely ways. The region does not yet have a luxury hotel of an international standard, but it does offer small properties of comfort and character. And what also makes them especially memorable is the Abruzzese tradition of hospitality.
Map of Abruzzo region in ItalyAbruzzo is a blissfully relaxing destination, in part because sightseeing duties are minimal. The Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo in L’Aquila, the region’s capital, is fascinating, as is lively Pescara, a city on the Adriatic coastline. But my strongest memories are the honeyed smell of yellow-flowering broom, the bleating of lamb and goat herds, and the villages of cream-colored houses spilling down distant hillsides. The pleasures of a trip are waking every morning to birdsong, admiring the routinely spectacular views and exploring the region’s superb cuisine during long, lazy lunches. (Many of Rome’s most famous recipes, including spaghetti alla carbonara and bucatini all’amatriciana, actually have their roots in Abruzzo.) With three major national parks and one regional one, this sparsely populated region remains a tract of Italy where time has largely stood still.
When the Italians speak of Abruzzo, the adjective they use most often is “pastorale.” Like the corresponding English word, it derives from the Latin “pastoralis,” meaning “of shepherds or herdsmen,” and for centuries most of the inhabitants earned their living by herding flocks. The Italian term for the seasonal movement of animals from the plains to the mountains is “transumanza,” and as the charming Federico Rosati, the owner of our first hotel, told me, “Even today, it is the transumanza that defines Abruzzo, since it explains our landscapes, our cooking and our character. We live very close to our land and its history.”