The Abruzzo region is one of the less-visited regions of Italy. Dominated by national and regional parks, Abruzzo is a wild and extremely scenic country, with many unspoiled and picturesque medieval villages and interesting festivals with ancient roots.
If you are traveling by train, major cities with stops include Avezzano, Sulmona, L'Aquila, and Pescara on the coast. Because it's difficult to reach many of the small towns in the mountainous interior by train, a rental car is recommended for touring Abruzzo.
- L'Aquila, the major city of the Abruzzo interior, is a medieval town in a pretty mountain setting. It has a well-preserved castle with a museum, a picturesque medieval quarter, and good shops and restaurants.
- Sulmona is a smaller city, at the confluence of two rivers with mountains as a backdrop, that makes a good base for exploring the region. It has a large, round pizza and a good medieval center.
- Pescara was badly bombed during the war but its a good example of a modern Italian city. Pescara has a nice seaside promenade, good seafood restaurants, lots of nightlife, and a large archaeological museum. From Pescara, you can visit other towns along the coast.
Distances From L'Aquila
L'Aquila is the main city of the Abruzzo interior. Here are some distances in kilometers from major cities in Italy:
- Rome 116 km
- Bologna 392 km
- Florence 363 km
- Milan 604 km
What to See
- Castles: In the region surrounding L'Aquila there were once 99 castles. Today you can still see the ruins of many of them and a few that are well preserved. The high village of Rocca Calascio is an abandoned fortress and surrounding Borgo. Recently a restaurant has opened in the village and some of the houses have been renovated to make rooms for travelers. If you've seen the films Ladyhawke or The Name of the Rose, Rocca Calascio may look familiar.
- Walled medieval villages: Some of the castles enclose whole villages, where, inside the walls, you can imagine life as it was in medieval times. Fontecchio is a good example.
- Picturesque villages: The Abruzzo region is dotted with charming villages, many where time seems to stand still. The village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, pictured above, is especially beguiling.
- Caverns: Grotte di Stiffe is one of the top caves to visit in Italy. A river runs through the cave and in spring there's a waterfall inside.
- Roman Ruins: The Romans sure got around, and even in this remote area of Italy there are good Roman ruins, including the excellent site of Alba Fucens.
- Pescara sea resort: The most populous city in Abruzzo, Pescara is located on the Adriatic Sea and is a major commercial center and seaside resort. It has a 20 km-long seafront, which in the summer is lined with beach bars, eateries, and stabilimenti, or private beach areas with lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent. If you're looking for conveniences and modern accommodations, Pescara makes a good base for exploring Abruzzo and the neighboring regions of Le Marche and Molise.
Mountains and Abruzzo National Park
The Abruzzo National Park, centered around the town of Pascasseroli, has only one driving road but lots of hiking and biking trails for all ability levels. There are seven visitor centers where you can get maps of the trails. Guided tours can be arranged in Pascasseroli. To arrive by public transportation take a train to Avezzano and then a bus to Pascasseroli.
The Gran Sasso is the highest point on the Italian peninsula. The Gran Sasso has hiking trails, spectacular spring wildflowers, and skiing in winter.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Monastero Fortezza di Santo Spirito, a restored 13th-century fortress monastery in a beautiful setting on a hill, about 11 miles southeast of L'Aquila. The photo above was taken on a walk from the monastery. In Santo Stefano, you can stay in the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, with rooms scattered throughout the village.