What to See and Do in Sulmona, Italy

Statue of Ovid in Sulmona

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Sulmona is a city in the Abruzzo region of Italy, set along the long ridge of the Apennine Mountains, which runs nearly the entire length of Italy. Sulmona's history predates ancient Rome, and it is famous as the birthplace of Ovid, the celebrated Roman poet who was exiled during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Today, Sulmona is a center for discovering the history, culture, cuisine, and stunning natural areas of Abruzzo. It's also known for producing confetti, candy almonds that are traditionally given out at Italian weddings, baptisms, anniversaries and other special events.

With its handful of museums, important churches, excellent restaurants, and plenty to see around the perimeter of the city, Sulmona is an excellent place to visit for a few days or more, particularly for those keen to explore the larger Abruzzo region.

Location and Geography

Sulmona is located in south-central Abruzzo, the mountainous region east of Rome composed of rugged mountains and a long stretch of Adriatic coastline. Sulmona is in the Peligna Valley and is surrounded by the Apennine Mountains. The city has long sat on important trade and migration routes and has been inhabited since at least the 3rd century B.C. The city enjoyed varying degrees of prominence during the Middle Ages, and in the 19th century, it became a key stop on the rail line connecting Rome to Pescara on the Adriatic Coast.

Sulmona has four distinct seasons, including sometimes heavy snowfalls in winter when the nearby mountains are completely covered in snow.

Confetti flowers at Pelino Confetti Factory
Elizabeth Heath 

What to See and Do in Sulmona

Start on the city's main plaza, Piazza Garibaldi, and admire the 12th-century aqueduct that has withstood earthquakes, invasions, and Allied bombings. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, a large open market is held here, with vendors selling everything from clothing to housewares, local produce, cheese and meat, and braided cloves of Abruzzo's famed red garlic.

Also on the piazza is the Santa Chiara Convent, a former convent where poor women would leave newborn babies they could no longer care for. Next to the convent, the Diocesan Museum has a collection of religious and modern art that includes several artifacts from the convent. It's open daily, except for Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 pm.

The main street is Corso Ovidio, named after Sulmona's favorite son, Roman poet Ovid, who was born in the city. At Piazza XX Settembre, a popular area for locals to gather in the evenings, you'll find an imposing statue of the poet. The corso is lined with shops, including many selling colorful confetti, the candied almonds and confections for which Sulmona is so well known. The pieces of confetti are sold loose or arranged as little flowers, and make cute and inexpensive souvenirs or gifts.

Other points of interest in Sulmona include:

  • The Church of Santissima Annunziata, with its baroque interior and impressive dome.
  • The Civic and Archaeological Museums, located next to the church and in a former hospital. The ruins of a wealthy Roman villa are on the ground level.
  • Just outside Sulmona, the Pelino Confetti Museum celebrates the history and production of Sulmona's famous confetti and its oldest confetti company.

Two Major Festivals in Sulmona

Sulmona's two most important events take place at Easter and in late July, and both center around Piazza Garibaldi.

Beginning on Good Friday, the Festa della Madonna che Scappa in Piazza (loosely translated as "the Madonna who runs in the piazza") is a one-of-a-kind religious observance. The festival culminates on Easter Sunday, when the statue of the Madonna, clad in mourning clothes, is carried outside the church. Tens of thousands of onlookers cheer in the poignant moment that the Madonna realizes that her son has been resurrected, sheds her black cloak and runs across the piazza to reunite with him.

On the last weekend of July, the Giostra Cavalleresca joisting tournament enlivens the city with a medieval atmosphere. The weekend includes a costumed procession of townspeople in elaborate period costumes, a horse race ("palio"), and other festivities.

Local cheeses at Il Vecchio Muro
Elizabeth Heath 

Where to Stay and Eat

Sulmona has a range of nice hotels and high-quality bed-and-breakfasts, including B&B Sei Stelle, which overlooks Piazza Garibaldi. It's owned by well-known Boston restauranteur Filippo Frattaroli, who was born in Sulmona and returns to visit frequently. Just off Corso Ovidio, Hotel Rojan is a highly rated four-star hotel. La Locanda del Gino is a modest 4-room hotel above a well-regarded restaurant under the same ownership.

About 20 minutes outside Sulmona, La Porta Dei Parchi offers simple rooms on a working sheep farm and cheese factory. Even if you don't stay there, the "agriturismo" has an excellent, rustic restaurant serving organic fare produced on or near the farm.

Sulmona's cuisine relies on the bounty of the open land surrounding it and centers around sheep's cheese, lamb, olive oil, and black truffles. On Piazza Garibaldi, Ristorante Pizzeria San Filippo 63 is run by an innovative young chef who puts a modern twist on traditional Abruzzan dishes. Elsewhere in town, Il Vecchio Muro has outside dining in the summer and a nice winter garden for colder months. Its menu includes traditional Abruzzan antipasti, plus dishes incorporating local truffles.

How to Get to Sulmona

From Rome, Sulmona is a two-hour drive of about 100 miles along the A24 and A25/E80 toll roads. Or by train, catch one of the direct trains (there are three or four daily on weekdays) from Roma Termini station. Fewer trains run on the weekends. While it's possible to get around Sulmona without a car, for touring the countryside, a car is needed.

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