Italy’s wild side! The rugged hills of Abruzzo have dramatic scenery and magnificent wildlife


Italy’s wild side! The rugged hills of Abruzzo are bursting with dramatic scenery and magnificent wildlife

  • Wolves, bears, lynx and eagles all live in Italy’s unspoiled Abruzzo region
  • It is located halfway down Italy between the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea  
  • Sample the excellent food, visit small alpine towns and see spectacular ruins 

Stop, I can’t climb any higher,’ I explained. ‘But I can’t leave you here on your own,’ our guide replied, ‘there are bears and wolves in this area.’

He assured me the view would be worthwhile, so I clambered up the last steps to Rocca Calascio, the highest fortress in Italy. And boy, was he right: from the top of its battlements, 1,500m above sea level, we could admire the peaks and valleys of the Gran Sasso National Park below us. The Name Of The Rose, a medieval mystery starring Sean Connery, was filmed within this castle.

I was in Abruzzo, one of Italy’s last unspoiled regions. Halfway down the Italian peninsula, it is sandwiched between the Apennine mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Most Britons I asked before my trip didn’t know where it was.

Sunset at the ruins of Rocca Calascio, which are 1,500m above sea level in the Apennine mountains

Throughout the centuries, Abruzzo has suffered several earthquakes. No wonder it has lost out to Tuscany and Umbria in the popularity stakes. Mass tourism seems to have passed it by.

For those who love to hike, cycle and ski, it’s a marvel, with three national parks and 38 nature reserves. 

Those bears and wolves have to live somewhere. They are joined by chamois, golden eagles and lynx, while in the hills you will spot rare orchids and edelweiss.

Next we headed to the beautiful Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a medieval town once ruled by the Medicis, and undiscovered by tourists. I counted more Abruzzese sheepdogs and sleepy cats than visitors. We stayed at the albergo diffuso Sextantio – a hotel with rooms scattered all over town.

The medieval town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, which was once ruled by the Medicis

The medieval town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, which was once ruled by the Medicis 

Marsican brown bears are native to the region and can be spotted in the Majella National Park

Marsican brown bears are native to the region and can be spotted in the Majella National Park

It was all the more alluring to discover that George Clooney had stayed there while filming The American. The locals told me that increasing numbers of international film crews are drawn to the area’s remoteness and raw beauty.

The fresh air had made us ravenous. Abruzzo is known for mountain lamb, and a speciality is arrosticini – mutton kebabs. 

Another is pizze fritte: shallowfried pizza dough. Who cares about carbloading after hiking? The local pasta is maccheroni alla chitarra, where the dough is rolled over a pasta guitar (chitarra) that slices it into squared strips.

Gran Sasso is the highest mountain in the Apennines and the highest in Italy outside the Alps

Gran Sasso is the highest mountain in the Apennines and the highest in Italy outside the Alps

And what else could we drink with it but the finest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red wine? The next day we went in search of truffles, and Il Tubero d’Oro restaurant in Campli delivered. 

My fried egg and prosciutto with shaved truffles was delicious. And, for visitors used to eating in Venice and Rome, the bill will be a nice surprise – a hearty main of prime beef with truffles costs £15.

It’s time to discover this overlooked part of Italy. Hollywood has. You may even spot Mr Clooney.

 

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