A Drive Through Abruzzo’s Majella National Park

National Park
National Park

The Italian region of Abruzzo has a higher percentage of protected landscape within its boundaries than any other area of Europe. There are no fewer than three National Parks – the Abruzzo National Park, the Gran Sasso, and the Majella.

You can explore each can by car, and a few days ago, it seemed a good idea to take advantage of one of October’s truly glorious days and take a long drive to enjoy the Majella’s magnificent scenery.

There’s only one road running north-south through the Majella, from Scafa down to Pescocostanzo via Caramanico Terme, Passo San Leonardo, and Pacentro.

It’s a route studded with gems.

Just north of Caramanico is a short and well-signposted detour to the 12th-century church of San Tommaso, named after St Thomas a’ Becket.

Above the main door is a beautiful frieze depicting Christ and the Twelve Apostles. Twelve rather grumpy-looking Apostles, it has to be said. Astonishing proof that the basics of caricature – albeit respectful – were apparent 800 years ago.

Contrast these with a handful of sumptuous and much more traditional medieval wall-paintings inside the church.

Who says Tuscany has all Italy’s art treasures?

Head further south. The spa town of Caramanico Terme, where you can bathe in the waters, is an excellent place to stop for lunch.

Plenty of choices. We followed signs leading out of town to the Locanda del Barone. An act of faith, as there’s no way of knowing how far away it is, or whether it’ll be open when you arrive.

A 15-minute drive later, we were rewarded with a delightful setting; perhaps the best antipasti we’ve yet eaten in Abruzzo; a hugely generous bowl of home-made chitarra pasta in a creamy tomato sauce studded with little nuggets of sausage; a right house Montepulciano d’Abruzzo served refreshingly chilled; and a bill under €¬40. Very much recommended.

After lunch, a gentle amble south, passing through Sant’Eufemia a Majella, with the road gently climbing up to Passo San Leonardo at 1285m/4216ft.

It’s a road that fools you, winding through alpine meadows against a spectacularly mountainous backdrop, and giving you no real indication of altitude until your ears start popping.

There’s a bar/cafe at Passo San Leonardo should you feel you need to reward your ascent.

It’s then literally downhill until Pacentro, unspoiled and walkable, and famed for the iconic ‘twin towers’ of Cantelmo Castle, begun in the 9th century.

Between Caramanico and Pacentro – about 20 miles (32km) – we met four cars. Nice to have the place pretty much to yourself and dawdle along at your own pace.

After Pacentro, you can make a detour west to Sulmona, or carry on down through the Majella to Pescocostanzo. A popular village of ours with a couple of excellent restaurants and the rather smart American Bar, which has an incredible selection of single malt whiskeys.

Once the snows set in, the road from Scafa to Pescocostanzo is efficiently and regularly snow-plowed. But in winter, it’s mandatory (and sensible anyway) to carry a set of snow chains. Just in case…

We’ve yet to do the drive in winter. It should be equally spectacular and scenic.

But a drive on a matchless October afternoon will be a tough act to follow.

About the Author

David is English, (hence the funny spelling of many words in this blog), but now lives in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, where he co-owns http://www.villasfor2.com holiday rental business.

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A few items from Abruzzo

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
Fifty years ago, a group of Italian scholars gathered to discuss a problem: how to preserve traditional Italian cooking. They formed the Italian Academy of Cuisine to document classic recipes from every region. The academy’s more than seven thousand associates spread out to villages everywhere, interviewing grandmothers and farmers at their stoves, transcribing their recipes—many of which had never been documented before. This is the culmination of that research, an astounding feat—2,000 recipes that represent the patrimony of Italian country cooking. Each recipe is labeled with its region of origin, and it’s not just the ingredients but also the techniques that change with the geography. Sprinkled throughout are historical recipes that provide fascinating views into the folk culture of the past. There are no fancy flourishes here, and no shortcuts; this is true salt-of-the-earth cooking. The book is an excellent everyday source for easily achievable recipes, with such simple dishes as White Bean and Escarole Soup, Polenta with Tomato Sauce, and Chicken with Lemon and Capers. For ease of use there are four different indexes. La Cucina is an essential reference for every cook’s library.

Grazing In Abruzzo
Bruce Franchini (Director), Lidia Bastianich (Actor)
Lidia loves the region of Abruzzo! She describes the people there as welcoming, giving and jovial, and the hearty food of the region has left her with such fond memories. In the Abruzzese kitchens, Farro, a kind of wheat berry, is cooked as a whole grain and is manufactured in many shapes-both by small artisanal pasta makers and larger pasta companies. She makes this pasta with arugula and ricotta. Following her main course of Lamb with Olives, she creates the deliciously fun Scrippelle-which look like fettuccine-and tosses them in a hot caramel, citrus and apricot sauce for dessert.

Abruzzo. History and art guide
by Latini M. L. (Author)
Although it is a bit too synthetic, to the detriment of the overall readability of the text, the work provides an exhaustive description of the artistic heritage of Abruzzo, inserting points for observation not always recognized. Recommended.

Abruzzo 1st Edition
by Michael Kenna
Abruzzo, located in southern Italy, is known as the green region of Europe because of the system of parks and nature reserves covering more than one-third of its territory. In Abruzzo, Michael Kenna found a cultural identity that elsewhere, for the most part, has been lost to globalization and instant communication. Kenna photographed medieval ruins, ancient villages and a countryside rich in traditional cultivation. As curator Vincenzo de Pompeis writes in the book s introduction, 'Abruzzo's heritage, together with its impressive natural scenery, brings to mind romantic connotations that have historically attracted many international landscape artists, particularly in the 19th century. Michael Kenna fits perfectly into this rich historical vein of celebrated landscape artists who have worked in Abruzzo. Kenna's work often evokes the influences of Romanticism. In his photographs of historic rural landscapes, for example, there is an air of melancholy, which accompanies memories from the past. His images of ruins stir up feelings of passing time, of the constantly evolving ties between history and nature.' This gorgeous new monograph by renowned landscape photographer Michael Kenna is published to coincide with a major museum exhibition in Loreto Aprutino, Italy. Richly printed in duotone on matt art paper, and presented in an olive-green cloth slipcase with black debossed text on one side and a tipped-in image on the other, Abruzzo presents 65 images from the series, published here for the first time.

Michelin Map Italy: Abruzzo, Molise 361 (Maps/Local (Michelin))
Michelin created its first travel guide over 100 years ago to promote road travel and inspire driving confidence. Today, Michelin Travel & Lifestyle offers travelers an extensive range of travel guides, maps and online travel resources. These products deliver the same Michelin promise of quality and consistency consumers expect from one of the world's most trusted brands.
Publisher of travel guides, maps and atlases, Michelin Travel & Lifestyle offers a complete travel portfolio. Where to go, how to get there, where to eat & stay, and what to see & do ... all in one collection with extensive international & domestic coverage, especially for Europe. Our series includes Michelin (Red) Guides, Green Guides, Must Sees and Michelin maps and atlases.

Canti Della Terra D'Abruzzo
Ettore Montanaro
Buy MP3: all 51 at the same time, or each one individually.

Italian Folk Songs from Abruzzo 1927-1930
LA COPPIA SCIASCIA (Artist)
CD and MP3 reissue of the freat italian folk duo. Comes with rich notes and photos of the couple as well. Pasquale and Clara Sciascia immigrated to the U. S. from the Abruzzo region of Italy, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From 1927 to 1933 they recorded 44 songs fro the Victor, Columbia and Brunswick record companies. The Sciascias were the first to record a number of Italian and Abruzzese folk songs, 14 of which are reissued here for the first time in 90 years. The songs feature wonderful duet singing and exquisite string band accompaniment. Also included are notes on the couple and their music, photos, and the transcribed and translated lyrics. Includes 20 page booklet.