The southern central region of Italy has a rich, if much forgotten, history. Home to many of the hard-working peasants who migrated to the Americas in the last century, it was a hard place from which to seek a living. Today, people are beginning to come here for their vacations, and are realizing that the old abandoned houses that dot the landscape can make good fixer-uppers.
The Abruzzo region is located where the highest peaks of the Appennines meet the Adriatic. Its people are known for their independence, dignity, and resourcefulness: the solid stone houses in the countryside were built over the years with the large stones that the women lugged back each day after working in the fields.
Coming down from the mountains
One reason to come here is for the sheer beauty of the land. The wildest region in Italy, Abbruzzo has three natural reserves (Abruzzo National Park, Majella National Park, as well as Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park), and 28% of the region is protected parkland. Traditions die hard in these rocky mountains and valleys: You can still see the annual ritual of shepherds bringing their flocks from their mountain pastures. The area bubbles with natural springs, and wolves and bears still roam the woods. Added to these natural resources are wide sandy beaches, a sunny climate, and snowy slopes for winter sports, making the region an attractive destination for outdoor fans and sports-loving vacationers.
The area has its share of culture, too. The town of Sulmona is the birthplace of the classical poet Ovidio Nasone, otherwise known as Ovid, and Pope Celestin V spent years as a hermit on Mount Majella. Secinaro was the site where a meteorite fell during the battle between the emperor Constantine and Maxentius—its great flash of light leading Constantine to claim he had seen the sign of the cross.
Property is affordable here. Fixer-uppers can be found for less than 50,000 euro ($60,000): One example is a 700-square-foot two-storey house in Cocullo for 40,000 euro ($53,000), requiring work on the interior. Current offerings for habitable homes range from a 500-square-foot, restored one-bedroom house in Secinaro for 60,000 euro ($79,000) to a working seven-bedroom B&B in Majella Park with nearly 3 acres for 500,000 euro ($655,000).