Located in central Italy, Abruzzo is a region that straddles the north and south of the country. It’s about two hours from Rome (closer than Tuscany or Le Marche).
Whether you want a lesser-known vacation destination or are looking for a new place to call home, Abruzzo is a good option. Here are three reasons why I think Abruzzo is worth your attention:
1. The Diverse Scenery
Abruzzo has the kind of scenery that stops you in your tracks. From soaring snow-dusted peaks, to vine-striped rolling hills, to a length of rollicking coastline along the Adriatic Sea, it is a microcosm of all of Italy’s greatest geographical features, tucked into one region.
The craggy Gran Sasso mountain is the giant centerpiece of the central Apennines and a breathtaking sentinel that seems both forbidding and beckoning. The national park in which it resides, Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga, is Italy’s second largest, where you’ll find jaw-dropping alpine panoramas that resemble the Alps.
Much of Abruzzo is made of rolling hills covered in vineyards, a continuation of Le Marche’s countryside, where the world famous wine, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, is made. Stone hamlets clutch their hilltops, with storybook castles and tall towers that once defended their towns and dissuaded invaders–they now entice visitors with their romantic aura.
And then there is the coast—80 miles of it. There are extensive golden-sand beaches with easy access at both the north and south ends of the region, and a rocky shore in the middle, called the Costa dei Trabocchi. Here, the hills fall to the water, creating pebble-carpeted coves. They are never crowded and the water is translucent. The rustic trabocchi (old wooden fishing platforms), many of them still in use, are lovely backdrops for swimming.
2. The Relaxed Lifestyle
Part of Italy’s appeal is the laidback lifestyle it offers, and Abruzzo is no exception. The largest city is Pescara, with a population of about 325,000. Even there, life doesn’t feel frenetic. Smaller towns offer relaxed living but without forsaking conveniences; even villages have the necessary services for daily life, and the provincial cities are never far away. If you want to get away from it all, mountain hamlets offer seclusion surrounded by nature. But the most appealing places are those in the hills, between the mountains and the sea, so you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
It’s easy to be active here, with plenty of outdoor pursuits, like hiking, skiing, swimming, watersports, and cycling. Exploring the wealth of historical sites could keep you busy for years, while the food festivals and cultural events are colorful, joyful, and a chance to really embrace the local atmosphere.
Abruzzo clings to its traditions; its artisan tradespeople like goldsmiths, barrel makers, and coppersmiths are still active and interesting to watch. A sweeter craft is the colorful confetti—candy coated almonds made in Sulmona. No celebration in Italy—from baptisms, weddings, and graduations—takes place without them.
Abruzzo is also an unsung culinary region. Whether its seafood or farm-fresh dishes, the cooks take rustic recipes to new heights. They take simple local ingredients—pasture-grazed lamb, home-grown vegetables, fresh-caught fish, cheeses, mushrooms—and know how to bring out the best flavor of each mingled ingredient.
But let’s not forget the people. The Abruzzesi are a big part of what makes Abruzzo special. In our travels in the region, we’ve been offered coffee by strangers, given samples of homemade cheese, and, once when we were lost, were led down the mountain by a farmer who wanted to make sure we didn’t take a wrong turn. One friend who spent her childhood summers in Abruzzo swears, “The Abruzzesi are strong, steadfast, and generous to a fault.” They will go out of their way (sometimes literally) to help and welcome you.
3. The Unquestionable Affordability
Abruzzo is a bargain. A full meal in a restaurant here will cost you the same as a mediocre tourist meal in Rome. Dinner in the beautiful town of Sulmona—five courses including wine—costs $22 per person. A seafood feast at a waterfront restaurant in San Vito Chietino will set you back $28 per person. You can start your day with a cappuccino and fresh-baked cornetto for just $2.40—about a buck less than your “latte” costs you in the U.S. And a glass of wine in the evening with snacks on a beautiful piazza? Don’t expect to pay more than $5.
Housing prices here are some of the best value in Italy, without sacrificing convenience. For example, a renovated townhouse in Sulmona with two bedrooms, exposed stone, and a rooftop terrace in the historic center where you can walk to everything, is €99,000 ($105,800). And it comes furnished.
If you dream of a farmhouse, there is one available with spectacular views of the Gran Sasso range. The three-bedroom house was given a high-quality restoration, sits on more than an acre of land with vines, fruit orchard, and olive trees, and all for just €165,000 ($176,300). That’s less than ruins costs in neighboring Le Marche. It is only 30 minutes to the beach, and to the airport at Pescara, and an hour from the ski slopes.
Or maybe the sea is more appealing to you. In that case, how about a two-bedroom apartment in the hill town of Tortoreto, at the border of Le Marche. The modern home is move-in ready and features two big balconies that afford sweeping views of the Adriatic, at the affordable price of €79,000 ($84,500), even more of a bargain when you consider the building has a community swimming pool, too.