In Italy, experiencing all that Abruzzo has to offer – Orange County Register

We met our guide, Fabrizio Lucci (from Italia Sweet Italia tour company), in Sulmona, Italy, at Hotel Ovidius. The Roman poet Ovid was born in Sulmona in 43 BC. The small city has a beautiful town square, bordered by an intact Roman aqueduct. Farmers markets are held twice weekly where you can often find porchetta (roast pig) food trucks.

Sulmona is famous for its “confetti,” a delicious sugar-coated almond confection that originated in Abruzzo, a region of central Italy known for its mountain villages, some dating to the medieval and Renaissance periods, historical parks and three national parks.

Confetti also has a long history here. The confection used to be handed out at weddings, before the ceremonies changed to paper confetti. The Confetti Museum is definitely a worthwhile stop that shows how the confection is made today. You can see how the machinery has evolved over the years and watch a video of the preparation process. Best of all, there’s a gift shop where you can taste some of the assorted flavors, and purchase bags of confetti to bring home.

The town square of the ancient town of Sulmona is flanked by an original Roman aqueduct and framed by the Apennine Mountains in the background. (Photo by Dorene Cohen)
The town square of the ancient town of Sulmona is flanked by an original Roman aqueduct and framed by the Apennine Mountains in the background. (Photo by Dorene Cohen)

Leaving Sulmona, one of our side trips was to Campo Imperatore in Gran Sasso National Park to sample arrosticini (lamb skewers). The drive goes into the high country of alpine meadows where sheep graze, and food emporiums are set up with outside barbecues — hot and ready for cooking.

Inside, you can buy ready-to-go arrosticini and other meats for cooking along with an array of cheeses (especially Pecorino) and, in the place we visited, marinated artichokes and eggplant. Outside, you cook your skewers over the hot coals, turning them two to three times over the course of a few minutes until you reach your preferred doneness. There’s a picnic area with tables and benches outside where Fabrizio, always prepared, set up a spread complete with tablecloth, napkins, utensils and plates and some supplementary goodies.

Also: Eating your way through Italy’s Abruzzo region

Adjacent to the high plain of Campo Imperatore is the medieval hill town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, which is in an ongoing state of renovation with an eye toward authenticity. Many of the buildings have been renovated to reflect how they looked in the 15th and 16th centuries, during the rule of the Medici.

Stop at one of the quality food stores to purchase some of the world’s best saffron and lentils. These lentils are relatively thin-skinned, and don’t require hours of boiling. If you happen to be in the town on the first weekend in September, you might hit the Lentil Festival where you can try scores of different recipes with lentils.

Hike to the top of a medieval castle in the mountains for a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside, at Rocca Calascio. Note that the way to the viewpoints is fraught with rocks, uneven steps, steep inclines and declines — but the view is worth it if you’re able-bodied.

The hilltop town of Scanno sits in the Sagittario Valley and is surrounded by the Majella mountains. (Photo by Dorene Cohen)
The hilltop town of Scanno sits in the Sagittario Valley and is surrounded by the Majella mountains. (Photo by Dorene Cohen)

Jewel of a town

Scanno may be the most beautiful hill town in all of Abruzzo. With its very steep streets, hidden passages and winding alleyways, it’s a town made for walking. It’s also a center of the jewelry industry, particularly filigreed pendants. One of the shops, Oreficeria Di Rienzo Armando, has preserved their original laboratory, so you can see the ancient tools of the jewelry makers.

There’s also a hidden cheese store on Via Silla just to the right of #117. When you ring the bell, the owner appears from the second-story window above, then comes down to open the store. Scanno also is well-known for its unique costuming, lace and heart-shaped Lake Scanno. A walk around the lake is highly recommended.

On the way out of mountain country, we drove through the beautiful Saggitario Gorges, enjoyed a nature walk and stopped at La Porta dei Parchi — an organic farm where pastoral traditions are maintained — for lunch and a visit. You can join their Adopt a Sheep program to help keep their herds healthy and receive pictures of your sheep and their dairy products. La Porta has been designated a Slow Food community. Here at the agriturismo, you can eat at the restaurant on-site  and also rent rooms. This is bio-tourism at its finest, living and eating off the land.

Abruzzo is known as the pasta capital of the world, particularly Fara San Martino (between the mountains and the sea) where De Cecco, Del Verde and Giuseppe Cocco are all made. The Vatican orders their pasta from Giuseppe Cocco, and you can purchase it online from Amazon!

Arriving in Vasto, we checked into the Residenza Amblingh, a beautiful cliffside hotel in the heart of the historic district. Beautiful views of the Adriatic Sea, with its white sand beaches, can be enjoyed from the breakfast loft on the top floor of the hotel, as well as the stone promenade outside where many people take after-dinner strolls (“the passagiata”).

Vasto happens to be our guide Fabrizio’s hometown, and through his depth of knowledge and connections, we were able to enjoy a sampling of the bounty of the sea, an in-depth wine tasting, experience several extra virgin olive oils, spend time with a local painter and a sculptor, and enjoy a re-creation (on a smaller scale) of La Panarda, an ancient multicourse feast.

Also called the Feast of Saint Anthony, La Panarda commemorates the saving of a woman’s young child from the jaws of a wolf. The mother prayed to Saint Anthony and, miraculously, the child was released from its mouth — or so the story goes. This yearly feast generally begins at 8 p.m. and finishes at 8 the next morning and includes 40-50 courses, as well as singing, dancing and music.

Three towns still do La Panarda in all its splendor: Sulmona  (August), Lanciano (September) and Villavallelonga (January). Since we were not visiting at the right time of year, Fabrizio stepped in and found a willing partner in Agriturismo Caniloro in Lanciano. Owners Pina and Berardino love to recreate ancient traditions, and they agreed to put together a “mini” Panarda for our group of six with wine and 21 courses served family style, starting at 1 p.m. The cost was 70 euros per person, a raving bargain. We were still sated the next day!

Dining at the beach

Two distinct highlights of the Adriatic coast include the picturesque beaches, and the Trabocchi (wooden jetties) where fishermen without boats could walk to the end of the pier and cast their poles. Nowadays, restaurants at the pier’s end cast large nets operated by winches capturing the seafood bounty of the Adriatic.

We had the pleasure of eating at Trabocco Punta Tufano. The famous seafood stew, La Brodetto, is popular along the Adriatic and varies from town to town. At least seven different types of seafood are used and can include mantis shrimp, mullet, squid, clams, cuttlefish, scorpion fish, sea bream, prawns and mussels. Whatever is fresh that day goes in. In Italy, experiencing all that Abruzzo has to offer – Orange County Register

Adam Bradshaw

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