Foodies Tour of Abruzzo Italy
This is the kind of tour every discerning traveler wants to go on. You know, the kind of tour that doesn’t even feel like a tour because there’s only another 6 or so travellers along for the ride and there’s no hectic schedule to adhere to? Oh, and there doesn’t even seem to be any other tours around… or tourists for that matter!
This is the kind of tour that is as though you flew into Rome, met up with some friends, hired a car and set out into the provinces of Italy, well away from the tourist traps… Except, you don’t have to miss the scenery while trying to navigate, you didn’t have to spend months researching where to go and what to do, the best places to stay have been booked, and reservations have been made at all the best restaurants.
All you have to do pack, show up and then enjoy the journey. Best of all, it’s definitely a foodies tour, because that’s what Italy is all about!
Let us take you through such a tour, one day at a time.
It was a pleasant, sunny day in Abruzzo, Italy on Tuesday 17th September 2019. Marco and I woke up early and full of excitement about meeting our small group of new tour friends who would be touring Abruzzo with us over the next 10 days.
At 10:30am we met everyone outside of the Bettoja Atlantico Hotel on Via Cavour in Rome (walking distance from Termini Train Station). Some of our guests had chosen to stay at the hotel for ease, others had stayed close by or had arrived in Rome earlier that morning after touring other regions of Italy.
After dodging our way through the traffic, we finally hit the freeway and enjoyed the 2hr scenic route from Rome to Abruzzo. Nestled amongst the contours of the Majella Mountain in the Majella National Park, we finally arrive at our accommodation for the next 4 nights.
The first thing our guests noticed is the peaceful and secluded location of this charming, restored stone agritourismo. Agritourismi are a type of Italian farmstay accommodation, which are family-owned and run. They provide breakfast and dinner, and the meals are made with ingredients produced on the farm, or from within a short distance.
After settling into our private rooms, we reconviend in the sala, the main room, where our hosts Donatella and Giancarlo had prepared a lavish antipasto-style lunch for us out on the patio, beneath the shade.
We toasted to the beginning of our tour of Abruzzo with a local sparkling wine called “Pecorino Spumante” and enjoyed our leisurely Abruzzese lunch overlooking the valley and Majella Mountain peak.
In the late afternoon, Donatella gathered us for a fun Italian cooking class. We learnt how to make two types of pasta sauce and two types of local pasta called “chittara” and “maltagliate”. It was a great way to get to know each other and get the laughter flowing!
The morning started off in the dining room, with fresh Italian coffee and homemade cakes, yogurt and local honey. It was wonderful to hear how much everyone loved their first night of their Abruzzo tour in their character-filled rooms.
Around 9:30am we boarded the minivan and drove to our first stop, a visit to Sant’Eufemia a Majella, the hometown of our tour friend Rosemary’s, father. Rosemary had given us as much information as she had about her family who once lived here and we did our best to find the address of the house her father grew up in.
The numbers of the houses had changed, but with the help of the local council we were able to make an educated guess at which house it must have been. It was an emotional experience for Rosemary, and we were all happy to get the opportunity to visit this charming little town.
Later that morning, we took a hike through the Majella National Park to the Hermitage of San Bartolomeo, carved out of the side of a rock cliff. We enjoyed a picnic for lunch and marveled at the impossibility of this hermitage in it’s location. We were certainly of the tourist track now!
In the late afternoon we ventured out from our accommodation again, not to return until later that evening. Along the way to our destination, we drove up the Majella Mountain until we were high above the clouds, with Marco fretting all the way (he’s a little scared of heights). From this vantage point, we were able to look out over the foothills of Abruzzo below us, and see all the way to the Adriatic Sea!
The evening was very special experience for us. Firstly, we met Francesca in the piazza and strolled through the hilltop village with her to visit her family’s ancient olive oil mill. After a tour of the mill, we sat down to learn how to taste extra virgin olive oil properly, and how to tell the difference between good and bad oil, a skill which everyone agreed will come in very handy!
Afterwards, we wandered through the village and venturned down a set of unassuming stairs to find an exclusive, hidden wine bar. Our charismatic host Claudio, lead us through an impressive wine tasting of some of Abruzzo’s most notable wines, along with cheese and salumi tastings as well!
After breakfast this morning, we drove to Loreto Aprutino, where Marco and I have our Italian home. We visited the museum of Castelli ceramics and the olive oil museum with an unusual gothic facade. Everyone was delighted to find the ceramics much more interesting than they expected because of the history and stories attached to the artwork.
Afterwards, we descended the village stairs to meet up with our friend at his birrificio (brewery) where we enjoyed sampling his artisan beer and ate lunch, overlooking olive groves and valleys. We even made a quick visit to our house because everyone was interested to see a 700 year old house in the historic centre of the village.
We experienced an early Autumn rain this afternoon, but we didn’t care too much. We were inside at a nearby winery enjoying ourselves and the local wine once again!
Today we visited one of Abruzzo’s most notable destinations, the Trabocchi Coast.
We traveled along the coast and saw the Trabocchi, which are featured in many cooking and travel shows of Abruzzo. The trabocchi are wooden structures built on the water which were used to catch fish by the local farmers 300 years ago and up until WW2.
On a Trabocco, which has been converted into a seafood restaurant, we enjoyed a long and leisurely seafood feast, and I mean a feast! Let’s just say that only the strongest amongst us ate dinner that night!
We left our much loved agritourimo accomodation today, leaving the Majella National Park behind and venturing into the Gran Sasso National Park. Here, will will be staying within the walls of an ancient village called Santo Steffano di Sessanio.
Along the way, we visited the towns of Sulmona and Pacentro. It was the day of the farmer’s market in Sulmona, and we met the locals at the market and enjoyed samples of the local street food called porchetta and the famous Pellino confetti (sugared almonds) which have been made here for hundreds of years.
In Pacentro, we climbed up the top of the Chiola Castel to admire the views and then ate lunch at a Michelin recognised restaurant where we ate pasta with truffles.
We reached Santo Stefano di Sessanio in the late afternoon and we were each shown to our own apartments within this gorgeous village.
The morning of day 6 was spent strolling around the medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio and meeting the local producers of honey, lentils and crafts.
Afterwards, we drove up to the alpine plateau of the Gran Sasso National Park and saw the shepherds out with their sheep and cattle and the ever-present maremma sheep dogs.
Spaghetti Westerns used to be filmed within the plateau and there still remains a couple of set relics which have been turned into kiosks selling BBQ meat for picnickers who grill on the BBQs outside. The people of Abruzzo visit the plateau from all over, to spend the day here and enjoy a BBQ of the famous Abruzzese Arrosticini (Sheep meat skewers).
A group of mushroom hunters had been out collecting mushrooms that day and it was really interesting to see all the different types of mushrooms they had foraged.
The microclimate of Navelli, near Santo Stefano di Sessanio, is perfect for the production of saffron. Today, we visited a local farmer to learn all about this precious spice and the delicate ritual of drying it over coals.
Afterwards, we drove down the road for a master class with Chef Nello who specialises in saffron dishes. He was VERY generous with the use of saffron in the cooking and really spoiled us!
In the afternoon, we took the hike up to the fortress of Rocca Calascio, the highest in Italy, and enjoyed the spectacular views from this fortress which is around 1,000 years old.
Dinner that night was at one of our favorite restaurants. It’s cozy, only able to seat about a dozen customers and dimly lit. Marco and I hate saying that its a vegetarian restaurant because it gives the wrong impression, but they don’t serve any meat and believe us, you won’t miss it either! Every dish is an interesting combination of local produce, allowing every ingredient to impress.
Did you know that sheep and goats are still grazed by shepherds in the National Parks of Abruzzo, just as they have been for centuries?
On the morning of the 8th day of our foodies tour of Abruzzo Italy, we left our accommodation in Santo Stefano di Sessanio and our group of culture-loving travellers spent the morning following the shepherd and his flock of sheep, goats and maremma sheep dogs. There was much to learn about the shephering and nature and we enjoyed the spectacular views along the way.
After lunch, which included cheese made from the sheep’s milk, we learned how to make three types of cheese: primo sale, pecorino, and ricotta…. just don’t call ricotta “cheese”! (Tour joke )
We ended the day with a truffle hunting demonstration. Cico only ate one and managed to find ten in total.
After saying goodbye to the animals, we drove through one of the most beautiful parts of Abruzzo along the way to our last accomodation on our tour.
In Barrea, our new host welcomed us with some drinks and snacks (like we needed it)! and we settled into our rooms in the B&B which overlooks the lake.
On Day 9 we visited Pescocostanzo, which is famous for its Baroque architecture and marble works. We had a fabulous lunch here which included pasta with truffles, and pear and gorgonzola ravioli. By this stage the amount of food we all were consuming had become a bit of a joke. But hey, this is an Italian foodie’s tour!
In the afternoon we visited the wolf museum where we learned lots of interesting facts about the wolves that live in Abruzzo’s national parks. Then we visited the wolf reserve where we caught sight of the resident wolfs. After a refreshing spritz, dinner was in Villetta Barrea where we enjoyed the local line-caught trout for dinner.
As it was our last dinner together for the tour, we got talking about our most favorite moments were during our time together. It was so wonderful to hear that everyone had something different to say and even had trouble choosing a favorite experience.
The morning of our final day on tour was spent in Scanno.
We learned about the presentosa and the other traditional jewels of Abruzzo in the oldest jewellery store in the village which has been passed down through the owner’s family for generations. We wandered through the streets and picked up a few momentos in the little stores.
Afterwards, we visited the Hermitage of San Domenico situated by the magical green water lake.
Our final lunch together before driving back to Rome, was a delicious array of antipasti and a lamb ragu while overlooking the Sagitarious Gorge.
Marco made a speech to thank everyone for joining us on our Foodies Tour of Abruzzo and we were touched by everyone’s comments on the tour. It was lovely to hear comments such as “I felt pampered” and “I felt like a couple of friends were showing me around Italy.” That’s exactly how we want our guests to enjoy Abruzzo with us.
We had such a great time touring Abruzzo with such a lovely group of people and we will remember this tour with very fond memories