Flocks of sheep guided by ten or so impressive sheepdogs, incredible & diverse mountain scenery, abandoned medieval towns and hilltop castles exuding a sinister charm. All this can be found within a two hour drive from Rome, in Abruzzo.
I have already mentioned that one of the things I loved the most about living in Italy was its cultural richness and very different kinds of landscapes, everyone can find something for themselves here. I wished to visit Abruzzo for a very long time and one week ago we finally made it with Sébastien and my father. We rented a car as the public transport is not very well developed in that wild and mostly uninhabited region. It took us 1h30 to get to Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso in the Apennine Mountains which spread from Liguria to Reggio di Calabria. The park contains one of the most biologically diverse areas of Europe. The climate is borderline between that of the Mediterranean and that of Europe. It is also home to some medieval jewels like the villages of Santo Stefano di Sessanio or Castel del Monte, considered “I borghi più belli d’Italia” (the most beautiful medieval Italian towns). Many of their houses are even older, founded in the Italic-Roman period. Unfortunately, the region suffers from earthquakes and the last & severe one happened in 2009, destroying many precious buildings.
The village of Santo Stefano is largely abandoned and the majority of its buildings is in ruins. In the 2009 earthquake, Santo Stefano lost its two most precious architectural prizes: the Medici Tower, the town’s iconic symbol, which totally collapsed, and its 17th century Church of the Madonna del Lago, which lost most of its front facade and suffered a major roof collapse.
A large part of the village is now being restored by the owner of Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, a culturally historical project which breathes life into the forgotten places and people of Abruzzo, respecting its ancient style and trying to reconstruct it in the original way. A beautiful initiative!
Then we drove towards Rocca di Calascio and met impressive flocks of sheep with their sheepdogs on our way. The road overlooked the mountain making the scenery really spectacular.
Rocca Calascio is the highest fortress in the Apennines (1460m) and was built around 1000 A.C. only for military purposes and intended to accommodate troops. A beautiful panorama on Abruzzo spreads from the top.
Near the fortress, at a slightly lower elevation, we can find Santa Maria della Pietà, an octagonal church built in the seventeenth century and looking like Moomin House!
Castel del Monte is a stone’s throw away from Calascio. The village is set into a steep hillside and faces mountain peaks. It is also in ruins and largely abandoned. The oldest part of the village dates back to the 4th century.
We drove in the north-west direction from Castel del Monte and found ourselves on that amazing, panoramic road.
It is just a tiny part of Abruzzo and we would love to explore more of it, especially the Trabocchi Coast. The trabocco is an old fishing machine typical of the coast of Abruzzo region and it looks like a giant insect (have a look here). A great part of them were transformed into restaurants specializing in seafood.
PS: We are just back from the incredible Amalfi Coast. A new post very soon! :)