Autumn in Abruzzo begins in earnest in mid-October, down on its wine-growing hills, valleys and Adriatic beaches it’s still a temperate 16C. Toasted autumnal coats clad the ploughed fields, their furrows contrasting with the laden olive trees that are nearly ripe for harvest, purples bruising black, and the shrinking, yellowing vine leaves. It is a mellow time to go walking in the Abruzzo lowlands, or even better to take to the highlands with a ramble in the Gran Sasso National Park.
With a slight wind chill the mountain air is crisper in temperature than its coastal cousin still a frost-free 10C, you’ll be treated to a spectacle that simply looks like a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has been poured from a great height over the mountain tops, staining its ancient forest leaves garnet as it descends, finally gently burnishing a shrubby shawl around the sheep’s pastures the colour of the local persimmon (cachi) fruit.
A great morning’s walking and an excuse to buy sublime cheese can be had in the national park up around Lago Campotosto. The cheese and salami shop, La Mascionara win’s the region’s title for the most off-the-beaten-track cheese shop and is owned by Signor Alessio Rinaldo, who like all great Abruzzo cheesemakers is a large bear of a man. Despite its remote, location you can be guaranteed that you will never be the only customer here as Italians come from far and wide to buy the farm’s exquisite cheeses.
For a snack on your walk, grab some bread and some “Lucifero”, a young Gran Sasso pecorino cheese flavoured with sweet peperoncini strands, Squacquerone, hay clad or his award-winning mature pecorino. The sheep, goats and cows feast on pastures filled with dandelions, thyme and chives which is what gives La Mascionara cheeses their unique flavour. For vegetarians highly recommended is their Cacio Fiore Aquilano which is made with artichokes rather than rennet. Signor Rinaldo makes one of Italy’s oldest salami types that is local to this area, Mortadella di Campotosto which was first recorded 500 years ago. Don’t forget to buy some of his aromatic guanciale to make proper Amatriciana pasta sauce (nearby Amatrice was part of Abruzzo until 1927).
Drive back down the SS80 road to Montorio Val Vomano and the coast and try any of the roadside restaurants to see if they are serving local wild mushrooms that are served at this time of the year with polenta. If you are lucky you may end up with some roasted chestnuts straight from the fire.
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Tel: +39 0862 904774 | GPS SS 577 Km 3.00 67013, Mascioni di Campotosto AQ