A must for visitors to Abruzzo is Campo Imperatore in the Gran Sasso National Park. Campo Imperatore has the grand distinction of being Abruzzo’s largest & highest Alpine meadow. At 80km2 it’s the perfect spot to visit for nature lovers on holiday in Italy, and also makes the perfect day out in Abruzzo for anyone with a little passion; all or just one of its many beautiful elements are guaranteed to get you ever-so-excited about Abruzzo’s mighty plateau in the Gran Sasso National Park.
Its 360 degree views were moulded over several thousand epochs, and will leave you marvelling as you drive or walk up its inclines, curves and pancake tummy, imagining how first the glaciers and then rushing rivers of old eroded and left behind what is commonly known as Italy’s Little Tibet.
If you are a keen photographer the light & textures you can explore 1500 to 1900 masl up here are just incredible; for walkers on holiday in Italy this is “must visit” place to hike – the terrain is pleasantly suitable for all levels as long as you don’t attack the Corno Grande (I am a lazy rambler so it’s perfect).
If you are a stargazer you are in good company; there is the Campo Imperatore Observatory here. Or just come at night and sit in your car with a telescope and star gaze – devoid of any nasty sodium light with just the company of Apennine wolves it really does make a different sort of special night out in Abruzzo and one that you will remember for the rest of your life!
Entomologists and lovers of flora & fauna too are all equally well catered for; rare varieties and bright colours of both the flowers and insects are spectacular, I particularly love the stalky vibrant flowers that include Rusty Foxglove which grow so tall you wonder which mountain they are competing against for height.
A perfect day-out for those who don’t fancy walking all day but want to take in the essence of Campo Imperatore is to start from its feet. A great road journey is to work your way up along its backbone (the Campo Rigopiano) taking this small Gran Sasso mountain pass road that runs up via Castelli, home of Abruzzo ceramics, ending at Castel del Monte – great for biscuits and cross country skiing (there is a 37km run that starts on the doorstep of this classic Abruzzo hill town…). Castelli is the perfect historic Abruzzo town to buy colourful ceramic souvenirs for your granny and family from your holiday in Abruzzo.
If you don’t mind a small detour off the road, visit Farindola, home to one of our favourite pecorino-type cheeses; unique in that it is the only cheese in the world to be made with pig rennet, it’s moist, slightly yellow with a bit of a toffee-like kick, this fabulous cheese is named after the town. On the way through to Farindola you will you will see where those camper-van-loving Italians go on holiday or to picnic, in the woods around Rigo and Ronchetti. There is a good restaurant in Farindola, the Lu Strego, it is a little too large for my tastes (we prefer smaller cosy restaurants) but the view is excellent and great food & wine, so it’s a good place to stop off for lunch.
Jump back on the mountain pass and double-back up into Camp Imperatore proper – do be careful about speeding; there is an automatic tendency when not going round mountain bends to speed up but i can guarantee at some point on the road you will bump into either sheep, cows or wild ponies grazing on the roadside. Don’t worry they will move out the way, don’t hesitate just gently nudge forward. As you get onto the plain you will see a little wooden cabin/cafe with bright curtains and a little terrace stop here and get out and go for a walk. You will be tempted by many vistas and mini-excursions on many other occasions as you drive through the plains, but it is good to have a location to help you avoid getting lost and of course have a refreshing drink at the end of some gentle exertion.
To finish, go down and explore the Medici town Castel del Monte. The town suffered loss and damage in the L’Aquila earthquake and you may see if you go at the moment the legacy tents which people are still living in. I am keeping my fingers crossed that everybody will be moved from these temporary accommodations by the time the snows arrive, as it gets very very cold up here in winter – which isn’t long Mr Berlusconi! Do take a gentle walk around and discover why it is listed amongst the most beautiful towns & villages in Italy – the I Borghi Piu belli D’Italia. Sadly in the earthquake the clock tower on the Chiesa “Matrice” di San Marco was partly demolished, but this is even more reason to go donate €1 and help in its rebuild, and of course buy the legendary biscuits from the town to nibble on as you make your way back.
The Trattoria Lu Strego (closed on Wednesdays)
Address – Strada Provinciale per Rigopiano, Farindola, Pescara, 65010| Telephone – 085823104 (no website)