Guidebooks to Abruzzo are notorious in their absence, especially in English, Abruzzo instead making scant appearance in general guides to Italy. Fortunately this imbalance has now been redressed recently by the appearance of two such guides dedicated to the region.
First up is Luciano Di Gregorio’s guide, published last year for the Bradt series. Di Gregorio was born & raised in Pescara before moving to Australia, and returned to the region whilst in his 20s. This guidebook follows the familiar layout, with a brief yet useful introduction to the region’s history, culture and demography, including an interesting insight into the daily lives & ambitions of a particular Abruzzese family through a sort of socio-economic prism plus a guide to the considerable migrations of Abruzzesi to America, Canada & Australia. The rest of the guide is sorted by the provinces within Abruzzo, indicating places to see, stay and eat.
Good, clear town-plans are provided for the bigger cultural centres of Abruzzo, with additional items of particular or peculiar interest placed in grey text boxes. There are some surprises, such as omitting Roccascalegna, or the relative brevity of info, for example for Vasto, but in the main the guide serves excellently as a travelling companion to Abruzzo for the semi-casual holiday-maker, or for working out itineraries. Di Gregorio does acknowledge that some of the information relating to L’Aquila is now potentially inaccurate due to the 2009 earthquake, so that is worth bearing in mind if looking to explore L’Aquila province from this book. A small central section of colour images complements the colour frontispiece, providing some visual engagement for the user too.
The one aspect of the Bradt guide we did find slightly disappointing was the tendency to suggest hotel restaurants as places to dine, because the hotel in question was also suggested as accommodation. Logical, killing two birds with one stone etc., and many of Abruzzo’s hotel restaurants do good, traditional cuisine, but with the range of very often amazing agriturismi, locande and ristoranti the region has to offer this seems to err slightly on the side of dull, and would not give visitors a real sense of what Abruzzo has to offer in terms of cuisine.
The other guide to hit the market relatively recently, albeit possibly unknown to the English-speaking market, is the one published by Consorzio A-Tour under the patronage of Confcooperative Abruzzo, published by Edizioni il Piccolo Libro. This guide is backed by the Abruzzo Tourist Board, and has been produced in Italian and English translation, utilising several local authors and their knowledge of specific areas, all then edited under the admirable auspices of Rita Salvatore – admirable not least since she had apparently to shape this work in a very short time from the point of conception to the time of publication.
The guide takes a slightly different approach to explaining the region; starting from the border of Le Marche and northern Abruzzo, the A-Tours guide moves down the coast to Vasto and then West and up clockwise to L’Aquila. Not strictly provincial in order, the book is broken into sections based on the changing topography of the region. There is a map of Abruzzo and town plans again, though in the current printed version of the English edition these are virtually impenetrable (the version online has a much clearer map of the region), with a small, clear map for each section. Usefully they have also provided a selection of area-specific itineraries at the end, and there are a scattering of colour and black & white images.
This is also a much denser, somewhat drier guide than the Bradt one, presenting more information on local history, flora & fauna, perhaps aimed at the more serious traveller. The contents pages are quite detailed fortunately, as there is currently no index (!) in this work, an oversight that is apparently to be rectified in subsequent editions due in 2012, but definitely required as the text throughout this book is tightly packed and unless you know the region quite well you will spend a long time trawling through the contents listings, possibly without joy but with considerable frustration.
Hotels and restaurants are graded here in an idiosyncratic method, categorising under ‘Popular’, ‘Charming & Chic’, ‘Domus’, ‘Green’, ‘Memory’ and ‘The One’, which works well once you have got your head around the various concepts.
The English translation is overall very good, and even where it falls down slightly it does not diminish the content, though some of the introductory marketing speak gobbledygook may have English-speakers scratching their head in befuddlement…I do not know how the Italian version compares. It is an attractive, comprehensive publication (though we were surprised by the absence of a mention for the tiny antique church of S.Antonio Abate in Tossicia!), a work in progress perhaps, but definitely worth checking out if you are keen to get to grips with Abruzzo.
Recent experience with family guests has shown the necessity of having a guidebook if you are visiting Abruzzo; they did a tour of most of the main cities in Abruzzo, and in each found the Tourist Office to be closed!
The Bradt Guide is available from Amazon, original RRP £14.99.
The A-Tour printed guide is available for order from their own website, retailing at €23; it is also downloadable as a free PDF via the site for a limited period of time. The Italian edition features further details on camping in Abruzzo, not at the moment present in the English edition.