Although not a fan of Winter in general, here are my 10 reasons for taking a winter holiday in Italy’s rocky heart Abruzzo – it will help banish any bleak malingering mid-winter blues!
1. Snow-Capped Mountains
The Apennine Range consisting of the craggy Gran Sasso Mountains and its smoother Majella slopes guarantee a “wow” even from hardened landscape lovers & travellers; they aren’t just great for affordable skiing, but walking in too, when Abruzzo’s wooded lowlands or higher pine forests are quite magical. Muffled peace & serenity whilst following animal snow tracks with plump bright berries & crows nests of misteltoe hanging from trees, make walking in Abruzzo even at this time of year a colourful spectacle and the perfect way to clear one’s head and inspire a freshness of mind.
2. Vino Cotto
Vino Cotto is a traditional Abruzzo drink from Teramo and the Le Marche region, used in days gone by as a way to preserve wine; it’s direct translation is cooked wine and it does nothing short of this to your head, guaranteed after a couple of glasses. But it is absolutely delicious, agrodolce in taste (sweet & sour) and will warm your cockles and your heart (like the affect of Sloe Gin ). It’s a wonderful treat on a wintery day. Our neighbours make their own but you can get a shot (it is quite often served in shot glasses) at most Abruzzo agriturismi and restaurants. It’s delicious on cooked pears which if you are lucky you will get served with a large dollop of marscapone cream. If you find some back home try it too, cooked in a casserole or for a way of embellishing onion soup.
3. Hilltop Castles
Abruzzo’s castles are some of Italy’s finest as their remains tower over valleys. Something to mention about them is that they are not always the most cared for historical sites in Italy, but that is part of their charm and their ability to make you feel that you really are exploring – especially the Roccas – which translate as fortresses. Our favourite will always be Itaaly’s highest fortress of Rocca Calascio, 1460 masl. The views & walks up here are wonderful. For those that prefer to hug the lowlands try Capastrano‘s windy streets.
4. Two Climates
Abruzzo has 2 climates – maritime along its Adriatic Coast and Continental up in it mountains. Driving down from crisp mountain air of Abruzzo’s mountains to the coast you can often find it a balmy 4 degrees warmer. Whilst on the coast there is nothing better than taking a walk along one of Abruzzo’s famed Blue Flag sandy beaches in the winter – most of the time they are empty apart from fishermen and seagulls. Coastal restaurants remain open so take full advantage of their low season tourist menus that serve delicate mussels rather than the monsters proudly presented back home, and of course a restaurant variant on linguine alle vongole.
5. Smoke from a Wood Fire
There is something incredibly reassuring about the smell of genuine wood fires as you walk around Abruzzo mountain villages & towns; there is also something beguiling about watching the flames flicker and twist, snuggled up with a glass of Montepulciano d’abruzzo , the perfect end to any winter’s day in Abruzzo.
6. Scrippelle M’Busse
For many people winter equates to chunky veggie soups but one of Abruzzo’s winter warmers is quite the opposite whilst equally filling & warming. It is Abruzzo’s acclaimed Scrippelle M’Busse which is a delicate & nutritious chicken broth that is poured over crepes that have been fried and then rolled with a light sprinkling of Pecorino Cheese. You can find this in many of the restaurants (rather than agriurismi) where it is a dish reserved more for special ocassions. Warning; it is quite addictive and something that you will want to make back home after you have tasted it, or demand from a partner when you are feeling under the weather!
If there is something that Abruzzo does do well, it is its provincial museums which are perfect for non skiing days, or if it of course rains and you are situated lower down in the valleys. From wolves to bears, to piggies and olives there is a lot more than just Roman relics housed in museums that reflect a history intertwined with nature theming Abruzzo’s museums.
These are really more of a Christmas treat, but hey if you are in Abruzzo for the Christmas holidays these are something not to miss. Caggionetti are sweet little fried ravioli parcels with a yummy stuffing of finely chopped chestnuts and toasted almonds, chocolate, lemon rind, local honey that have been seeped in rum overnight. They are incredibly morish but luckily quite rich so you can’t go crazy no matter how good they are. Quite wonderful!
9. Local Producers & Craftsmen
Get outside of Abruzzo’s cities and you will start finding the smaller independent shops run by local craftsmen and producers. Whether you are looking for unusual jewellery in Scanno, cheese tasting at Porta dei Parchi or La Mascionara Campotosto, ceramics from Castelli or a selection of all at Santo Stefano (a Medici hillop town looking out over the Navelli Plain and Campo Imperatore), you’ll be able to find something to your taste.
Holidays aren’t about scrimping and saving and worrying about the cost or the damage to your credit card on your return. The loveliest thing about taking a winter holiday in Abruzzo Italy is that even following a Christmas splurge, exploring Abruzzo is an affordable winter break that won’t dent your credit card unlike its Tuscan & Le Marche neighbours.