Abruzzo may be Italy’s best-kept secret

I grew up hearing the word – abruzzo – but didn’t know what it meant. The older generation, their Italian-born parents, often spoke words I did not understand. Words of affirmation, words of food, words of whispering sometimes. As I got older, it became clear that Abruzzo was a place, not just another The most beautiful place in all of Italy, spoken of fondly with tearful eyes, by immigrants who wondered if they had ever set foot again in their place of birth.

The first time I searched, I found it on the map. Italy has 20 regions; Some like Tuscany and Sicily are well known. Others like Abruzzo, tucked between the sea to the east and Lazio (home to Rome) to the west, remain unfamiliar to most travelers. In a country of famous monuments and UNESCO-listed cities, Abruzzo has none. However, the complete absence of traditional tourist infrastructure is why Abruzzo holds such an allure to me – and what makes it perfect as the latest pick in our series on underappreciated destinations, it’s still a big world.

I longed to travel back to Abruzzo as far back as I can remember. When my mother retired, there was only one place we wanted to go to celebrate this achievement. We found a culinary school, Abruzzo Sibos, located in a small medieval hilltop village called Carrancio, population 600. Soon a vision formed: a week in a hilltop mansion in our family’s home area, cracking eggs and turning them into flour for fresh pasta dough, tasting Our way through a local cheese shop, learning the traditional recipes of our ancestors. Once we imagined this mother/daughter cooking a getaway, it became irresistible; We booked right away.

In May we flew to Rome, where we laughed with excitement like two schoolgirls when the plane took off. A driver from the cooking school picked us up at the airport and set off for the three hour trip to Abruzzo. Carunchio first appears in the distance, perched on top of a hill. It’s a village of stone walls, red terra cotta roofs, and a charming church with a tall bell tower at the highest point on the hill. As the truck began climbing the back turns, village wildflowers, winding paths, stone steps, and old wooden doors appeared. Carraccio is far from Italy from T-shirts and trinkets. They are church bells, a sink hanging on lines, and a simple wooden table under the shade of a trellis.

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“Abruzzo has no brand name, or landmark, there are no big cities,” said Massimo Criccio, host and owner of Abruzzo Sibos, who met us on arrival at his 12-room mansion. “Abruzzo is really hidden in Italy, and Carroncio is hidden in a hidden place. For some travelers, that can be very attractive.” Upon exiting the van around twilight, we were greeted with a sweeping view of the valley’s grassy hillsides. “In Carancio, locals don’t even expect tourists. They were surprised to see the tourists,” Massimo told me. “This is a very different experience than in other parts of Italy.”

Within an hour of arriving, we had settled into our comfortable room in the Palazzo Tour d’Eau, a grand house dating back to 1730, and out onto the terrace for a pre-dinner drink. Did we just travel late, or did we sip liquor while lazing in a hammock watching the sunset, the best sip we’ve ever tasted? After a welcome dinner of pasta, a free-flowing Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and a chat with fellow culinary school attendees, we plunged into a heavy sleep that not even the morning church bells could disturb.

The next day, before breakfast and a cooking class, I wanted to get to the village, so my mother and I tied our sneakers. We walked along steep and narrow stone steps and paths so narrow that we could smell the morning coffee on the stove, practically looking out the windows of the local villagers, and listening to their assured conversations. In the central bar/cafe we ​​were the only customers, and the barman took his time steaming milk to make our morning cappuccino. We sat outside at a small table watching the locals walk by, enjoying the cool morning breeze and the calm and thumping of our stomachs knowing that a day of good eating awaited us.

Back in the palace, it’s time to cook. Entering the culinary school’s kitchen, we were greeted by a wood-burning stove with scented, burning knives and dish towels, along with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, and garlic. Italy is, of course, a country of regional cuisine, and Abruzzo The fare has its own style and flavour. With a history of poverty, this region is famous for its peasant dishes. “Our kitchen has no fuss, it’s all about flavour,” said Massimo Criccio. “We use a very small amount of ingredients, but every ingredient has to be top notch. If we use tomatoes, they must be the best tomatoes.”

Over the course of the week, we cooked up a menu of high peasant fare, including several vegetarian dishes like Balut cheese and eggsOr bread and cheese patties in a pepper, tomato and onion sauce. We tasted the local hot spice mix called chopped pepperTossed on top of spaghetti, it was surprisingly simple and surprisingly simple. (“It has to be simple, it has to be delicious,” Massimo said.) We hand-wrapped cavatelli and found new life for old bread and noticed the intensity of flavor in the paprika—how could a single pepper have so much life? I watched my mother and she has one of the biggest smiles on her face I have ever seen. She even slept at night with that smile on her face.

This seven-day culinary trip allowed plenty of time for hands on pasta dough, baking almond cookies, and learning about local DOC wines during a sommelier-led wine class, but the trip also included several trips to Abruzzo. We walked through an olive grove, approached a traditional olive press, and tasted extra virgin oil at the source. We visited the cheese maker, to witness the process Casiocavallo Cheese is manufactured from start to finish. We tasted our way through regional flavors that our ancestors had missed badly once they left Abruzzo for America.

The most striking trip was the Adriatic coast and the city of Vasto, where my mother family comes from. This stretch of coast is home to the region’s traditions traboshi, or fishing houses. These tall wooden structures on stilts, once used for fishing, are now reused in uncomfortable restaurants. We stepped onto the pier to walk to the fishing platform on a sunny afternoon, surrounded by the different colors of the Adriatic, the smack of the sea breeze, and the melody of the local dialect.

In these fishing lodges, an outdoor deck is the place to have a seafood lunch. Where our ancestors once fished for sardines and sea bass, we ate crudo with olive oil and lemon. Small fish fried and whipped into one crunchy bite; And salty seafood pasta. There are very few truly perfect afternoons in life, but this was one of them that, in addition to the pleasures of food, cool white wine, and company, those hours also provided a sense of education and a connection to our roots.

Visitors interested in exploring traboshi Coastline can do this by bike; A new bike path opened recently that follows a former train track along the coast. The trail runs from Vasto north towards Pescara, a 42-kilometer stretch with views of the sea, beaches and traboshi. Back in the palace, guests of Abruzzo Cibus can recover from a long bike ride at the new on-site spa, which is home to three outdoor hot tubs, a steam room, and an all-glass hilltop sauna with panoramic views (massages and spa treatments including facials available ).

On our last night in Carrancio, we wore aprons one last time to roll out pizza dough for the wood-burning oven. I’ve had more quality time with my mum – I speak of hopes and happy memories and hardships – than I have in the whole previous year. We gathered around a table to eat pizza hot from the oven, glasses of wine always full and music from the accordion and laughter. There is a reason why people dream of Italy, and it is why it is always at the top of travelers’ wish list. The pleasures are simple, perhaps even more so if you choose to explore areas that travelers sometimes overlook. I went to bed that night grateful that our ancestors led us there.

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