fried pizza from abruzzo

Fried pizza from Abruzzo

At every traditional festival in Abruzzo, big and small, you’ll see locals enjoying pizza fritta, or fried pizza. It is one of the region’s most popular street foods with kids, youngsters and grown-upsIn the old days, it was eaten plain, with a sprinkle of salt or cooked grape must as a sweet version. Today, pizza fritta is served with arrosticini, topped with roasted peppers, prosciutto or salami.  

Pizz’onta is the dialect name for the fried pizza. It means “greasy pizza” because it is fried in generous amounts of olive oil (in the past, animal fat was used and some nonnas still insist it is the best way to make it). Greasy in a hearty satisfying kind of way, it is delicious chomped up hot, right from the frying pan.

fried pizza abruzzo
photo by mauricm:pbfp/Instagram

Neapolitans love pizza fritta, too, but they stuff it with prosciutto, mozzarella cheese or vegetables and fold. You’ll also find small fried pizzas in across southern Italy that are topped with a smudge of tomato sauce and cheese. In Abruzzo, you’ll find pizz’onta in its pure simplicity, fried dough and nothing else.

Aren’t we all craving comfort foods like pizza fritta right now? Simple and satisfying, they bring memories of childhood, when life was uncomplicated, full of delights and sunshine.

photo by dolcesalato_eneda/Instagram

Fried pizza from Abruzzo recipe

700 g di farina flour

10 g dry yeast

A teaspoon of sugar

A teaspoon of fine sea salt

3 tablespoons of EVOO


Oil for frying (olive or sunflower oil, or, if you are not worried about the calories, use animal lard)

Mix the ingredients and knead them gently. Add ½ glass of water at a time until the dough is smooth, elastic and easy to handle (different types of flour need different amounts of water). Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rest for about two hours until it doubles in size.

Divide the dough in balls, about 70-80 grams each. Roll each ball evenly but not too thin and pierce with fork in several places, so the pizza doesn’t bubble up when fried.

Heat up the oil and fry the pizza till golden, less than a minute on each side. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt or sugar and eat them hot.

Buon appettito!   

Don’t miss new posts about Abruzzo’s food, traditions and places to see? Subscribe to my updates! Scroll to the bottom of the page and enter your email address.

things to see in abruzzo

Things to see in Abruzzo: A Forgotten castle and sacred forest

This was one of those surprises that Abruzzo is generous with. While walking near a small hamlet of San Tommaso in the La Majella National Park, I looked up and saw ruins of a castle atop a tall rock tower. Piano dei Luchi, where the ruins are, is a fascinating place virtually unknown to foreign visitors to Abruzzo despite its natural beauty and rich history. It certainly deserves to be on your list of things to see in Abruzzo.

castello di luco

Flanked by high canyon walls that the Orta River chiselled in prehistoric times, Piano dei Luchi is a large flat area studded with tall rock formations. These natural towers reach up to 30 metres and are inaccessible as the rocks are steep and crumbly, so even the bravest climber wouldn’t dare to ascend them.

things to see in abruzzo

There is a well-beaten path running from the hamlet of San Tommaso to the village Musellaro but the area is always quiet, except on summer weekends when locals and people in the know come for a swim in the river. But just like many other quiet forgotten places in Abruzzo, this area is hiding a glorious past.

Humans settled here a long time ago. Archaeologists have found rock carvings on the canyon walls dating back to the Bronze Age. In pagan times, it was a sacred forest. Ancient Romans built settlements and roads in the area and you can still see the remains of two Roman bridges along the river, a short walk from the valley. Apparently, Julius Caesar marched here from the Rubicon to the battle in the ancient Corfinium in 49BC. There is still a saying among old people in the nearby village of Musellaro “If Musellaro had a seaport, Rome would fall,” meaning that this area was so important and had so much power that it could almost overthrow Rome’s rule.

The settlement in Piano dei Luchi was called Lucus, or Luco (meaning “a sacred forest”). It was dominated by a fortified castle, Castello di Luco, built in 1006 atop a 30-metre-high natural rock formation. Luco is mentioned many times in important documents between the 11th and 14th century and historians believe that the castle served as a military outpost on a busy road that connected this area to the San Clemente Abbey, Corfinium, the Tiburtina-Valeria road and the Tratturo Magno (the 244km-path that shepherds used to bring sheep from L’Aquila to Foggia for seasonal migration).

things to see in abruzzo

Today, not much remains from the castle: only two walls and a few stacked up stone fragments running around the rock formation but the views from up there are breathtaking.

Over the centuries, this corner of Abruzzo succumbed to feuds, earthquakes and emigration. The reminders of its past glory have crumbled and been swallowed by nature. I walked there so many times without noticing the castle as it is hidden behind the trees but, as it turned out, some kind soul put it on Google maps (see at the end of the article)!

Up until 50 years ago, this plain was cultivated and you can still see abandoned olive groves and stonewalls marking the fields. Walking around, you’ll also spot a few rock cavities turned into enclosures for sheep and goats.

If you do go to explore Piano dei Luchi and the castle, make sure you stay quiet. The silence there is special and, if you are patient, it will reward you with a sighting of deer, wild boar, or, perhaps, even a wolf. When I was there last time, five magnificent red deer stopped not far from me to graze.

Travelling to Abruzzo? Email me to inquire about my travel planning services.

For more information about history of the area see:, Il Ponte Romano, Musellaro.

pulcinella abruzzese

Pulcinella and Carnival in Abruzzo

It is not just in Venice that locals dress up this time of year. Carnival in Abruzzo is celebrated with parades, colourful floats and traditional costumes. For many centuries, the town of Castiglione Messer Marino in the Chieti province has been keeping the custom of the “Maschera castiglionese” alive. It is a performance that takes place along the streets of this small town.

Castiglione Messer Marino . Photo by cristian19811/Instagram

Men dressed up as Pulcinella Abruzzese (i Pulgenèlle, in local dialect) announce the start of the “Maschera” marching around the town, singing and playing traditional instruments. Locals treat the procession participants and spectators to wine, panini sandwiches, biscuits as they walk around the town.

carnival in Abruzzo
Photo by pulgenella_castiglionesi/Instagram

The most striking feature of the Pulcinella Abruzzese is the elaborate high headgear decorated with bright colourful pompoms and ribbons. It symbolises the connection between earth and heaven, religious power and ward off evil. Pulcinella Abruzzese costume has other symbolic accessories: a magic wand that brings natural order and makes whatever it touches burst in flowers, the boots (a symbol of power as peasants could barely afford even simple shoes), bells to keep evil spirits at bay and symbolise fertility. Anthropologists say that the character of Pulcinella goes many centuries back and had always represented the deceased ancestors.

carnival in Abruzzo
Photo by treknmore/Instagram

In the old days, Carnival in Abruzzo meant the awakening after the cold rigid winter and, according to popular believes, the dead ancestors and underground spirits were the guardians of the land’s fertility who helped seeds’ germination.

Although there are some similarities with the Neapolitan commedia dell’arte character Pulcinella, the Abruzzese one is connected to the archaic Carnival figures typical for the Central Apennines and has more ancient origins and symbolism.

carnival in Abruzzo
Photo by pulgenella_castiglionesi/Instagram

Recently, the town of Castiglione Messer Marino has asked UNESCO to recognise the Pulcinella Abruzzese as an intangible cultural heritage.

In the video below you can see a procession of Pulcinelle Abruzzese. Turn the sound up to listen to the beautiful bells attached to the costumes.

Saint Agatha’s bread from Castelvecchio Subequo

A couple of years ago I went to wander around the tiny village of Castelvecchio Subequo in the Province of L’Aquila. It still keeps the original fortified structure that historians date back to Roman times, when the ancient settlement Superaequm, one of the most important centres of the Peligni people, stood here. Despite its small size, Castelvecchio Subequo thrived for centuries as a centre of saffron cultivation and a religious hub with a school of Theology and Philosophy established in the Convent of San Francesco in the 14th century.

Castelvecchio Subequo, photo by fabriziobarbati/Instagram

The village still boasts architectural gems from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque period: majestic churches, noble palaces, an ornate 17th-century fountain, impressive ancient doors, a crumbling glorious castle.

On a small street running from the main square with the magnificent Convent of San Francesco, through an open door, I saw two women piling up delicious-looking buns in baskets. As it turned out, it was a local bakery and the ladies were preparing for the feast of Sant’Agata. The village celebrates it twice a year, February 4-5 and August 20. The legend of Saint Agatha, or Agatha of Sicily, tells a story of a beautiful young woman, who chose to remain celibate and give herself to God and a life of prayer. Despite her vows, some high-ranking men kept making advances but were consistently spurned by Agatha. Enraged by her strong faith, one of them subjected the devote young woman to unimaginable torture and had her breasts cut off. She was canonized later and till this day the feast of Sant’Agata is celebrated with breads shaped as breasts.

In Castelvecchio Subequo, the local bakery makes sweet and savoury pagnotte di Sant’Agata (buns of Saint Agatha). It fires up the oven during the night to make sure that hundreds of buns are ready for February 4, when the pagnotte are blessed at the celebratory mass and distributed among the villagers to be eaten the day after.

The cult of Saint Agatha is strong in Sicily and many people have tasted minne di Sant’Agata (Saint’Agatha’s breasts), rich luxurious ricotta cakes topped with a cherry. The buns from Abruzzo are more humble and very few people know about them. Here, the traditional recipe calls for solina flour (a local ancient grain, although, today, white wheat flour is often used), yeast, oil, eggs, aniseed and salt or sugar. In the old days, rich families used up to a dozen of eggs to make the pagnotte, while poor families managed without them and added a few boiled mashed potatoes instead. See the recipe here (in Italian).

On February 5, there is a big fair in the village, the first one of the year. For centuries, it was a big affair, with many artisans and farmers selling their goods: golden jewellery, copper cookware, shoes, clothes, sheep, pigs, cows. Nowadays, the market is smaller but still an important event for the villagers.

Little birds of Sant’Antonio Abate

On January 17, Abruzzo celebrates the ancient rites of Sant’Antonio Abate (not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua). The protector of domestic animals, the saint is always depicted with a long white beard and a pig beside him. Like many other festivals in Abruzzo, this one has pagan roots. Around this time of year, pigs are slaughtered, so small mountain towns and villages organise big feasts, local kids dress up to enact episodes from the saint’s life and his battles with the Devil.

In the Province of Teramo, the traditional of baking li cillitte di Sand’Andonie, soft biscuits filled with grape jam, has been kept alive for centuries. In the past, they were handed out to the sandandonijre, groups of kids and adults, going around houses singing songs dedicated to the saint and collecting tasty goodies in return (very like the modern trick-and-treating at Halloween!).

photo by Massimiliano Della Quercia Peracchia/Facebook

The shape of the birds varies but some nonnas create real masterpieces! If you don’t have any friends among locals in the Teramo Province, who could treat you to these delicious dessert, head to the Cioccolateria Centini in (Via V. Veneto, 26, Teramo). They always make fresh uccelletti this time of year.

photo by Cioccolateria Centini /Facebook

Want to try these and other traditional desserts next time you are in Abruzzo? Join me for a food tour!

The uccelletti are quite easy to make at home. Here is the recipe:


For the dough:

1 kg white flour
3 eggs
250 ml olive oil
250 ml white wine
200 gr sugar
orange zest

For the filling:

400 gr grape jam (scrucchiata)

200 gr chopped and toasted almonds
50 gr bitter cacao powder

A splash of strong brewed coffee

A pinch of cinnamon


Mix the flour, eggs, sugar, orange peel, oil and white wine until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling. Blend the sugar with the cocoa, cinnamon and almonds, add the grape jam little by little. Add the coffee to the mix and set aside.

Roll out the dough thin using a rolling pin and cut into small squares. Spoon out a small amount of filling on each square and fold it diagonally in half. Roll the free edges to make the bird’s head on one side and the tail on the other. You can get as creative as you wish here and use scissors to make the beaks and plumage.

photo by Anna Monticelli/Facebook

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 180C until golden.

Eat accompanied by Abruzzese songs and dances!

photo by Anna Monticelli/Facebook
things to know about olive oil

10 things to know about olive oil

This year has not been great for olive oil producers in Abruzzo. An early spring freeze damaged many groves, strong winds during the flowering season, heavy rains and the olive fruit fly attacks made the situation worse. Regional production dropped by over 20% this year. Some organic oil producers couldn’t do the harvest at all because of the poor fruit quality. One producer said to me: “A few more years like this and we might have to give up organic oil production.” Let’s hope it never comes to this. How can we help? By buying high quality extra virgin olive oil from Abruzzo! Here are a few things to know about olive oil if you want to buy the best.

  1. Extra virgin. Always buy extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). All other grades of olive oil are held to a lesser standard. EVOO has no defects, acidity level of no more than 0.8g per 100g and is cold pressed using only mechanic methods (pressing or centrifugation). EVOO should taste fruity, has a peppery bite to it and a bitter note. The slightest hint of stale walnuts, mustiness, soil or pond water means the oil is defective and is not extra virgin.things to know about olive oil
  2. Healthy olives. If you are buying directly from a producer, go to the olive mill and check the olives that are being pressed. Do they look healthy? Are they in perforated boxes rather than plastic sacks? The sacks make olives “sweat” and drastically reduce their quality. Surprisingly, many farmers in Abruzzo still use plastic sacks to transport their olives and sometimes store the fruit in them for several days. To make EVOO, olives have to be milled within 12 hours after the harvest otherwise they’ll lose their nutrients and flavour and could begin to ferment.things to know about olive oil
  3.  Press type. Ask or see for yourself what kind of press the producer is using. The old style machinery with stone grinders and hydraulic presses that use round grass mats might look romantic but they significantly reduce the quality of oil. Those grinding stones and mats are very hard to clean and residues can spoil olive oil. They are also slower and the production chain is more exposed to air, so the olives oxidize quicker than in more modern machines.
  4. Filtered vs unfiltered. Unfiltered oil doesn’t always mean better. If you are buying large quantities of EVOO, choose filtered oil as it will last longer. Unfiltered oil tastes good and is often marketed as healthier but because of organic residues it has a very short shelf life, not more than a few months.
  5. Colour doesn’t matter. Our brain likes the colour green and people tend to think automatically that greener oil tastes better. So much so that some industrial scale producers tint their cheap olive oil green to help sales. The truth is the colour never reflects the quality. That’s why professional tasters use blue glasses, so the oil’s colour doesn’t affect their judgements.
  6. DOP. Look for “DOP” (Protected designation of Origin) on the label as it is a guarantee of quality. It means that the oil was was produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area following strict standards. There are three DOP areas for oil in Abruzzo: Aprutino Pescarese, Colline Teatine, Pretuziano delle Colline Teramane.
  7. Single cultivar vs blend. You’ll find different olive cultivars in each Italian region. In Abruzzo, the most prevalent are Gentile, Intosso, Toccolana, Leccino, Dritta. Each varietal has particular characteristics and a unique taste. For instance, Dritta oil is milder than others, with a note of artichoke. Intosso olive oil is characterised by intense taste, with a hint of fresh walnuts and tomato leaves. If you after an olive with a strong character, go for a single cultivar (it will say “monocultivar” on the bottle). Blends tend to be milder and tamer.
  8. Cooked or raw. Single varietals tend to have more character and a stronger taste, so you might want to use them raw, e.g. on salads. I cook and bake with an oil, which is a mild blend of Dritta, Leccino and Gentile. I find that the peppery Toccolana and more bitter Intosso are best generously drizzled on a slice of fresh bread or on raw vegetables.things to know about olive oil
  9. Heat, light and air. These are olive oil’s enemies. Never buy olive oil in a clear glass bottle even if the label says “extra virgin olive oil”. Light trigger the oxidation process and it quickly becomes rancid. Keep your EVOO in dark glass bottles in a cool place where the temperature never exceeds 20C (ideally it should be between +14C and +18C), so a wine cellar or a dark basement would be the best places. I keep bottles of olive oil in a refrigerator. It solidifies (a good sign, which means it is monounsaturated, the real deal!) and the natural waxes crystallise. I take it out of the fridge 30 mins before using it and it becomes liquid again without any harm to the flavours. In proper conditions, extra virgin olive oil should keep for up to two years.
  10. Bitterness is good. Olives are bitter, so a bitter note in EVOO is a sign of quality and freshness. Younger olives make more peppery and bitter oil. Certain cultivars can be bitterer than others, so train your palate and find the level of bitterness you love. If you like bitter chocolate or beers like ale, stout, porter, you will find it easier to enjoy fresh stronger EVOO.
things to do in abruzzo

Things to do in Abruzzo: visit the Sirente crater

Have you ever heard of the Sirente crater? It is a seasonal lake located near the village of Secinaro, in the Sirente-Velino regional park. If you are a nature lover and history buff, visiting the lake should be on your list of things to do in Abruzzo.

Late spring and early summer is in its full glory, filled with rain water reflecting the blue sky, with a few cows munching on the green grass around it. In summer the lake dries up and looks more like a large dirty puddle. Although bikers and hikers visit this place, you won’t see crowds of tourists and only few know that the shallow lake is somewhat of a mystery.

sirente crater

The Sirente crater, as the lake known, was the subject of heated discussions in the scientific world some years ago. A number of experts believe that it is an impact crater created by a meteorite that hit the plain around the 4th century. They link their theory to the story of Roman emperor Constantine, who was believed to have seen a large falling star in the sky in 312 AD that he interpreted as a sign from God and converted to Christianity.

sirente crater abruzzo
photo by geologiaturistica/Instagram

Local oral legends also tell a story of a star that outshone the sun and hit the Sirente mountain with a huge force causing fire and an earthquake. Is it possible that this shallow puddle beloved by local cows holds a key to the event that changed the world’s history?

The National Geographic made a fascinating documentary, “Fireball of Christ”, trying to find the answer (you can watch it below).

Other, less impressive suggestions exist regarding the origin of the Sirente crater: it could be a man-made watering hole for the cattle or an old mud volcano.

When I was there last time the Sirente mountain was still covered with snow, the birds screamed their sun salutation hymns and the trees stood with their buds ready to burst with leaves any day. A perfect setting for a peaceful day and contemplation about mysteries of the universe…

How to get there: follow signs to Secinaro. About 13km after the village you will see the mountains on your left hanging over a small valley with the lake. There are BBQs and a picnic table by the road. You can stop there and walk on a path parallel to the main road towards the lake.

Featured image by franco_pesce_/Instagram

things to do in abruzzo

Things to do in Abruzzo in summer: festivals and feasts

There are so many things to do in Abruzzo in summer! Lazing on the beach is great but to get to know our beautiful region better make sure you check out some these events to understand local life and traditions. There is something going on almost every day: big festivals, smaller local celebrations, village feasts. Here are just a few of my picks of the top events not to miss this summer.

San Zopito

Loreto Aprutino (PE), June 8-10

The festival is celebrated 50 days after Easter, so the dates vary every year. On Pentecost, the beautiful town of Loreto Aprutino, celebrates its patron saint, San Zopito. For three days, the locals will attend church services, participate in religious processions, enjoy live music and street food. The most interesting procession re-enacting the arrival of the saint’s relics will take place on Monday evening. A large white ox decorated with bright ribbons and pompoms will carry an Angioletto, a little girl dressed in white with a flower crown on her head. Accompanied by bagpipers and a group of farmers, the majestic ox will slowly walk through the town’s historic centre stopping at several churches to kneel. One of the stops will be at the noble palace of the Valentini family, the famous wine producers. They will treat everyone to tarallucci biscuits and wine.

The festival’s origins go back to an event in 1711. A local farmer Carlo Parlione worked with a white ox in the fields. He didn’t stop working when the religious procession that was bringing the saint’s relics approached Loreto Aprutino but his ox kneeled at the sight of the cortege. At that moment, a sick farmer’s relative was miraculously cured. For more details see the event’s Facebook page.

Jazz festival

Pescara, July 8-22

The International Jazz Festival in Pescara is turning 50 years this summer. Over the decades, it has hosted such famous jazz stars as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis Group, Dizzy Gillespie, Tracy Chapman and many others. During the two weeks of festival there will be 24 concerts, many of them free, at different venues across the city. I love the great atmosphere that it brings to Pescara, open air concerts on balmy summer evenings and the buzz of the eclectic crowds of locals. Tickets for some performances such as that of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Joshua Redman or Jacob Collier will sell fast, so don’t wait, book them now. See the full programme on the Pescara Jazz Festival’s website.

Cellari aperti

Castel del Monte (Aq), July 13-14

During this small but fascinating event you’ll be able to visit old cellars in the town that have been used by local families for many centuries to store cured meats, wine, cheese or keep animals. In each cellar you’ll taste local specialities such as the pecorino canestrato cheese, marcetto cheese made with larvae (it is served without them, don’t worry), a local drink la tromba, pasta dish ciafrechìglie e fagioli, see how locals make cheese and pasta or dye wool with natural pigments. There will be traditional music, dances and a great atmosphere.

Follow the event’s Facebook page for more details.

photo by Cellari Aperti/Facebook

La Giostra Cavalleresca

Sulmona (Aq), July 27-28, August 3-4

A jousting tournament is held in Sulmona over two weekends in July and August. Popular in the Middle Ages, the event was stopped in the 17th century due to lack of participants. The city of Sulmona revived the tournament in 1994 in a modernised version without bloodshed (in the past, knights and warriors hit each other with spears). Seven neighbourhoods of the city are represented by a rider compete for the highest score by hooking rings with their lances on the city’s central square, Piazza Garibaldi. During the tournament weekends, you can see stunning costumed parades, flag throwing, birds of prey shows. The city’s neighbourhoods are decorated with flags and livery with drummers and trumpeters entertaining visitors. For more details and tickets go to the Giostra Cavalleresca website.

Il Catenaccio

Scanno (Aq), August 14

One of the most beautiful events in Abruzzo, Il Catenaccio (or “Ju Catenacce” in dialect) is a re-enactment of an ancient marriage procession. Locals, dressed in traditional festive costumes, walk the narrow cobbled streets of the medieval village in pairs led by the bride and groom. Now and then, youngsters block their way with a ribbon demanding to be bribed with sweets or coins. The women’s costumes are made exactly the way they were in the 1700s. Luckily, several documents dating back to the 18th century describing the bride’s outfit have survived, which allowed the organisers to recreate it down to a minute detail. The procession finishes in the central square with dances and traditional music. You can see the same re-enactment in May. For the event announcements follow this Facebook page.

Sagra della porchetta

Campli (Te), August 18-23

Put this event on your list of things to do in Abruzzo if are a carnivore! The oldest food festival in the region, la Sagra della porchetta will be celebrating its 48th edition this summer. Every year a dozen or so of porchetta producers gather in Campli to compete for the gold medal. This moist boneless pork roast has been made in Abruzzo for many centuries. For five days the town fills up with divine smells of roasting pork and sounds of music as various bands play Italian pop, rock, indie and Latin American tunes. The best part of the festival? You can become a judge and taste all porchetta for free! The organisers make a call for volunteer judges a few months before the festival, so keep an eye on their website. Please note, when I was writing this post the dates for 2019 hadn’t been announced yet. Please check the exact dates on the website before heading to Campli for the porchetta feast!

photo by pro-loco Campli/Facebook

The featured photo by Carmine Frigione

most beautiful castles in abruzzo

The most beautiful castles in Abruzzo

Abruzzo has its share of castles, some of them are just glorious ruins while others have been beautifully restored. Almost every village boasts a tower, foundation or a few walls remaining from an ancient stronghold that remind us of this land’s glorious past, thriving economies, powerful nobles, bitter feuds and bloody sieges. Here are a few of my suggestions to put on your list of places to see in Abruzzo.

most beautiful castles in abruzzo

Rocca Calascio

The formidable fortress above the village of Calscio has been named one of the most beautiful castles in the world by National Geographic. It is also the most photographed place in the region but don’t worry, you won’t have to elbow your way for the best Instagrammable spot. Although, it gets a fair amount of tourists in August, most of the year you’ll have the castle to yourself. Built in the 10th century, Rocca Calascio was used as an observation point from where signals were sent, using fire torches at night and mirrors in daylight, across the Tirino Valley and Navelli Plains. The fortress was enlarged over the following centuries. According to local legends, during the nights of the winter and summer solstice, ghosts gather around the castle. You can wonder around the ruins and admire stunning panoramic views any time of day or night. The observation tower is open every Sunday in summer.

places to visit in abruzzo
photo by frate_nero/Instagram

Castello Piccolomini di Balsorano

Very few foreign visitors have heard of this one. A few decades ago, it used to be one of the most popular filming location with more than 30 Italian movies shot here. I have to add, though, most of them were horror or … ahm… pornographic works of questionable quality. Constructed in 1470 by the Piccolomini family, it was always used as a residential castle rather than a military fortress. The legend has it that the Piccolomini practised the “jus primae noctis”, the right of the first night with newly married women of the village. The ones that refused to sleep with the were thrown down from the ramparts. Despite the serious damage after the earthquake in 1915 and a not-so-careful restoration of some parts, the castle still retains its original Gothic and Renaissance features and beautiful frescoes. It houses a hotel and restaurant and is open for visits on request (call 00 39 337 668 068 to inquire).

Castello di Celano

One of the best-preserved ancient military structures in Abruzzo, the fortress dates back to the 14th century. Badly damaged in the earthquake of 1915, the castle’s splendour was restored in the 1950s but its magnificent frescoes were lost forever. Today, it is home to a sacred arts museum and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage offices. The views over the Fucino plains are to die for. I’ve seen some old paintings picturing Castello di Celano overlooking the Fucine lake, once the third largest in Italy, and am convinced that if it had not been drained in the 19th century, this part of Abruzzo would have become a major tourist destination today.

Castello di Bominaco

There is not much left from the castle but it still should be on your list of places to see in Abruzzo for several reasons. First of all, it is in a stunning location. Second, there is a beautiful chapel, Oratorio di San Pellegrino, near the castle with magnificent frescoes that is worth a visit. Constructed in the 12th century to guard the thriving Benedictine monastic community of Bominaco, the castle was one of the 99 castles that, according to a legend, founded the city of L’Aquila in 1254. In 1424, the mercenary captain Braccio da Montone during his rampage tour through Abruzzo destroyed the castle and the monastery. Although it was partially re-built in the 15th century, the fortress never regained its glory. Some locals believe that spirits of the victims massacred by Braccio da Montone still gather around the tower on dark moonless nights.

places to see in abruzzo

Another reason I love the Castello di Bominaco is because it gives you a clear idea how the fortresses in the area used to communicate. If you stand near the tower, you can see the castles of Rocca Calascio on the horizon as well as the fortress of San Pio Delle Camere across the valley and a few towns on the hills around. Being visible to each other, hey could send important messages lighting fires and flashing mirrors.

beautiful castles in abruzzo
photo by Castello di Salle

Castello di Salle Vecchio

As far as I know, this is the only castle in Abruzzo that has been in the same family for the last 400 years. Built in the 10th century as part of the defensive belt of the San Clemente Abbey (located in Castiglione a Casauria), Castello di Salle was an important military outpost in the Valley D’Orta. Over centuries, it changed many hands until it became a home of the noble Di Genova family in 1636. It remains in their possession today. Badly damaged in several earthquakes, the stronghold was restored by the owners 50 years ago and registered as a protected national monument. Small and rather cosy, the castle houses a history museum with the family’s collection of medieval arms, metal armor and documents. Visitors are allowed to take a glance at the private rooms of the nobles and see the bed where Napoleone Bonoparte once slept while visiting the Di Genova family. There is also a restaurant in the castle, which is open in summer.

places to see in abruzzo
photo by rumusetto/Instagram

Castello Ducale di Crecchio

Like any great castle, this one comes complete with a ghost. They say, the spirit of Duke De Riseis d’Aragona wonders inside the building on some nights. The castle has been through many turmoils: plundered and pillaged by Saracen pirates and feuding lords, damaged by earthquakes and reduced to rubble by the Allied forces, it rose from the ashes after a thorough restoration in the 1970s. The royal Savoy family visited this splendid abode on numerous occasions. Last visit was in 1943, when the last King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, his wife and son stayed here before fleeing on a boat from the port of Ortona. Historic documents say that the lady of the castle, Duchess Gaetana De Riseis, tried to convince the king to return to Rome. The room and bed where the King stayed miraculously survived the bombings. Today, the castle is home to the museum Museum of Byzantine and Early Medieval Abruzzo. In summer, the town of Crecchio hosts a wonderful event, A Cena con I Bizantini, with locals dressed in period costumes, guided visits to the castle and medieval food stands.

easter in abruzzo

Easter in Abruzzo: what to see and where to go

Visiting Abruzzo during the Easter holidays? You are in for a treat! There are so many traditional events taking place all over the region. Religious celebrations start on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Almost every village has a procession or re-enactment during the Holy Week.  Here is a quick pick of the most interesting Easter events in Abruzzo.

Giovedi Santo in Lanciano

Organised by the local confraternity Morte e Orazione di San Filippo Neri, the procession of Maundy Thursday is solemn and almost hypnotising with its beautiful music written especially for the event in the 19th century. The confraternity members dressed in long black tunics carry flame torches and symbols of the Passion of Christ. The central figure is il Cireneo, who is chosen by the Prior shortly before the ceremony as a reward for his dedication and passion for the brotherhood. Il Cireneo, barefoot, carries the heavy cross in the procession.

The procession starts at the Santa Chiara church at 10pm. You can arrive earlier to see the preparations.

Venerdi Santo in Chieti

You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the atmospheric Good Friday procession in Chieti. The oldest of its kind in Italy, the rite has been taking place in Chieti every year since the 9th century. Local confraternities dressed in hooded tunics walk along the streets of the old town centre carrying various stations of the cross symbols. They are accompanied by 150-members strong orchestra and choir, who play and sing the Miserere.

The procession begins at 7pm at the San Giusto Cathedral. The choir and orchestra start practicing in the morning. There is a shuttle going to the town centre from the free parking space at Chieti Tricalle.

Venerdi Santo in Ortona  

On Good Friday, early risers can see the processions of the stations of the cross symbols, which starts at 5am at the Chiesa del Purgatorio. In the evening at 8pm, another procession departs from the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. It is lead by a group of 250 women, all in black. In the past, they were mostly widows, who lost their husbands in sea.

For more photos and details see here

Easter Saturday in Barrea

For over six decades the picturesque village of Barrea organises a beautiful theatrical revocation of the Passion of Christ. In different locations of the village various scenes are enacted by locals: the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, the crucifixion. It is fascinating to see biblical characters and centurions on the narrow streets of Barrea.

The event starts at 5.30pm. Get there early to find parking and walk around the village.

For more details see the event’s Facebook page 

The Running Madonna in Sulmona

On Easter Sunday, Sulmona hosts La Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza, the famous revocation of the moment when Mary sees her risen son. The statue of Madonna is carried by the Confraternity of S. Maria di Loreto’s members along the main street. When they arrive to the central Piazza Garibaldi, at midday, they pull the black mourning cape off the Madonna to release 12 white doves and run towards the statue Christ. The run accompanied by the excited applause of the people in the square and music. The event starts with a mass at 9am. It attracts thousands of people, so arrive early.

For more details see the event’s website.

Easter Parade in Orsogna

Orsogna hosts the festival of Talami, a biblical scenes re-enactments, twice a year: on Easter Monday and on Ferragosto (August 15). It is an old tradition connected with a miracle when Virgin Mary appeared in front of a few locals in the Middle Age. The town of Orsogna announces the theme for the scenes and chooses seven best ideas to be re-enacted. Six floats are put on tractors and one, like in old days, is carried by local men.

This year’s celebration, on April 23, will start at 10am with fireworks and continue with the parade and traditional music. For more details see the event’s website.

photo by Talami di Orsogna – Quadri Biblici Viventi/Facebook

Easter Monday Pasquetta

Easter in Abruzzo means big feasts and picnics. On Easter Monday, locals pack picnic baskets and head for parks and picturesque mountain locations to celebrate Pasquetta. Many restaurants offer a Pasquetta menu. The Majella Brewery in Pretoro organises a great picnic on the grounds with live music, street food and their excellent craft beer. Another lively place for Easter Monday is Ristoro Mucciante in Campo Imperatore, where you can buy meat, sausages and arrosticini to grill outdoors.

Featured image by Madonna Che Scappa in Piazza/Facebook