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

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.

romantic places to stay in abruzzo

The most romantic places to stay in Abruzzo

I get many queries from independent travellers asking about special places to stay in Abruzzo. It is hard to choose just a few as there are so many of them in every corner of the region. I, personally, prefer smaller ones with a character and unique philosophy. Here is my pick of the most romantic places to stay in Abruzzo that stand out from the rest.

special places to stay in abruzzo
photo by Abruzzo With Gusto

Medieval magic

By far my favourite place to stay in Abruzzo! The extravagant prices might trick you into thinking that this is a luxury hotel. It is not. Sextantio Santo Stefano di Sessanio it is more of an experiential stay in a medieval mountain village. It is a “scattered hotel”, which means the reception, restaurant and rooms are located in different restored buildings dating back to the 13th-16th centuries. Everything has been done to preserve their character. Low ceilings, small windows, uneven walls blackened by age and smoke, dim lighting, and stiff, heavy wooden doors with large skeleton keys give guests a taste of humble living, along with old wobbly chairs, woodworm-scarred tables, and a few old jugs.

Don’t skimp on the price and get a superior room or a suite for the best views of the mountains, extra space and a freestanding bath in the bedrooms. Underfloor heating, locally-made natural toiletries, luxury handwoven bed covers, crisp white bed linens add a luxurious touch. Lit candles, scarce but strategically placed designer lighting and the magic atmosphere of the village make this place utterly romantic.

romantic places to stay in abruzzo
photo by Kokopelli Camping

Camping in an olive grove

At Kokopelli Camping you choose a spot under an olive tree for your tent. The views from here are stunning: the picturesque village of Serramonacesca, majestic mountains of the Majella and Gran Sasso, romantic ruins of an ancient castle. You can rent a standard small tent or choose a spacious cotton-canvas bell tent equipped with a proper mattress, rugs, lamp, picnic table & chairs. For an extra romance and peace, come in June, early July or September and you’ll easily find a quiet corner, away from other campers. The camp owners, Jacqui and Kevin, keep chickens and a beautiful organic garden, so there is always a generous supply of fresh eggs and vegetables.

special places to stay in abruzzo
photo by
Fattoria d’arte I Colli

Colourful tree house

Feel like unleashing your inner child? Spend a night or two in this colourful tree house in Lentella. Created entirely from recycled materials by Ettore, a sculptor, and his wife Barbara, this cosy romantic abode comes complete with panoramic views over the countryside. A welcome aperitif is served on your arrival on a tiny terrace. Every morning, a delicious breakfast is sent up the tree in a basket. Barbara and Ettore run a small farm and you are welcome to wander around to get acquainted with two friendly donkeys, goats, sheep and chickens.  

photo by Palazzo La Loggia

Renaissance farmhouse

Palazzo La Loggia is a lovingly restored 16th-century farmhouse in a small village of Barisciano. Even farms looked utterly elegant in Renaissance times! The building has a beautiful loggia with round stone arches where you can sit on a hot summer day sipping a glass of wine. Vaulted ceilings, fireplaces in most rooms, antique furniture, grand pillars, tapestries and old family photos take you back in time. It is comfortable in any season: on a hot summer day sip a glass of wine on the beautiful loggia with stone arches, in cooler months cuddle up by a fireplace.  

photo by Torre del Cornone

Ancient tower

The small village of Fontecchio is a perfect place for a romantic getaway. Surrounded by majestic mountains, this tranquil place has one of the best-preserved minuscule medieval squares complete with a fountain. At Torre del Cornone you can rent a teeny-tiny apartment located inside a tower that was used to send and receive alarm signals to and from the surrounding villages in the Middle Ages. You can admire the views of the Valley Aterno from small windows in the bedroom upstairs, which is accessed by steep and narrow steps. Breakfast is served in the small garden outside under a charming pergola overlooking the green surrounding countryside.

photo by Torre del Cornone

Want to add a wine tour or a bespoke culinary experience to your romantic stay in Abruzzo? Contact me and I will organise something special for you.