Deciding what to see in Abruzzo during a travel by bicycle is not that easy: the variety of landscapes, the natural reserves, the small town too often underestimated, the secondary roads and the fairy-tale fortresses make this Italian region simply amazing (and absolutely one of my favorite!). A few months ago we had the opportunity to go through Abruzzo by bicycle during our tour of the Appennines and we were astonished of how little known are some beauties of our peninsula...
From the sea to the mountains, from national parks (as many as three in the territory of Abruzzo) to valleys modeled by the stream of brooks, from old railways to the retreats in Majella, Abruzzo vibrates with life and is worth being discovered.
Besides the places we’re about to suggest in this article, there are many other places worth a visit but since we haven’t been there personally we’ll limit ourselves to suggest what to see in Abruzzo along our itinerary.
Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park
We entered the nature reserve going up from Ascoli Piceno and the Castellana Valley, meeting with seemingly abandoned villages, strenuous ups and downs, views on the Monti della Laga and the Pyramid of the Gransasso. We shared a hot meal with exquisite people who, under an unexpected snowfall, welcomed us in front of a hot fireplace. We woke up in front of the snowy massif of the Gransasso. Established in 1991, the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park
is the third by extension in Italy and touches three different regions and 5 provinces. If you decide to explore it by bicycle you can choose to follow secondary roads with very little traffic or even paths. Our travel by bicycle from the Castellana Valley took us to L'Aquila skimming the Lake Campotosto and then again uphill till the idyllic Campo Imperatore plateau dominated by the highest peak in the park. From Campo Imperatore we continued our crossing of the Gran Sasso passing from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Rocca Calascio, Castel Del Monte and, eventually, going down in the valley of the river Pescara which separates the reserve from the Maiella National Park.
Reaching the Campo Imperatore Plateau by bicycle is a strong emotion especially in low season when you run the risk of cycling (almost) entirely alone. Campo Imperatore lies in front of the Gran Sasso massif and the road going up with difficulty from L'Aquila offers bucolic views. Rural life, pastoralism, transhumance are realities still alive in this patch of Italy. You’ll happen to meet a herd crossing the road, a fox crouched down in the grass, a farmer working the land like fifty years ago. What to see in Abruzzo? Surely this area!
Reaching the most famous fortress of the movies by bicycle has a sweet taste and you need to taste it all the way. The ruins of the fortress that hosted some shots of the famous Lady Hawke lie isolated at 1460 meters next to the small church of Santa Maria della Pietà, just above what once was the inhabited hamlet. The road starts to climb from Calascio, 300 meters below, to arrive to the village where, for some years, an “albergo diffuso” (or “virtual hotel”) has been brought up. Today this hamlet has 10 inhabitants and is very much attended by curious people who come up here for the unforgettable landscapes on the peak of the Gransasso and the park. If you’ll decide to visit Rocca Calascio and spend one night "at heights" don’t miss two shows for nothing in the world: sunset and sunrise, you won’t regret it.
Castel del Monte
With the same name of the Apulian castle wanted by Emperor Frederick II, Castel del Monte is a small village perched in the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park. Difficult to be traveled by bicycle due to the presence of stairs, is perched on a picturesque promontory. The village besides being the set of Lady Hawke together with Rocca Calascio, also appears in The Name of the Rose. During our stop for a hot chocolate we were approached by some retired people of the village curios to know where we were going so loaded. After a first approach in the local dialect that didn’t go well we managed to have a chat with them arousing much surprise.
Clung to a rocky promontory on the Mount Aquileio, Corvara suddenly appears going down from the Forca di Penne. Of ancient origins, today it has a little more than 200 inhabitants and preserves a Medieval architecture characteristic of these areas. By bicycle you flank the rocky extension and, after parking, you can go up the steps towards the center of the village.
Majella National Park
In our Majella trip by bicycle we had the possibility to taste (also broadly speaking!) slowly the richness of the Abruzzo’s reserve. Located just 40 km from the coast the Majella National Park it can be easily visited also staying in a hotel in Pescara overlooking the sea. The park is wrapped in a legendary aura, of mystery and adventurous stories and, even if you’re travelling by bike, we suggest that you organize a trekking excursion within to visit the Orfento Valley and at least one of the retreats of Celestine V.
Along the road from San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore to Pescocostanzo have a stop to taste the typical local cheese and cold cuts, after all travelling in a place also means knowing its food and wine typical characteristics.
Hollowed by the river with the same name, this valley can be visited with a trekking excursion consisting of walkways, evocative passages and, if you’re lucky, also meetings with the local fauna. The valley perfectly fits to a nature photographic session (especially long exposure). Before going to the Orfento Valley you need to ask for the permission at the visitor center in Caramanico Terme managed by the guys of Majambiente.
San Bartolomeo in Legio hermitage
Set as a precious stone in the Majella rock, this ancient retreat dates back to earlier than 1275 when Pietro del Morrone (later Celestine V) relived the place. We reached it with an easy trekking excursion along the Sentiero dello Spirito (S) (Spirit’s Path) from the Giumentina Valley but you can reach the retreat also from Rocca Morice. A magic and absolutely breathtaking place.
Tragically destroyed by the earthquake of some years ago, the soul of L'Aquila is not dead but just drowsy. Ruins still obstruct the historical center, the monuments have been partly restored but, to be honest, the silence that crowds the deserted streets of the city center makes you sad. Probably the beautiful city of the past will not come back anymore. Anyway passing from the capital city by bicycle, stopping for one night in town, riding among its streets, drinking a coffee, pedaling till the Basilica di Collemaggio founded by Celestine V in 1288... You’ll give a little support to the economy of the city.
Located on the border with the Molise region, it is included in the Majella National Park. During the low tourism season Pescocostanzo is a quiet Abruzzo’s town with small restaurants, evocative streets and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Colle that dominates the town at the end of a staircase.
Abruzzo is the green region of Italy and boasts the presence of three national parks on its territory besides many nature reserves that cover 36% of the whole surface. With secondary roads little frequented, breathtaking landscapes, pristine nature, Abruzzo is absolutely an Italian region to visit by bike. To follow our itinerary you can download our gps tracks, to discover the typical products stop at cheese factories, butchers, in the village ask to the people which is their favorite cold cut or cheese. If at the seaside you can find fish in abundance, in the backcountry try the lentils of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, the mortadella of Campotosto, the guitar pasta, the maltagliati and arrosticini from sheep's meat.