Road-trip through Italy’s Abruzzo region

With its western border just 80 kilometres from Rome (approximately a 90-minute drive), Abruzzo is the ideal region for a relaxing road-trip combining all the rustic charm of the Italian countryside and the natural beauty the Adriatic coast.

Of all Italy’s many picturesque regions, Abruzzo stands out as one of the most scenic due to the fact that almost half of its territory is protected through nature reserves and national parks. And despite its geographical location in the heart of the country, its history, language and culture is more closely associated with the south.

Covering an area of some 10,000 square-kilometres, Abruzzo harbours a population of over a million people, many of whom enjoy a relaxed, stress-free lifestyle in the many towns and villages lining the sandy shores of the Adriatic.

A natural starting point is Pescara, the region’s capital and an unassuming city blessed with several stylish shopping districts and a vibrant beach culture. Lying in the shadow of the Bella Dormentata (Sleeping Beauty) mountain range, its main tourist attraction is the Museo delle Genti d’Abruzzo, a first-rate museum featuring exhibits dating right back to the Bronze Age.

Some of Italy’s best beaches exist on Pescara’s sun-drenched seafront, including Lido Sabbia d’Oro Bau and Lido delle Sirene, both blessed with fine golden sands. And on long summer evenings there’s nothing better than a leisurely walk down the city’s long seaside promenade before dining in one of the many beach restaurants specialising in freshly-caught fish and seafood.

Heading south from Pescara brings you to Maiella National Park, a vast wilderness of high peaks (many of them snow-capped in winter) and canyons where animals such as bears and wolves still roam free. Its many highlights include the prehistoric cave paintings of Grotta Sant’Angelo and Grotto del Cavallone, the latter being one of the deepest caves in the whole of Europe.

Take a detour to the park’s southern edge to visit the beautiful town of Pescocostanzo, famous for its many frescoed churches and medieval palaces. In winter it is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders who head for its slopes from all over Italy.

One of Abruzzo most treasured archaeological gems is Alba Fucens, a well-preserved 1st-century amphitheatre and a wonderful example of Italy’s immense Roman heritage. The journey along the E80 is equally enchanting, passing a series of pretty mountain villages en route.

A pleasant drive north-east through the heart of the Abruzzo region brings you to the Castle of Rocca Calascio, which at 1,460 metres is one of the highest in Europe. The views from its 10th-century walls are stunning and movie buffs will be interested to know that it has been the setting for many popular films over the years, including Ladyhawke, The American (with George Clooney) and The Name of the Rose (starring Sean Connery).

Due north of the castle (about a 2-hour drive on the A24) lies the atmospheric town of Civitella del Tronto, a lovely old place located inside the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Here you can lose yourself in its time-warped streets and visit some of the delightful medieval churches along the way.

From here we suggest heading east to pick up the SS16 coast-road all the way back to Pescara, where our road-trip began. Embroidering the entire stretch of Abruzzo region’s golden Adriatic coastline, this road passes through many places of tourist interest, such as the imposing 16th-century Torre del Cerrano (home to a fascinating marine museum) and Montesilvano, a lively seaside town with a fine sandy beach.

We are now at journey’s end after an exhilarating journey through the Abruzzo region, arguably the most scenic part of central Italy. With Auto Europe you can book a car hire at the cheapest rates online and pick it up in Rome or Pescara to enjoy the best of Abruzzo in total comfort and at your own pace.