Italy from Botttom to Top: Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park

The view from the patio of the Palazzo Tour d’Eau in Abruzzo is beyond words. When I asked Massimo Criscio, owner and director of Mountains and Porticoof Abruzzo Cibus Culinary Tours, for directions, he said they weren’t necessary: “We are at the highest spot in town.” The panoramic view from the town of Carunchio reveals the beauty of this undervalued region. Many of the surrounding hills are topped with a tiny town. These towns are compact, and the populations—composed of families, which have lived here for generations—are around 700. Cascading grapevines and bales of hay that turn to gold at sunset adorn the unpopulated hills.

Perhaps the geography is the reason the region has remained so pristine: You simply cannot do anything in a hurry. To get anywhere, you have to drive down from one hilltop, then up to the next. I realize that, at this point, I’ve rented more cars than I initially said I would. Budget travel usually doesn’t include car rentals, but some regions in Italy simply aren’t easy to access by public transportation. For the most part, Abruzzo is one such region. This car cost 43 euros a day through Atlas Choice , an online car rental agency that offers some of the best prices around.

Picnic in National ParkBefore arriving at the Palazzo Tour d’Eau, where I’ll be staying for the next few days (cooking classes included—I hope you’re getting excited!), Kristin and I spent the day in the Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park. The park is a short hour away from Rome, and known for its skiing and hiking, but after a restless night on the night train from Verona, we opted for a picnic and a nap on the mountainous slopes.

Getting to the park by car is easy. From Rome, take the A1 east, then take the Frosinone exit. I drove from Frosinone on the SR156 to Sora, then took SS666 into the park. I was pretty excited to see the mark of the beast running right through the center of Italy. If I’d had an Iron Maiden CD, you know we would have listened to it. Well, I would have. Kristin would have jumped out of the car for a local truffle sampling.

On a bridge in a lakeAs soon as we hit SS666, advertisements for specialty food stores and farm stands popped up, featuring the area’s local summer truffles. Glimpses of the park from afar revealed snowy peaks and bald slopes covered with mountain flowers, as well as a few herds of pure white cows. Were they Chianina cows? I began to feel slightly better about missing out on the Alps. Picnic spots jumped out everywhere, and we ate with an expansive view. Afterward, we took a much-needed two-hour nap on the grassy hillside.
The Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park is free to enter. It’s full of tall pine trees, and hiking trails are accessible all along the road. The town of Opi is located in the very center of the park. It’s built on a knife-edge of rock and surrounded by vast, spring-green Town of Barreafields. To glimpse it between the pine trees is a surreal experience: like walking into a scene from Lord of the Rings. We walked though the town, lingered for a view of the mountains through a picturesque portico, then headed to Carunchio and Palazzo Tour d’Eau. Tonight, the palace’s chef, Dino Paganelli (who, like me, has a degree in philosophy), is preparing a five-course meal featuring the area’s local summer truffles, which will be served fresh. Tomorrow is an exciting day, jam-packed with a trip to a cheese factory and a cooking class. I hope to get some good sleep tonight.

Written by and photos by Mattie Bamman for

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