Italy’s Trabocchi Coast

Some of the Abruzzo region’s most amazing tourist sights, the trabocchi, are located on the Adriatic coast between the Italian cities of Ortona and Vasto. They have existed for centuries, once stretching as far south as Gargano in Puglia. They were built out of everything – from railroad rails to logs cut from trees that had been transplanted from the New World. Today, only 15  trabocchi remain.

What are trabocchi?
A trabocco is a combination of the magical and the practical. It is an elaborate form of fishing platform or dock. When I first saw a photo of a trabocco, I didn’t believe that it could have been taken in Italy. The long wooden platform of the trabocco extended into a turquoise sea, and its numerous poles and masts made it look much like the crustaceans that it is designed to help catch. It looked like something from Thailand or Korea—not from Italy—and even when I went to visit one I had difficulty believing my eyes.

Designed by local fishermen in the 18th Century, the trabocchi were simply an extension of the rocky coastline. To facilitate fishing, boards were placed on the half-submerged rocks that dotted the beaches so that the fishermen could fish further offshore. Over time, wooden stilts were used to erect freestanding platforms, allowing fishermen to get even farther out into the sea. When the railroad reached the region in the 1890s, the fishermen traded fish with the railroad crews for pieces of rail. The rails replaced the wooden stilts and still support the trabocchi today. When Italy began to import sturdy lumber from North America, someone had the idea to plant imported trees in the region and to eventually use the wood in constructing trabocchi.

The trabocco I visited, Trabocco Punta Tufano, is owned by Rinaldo Veri. When I visited, it was a beautiful, but changing mid-June day on Adriatic Coast. In the distance, rain clouds were rapidly approaching and I felt as though I was engulfed in warm, humid air. To get to the trabocco, I’d driven along highway SS16. I parked then descended to the beach where the walkway onto the trabocco began. The narrow walkway was built on pilings so tiny that I thought it’d collapse beneath me. The main platform was around 50 ft out on the open water. Amazingly, these structures battle rain and windstorms each winter and still survive. Currently, zoning laws prohibit the creation of new structures on the beach, and the few trabocchi that remain will be the last. Trabocco owners, such as Rinaldo, are only allowed to make repairs.

Rinaldo fishes from the trabocco using a massive net. The net is suspended by two nearly horizontal masts which look much like antennae. In this way, the nets scoop up all manner of fish and shellfish. I’d often thought that the Italian fritto misto (a popular dish of lightly battered small fish) looked like the result of a fisherman simply dipping a net into the sea and then frying up everything inside. I now realize that this depiction is pretty accurate!

Dinners are sometimes hosted on the main platforms of trabocchi, and local restaurants always feature locally caught seafood. I highly recommend ordering a smorgasbord of seafood dishes at a local restaurant. You won’t regret it. In particular, the La Taverna restaurant in Vasto offers a wonderful menu.

Written by Mattie Bamman for

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