We are always talking about places to visit, little unknown zones, natural areas, where you can park your camper in imposing peaks and rural fields; and this time, we have decided to highlight Abruzzo as a place to visit in your camper, an area that has many things in common with our Tuscan-Emilian Appennines.
The zone offers many places to park your camper and places to visit, and in fact in our tour of Abruzzo we saw many places that have since remained in our heart and which we would like to offer in our list of top picks. Some of these have indeed now become famous as a result of being used for cinema and photography sets.
We are thinking of films like the Italian classic “Lo Chiamavano Trinità”: some of its most famous scenes were recorded in 1971 right between the fields and the Campo Imperatore canyon. More than 40 cinema and TV films have been recorded in this area. We can add Rocca Calascio, Castelvecchio Calvisio and Castel del Monte, where comedies such as the “Lady Hawke” or films like the “Name of the Rose” or “The American” or “Ancora In viaggio con la sposa” were filmed. So now let’s move onto our list of places to visit in Abruzzo by camper.
Campo Imperatore and the Monti della Laga
We are in the National Park in Gran Sasso and the Monti della Laga. You can get up here via the Gran Sasso lift that leaves every 30 minutes from Fonte Cerreto, which costs €15.00 and park your il camper in the large carpark right underneath Gran Sasso, Camping Funivia. On the other hand, if like us you want to stay in this small campsite, in activity since 1974, the owner will welcome you with kindness to a structure that is only 100m from the lift, in an oasis of peace and tranquillity.
At Fonte Cerreto, 20 km from the Abruzzo capital L’Aquila, you can find the headquarters of the Laboratorio Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, while at the top of Campo Imperatore there is the Osservatorio Astronomico d’Abruzzo. You can visit both, but only via direct booking.
Instead you can choose to go up the slope by camper via a comfortable road with splendid views that becomes full every Sunday with bikes, cars and campers that park more or less everywhere. We chose to go up on the Monday, the road was almost empty and the experience was marvellous.
At the top, you can park your car or camper behind the old hotel for €4.00 per day. From here, you can choose from a range of excursions, or climb up to one of the various mountain refuges or walk along the long comfortable shepherds’ paths.
A word that we heard often during our Abruzzo voyage. It refers to the ancient shepherds’ paths, that bring together Roman and medieval history. They were used by shepherds’ to move their herds from the high plains of the Campo Imperatore, where they stayed during the summer, to the plains of Tavoliere delle Puglie, where they wintered. With the rise of trekking and walking tourism, many of these ancient paths have been remarked and refurbished so that lovers of active tourism can follow them on foot or horseback.
But now back to our Abruzzo chart.
Coming down from the Campo Imperatore, we suggest following the signs to Castel del Monte, and you will find yourself completely immersed in the natural beauty of the fields, canyons and peaks like Monte Biancastello: we strongly recommend leaving your camper in the roadside carparks and organise your excursions. Everyone should visit the Macellerie in the Madonnina area, which we could also nickname the “Festival of Roast Meat”. You can buy meat in one of these two butchers’ shops, and then cook it directly on the roasting-grills placed in the field outside between tables and wooden banches, a genuine DIY picnic. You can also park your camper overnight here.
In this plain, you will come across herds of sheep, horses or cows who spend their summers under the watchful eye of shepherds and their dogs. You will be immersed in colours, the aroma of wild grasses, the silence of a natural habitat that you will never forget.
Castel del Monte
Known as the Shepherds’ Area, this is a fortified area placed between the mountains, like many of the places we recommend in this part of Abruzzo. As in these other parts, it was already in Roman times that the local population occupied itself with shepherding. Castel del Monte was attacked many times by brigands, until in the end (partly since the men were often away with the herds) the population simply withdrew into the higher parts of the valley where they built tunnels under their houses. If you look carefully, in many places in Abruzzo, you will see high arches above which the houses are built.
Things to see:
- The Tower, created as a watchtower and then turned into a belltower.
- Church at San Marco, the main church in the town where you can see the town badge (from 1435) made of the Tower surrounded by the old wall placed on the five hills that delimit the zone.
- Church of the Madonna del Suffragio, where you can see an ancient statue of the Virgin Mary wearing the traditional ancient clothes of the town.
- Communal theatre named after an poet-shepherd who taught himself to read and write during the long months of animal migration.
Where to park: we chose to park once along the main provincial road.
Calascio and Rocca Calascio
Here you can find the highest castle ruins in the Appennines; it rises to 1520m and dominates the area of the Campo Imperatore and the Gran Sasso. The castle is interesting also because, built around 1000CE, it was designed as part of the communication network along the Adriatic coast, using a system of torches during the night and mirrors during the day. Both the town and the castle were destroyed in an earthquake in 1436, but they were rebuilt. Another earthquake in 1703 destroyed both again, and it was decided to leave the castle as it was, and to rebuild the town lower down the hill.
Calascio suffered long progressive depopulation over the years, until in 1957 it officially had no residents. Today, there are just over 100 inhabitants, but more than this, it is interesting for the road layout of the town. The roads are often alleyed, spiralled or with steps, and you can still see words written on the walls or gates in the 1950s, along with signage for shops that no longer exist.
What to see
- The castle and the old town. Visits are free, and you can find details of opening hours at this site. Both were used to record scenes from “The Name of the Rose” and “Ladye Hawke“, which was also partly recorded in the Piacentine town of Castell’Arquato.
- The church of Santa Maria della Pietà, to be found just beyond the rock. Legend tells us that the local population defeated the brigands here, but it is more likely that it served as a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.
Where to park your camper: we parked on the blue lines along the tree-lined roads of the town. It is not possible to reach the Rock via your camper, and so you will have to walk for at least 4 km.
A late Roman town, it is built on a hill and dominates the valley; again it is fortified to defend the population and it still features the narrow alleys with arches and steps, above which you can see old houses (also known as wall-houses).
What to see:
- the church of San Cipriano just outside the town, is of ancient origins, and probably built on an old Roman temple.
- The Palace of the Capitano, at the entrance to the town, and whose door bears the Saracen symbol of the half-moon.
Where to park your camper: on the Provincial Road (SP) for Calascio, you will find a small carpark that can hold 5 campers at a time.
Now we move 65 km towards the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, and now we are in the Abruzzese Marsica. The area offers valleys marked by rivers such as the Sagittario and the Sangro, or lakes and mountains that are home to wolves, the Marsican bear and deer.
Among our ideas for a trip in Abruzzo in camper, we suggest:
Gole del Sagittario
On the Anversa-Lago di Scanno road, there is a spectacular 10km rock canyon home to a WWF Regional Nature Reserve. Perfect for excellent excursions that to a path system with information panels, you can easily visit the entire zone.
Where to park your camper: at Anversa, there is a camper rest-area on the road next to the river and there the path network started. However, be careful as the road is on a steep slope and is quite narrow.
The Lake of Scanno and Scanno
See from above, this glacial lake seems heart-shaped, and its banks are perfect for sunbathing or to have something to eat in the little restaurants along it. Scanno is known as the town of photographers, and if you love photography like me, you will quickly understand why so many have chosen Scanno for their work. You can walk along the little road of this town that serve to connect the towns and the houses, built on the side of the mountain such that it seems like a splendid little crib. This adorable part of Abruzzo offers an architectural harmony where every corner is worth another photograph. Widely considered one of the most beautiful places in Abruzzo, even if the competition is extremely strong.
One thing to note: the Sarracco Fountain has an interesting architectonic structure, with five canals for the drinking water, with a stone effigy above each. Each represents the social class which could use a particular drinking point.
There is also a very famous cake shop in Scanno, known for making the “Pan dell’Orso” (made of three types of flour, butter, honey, sugar, orange, lemon and almond aroma). But you should also try the local traditional biscuits that you can find freshly-made in the cake shops in the centre.
Where to park your camper: there is an authorsed rest-area for coaches and camper at the base of the historical centre, but beware, because it is all uphill! Follow the signs for Parcheggio Pullman.
The Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo Lazio e Molise
Onwards with our recommendations, from Scanno we enter the National Park, one of the most important and best-preserved naturalistic area of Italy. Here nature is the real star, with horse of MTB trekking paths, the shepherds’ paths, the mountains and the flora and the fauna. And along the road you will see the famous road-signs indicating that deer and bears crossing!
Town of Pescasseroli
The only flat place we visited on our tour, this town is always full of tourists. In winter, you can ski, and in the summer, enjoy beautiful walks and discover the beauty of the park.
Simply walking from the town centre is already a beautiful spectacle, as the house balconies are covered with simple but well-cared floral displays, or you can enjoy the little local venues for a chat or to enjoy the classic tastes of Abruzzo cooking.
What to see
- the birthplace of Benedetto Croce, and you can arrange a guided tour of his childhood home.
- The Fauna Oasis in the Park: a mini-park, where you can fully appreciate the enormous naturalistic heritage that the whole park represents.
Some of the fauna you can see are classified as “guests” since they are no longer recuperable in the wild.
Where to park your camper: there are various areas to park, campsites and rest-areas across the whole town.
Last place on our list, but only because it is the most southern point of our tour: Barrea.
Panorama of Barrea
Since 1067, it has dominated the whole plain as far as Villetta Barrea and Civitella Alfedena, which are on the other side of the lake. It is officially one of the Most Beautiful Places in Italy, and its historic centre is another example of Abruzzo fortification. You can still see the imposing ruins of the castle walls that dominate the town, with its watchtower, and the gate that leads into the historic centre.
The view from up high is spectacular: the turquoise of the water is surrounded in summer by the green of the woods and the fields, and in autumn by the colours of the foilage; to us, its huge peaks make for a unique picture.
But even a simple walk offers many possibilities for a splendid picture: the tiny door of a garage in the square, a window balcony that looks out on the Sangro as it comes from the lake’s hydroelectric plant. The higher balconies that offer many splendid photos to take. The shops that sell local foods, staffed by kind people happy to chat, allow you the the chance to learn about the people of the region.
Barrea also has many bathing spots: there are two shores on the lake suitable for sunbathing, or to swim in the lake, considered one of the purest and most limpid of the entire region.
What to see
- There are various museums to visit, such as the Civiltà Safina which we absolutely recommend in order to grasp the historic importance of this area. Or the Bat Museum, where there is an aucthonic colony of bats which is now the subject of protection and tutelage measures.
- The Castello Monumentale, which offers the best view of the lake from its towers.
- At Civitella Barrea, you can visit the museum of animal migration (open only at weekends)
- At Civitella Alfedena, the Museum of the Wolf, the first museum in Italy about the Appenine Wolf and Linx.
Where to park
The best place to park at Barrea is definitely at the Barrea Rest-area, at the bae of the town and next to the Lake. Here you can meet Maria and Roberto, a couple of ex-campers from Pescara, in order to learn everything you need to known about the places to visit or the excurions on offer.
The camper rest-area is open all year, and is perfect if you want to visit this part of Abruzzo.
But if you can visit in September, as the autumn leaves appear as the deer go into heat, you will also hear their roaring. It is quite common to see deer freely pasturing along the local roads and paths.
But what happened to any discussion of food in our camper tour of Abruzzo? Oh well, this will definitely be the subject of a future article.
Eating in Abruzzo