Italy Off the Beaten Path: Best Towns in Abruzzo

Updated: Jan 7

When you’re planning to travel Italy off the beaten path, you want to choose authentic places where you can immerse yourself in the culture, connect with locals, eat amazing dishes, and experience the genuine spirit of the place that rings so much louder without all the crowds of Italy’s famous sights.


Well, I’ve just returned from three weeks in the Abruzzo region and I have to say, it’s a territory that off the beaten path travelers will deeply appreciate for its ancient stone villages, breathtaking scenery, phenomenal nature, and delectable cuisine!


If you want a glimpse at what a visit to this region might be like and what the best towns in Abruzzo are, then sit back with a cup of coffee and enjoy this list of some of my favorites! I’ve divided it up by area; North, South, East and West, which also roughly corresponds to the official Provinces of Teramo, Chieti, Pescara, and L’Aquila, respectively.


I’ve also included special treats throughout this blog post..some of my best tips on specific things to know and places to go for those unique hidden gems I know you’re searching for! So, my off the beaten path travel buddies, prepare to fall in love with one of Italy’s most hidden gems..these 19 incredible towns in Abruzzo are waiting to solve your wanderlust!


Best Towns in Northern Abruzzo (Province of Teramo)

Civitella del Tronto

Castelli

Pietracamela

Teramo

Atri

Azzinano


Best Towns in Eastern Abruzzo (Province of Pescara)

Penne

Caramanico Terme


Best Towns in Southern Abruzzo (Province of Chieti)

Vasto

Guardiagrele


Best Towns in Western Abruzzo (Province of L’Aquila)

L’Aquila

Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Sulmona

Fontecchio

Scanno

Barrea

Castel del Monte

Capestrano

Navelli




Best Towns in Northern Abruzzo (Province of Teramo)


Civitella del Tronto

Civitella del Tronto, an ancient stone village off the beaten path in Abruzzo italy

One of the best things about Italy off the beaten path is the historic sites visitors get to enjoy all to themselves. Civitella del Tronto in northern Abruzzo is dominated by Italy’s largest fortress and Europe’s second largest. The weapon museum inside the fortress is worth the visit, let alone the views from the top!


Don’t Miss: Down in the village, follow signs to “Vicolo Stretto” and “ruetta d’italia la via più stretta”. You’ll find yourself at the most narrow alley in Italy! Hope you haven’t been eating too much pasta. ;)


Nearby: You can hop over into Umbria with a 30 minute drive further north to visit the beautiful off the beaten path town of Ascoli Piceno.



Castelli

This town is famous throughout Abruzzo and beyond for its stunning ceramics. Aside from the jaw-dropping backdrop of tall snowy mountains, the best part of Castelli is walking through the artisan shops where you can buy all kinds of handmade ceramic objects and even see the artisans at work!


Don’t Miss: The ceiling inside of San Donato Church is made of ceramic tiles, but you may need to ask a local who’s got the key to open up for you.. Oh the joys of Italy off the beaten path!



Pietracamela

colorful Italian village of Pietracamela in Abruzzo

Jaw dropping mountain views, winding cobblestone streets, and even a waterfall right in town made Pietracamela one of my very favorite towns in Abruzzo! I couldn’t stop imagining this mountain town all decorated for Christmas and bustling with out of towners taking a break from skiing. It would be the idyllic holiday setting! But this town is charming in any season and the perfect stop after a hike nearby.


Nearby: Keep climbing the road past Pietracamela to Bar Prati di Tivo where you can enjoy a frothy hot cocoa in a fun atmosphere surrounded by the mountains of Gran Sasso National Park!



Teramo

If you’re interested in the best towns in Abruzzo for both the beaches as well as the mountains, Teramo might be a good base to consider. Its origins date back to the Phoenicians, so there’s no lack of interesting history (don’t miss the Roman amphitheater). Teramo is the capital of the province of Teramo, so you can find a bit more activity here than in the surrounding smaller villages.


Don’t Miss: The weekly market on Saturdays from 8:00 - 2:00pm. Come hungry, porchetta awaits!


Nearby: A stop by Tenuta Cerulli Spinozzi is well worth it. Pick up some olive oil and Cerasuola or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine and wander through the gorgeous vineyards. You might want to contact them in advance to see if there will be any fun events during your stay! I got to participate in the celebration of the chestnut harvest with a guided tour of the impressive winery.



Atri

cathedral of Atri in Abruzzo, Itay at night with the bell tower glowing in the fog

I wasn’t lucky enough to see this beautiful town in daylight during my trip to Abruzzo, but I was certainly dazzled by its cathedral which is covered with 15th century frescoes by Andrea de Litio. However, I will go back for the panoramic views during daytime (Atri is just 6 miles from the Adriatic sea).

Known for: You’ll find shops selling the local specialty, licorice, which has medicinal properties useful for gastrointestinal disorders.



Azzinano

bright yellow house in Azzinano Italy with a beautiful mural

When it comes to Italy off the beaten path Italy, sometimes you hit the jackpot of hidden gems and sometimes you find yourself in a bizarre setting you didn’t expect. Azzinano certainly had me scratching my head yet totally loving it at the same time. This miniscule village in Abruzzo has covered its walls in unique mural paintings that are meant to capture traditional games that children played in the past. Though there isn't any reason to visit Azzinano besides the unusual murals, I certainly appreciate the creative effort to keep the culture alive!




Best Towns in Eastern Abruzzo (Province of Pescara)


Penne

large arched door at the gates of San Francesco of Penne lit up at night

Known as the city of bricks, Penne is one of Abruzzo’s best little off the beaten path towns. The San Francesco gates are the most beautiful way to enter Penne, and there are many elaborate palazzos (some in desperate need of restoration and care) and scenic views. The town is beautiful to just wander, but some worthy sights are the Romanesque Church of Sant'Agostino (later redone in the Baroque style), Palazzo Bono-Pilotta, and Palazzo Castiglione De Leone as well as the main cathedral. The Civico-Diocesano Museum is full of paintings, sculptures, and precious artifacts that help you realize just how ancient Penne really is!


Don’t Miss: Fornace del Bono is a unique cultural space dedicated to ceramics and jazz. Check out the underground space with low lights, old architecture, and relaxing jazz.



Caramanico Terme

Considered the capital of Majella National Park, Caramanico Terme is an easy bouncing off point to see the nearby Orfento Valley, the Celestine hermitages, and the Hermitage of San Giovanni where the famous Pope Celestine V retired in solitude. This off the beaten path town is known for its therapeutic waters, so when you’re tired of hiking, you can visit one of the many spas in town.


Known For: Natural hot spring spas


Don’t Miss: Pick up food for the trail at Bar La Sorgente, or sit down and stay for the arrosticini, grilled sheep skewers famous in Abruzzo!



Best Towns in Southern Abruzzo (Province of Chieti)


Vasto

This town in Abruzzo overlooking the sea couldn’t be prettier. The historic center is beautiful and lively and even has a gorgeous promenade along the edge of the city overlooking the stunning panorama. If you crave a bit more culture and activity when you travel off the beaten path in Italy, Vasto would be a great base.


Nearby: Vasto is close to many beautiful “trabocchi” along the coast, traditional wooden fishing structures jutting out into the sea. Some even welcome guests onboard for an unforgettable lunch or dinner featuring insanely fresh seafood! It’s an experience in off the beaten path Italy that you won’t forget!



Guardiagrele

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Guardiagrele is prized for its cultural importance both because of its history and its art. My favorite thing about this village is the Museo dell’Artigianato (free entry) which houses the winning works from an annual contest for the best ceramics, woodworks, jewelry, ironworks, sculpture, copperware, lacework, and glasswork. It’s well worth some of your time! If you walk through the streets of Guardiagrele slowly and deliberately, you can stumble upon many working artisan studios still carrying on these traditions.


Nearby: If you have a sweet tooth like me or just enjoy discovering foods from off the beaten path Italy, you won’t want to miss Bottega del Bocconotto. Bocconotti are shortbread pastries with various delicious fillings.


Also Nearby: Cascata di San Giovanni is a 4.2 mile hike to a tall waterfall for you adventure seekers!



Best Towns in Western Abruzzo (Province of L’Aquila)


L’Aquila

The capital of Italy’s Abruzzo region, L’Aquila is a lovely city hugged by snow-capped mountains. The streets are flanked by Renaissance and Baroque buildings that open onto large, elegant piazzas. There are many cultural institutions there, in part due to it being home to the University of L’Aquila.


Don’t Miss: Fountain of the 99 Spouts


Nearby: Just a 15-20 minute drive from the center of L’Aquila is a secret worth the extra hoops you may have to jump through in order to see it. Beneath the Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo (San Vittorino) are hidden catacombs you can visit underground. They are fascinating and the tour by the priest is quite memorable! You’ll have to call the priest to open it up for you, though. Just send me a message in advance and I’ll help you out! sierra@CreativeEdgeTravel.com



Santo Stefano di Sessanio

This off the beaten path town is beloved throughout Abruzzo. And that may be in part due to its unique story which involves a Swedish-Italian millionaire who fell in love with what was previously a ghost town and paid for the entire village to be restored— around 4.5 million euros. Now that’s love! Though it has become a draw for tourists and is full of B&Bs, this medieval village is still a fun place to visit (and there aren’t SO many tourists in the region of Abruzzo afterall).


Known For: The luxury “diffused hotel”, Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, whose rooms are scattered throughout the village and connected by a central reception area. If the original inhabitants only knew what people are paying to sleep there now!


Nearby: Little Tibet, a plateau at Campo Imperatore that has been dubbed Little Tibet as it resembles views of the Himalayas.



Sulmona

limestone arches of an ancient aqueduct in Sulmona, Italy

One of Abruzzo’s larger towns, Sulmona offers quaint cafes, a beautiful cathedral, and a beautiful piazza with an arched aqueduct, fountain, and big snowy mountains in the background. I was here during winter, but I could imagine how this off the beaten path town must come to life in the summer, especially for its historical event, the Giostra Cavalleresca, when you can see jousting on horseback along with parades, banquets, and other festivities!


Known For: You’ll find shops throughout the town selling confetti, candied almonds gifted at weddings. Confetti from Sulmona is so famous that royal British weddings have ordered their confetti from Sulmona.



Fontecchio

ancient limestone clock tower in autumn with mountains in the background and the off the beaten path town of Fontecchio in Abruzzo, Italy

One thing that makes off the beaten path Italy so special are the quiet cobblestone streets where you can still notice signs of times past. Fontecchio is plentiful in this regard, from the fountain in town surrounded by stone seats where the women would sit waiting their turn to water their livestock, to the tall clocktower with the city gate underneath. You can even spot a stencilled portrait of Mussolini (propaganda graffiti from Mussolini’s reign) on one of the walls of Piazza San Nicola. This village has a sweet and quiet atmosphere and lies amidst tall rounded mountains that create beautiful views.


Don’t Miss: I Campi di Mais in Piazza del Popolo, a wool and textile shop run by Antonella.



Scanno

old town of Scanno in Abruzzo, Italy with mountains and ancient stone buildings

Oh, Scanno! Another one of my very favorite off the beaten path towns in Abruzzo! Perched on a hilltop in the mountains, the village has a unique atmosphere where you almost feel you’ve stepped back in time. The village is wonderful for wandering and full of unique and beautiful architecture and views across the valley. The nearby Lago di Scanno (heart shaped from a certain perspective) makes Scanno a popular summer retreat.


Nearby: Though Lago di Scanno is better-known because of its size and heart shape, I fell in love with Lago di San Domenico which is more wild, features an arched bridge, a hermitage, and walkable trails. The bright aqua water is gorgeous!


Known For: Delicate filigree jewelry. A few shops where you can find filigree jewelry and artisan traditions are:

Oreficeria Di Rienzo Armando

Bottega Orafa Luigi Fronterotta

Il Gioiello del Tombolo

Laboratorio La Casina d’Oro


Also Known For: Scanno is also known for its Pan dell’Orso (Bear’s Bread), a typical cake made with honey and almonds and covered in chocolate.


Don’t Miss: If you’re fascinated by the traditions of off the beaten path Italy, visit the Wool Museum (Museo della Lana) where you can learn about the life of the shepherd.



Barrea

Driving the curvy and scenic roads from Scanno to Barrea through some of the highest parts of the mountains, I truly felt I was wayyy off the beaten path in Italy! Barrea’s best feature is of course, the view over the beautiful Barrea Lake. But this lake didn’t actually exist until after WWII!


Don’t Miss: Castello di Barrea and its views from the tower at the top of the village.


Nearby: On the drive from Scanno to Barrea is Lo Scoiattolo, an authentic rifugio (lodge) with a large fireplace to keep you cozy and traditional dishes. You can also just stop in for a coffee or drink on your way!



Castel del Monte

ancient castle ruins of Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo at sunset with a girl looking at the panorama
Rocca Calascio

There are so many ancient stone villages in Abruzzo, which is partly what makes off the beaten path Italy so enticing! Castel del Monte certainly fits that category, with its 360 degree views of Abruzzo’s impressive mountains and its Medieval and Renaissance history. There are mysterious tunnels under the village which are said to be related to old witch folklore, walking through tem apparently wards off spells!


Don’t Miss: "Night of the Witches" (La Notte delle Streghe) is an event in August where locals re-enact scenes of witchcraft from sundown to midnight.


Nearby: You absolutely can’t miss a visit to Rocca di Calascio at sunset. Local transportation and getting there depends on the season, so be sure to ask around and understand how much time it will take you to arrive. In November I was able to park in a very small lot on the road to the castle, but didn’t realize I then had a 30-45 minute walk ahead of me before actually arriving. However, when I’m in Italy, things tend to magically work out and I arrived at the Rocca 15 minutes before sunset. Others whose timing wasn’t as lucky were still walking up when it was already dark. Don’t be them, you’ll be missing out on a memorable moment!



Capestrano

dark-haired woman standing on top of a castle wall in Capestrano, Italywith arms spread wide and smiling with a panoramic view behind her

Capestrano has been inhabited since the 6th century BC by the Picene people who created the “Warrior of Capestrano”, a 2-meter tall stone statue of a king which was found in the 1920s in a field. But that’s not the only fascinating history in this off the beaten path town. Just on the edge of town, the facade of the Benedectine Abbey of St. Peter ad Oratorium features a Sator Square, five-word square palindromes (can be read forwards or backwards) that have been found in just a few important cities such as Pompeii, Rome, and Siena. Capestrano is less than an hour from L’Aquila and is dramatically perched on a hilltop, which makes it all the more scenic, and the piazza is especially charming on market day. For gelato-addicts like me, you’ll be happy to know that Capestrano is also one of the few small villages that has a gelateria..you should have heard my squeal of excitement when I spotted it!


Don’t Miss: Castello Piccolomini is one of my top favorite castles in Abruzzo. It’s small, taking only about 30 minutes to visit, but the views are breathtaking. (Especially in Fall when the vineyards below turn orange and yellow!)


Also Don’t Miss: If you’re into diving, Capo d’Acqua Lake hides two mills from the middle ages submerged at the bottom of the lake.



Navelli

This village is so humble and quaint, yet offers such a memorable visit with its meandering cobblestone streets, beautiful views over the valley, and architectural details. Much of the town is abandoned which adds a sense of mystery, but there are still many living here during the warm months and keeping Navelli alive. (Thank goodness!) This area is famous for saffron, so be sure to pick some up!


Don’t Miss: ​​Navelli’s Palio degli Asini (Donkey race) takes place in August in conjunction with the harvest of chickpeas.


Nearby: The Oratorio of San Pellegrino in Bominaco is an artistic treasure worth seeing. Inside, the oratory is covered with amazing frescoes. When you arrive, there is a sign with a number to call for someone to come open up for you and give you a tour. Be sure to give a 5-10 euro tip for their trouble, not bad for a private tour of an ancient site.

Also nearby is an archeological site called Peltuinum, a Roman settlement that was very important to the transumanza, the movement of sheep from the mountains to the plains and vice versa.



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