Abruzzo is the king of agrotourism.
The cheap flights and choice of farms made the region an easy choice for a family holiday in the autumn
by Victoria Smith
I KNOW the exact moment my husband Brian and I realised that our week in Abruzzo was going to be a successful family holiday. Our three-year-old, Patrick, was chasing two little local girls around a restaurant while up to 40 indulgent Italians looked on, apparently enjoying the free entertainment.
We had banked on the region being as welcoming to children as the other parts of Italy we had visited, and on a September holiday providing warm weather and fewer tourists — a strategy that paid off.
Attracted to Abruzzo by the beach and mountains as much as by the cheap flights to the Adriatic coast, we discovered a region as yet unpopulated by tourist villas. Abruzzo is king of the agriturismo: more than 300 farms offer accommodation and food fresh from the fields. In this area farms need a sideline to survive.
The agriturismo we chose, Le Macine (The Millstones) in Silvi, offers self-catering apartments, a pool, and close proximity to the sea and Pescara airport, served by Ryanair. An outcrop of coral-painted barns has been developed into spacious (though not soundproof) family apartments, and down a steep farm track lies a small B&B, the restaurant and a well-thought-out pool area with a view over the sea — and the farm’s original rustic charm is intact. Most agriturismi produce crops alone, although ours had a noisy gaggle of geese that Patrick enjoyed chasing.
Self-catering, we had fun cooking with the flavourful organic vegetables, meats and cheeses for which the area is famous — and wine (the local Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) and olive oil direct from the farm. But we happily succumbed to two of Le Macine’s thrice-weekly “banquets” (£34 for the three of us), where we could meet our neighbours — a friendly international mix of couples and families.
Rachael and Tom Simmons, accountants from the Wirral, and their daughters, three-year-old Zoe and baby Olivia, were also visiting Abruzzo for the first time. “We love bringing the children to Italy as they get such a good welcome,” Rachael told me. “You can rely on the food, the beaches and the weather, plus you get the richness of Italy as a bonus.”
“The only problem for us is the Italian hours,” Tom added. “The children are ready for bed just as the restaurants are opening up for the evening.”
The area remains popular with Germans, and Konstanze and Konrad Dietl and their teenage children had chosen Abruzzo for its flora and fauna. “We wanted to get away from the chocolate-box towns of Tuscany and Umbria, and get a feel for the real Italy,” Konstanze told me.
Our sea-loving toddler made the beach an obvious choice for daytimes. The long sandy strip of Adriatic coastline in this area is more functional than elegant, but there was plenty of choice. Silvi Marina was the nearest, but Pineto, a little farther north, became our favourite. A strip of cool and fragrant pines fringes the beach, and the town, with its 1930s villas, has an air of faded grandeur.
Abruzzo is justly famous for its four nature reserves, set amid spectacular mountain scenery. The Abruzzo National Park is Italy’s oldest, and its range of wild animals includes the country’s largest remaining population of brown bears.
A two-hour drive took us to the centre of the park, the pretty town of Pescasseroli. The tourist office directed us to a nature trail, suitable for children, leading to a waterfall. “A troll bridge!” shrieked Patrick in delight. He set off in search of bears and wolves. To his parents’ secret relief, we saw none.
Everything shuts between two and four in the afternoon in Italian towns, so it is worth doing some forward planning, as we discovered on a trip to the regional capital, Aquila. By the time we arrived the shutters were coming down. But we did take in the Romanesque church, made famous by a hermit, Pietro Angeleri, who was unexpectedly elected pope in 1294. He became the stuff of legends by issuing a pardon to everyone who visited his church to repent, but he chucked in the job after a mere three months and was thrown into prison, where he eventually died.
The Italian veneration for the place was not entirely appreciated by young Patrick. He made the most of the natural acoustics, and a plea for quiet had him chirruping, “Why? Who’s asleep?” We found the smaller hill towns more toddler-friendly. Atri, a 15-minute drive away, is perfect for families. Children play safely in the large piazza, and elegant shops and restaurants line a pedestrianised thoroughfare. The town was hosting a music festival the night we visited; it also has regular food fairs.
The highly recommended Locanda Duca d’Atri has the most entertaining wine list I have ever seen, covering every region of Italy, and, more specifically, every wine producer in Abruzzo. You can choose by the vineyard. Even Patrick, who can be unpredictable at mealtimes, enjoyed the experience, tucking gleefully into tiny meatballs — a local dish — and zabaglione ice cream.
As we prepared to leave the following day, Brian and I realised we had not sent a single postcard. But here is our excuse: Abruzzo is still a diversion on Italy’s well-worn tourist trail, which means, of course, a distinct lack of souvenir shops.
Source: Times Online September 11, 2004