March 12, 2021
As with our 2018 trip to Sicilia, I decided to share a very detailed itinerary of our eight day road trip from Rome and through the beautiful mountainous region of Abruzzo! Italy holds a very special place in my heart and I had no idea in the fall of 2019 that international travel would not be safe again for quite some time. Here’s to slowly getting things back to normal and daydreaming about our next Italian adventure… whenever that may be!
Living in Beaumont, international travel always requires an exhaustingly long first day! We drove an hour and a half to Houston, hopped on our flight to Frankfurt, and arrived in Rome late the next afternoon. Since we’d been to Rome before, we opted to skip the tourist sites and get a better feel for the city’s local culture. We stayed in Monti, an eclectic neighborhood in central Rome with a very artsy and bohemian vibe. Our apartment had a HUGE balcony with a spectacular view of the neighborhood!
On our first true day after traveling, we woke up early, grabbed a cappuccino and pastry at Pasticceria D’Amore and started walking towards Testaccio — an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood on the Tiber river. This area is home to locals, does not have any of the traditionally touristy spots (though there are plenty of lesser-known sites to see!), and is not home to the winding pathways and stereotypical Italian alleys that you imagine when you think of Rome. It’s an authentic part of the city where you can truly experience local culture!
Staying in Monti, the Colosseum and Roman Forum were right on our way, so we couldn’t help but take a few snaps as we strolled by! If you’ve never been to Rome, I highly recommend you visit the Colosseum. It’s one of my all-time favorite sites — the nearly two thousand year old history is absolutely AMAZING. To think that the structure was completed in 80 AD and has been used for so many different things is seriously incredible.
We got to Testaccio just in time to stroll through their morning market perusing clothes, books, and trinkets while smelling the enticing scents of aged cheese, specialty meats, and fresh produce. We ate lunch at Trapizzino where we tried the famous pizza pocket street food — it’s similar to a calzone, but is made into a triangle that you hold in your hand and can easily walk around as you eat. It was both cheap and delicious! After lunch, we went by the Piramide Cestia, an ancient pyramid built in 18-12 BC. Yes, you read that right — BC! Right in the middle of an intersection, this Egyptian style pyramid sits seamlessly tucked into the ancient Roman environment.
On our walk back to our Monti apartment, we stumbled upon an antique store full of treasures and old books. We spent hours browsing the overflowing shelves and came out with a handful of books, a very unique leather purse, and a strong desire to return later!
That evening, we drank wine on our balcony before heading to our dinner reservation at Rocco Ristorante. If you aren’t familiar with the culture, Italian dinner is much later than American dinner and reservations are always appreciated (and typically expected for traditional restaurants). Going out to eat is a social event that is meant to cover the entire evening, so plan accordingly!
On our third day, we got up bright and early for a sunrise photography session at the Colosseum and Trastevere — a gorgeous Roman neighborhood full of Italy’s iconic winding alleyways and picturesque views.
Vacation photography has become a custom that we splurge on for each big trip. As I explained in my Sicilian vacation blog, I prefer to have memories and pictures with both of us rather than simple selfies and photos in front of monuments and tourist sites. If this means that we buy less (or sometimes we don’t buy any!) souvenirs and eat cheap for a few days, then that’s what we do! I will be sharing full blogs on the photo session at a later date, so keep an eye out!
After our session, we strolled around Trastevere taking cell phone pics and exploring the area. We happened upon the Basilica di Santa Maria, one of the oldest churches in all of Rome. Strolling along the Tiber river, we slowly meandered our way back to the apartment and once again had wine on our balcony with a breathtaking view of the streets below.
On our fourth day, we headed to the train station where we picked up our rental car and drove east towards Abruzzo, a marvelous mountain region full of character and charm! This particular area is considered “the greenest region in Europe” with over half the land made up of national parks and reserves… and it even has a glacier! We chose to base our weeklong stay in the centrally located town of Sulmona. This allowed us to explore the entire region, making day trips possible whenever we pleased as the town is perfectly placed at the foothills of the surrounding mountains.
We unpacked our bags and got settled in a modern AirBnb right in the heart of the historic center. This apartment was beautifully designed and had a spectacular view of the Basilica della Santissima. That evening, we sipped wine on the balcony as we watched the sun set over the mountains and headed out for a light dinner and regional beer at Osteria del Tempo Perso.
Talk about a room with a view!
For our first full day in the region, we took a roundtrip driving tour through Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo starting in Anversa degli Abruzzi to see the Gole del Sagittario. It was a quaint little town perched on the edge of a mountain, but we didn’t stay long due to a late start in the day… we simply made a quick stop to soak in the stunning views before heading onward.
Lago di San Domenico was a favorite spot on our road trip with a gorgeous lake and unique hermitage used by Saint Domenico himself in the early eleventh century. After exploring the lake for a bit, we drove up to the town of Villalago for a quick bite to eat.
In Scanno we strolled the town, stumbled into Chiesa di Santa Maria della Valle, and headed towards Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo. It was just outside this small village that we had our most memorable experience of the entire trip. We were driving the winding route up into the mountains when we saw a little red fox sitting in the middle of the road! Of course, we had to pull over to see if we could grab a picture before it ran back into the woods… except that it DIDN’T run back into the woods! It scurried up to the car window and peered in!!! Naturally we parked the car and got out. The cute little fox came right up to me and sniffed my hand… it had clearly been fed by someone before. We took way too many pictures and finally tried to lure it back to the woods when another, rougher looking fox peered around the back side of the car. He was much more skittish, but clearly interested in the possibility of a snack. We didn’t have any food in the car, so we attempted to leave the foxes behind. They followed us up the mountain as we reluctantly kept driving away towards the sunset.
At this point, it was getting late and we still had a long drive back to our apartment. We stopped for a caffè at a small park lodge and once again for a quick bite at Pizzeria Saltarelli in Pescasseroli. A friendly street dog kept us company as we chowed down and hopped back in the car.
The winding roads were getting much darker and we didn’t want to be driving at night in the middle of the mountains (spoiler, we were!), but we couldn’t help pull off at an overlook and admire the absolutely gorgeous valley below. A local driver rolled down their window and asked if we saw an “orso” or bear! We explained in very simple Italian that we were just admiring the bellisima vista or view. As it got darker, we carefully drove the curving course back to Sulmona where we went to bed relatively early (after a bottle of wine, of course!).
This relaxed morning began with a stroll around the small town of Sulmona. Known for confetti, or specialty almonds that are sugar coated and absolutely delicious, the town is right at the center of the Italian region of Abruzzo and the historic center is perfect for exploring by foot. I found a handy Sulmona Highlights Walking Tour online and we set out to explore the rich history of the cheerful community! One of my favorite stops was at Palazzo Tabassi with a quaint little courtyard and stone window dating all the way back to the 1400s. From the outside, it didn’t look like much and we were honestly a little nervous to wander inside — it felt like private property that we were trespassing on! But inside was a beautiful courtyard with rewarding views and historical stone carvings.
From our apartment balcony, we had a stunning view of an ancient bell tower and rolling mountains. I had been wondering what this beautiful bell tower belonged to and found that it was part of the Annunziata Complex — an alluring piece of architecture that survived a devastating earthquake back in 1706. We ogled at the exquisite Baroque details of the building and peered into the elegant church.
One nice thing about Sulmona, and much of Italy, is the ever flowing public water fountains. In this town in particular, an extensive aqueduct system (dating back to 1256!!) was built to provide water to the entire community. You’ll find uniquely carved stone water fountains throughout the town and one particular called La Fontana del Vechhio with an old man’s bearded head. The water constantly flows out of the man’s mouth and allows passers-by to stop for a quick drink!
Later that evening, we drove about an hour northwest for a second photo session at Rocca Calascio… more to share on that later!
On our last day in Sulmona, we had a laid back morning before packing up. We dropped by the weekly market at Piazza Garibaldi, ordered some delicious street food at “La Torre,” and enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the steps. Afterwards, we hopped in our rental car and headed back to Rome for our final evening. In Rome we grabbed a very early dinner and headed to bed… after all, we had ordered a taxi to pick us up bright and early (at 2:30 a.m.!!!) the next day.
As always, leaving Italy was hard to do. It’s become sort of a second home for us and this was such a last minute and short trip that we didn’t feel as though we truly got our fill (as if we ever do!). Traveling back, we flew from Rome to Munich and then Houston. And finally, we drove back to Beaumont in a dreamy daze from such a fabulous vacation… little did we know that a few short months later the Coronavirus would take the world by storm and we wouldn’t be back for well over a year. I’m hoping that with vaccines being distributed, international travel will soon be safe again… but until then, I’ll be reliving all our marvelous trips to the most magical of countries, Italia!
If you’d like to check out my past travel blogs, follow the links below!