Abruzzo is one of the lesser known regions of Italy for U.S. tourists. It is situated in the central part of the country and remains one of the most sparsely populated regions on the Italian peninsula. For those wishing for a time machine to travel back to see the unspoiled natural beauty of Italy, you need to look no further than here. You will witness an age-old Italian lifestyle that has not changed for centuries. Visitors find ancient beechwood forests inhabited by wolves and bears, centuries-old pathways still used by shepherds and their flocks and ominous castles which now guard nothing but desolate stretches of wilderness.
The smallest province of the region is Pescara. Situated on the Adriatic, it extends as far as the heights of the Central Apennine massifs. Pescara also has a higher population than any of the other three provinces of Abruzzo. The major population center is the namesake of the province, the city of Pescara. The first recorded settlements date to around 1,500 BC. It was later conquered by Carthaginians, who were finally ousted by the Romans in 214 BC. The city retained its name Aternum while under Roman rule and developed into an important port for trade between the Balkans and Rome. During the fall of the Empire, barbarian raids almost completely destroyed the city. What remained was a fishing village named Piscaria. During the 16th century, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V turned Piscaria into a military fort and renamed the area Pescara. The city was made the capital of the Abruzzo region in 1927, but during the Second World War, it suffered devastation from Allied bombing, reducing some 78% of the city to rubble.
The ten miles of wide, clean beaches are the number one attraction in Pescara. Although most visitors come for the sun, sand and sparkling clear waters, it also offers many cultural attractions. The city is divided in two by the Aterno-Pescara River, with the historic city center located on the south shore, where once stood the fortified town of centuries past. Still remaining from that time is the Bagno Borbonico, a prison built under orders of Charles V in 1510. Today it houses the Museum of the Abruzzi People. Consisting of 13 halls, it traces the history of the traditions, culture and economy of the Abruzzo people.
Whenever one is in Italy, a visit to cathedrals is invigorating on several levels. The Duomo San Cetteo is dedicated to the town´s patron saint, but the present Romanesque Revival building is quite new by Italian standards, constructed in the 1930s. It replaced the medieval church of San Cetteo, but several remnants of the older church’s structure have been preserved and that is the real attraction. You can observe the foundation structure in two glass-enclosed structures across the street from the present cathedral. For those who are interested in modern art, the Basilio Cascella Museum houses the Art Noveau works of the Cascella family, who were key figures in that artistic movement. You can stroll among the furniture, paintings, pottery, pictures and postcards in their former workshop and admire the creative genius of that influential family.
Another interesting stop is the Palazzo del Governo, in the center of town. The building is impressive, but before venturing inside, spend some time enjoying its outside grounds. With its numerous fountains and the Piazza Italia, you will find it to be a wonderful place to sit and relax. After a bit of people watching, head inside to view the works of Giudo Costanzo, a highly-respected sculptor from Ortona, as well as the most celebrated work of painter Francesco Paolo Michetti – “La Figlia di Iorio.” The painting is difficult to miss, measuring 18 feet long and 9 feet high. As you walk further into the building, you will come across three allegorical paintings by Ugo Cerasoli, illustrating the birth of the Province of Pescara, the Art in the Province and the Fortress of Pescara (as it was in 1700). You will then want to head outside and spend time along the beach. Lined by a promenade, the coastal beach offers endless strolling opportunities, but to simply gaze at the crystal blue water and breathe in the sea air is a joy unto itself. Pescara is not only one of the area’s most popular beach towns, but it is also the gateway into the rural and rugged terrain areas of the Abruzzo region, which feature historic towns and large national parks.
The province contains other noteworthy museums, such as the Paolo Barrasso Naturalistic and Archaeological Museum of Caramaico Terme and the Museum and Archives of Contemporary Artists of Abruzzo, hosted in the Nocciano Castle. The castle is a massive fortress which dominates Nocciano and the valleys of the Pescara, Cigno and Nora rivers. Its construction dates back to the 11th century, but its present appearance is based on the renovations that took place in the 16th century.
If you are visiting museums in the province, others that deserve mentions are the San Clemente Abbey of Casauria, the Museum of Traditions and Folk Arts (Picciano), the Museum of the Salle Castle, the Ducal Tavern (Popoli), and the Olive Oil Museum (Loreto Aprutino).
The village of Caramanico Terme stands at the foot of Majella, the second highest mountain of the Apennines. Located at an altitude of 2,133 feet, the thermal springs and sulfurous waters of the area have been used therapeutically since 1576, with the first modern spa and medical complex built in 1901. Today the spa draws visitors who seek the healing powers of the waters, while vacationing in a traditional medieval village. Caramanico Terme is also a destination for nature and art lovers. With its location in the heart of the Majella Park, visitors often travel to the hermitages of St. Peter Celestine and also admire the ancient shepherds’ stone huts called Tholoi.
Renowned for its variety and richness, Pescara’s cuisine is among the best in Italy. Both the agricultural and coastal aspects of the province have contributed to its cuisine. Due to the mountains, much of Abruzzo was isolated from international influence until the 20th century. As a result, the region’s cuisine remained unique. Seafood is the main dish at most of the city of Pescara´s restaurants, which line the waterfront promenade and cluster around the Piazza Rinascita in the city´s center. Hot peppers are used extensively and some of the city’s signature dishes, such as Polpi in Purgatorio – octopus cooked with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, are extremely spicy. For casual dining, head to the port, where local fisherman have small beachside hut restaurants and cook up the day’s catch for a fraction of what some larger restaurant charges.
Although seafood is heavily favored along the coast, as soon as one ventures into the hills, you will find that one of the most popular dishes is maccheroni alla chitarra. It is made by pressing pasta through a chitarra, which produces long thin noodles similar to spaghetti. The pasta is served with a tomato-based sauce, often flavored with peppers, pork, lamb, or even goose.
The differences in Pescara between the coast and mountains are dramatic, especially when you consider the size of the province, making this province an outstanding destination for any traveler.