ROME TO PUGLIA VIA ABRUZZO
…HELLO- SALVE… GOODBYE- ARRIVEDERCI… PLEASE- PER FAVORE… THANK YOU- GRAZIE…
So I wouldn’t say I covered much of Italy but the places I focused on during this trip have some of the most incredible food, most hospitable and humble locals and aside from Rome are some of the least touristed parts of Italy. Abruzzo, just east of Lazio (where Rome is,) is nestled between the mountains and the Adriatic sea in central Italy. Being that it was December my focus was mainly on the mountains and the three national parks within the region however I drove the coast down to Puglia which no doubt would make for awesome summer holidays. Puglia is at the heel of the boot and while it is one of the poorest regions in Italy it is home to incredible architecture, delicious seafood and miles of olive and orange trees that stretch out to the ocean.
I’m not getting into all the things you can see in Rome, that info is easy to find. I will only tell you the wonderful places I ate and what I ordered while there.
This spot is on many peoples’ lists of restaurants not to be missed and there is a reason… it is awesome! Upon arriving in this narrow shop you will weave your way through two-top tables pressed against the magnificent deli case which is stocked with cured fish, prosciutto, cheeses and fresh pastas. Hopefully you have reserved a spot at the bar where you can watch all magic behind the deli case go down. The menu is long and a little intimidating but I feel like you can’t go wrong. Try the burrata with anchovies and the carbonara pasta for sure!
A bit of a hike to this working class neighborhood in the outer rings of Rome is this sweet family run kitchen that melds the best of both Puglian and Roman cuisine. The dishes are slightly inventive but stay true to the roots and have a heavy focus on seafood. If you are lucky the matriarch of the whole operation will come out of the kitchen to greet you.
Mordi & Vai
If you are looking to take a break from pizza and pasta but still want to stay on that carb train check out this classic Roman sandwich stall in the Testaccio market. Everything from tripe to meatballs and seasonal options like chicory and artichoke will drip off the freshly baked bread before hitting your tongue. They have won awards for best Roman street food and continue to use local and quality ingredients, no mystery meat here!
Seu Pizza Illuminati
At this hip eatery in southern Trastevere is where you will get your Neaopolitan pizza fix. This restaurant offers both classic and modern takes on this Naples staple as well as suppli and a selection of seasonal fritti. Make sure to snag a spot at the food bar where you can watch them pull your pizza out of the glistening GOLD wood-fired oven.
Need a pastry and espresso while roaming around the Monti neighborhood? This is your place, you can enter on the left if you want your pastries to go or settle into a seat and snack while people watching by going into the door on the right.
When I travel I like to make sure I know where a good pastry shop and a good coffee shop is located in every neighborhood. You never know when you are going to need a sugar and caffeine pick-me-up to get you going to your next location. This yummy spot is in the Testaccio neighborhood and has a great selection of goodies to take on the road with you. If it is Christmas time you HAVE to get one of their huge panettones!
Glorious is just one of the words I would use to describe this incredible food shop in the Testaccio neighborhood. I was unable to get into their restaurant (thanks to overlooking making a reservation in advance) so I decided to come to the salumeria around the corner and proceeded to order kilos of prosciutto, mortadella, brined artichokes, fresh bread… I wish I could have lived in that deli. Don’t worry if you aren’t fluent in Italian, I found the staff to be patient and very sweet with my broken Google Italian.
This Testaccio market stall is a great place to try Roman style pizza. They are more than happy to let you sample some options before making a decision and the fact that it is sold by weight means you can get a small sample of all of them if you want. If you are wise though you will get the sesame pizza which I was told by the owners is their “secret weapon".
Delicious gelato made with quality ingredients in the Trastevere neighborhood, boom!
Neve di Latte
Another yummy gelato option with a couple of locations around Rome. Thanks to Katie Parla’s list of the best gelato in Rome I never had to walk too far without.
L’angolo Divino Enoteca
If you love a good wine shop and wine bar like I do, this is your place. The service is wonderful and their wine list is extensive with a focus on natural Italian wines. The snack are also pretty tasty too which makes this a great late afternoon stop before or after your nap ;)
Come out to this bakery near Vatican City for an ENORMOUS porchetta sandwich. And then maybe walk 5 miles after. SO GOOD!
WHERE TO STAY
Charme in Perillis- San Benedetto In Perillis
The town of San Benedetto In Perillis is a centrally located town to use as home base in Abruzzo however it has little to offer in the way of entertainment. Don’t let that deter you though because this four room B&B and the couple running it could not be more delightful. The room I chose to stay in had a balcony overlooking the valley below as well as a fireplace and bathtub. It was an amazing place to come back to every evening after a day of hiking and exploring. Every morning you can expect a great breakfast spread of meats, cheese, pastries and coffee, I would not hesitate to stay here again!
WHAT TO DO
Majella National Park
I only wish I’d had more time to explore this beautiful park. Majestic doesn’t begin to describe how incredible the views are from some of the hiking trails. The trails are very well marked and even in a couple feet of snow I had no trouble navigating the path. The park’s website is a great resource for finding the right level and duration of hike you want to experience.
Rocca Calascio- Santo Stefano di Sessanio
Starting in the stunning village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio which is located in the Gran Sasso National Park you will find a trail leading to Camp Imperatore. It is a fairly easy and straight-forward route but I would suggest checking in with your location on AllTrails or GoogleMaps now and again because the few turns you will need to make aren’t clearly indicated. Once you arrive at the Rocca Calascio fortress you will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. You can choose to make it a circular route or if you are short on time (like I was) you can go out and back.
Gorge of Sagittarius
This driving route was recommended by the only friend I have who has also been to Abruzzo. Starting in Anversa degli Abruzzi you will drive through this beautiful gorge and pass the unbelievably blue Lago di Scanno before arriving in the sweet town of Scanno where you can taste some of the most delicious biscotti EVER.
Zaccagnini Winery- Bolognano
This winery has a large portfolio of incredible Abruzzese wines. The Elham pinto grigio is the wine that brought me in but after tasting a few others I ended up leaving with 2 of their other wines too. The tasting is room is small but the grounds are stunning and it is only a short drive from San Benedetto In Perillis.
Consorzio Terra Viva- Sulmona
A great food store specializing in food products from Abruzzo and mainly from the town of Sulmona. This is a great place to stop before a picnic or to pick up some edible souvenirs to bring home.
Confetti Pelino- Sulmona
I would equate confetti to a Jordan almond but after consuming MANY they are definitely a sweet with their own identity. Yes it is true that most are candy covered almonds but there are also ones filled with fruit, chocolate and other nuts. Don’t leave Sulmona without stopping for some and to check out the confetti museum.
WHERE TO EAT
Visconti- San Demetrio ne’ Vestinia
I visited this tasty place on Christmas day so while I did not have a choice in what was being served everything was beyond delicious and I have no doubt their daily menu is great. The couple who own the restaurant are amazing hosts and all of the food served to me was grown in and around the village we were in. I even had the pleasure of dining next to the vegetable farmer who grew the potatoes I was eating.
Before pigging out on confetti stop here for a perfect lunch (or dinner) of house made pastas and home-cured charcuterie. Don’t sleep on that antipasti plate or the locally grown preserved garlic shoots.
Antica Taverna di Navelli- Navelli
I would not suggest you go out of your way to find this taverna but it is a solid option if you are staying in the immediate area or if you are passing through it during a mealtime. The pastas are homemade and tasty and all of the ingredients seem to be local and high quality.
Biscotteri Artigianale di Rosata Liliana- Scanno
Didn’t you always think biscotti was meant to break to teeth, delicious as it might be you definitely needed coffee to soften it up… well apparently not here. The cookies here are firm but not hard and much more flavorful than what I am used to getting in the States. Choose from a variety of flavors and do not make the mistake I did which is not buying enough. Purchase by the kilo but buy extra to bring home because trust, you will eat more of it than you anticipated.
Agriturismo Tholos- Roccamorice
This meal had to be my favorite from the whole road trip. The location can be a little difficult to find but GoogleMaps got me through the mountains with the help of a few well-placed road signs indicating I was on the right path. Upon arriving at this farm you will be greeted by a member of the family and then seated for your meal. Since I went the day after Christmas it was a set menu but I did have a few “this or that” decisions to make. If the stracciatella soup is on the menu GET IT, also everything else. Don’t think, just order all of it. The presentation is beautiful, the ambience and location picturesque and above all the hospitality is beyond compare. Might I also suggest you not leaving without taking home some of their honey and olive oil. Their online presence is hard to find but here is their email address in order to make a reservation- firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE TO STAY
Masserias are farmhouses in Puglia and this renovated one lies just down a olive tree lined country road from the all white town of Ostuni. Using local materials and furnishings they have created a modern yet comfortable hotel with rustic charm. Breakfast every morning is set out on locally made ceramic dishes, afternoon nibbles and wine by the fireplace or pool after a day of exploring and the most comfortable bed and sheets make this guesthouse the perfect place to crash. It does not hurt that the chef, Giorgia, was recently written up in Saveur Magazine, so if they are doing a special dinner while you are there it is a must.
WHAT TO DO
Ceramiche D’aló- Ostuni
Those ceramic dishes I told you about, this is where to buy them. They carry an incredibly large selection of classic and modern styles of dishware and decorative pieces. They will also pack them very well if you need to check your bag, I bought 6 things that were all in one piece when I arrived home.
I Trulli di Alberobello- Alberobello
You can see the trulli houses scattered across Puglia in the Valle D’Itria, these prehistoric dwellings made of limestone are characterized by their unique conical roofs some of which have mythological or religious markings drawn in white ash on them. One of the most preserved areas to see trulli in Puglia is in Alberobello, home to over 1500 trulli, this town looks like something out of a fairytale. Be prepared for some crowds but don’t let that deter you from coming to this special UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gargano National Park
This seaside national park is probably best viewed in the summer months when you can reward your hiking efforts with a dip in the Adriatic but it is also quite nice in the wintertime too. The park is situated about halfway from Abruzzo to Ostuni in the spur of the heel and made for a nice mid-drive break. There are many trails all over the area but the one I hiked originated in Mattinata (where I stopped at a bakery and cheese shop for picnic things) and climbed the hills overlooking the ocean and the olive groves arriving at a necropolis high above the town.
Porto Antico di Monopoli- Monopoli
I do wish I would have made it to the charming city of Monopoli when more restaurants and shops were open but it was worth the effort of driving here just to view the old port and center of town which is pedestrian only. Even in the winter days following Christmas the port was buzzing with fisherman and locals looking at the day’s catch. I imagine the seafood restaurants here are A+.
WHERE TO EAT
Osteria Del Tempo Perso- Ostuni
The decor may seem a bit gauche but the food here makes you forget everything else. Admittedly I had passed this restaurant a few times on my daily walk through Ostuni and could not get over tacky the red carpet and bright lights outside that screamed “EAT HERE!” but after being reassured by the owner of Masseria Moroseta I figured I’d give it a shot. The interior is much more subdued with the original cave-like walls still in tact and honestly, I ate the best pasta of my life here. Service is on point and the menu is incredible. Get anything with bottarga and anchovies on it, you won’t regret it.
Osteria Monacelle- Ostuni
Less flashy than some of the other spots on Ostuni but just as tasty. This tiny, quirky little restaurant has a window into the kitchen so you can watch the two chefs, one of which I believe is the owner, sweat and scramble over a small stove. Super hospitable and very affordable, this is a great option for a casual meal.
I stumbled into this place a little by mistake when driving back from visiting Matera in Basilicata. I intended to go to another restaurant I had read about in Noci but they were full and lunchtime was almost over. They suggested trying Montegrappa just up the street and while I was disappointed to miss eating at the place I had read about I was pleasantly surprised by the service and menu here. The pasta was super tasty and the antipasti even better with the prosciutto sliced right in front of me. If you find yourself near here this is a solid choice for lunch or dinner.