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Abruzzo Posted by on Apr 7, 2009 in Uncategorized

Once again Italy has been hit by an earthquake, this time the main victim being the town of L’Aquila in the region of Abruzzo. In terms of seismic activity we are a very high risk country, added to which we have a lot of old vulnerable buildings, but it’s easy to forget all that until the next earthquake strikes and claims yet more victims. Some people had been predicting a major earthquake in the Abruzzo area, and all the usual controversies have surfaced again concerning whether or not the impact, in terms of death and injury, could have been lessened by preventative measures. But I don’t want to get into the polemics of whether this latest tragedy could have been prevented or not; instead I’d like to write about Abruzzo itself, that little region which I’m so fond of, and which has been so badly devastated by Sunday night’s earthquake.

Several years ago I spent a summer holiday in Abruzzo, as a guest of some friends. Coming from Lucca in Tuscany, with its gentle terraced hills, olive groves, and vineyards, I was greatly impressed by the wilderness of this region. Abruzzo is very mountainous, having the highest peaks in the whole of the Appennini, the mountain range that forms the spine of the Italian peninsula. The rugged group known as Gran Sasso d’Italia (lit. Great Stone of Italy) which reaches 2900 meters is the tallest, followed by the Maiella group at 2793 meters. Both of these areas are now National Parks, and here you can still find some of the rarer wild animals such as il lupo (the wolf), l’orso bruno (the brown bear), la lince (the lynx), il camoscio (the chamois), la lontra (the otter), and l’aquila reale (the royal eagle). This wild region is a treasure trove of beautiful isolated abbeys which were built during the Middle Ages: I will always remember seeing the white church of San Clemente a Casauria with its wonderful portico, standing out against the dark foliage of the trees and the bright blue sky like an apparition in a fairy tale landscape.

The city of L’Aquila in the heart of the region contains many beautiful buildings (how many are still standing?), the most famous being the 14th century church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio with its orange and white facade, the open air fontana delle 99 cannelle (fountain of the 99 spouts), and the Castello which houses a National Museum. The day I visited the Museum, some musicians were playing live classical music in the courtyard thereby helping to enhance the magical atmosphere.

But Abruzzo it’s not only landscape and architecture, it is also the indigenous population, who are very friendly and welcoming. During my visit the friend with whom I was staying was working and had to go to her office every day, so I was immediately adopted by some friends of hers who had a bar, and who took it in turns to keep me company and take me off to explore the region. At the bar there was also a young waitress who was doing a course to become barmaid, which included making cocktails. As she had to practice a lot, and she also had to create her own cocktail for the final exam, I nobly volunteered as a guinea pig, and every evening I would savor a different beverage! But even if you are not fortunate enough to have a friend who is a barmaid, you can always enjoy drinking the excellent red wine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and if you’ve had too much to eat, it’s good to end the meal with the famous digestive liqueur Centerba, made from a 100 different medicinal herbs that grow on the Maiella mountains.

One thing that you shouldn’t miss if you visit Abruzzo is ‘i confetti di Sulmona’ (the confetti of Sulmona). Confetti in Italian are “sugar almonds” (not the bits of colored paper that I have seen thrown at weddings in England!), and the name comes from the Latin confectum, which is the same root of the English word “confectionary”. I confetti di Sulmona are famous all over Italy for their particular sweet flavor, and they are traditionally given to guests at weddings, christenings and first communions as a symbol of buon augurio (good luck).

Auguri Abruzzo.

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