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Abruzzo Re-Re-Visited - Family, Food and Wine


10+ Posts
By avvocato from NJ, USA, Spring 2009
A trip to Abruzzo's Adriatic coast in April 2009 to visit family. My third trip to Bel Abruzzo; my wife's first.

Then a continuation to Winterthur, Switzerland (also to visit her family) with day trips to the Appenzell Alps & Konstanz, Germany in May 2009. Our first trip to Switzerland.

This second part is posted in the Switzerland Trip Reports forum.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

Torna al’Italia

My wife and I wait patiently at the Philadelphia Airport on Saturday 25 April 2009 for flight US 718 direct to Rome.

We were able to get a very good price on US Air from PHL to FCO of $470.30 each for an open jaw round trip. We were planning to spend five days in Italy and 10 days in Switzerland. We would complete our “open jaw” by taking a train to Winterthur, Switzerland and then depart Zurich on 10 May 2009 directly back to Philadelphia.

The Italian portion of the trip was to introduce my wife (on her first trip to Italy) to cousins in Italy as well as meet some cousins I did not know about on my last trip in 2004. Call the trip, Family Food and Wine (Part 2). Part 1 is reported in Trip Report 574: Abruzzo - Family, Food and Wine. The initial part of this trip is not really Slow Travel.

The purpose of the Swiss portion of the trip is to visit my wife’s niece who lives in Winterthur, Switzerland with her husband and their new daughter Miya born on 24 March 2009. This will be our first trip to Switzerland.

Pre-travel planning was interesting. The low price for the tickets was achieved using Expedia. I was also able to book a three star hotel in Montesilvano, Pescara Province using Expedia for four nights for a total of $232.80 for a double. Payment for the hotel was made in advance and no money or credit card transactions were necessary at the hotel at check-in or check-out. My review of the hotel (Hotel Duca degli Abruzzi) is review #2627.

I also rented a car in advance using Auto Europe. I planned to pick up at Fiumincino and drop off at Pescara Airport D’Abruzzo. The all inclusive stated rate was $306.24 for the five days. The car was to be a Lancia Y 2-door with a/c or similar economy. The agency used by Auto Europe was EuropCar.

I must admit that for a person who likes to plan ahead and in great detail I did not get that opportunity here. One critical factor was that my wife (not a US Citizen) needed a Schengen visa for the trip. I was able to apply and receive the visa (for both legs of the trip) at the Italian Consulate in Philly. Switzerland in December of 2008 became a full participant in the Schengen visa convention. The visa took three visits to the Consulate before it was approved due to minor inconsistencies in the application and backup travel documents. I also had to educate the Visa Application section that Switzerland was now 100% Schengen so that Italy could issue the visa for the entirety of the trip.

The flight leaves PHL without drama. The overnight flight starts with the dinner and then we both try with varying degrees of success to sleep or rest on the remainder of the flight scheduled to land in Rome at 8:45am. We wake up early and I give my wife lessons in the Italian language - the ten words or phrases you should know to be polite. By the time we land my wife is “fluent” with Ciao, Buon Giorno, Buona Sera, Grazie, Prego, Mi Dispiace, Come Stai/Sta, Per Favore, Piacere, Scusa/i.

After a brief breakfast, Flight 718 lands more or less on time. After we clear immigration (long and chaotic lines), pick up our bags and clear Customs, we stop to get some euro at an airport ATM. This required another long line and about 30 minutes. Then it is off to find the rental car location. I read Slow Travel’s information on car rentals at the Rome Airport. My advice to other travelers is to read that advice carefully. Finding the rental location took some time even half expecting the signage and other problems. EuropCar upgrades me to a Lancia LYS Musa (diesel), which certainly help with our luggage situation. By the time I leave the parking garage the time is 12:40pm nearly four hours after landing.

Getting out of the airport property is fairly easy, but once on the Autostrada, I am a little unsure if I took the proper exits to the GRA, Grande Raccordo Anulare. The road signage is confusing (as it is in my opinion throughout Italy). I did make the correct decisions and off we go, despite being tired and excited. We plan to stop on the Autostrada A24 or then A25 for a quick lunch. The A24 exit is about 1/3 way around the GRA (Exit 14 - L’Aquila, Pescara) from Fiumincino.

The weather this day is occasionally damp and a little dreary. Once on the A24 the traffic thins substantially and we make good time. We stop for a short rest and a light lunch after we branch onto the A25. My wife and I stop at Brecciarola and shared a panini di prosciutto. The Apennines are still snow covered and offer a nice vista. The A24 and A25 drive is quite spectacular for an Autostrada, since you traverse mountains and use many tunnels.

The A25 then feeds into the A14 west of Pescara. We take the north fork of the Y and exit at Pescara Nord, Montesilvano/Città Sant’Angelo. After missing the hotel street at first and getting slightly lost in Montesilvano, I recover after asking for directions from a gentleman out for a walk (my wife being duly impressed with my command of the Italian language) and find the hotel at about 4:00pm. There are no problems checking in. The Expedia pre-paid reservation means that we do not pass along credit card data or exchange cash at any time at the hotel. After a short rest, we go looking for some food, but of course it’s too early and we end up buying some snacks at the Warner Village Mall a short walk away.

There are many people walking in Montesilvano. Too many, I think, for the typical La Passeggiata. Many more than I would have expected in the Adriatic “off season.” I find out from the hotel desk that most hotels are temporarily housing people from the L’Aquila area while the government is preparing more “permanent temporary” shelters near L’Aquila and environs. The earthquake of April 6 is very recent. Our hotel is also full of Aquiliani temporarily posted there.

I call my cousin that evening and make arrangements for her to meet us tomorrow morning. After a long day, we both go to sleep early and prepare for Monday and visits with my cousins from Atri and Silvi.


Fred and Nuan at Brecciarola on the A25
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Atri and Mutignano

The next morning my wife experiences her first prima colazione. She is underwhelmed by the basic nature of the breakfast. After breakfast, we take a short walk down the Lungomare. My wife, an agriculture major by degree, loves to see plant and animal life in other countries. She astutely reviews the trees, flowers and shrubs we pass. The weather today continues to be marginal, seemingly always threatening and occasionally producing rain.

By 10am we are back at the hotel where my cousins Lea and Giuliana pick us up. We are off to Atri to see Lea’s new house, built and completed in 2006. First we stop at a supermarket to help my cousins do some shopping for lunch. My wife enjoys checking out the Italian supermarket tremendously. She is fascinated to find Thai rice for sale.

I acknowledge that I sometimes relate the history of the places I visit to a great extent but I think people find it interesting. So I continue that practice here.

Atri is beautiful hillside town with ancient roots going back to Roman times. Known as Hatria, it was a Roman colony, which many believe is the origin of the name Adriatic. Others maintain the sea was named for Atria - an Etruscan city in Veneto Region. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the territory came under the power of the Lombards and was annexed to the Duchy of Spoleto (which covered parts of modern day Lazio, Umbria, Le Marche and Abruzzo). Subsequently, the Normans controlled it, and in 1393, Atri was bought by the House of Acquaviva. At the end of the 18th century, it was given by the Acquaviva to the Kingdom of Naples, where it remained until after the Second War of Italian Independence, the Campaign of 1860.

Some of the touristic highlights:
  • Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (late 12th century) - the present Cathedral was started on a previous 9th century church. On the site there are traces of Roman baths, which can still be seen under the floor of the presbytery. The Cathedral contains many magnificent frescoes including some by Andrea De Litio.
  • Palazzo Ducale (Acquaviva), a fortress built in the highest point of the town, now the seat of the municipality.
  • Medieval walls with Porta Macelli, Porta San Domenico and the Capo d'Atri.
  • Museo Capitolare.
  • Church of San Francesco, with a beautiful Baroque flight of stairs.
  • Church of San Domenico, with two paintings by Giacomo Farelli (17th century).
  • The Villa Comunale, a municipal park and garden provides a place to stroll and rest under shade trees.
  • The Belvedere off the Viale Vomano with panoramic views of the valleys and sea below.
  • The caves (grottos), partly still unexplored, probably prehistoric settlements.
  • The "calanchi" or erosion furrows in the surrounding landscape.
We enjoy seeing the new house and preparing for the lunch. My cousins have produced their own wine from their own small vineyard of Montepuliciano D’Abruzzo grapes. My wife also snags some preserved (salted) alici. The balance of the lunch is wonderful with a tasty tortellini stuffed with cheese. My cousin's husband and sons come home for lunch from his fabrication shop and enjoy the meal with us.

We also visit Mutignano, the ancestral town on the hill. More information on Mutignano is contained in Page 4. This is the hometown of my paternal ancestors. We visit the old houses, the Church of San Silvestro, which also contains a fresco by De Litio, and the cemetery. Mutignano continues to try to re-invent itself. Many people from Rome or elsewhere in Italy continue to buy property here. For summer vacations, Mutignano can be a cooler and more interesting alternative to the Adriatic beach experience than that offered by its capoluongo, Pineto.


Riso Thai ma non riso appiccicoso
Silvi and Città Sant’Angelo

Day 3 begins with a drive to Silvi where my cousin Giuliana lives. Silvi is a town with two parts - Silvi Paese or Alta, the old traditional town on the hill overlooking the sea and Silvi Marina, a modern seaside resort below the hills. The unique location of Silvi Paese (called Castelbelfiore until the 19th century) led to the town's spindle-shaped layout with a single main street, from which a network of narrow streets branch off. Giuliana lives in Silvi Marina.

Silvi is closely tied to Atri’s history, being only a short distance away. In the 13th and 14th centuries Silvi was a main cog of a coastal defense system based on day and night signals through mirrors and fires and smoke to alert the government in Naples of the frequent landings of Turks and pirates. Through a series of mirrors, fire and smoke signals, these coastal defenses could relay information that could be received in Naples (capital of the Kingdom) in mere hours.

In the 14th century, the medieval borough of Castrum Silvi as it was known, became a fiefdom of the abbey of San Giovanni in Venere (miles away near Fossacesia in Chieti Province), then passed to the jurisdiction of the Acquaviva family of Atri. At the time Silvi Marina was a small poor port of fishermen. Silvi remained a fiefdom of Atri until the arrival in Italy of Napoleon in 1806.

By 1863 the building of the coastal railway and the station at the coast helped the development of the "Marina", which little by little took over the government and administration, thanks mostly to investments in the tourist sector. In this way Silvi Marina began to supplant Silvi Paese in the same manner as the Pineto supplanted Mutignano as the administrative center. In 1931 the municipal seat was finally moved from Silvi Paese to Silvi Marina, which within a few years turned into a seaside resort.

Some tourism highlights of Silvi include:
  • The Belvidere of Silvi Paese, perched on top of a hill, 250 meters above sea level, which duplicates the once defensive garrison against the Saracens and offers a spectacular sight on the whole Central Adriatic, sweeping from the Croatian coast to Monte Conero (N) and the Tremiti Islands (S) on a clear day.
  • Church of San Salvatore, in Silvi Paese, with a bell-tower, dating from the 13th century.
  • Torre di Cerrano at the ancient harbor of Atri and Silvi. Located on the beach between Silvi Marina and Pineto, it developed when Atri abandoned the Vomano harbor. It is named for the Fosso Cerrano (gully), which runs along the sides of the hill down towards the sea. It served as a watch tower for Turkish invaders. Today the tower houses a marine biology station for the central Adriatic area.
  • Fashionable villas of the late nineteenth - early twentieth centuries, after the railroad was developed.
  • Fosso Concio, which was known as "Concio della Liquirizia" (from the word "acconciare" which means prepare in Abruzzese dialect). It was here where the roots of the plant, which grew wild and copiously along the hillsides of the Piomba and the Vomano Rivers, were harvested giving rise to the licorice manufacturing industry - known throughout Italy and Europe - with Saila Liquirizia (now part of LEAF Italia spa) and products of Aurelio Menozzi & De Rosa Company. Licorice root has been popular in the Abruzzo region for centuries.
My cousin's house in Silvi Marina is at the base of the hill to Paese. My wife and I take a walking tour of the Silvi hillside, observing plant life and magnificent scenery despite (again) marginal weather. We observe some of the villas of the town. We have a traditional Abruzzese meal - scrippelle or crepes. The meal features two scrippelle courses - scrippelle ‘m busse which is scrippelle rolled with pecorino cheese and served in chicken broth and as a main course scrippelle rollatini, crepes rolled with a ragu and meat sauce and baked - delicious and traditional.

After the meal we visit Città Sant’Angelo. The origin of Città Sant’Angelo also goes back to the times of the Romans, when it was called Angulum and desribed by Pliny as the “vestine” lands (Abruzzo). The inhabitants of the village were called Angolani. Following the Norman conquest of southern Italy in the 11th century, the Kingdom of Sicily was established and eventually became part of the Holy Roman Empire under the Hohenstaufen of Germany (Swabia). In the 13th century, Città Sant’Angelo was destroyed by the troops of the so-called “Avenger from Abruzzi”, Boamondo Pissono, by order of the Emperor Frederick II, himself born near Ancona and known as "puer Apuliae" or son of Apulia. The Angolani had been accused of siding with the Pope Gregorio IX, Frederick’s competitor in ruling the area.

Città Sant’Angelo and with other nearby towns were hotbeds of the first carbonara insurrection during the initial period of the Italian Risorgimento. In 1814 they rebelled against Gioacchino Murat’s (Napoleon’s brother in law) Neapolitan troops.

Some tourism highlights for the town:
  • Collegiata di San Michele Arcangelo (13th Century), church with a magnificent stone portal from 1326 and an interesting Natività frescoe in the attic; a large bell tower from the 14th and 15th century. Inside there are Baroque wooden frescoes.
  • Chiesa di San Francesco, with a beautiful 13th century atrian portal.
  • Chiesa di San Agostino, with a stucco design by Terzani.
  • Chiesa di San Bernardo, former church of the Cistercensi Ruformati.
  • Chiesa di Santa Chiara, stucco designs by Carlo Piazzoli and Girolamo Rizza.
  • Parco Territoriale Attrezzato.
  • Chiesa di San Salvatore.
  • Palazzos Castagna, Brandimarte, Palazzo Ghiotti, and Palazzo Ursini.
  • Beautiful mountain and seaside vistas from many old town streets.
We take a walking tour of the old city. Practically everywhere you turn, there is a beautiful vista of the (not too) distant mountains, either the Maielli or the Gran Sasso depending on your perspective, the beautiful valleys, the next hillside town, Mutignano for example, and the blue Adriatic. My wife loves the tradition of la passiageta. She proudly practices her limited Italian. Many Angolani smile.


The Adriatic from Citta Sant'Angelo
Pineto/Mutignano and Montesilvano

The next day brings a drive to Pineto. I introduce my wife to my late cousin’s wife. Amina is one of the best cooks in the region. Today for lunch we have spaghetti with clams and then "coniglio" or rabbit cooked with olives and some homemade Montipulciano d’Abruzzo. Joining us for lunch is her son Samuele, who recently moved back to Pineto from Turin.

The history of Pineto somewhat tracks the story of Silvi Marina. The old part of this commune is the medieval town (frazione) of Mutignano. Mutignano was the social and administrative center of this region east of Atri until the mid-19th century with the arrival of the coastal railroad. Mutignano is located on a hill overlooking the valleys and Adriatic coast. Pineto evolved as a coastal village created primarily by the decision to place a railroad station on the undeveloped coast to serve Mutignano (rather than in the hill towns of either Mutignano or Atri).

Pineto was founded in part by Giacinto Filiani. In fact, before the construction of the station, in the “frazione Villa Filianis”, only the villa (or country house) of the Filiani family, that of the Caccianini family and the Tower of Cerrano existed.

It was through the efforts of his descendant, Luigi Corrado Filiani, that the plan of development of Pineto gave rise to a modern beach town, rich with ever-greenery. Filiani started to think seriously about planting pinete on the coast. The plan was strongly opposed by the then mayor of Mutignano. Among the motivations in the opposition of the mayor, it appeared to him that that the old town could be better suited for building purposes, more economically driven than the coast, which interested Filiani. Despite this, Filiani succeeded in his goal, and in May 1923 received from the Italian Maritime Agency, a concession for the beach (lasting 25 years) with the OK to plant pinete. Upon expiration of the concession the planting site would pass to the State. Planting of 2000 trees of the variety Pinus Pinaea occurred. At this point, it became almost natural to the change the name of the frazione "Villa Filiani" of the commune of Mutignano, into that of "Pineto". This name was suggested to Filiani by the famous poetic lyric "The Rain in the Pineto" by Gabriele D’Annunzio.

At Pineto we make final arrangements for our over-night train trip from Pescara to Zurich (Zurigo) at a local travel office.

Without doubt, like Pineto, Montesilvano Marina is first and foremost a beach resort. This evening I am meeting with my cousins Rafaele, Gabriele and Antonio. They are the sons of my Uncles - Carmine and Giuseppe - two of my father’s half brothers. We have never met and this meeting was first arranged by my cousin who lives in the USA near me as it turned out, who is the daughter of another cousin (then visiting her in the USA) - Alberto.

This busy city, situated immediately north of Pescara, with which it is today physically united in a huge urban area is divided into Montesilvano Marina and Montesilvano Colle, the former a lively, crowded seaside resort, the latter the original medieval citadel and town. The village rose on a hill a couple of miles from the Adriatic Sea in the 11th century. Montesilvano Marina developed later as a fishing center and, more recently, as a seaside resort in summer.

Tourist sites include:
  • The borough of Montesilvano Colle, with its medieval remains.
  • The Church of S. Michele, built on the remains of an old castle.
  • The Church of Madonna della Neve, partly transformed in the 18th century, with fine 16th-century frescoes o the 18th century Palazzo Delfico.
The joy of my meetings with my cousins cannot be adequately put in words. We have some homemade pizza and wine and beer and try to catch up on family history. The night ends very late and my wife and I return to the hotel to pack for tomorrow’s departure to Switzerland.


Nuan under the Pinetos
Atri Redux and the Overnight Train to Zurich

The next day we return to Atri. The weather is a little bit improved and the day is good for some exploring of the nearby hills. We encounter calanchi almost around every corner. We see the vistas of the towns on the hills - Silvi Paese and Mutignano, and the nearby Adriatic. My wife, ever the agriculture major, helps in tilling my cousin’s garden. She is the perfect contadina.

We have a lovely farewell lunch of orrechiette with greens, olives ascoliani and porchetta. My cousin packs us a box lunch for the road - panini di porchetta and lemon cake. Also included are home grown walnuts and a bag of fresh peas, which my wife harvested from the family garden.

The weather turns nasty and rainy but we are off to Pescara to drop off the car at the airport. Of course the signage is bad and I miss the rental car parking lot. After some time I find it and we drop off the vehicle without incidents. Although no indication was given at the Europcar desk, later I received an additional charge of €2.92/day for “Licenses and fees”. This added a total of €17.52 to the rental car costs. This charge disappointed me inasmuch as Auto Europe’s ads all seem to indicate the cost paid when the reservation is made is all inclusive. We call a taxi and ride to the Pescara Central Train Station.

We are reserved on the Eurostar Intercity (IC) #9768 (2nd class) from Pescara to Bologna (€70 for both). The train leaves Pescara at 1750 through Ancona and Pesaro and arrives in Bologna at 2059. At Bologna we are to change to the over-night sleeper to Zurich (Euronight-EN-314 Luna) that travels via Milan to Switzerland through Bern and thence to Zurich. The cost for a shared (six berths) cuccetta is €210 for two. The train at Bologna departs at 2318 and arrives in Zurich at 0842 the following morning. Unfortunately, I understand that this train service is now suspended.

At this late evening hour the Bologna train station leaves a little to be desired. The elevators are not manned after about 19:00. To us, who are traveling with four heavy bags, this means leaving the IC track, walking down steps to the underground concourse, then up the steps to the main concourse and to our EN track.

The reservations we had on the EN were not quite correct. The car number (carrozza) and the berths (cuccetta) did not match our reservations. However, we board and get our berths. We share the accommodations with a gentleman from Macedonia and a young couple from Peru. With the lateness of the night and the next train stop over five hours away we retire for the night.

The train conductor takes our passports and will work on our paperwork while we sleep. We fill out a Swiss customs declaration. We sleep fitfully. I believe this train ride in daytime would be a spectacular vista as it passes through the Italian lake region and thence through the Alps.

We awake the following morning when the train is in Bern. Zurich is still over two hours away. It is a beautiful sunny day in Switzerland and my wife is rapidly photographing the countryside. Looking through the window is like looking at a series of picture postcards. You cannot see the Alps in this final portion of the trip but the farmland is very nice. As we approach Zurich we receive our passports and prepare our bags. We arrive at the train station on time and meet our nephew Michael who will accompany us to Winterthur. There is no formal immigration check at Zurich, another sign of Switzerland’s full integration into the Schengen convention.


The Adriatic Sea from a hillside in Atri

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