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Recent experiences in Italy, including Abruzzo and Puglia

Hi everyone, I just wanted to share some of my experiences from our recent trip to Italy. My wife and I just returned from a month long trip. Our itinerary included stops in Rome, Florence, Assisi (Spello), the Abruzzo region, finally ending up in Puglia down in the heel.

Overall, it was a great trip. I won't touch too much upon Rome and Florence as so many of you have been there and what is not to like about those 2 places! It is always enjoyable returning to our favorite spots. This was our third time visiting those cities and we still managed to add new places to visit. In Rome we finally fit in the Borghese Gallery and the Catacombs of Priscilla. We stayed in the Piazza Navona neighborhood and loved it. For Florence, we downloaded an app called Hidden Florence, which allows you to take self-guided themed tours through different parts of the town, narrated by historical characters.

After 4 days in Rome followed by another 4 in Florence, our adventure really got started. We rented a car and and started to head south. We wanted to visit Assisi (in Umbria) in particular, but made a nearby town called Spello our home base. It is a lovely town with interesting shops and restaurants. We stayed just outside the town at a B&B that had parking and was an easy 10 minute walk into the town. We spent 3 days here, one day exploring Spello, and another day in Assisi (visiting the town itself, the Hermitage up in the hills called "Eremo delle Carceri, and also the massive Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in the lower town that was built over the original little church that St. Francis was associated with). I think our last day was spent lazing around our B&B, a big manor house built in 1780.

The next stop as we worked our way south was in the Abruzzo region. Planning for this part of our trip was a challenge. I had followed the travel forum here for quite a while trying to glean some information and tips. I also purchased the guidebook others have recommended published by Bradt, written by Luciano di Gregorio. I was looking forward to an "off the beaten track" experience, somewhere less touristy. Over the last 5-6 years or so I have been studying Italian as well, as my experience has been that if I can communicate with local people it tends to open up to greater experiences and encounters. Well ....... I have to say that was not the case for us in this region. I had decided on Chieti as our home base, located about 30 minutes from the coastal city of Pescara. It has an interesting historical area, and architecturally was a pleasant town. Oh, note to file: if you pick a hill-town as a home base expect to drive very twisty-turny roads up and down each time you go out exploring. I guess that is stating the obvious but that part must have slipped by me. I had allocated 4 days to this area overall. We spent one day exploring Chieti itself, another day driving down into Pescara and checking out some of the coastal areas (including Ortona and the Moro River Canadian War Cemetary), and also checked out Guardiagrele and the gorge in Fara San Martino. Pescara was actually a pleasant surprise. Most of the historical areas were destroyed in the war so it has been pretty well rebuilt. We had a pleasant half-day there exploring the shops and walking along the beach.

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Recent experiences in Italy, including Abruzzo and Puglia - Part 2

So, back to my comment about experiences and encounters. It is kind of hard to explain, but both my wife and I just got weird vibes from the local people here (except in Pescara). Some of the people we met it in the service industries were just fine, such as in the museums (which were almost deserted) and in some shops. I feel kind of bad even reporting this, but I am just wanting to share what we experienced. My attempts at using Italian with many did nothing to break through their suspicious demeanor. I mean we got nothing, not a hint of a smile or general interest in us. We were not expecting to be greeted warmly in open arms, but to continually receive harsh steely-eyed glances started to etch away at our vacation bliss. Maybe this was the “off the beaten track” experience? Anyways, we found ourselves staying in our apartment for dinner a few times instead of venturing out. For our last night in Chieti I was determined to force us out of our comfort zone and try out one of the local restaurants. There was one in particular that was recommended in the guide book, even stated the owners were friendly too! We walked up into the town, found the restaurant, and entered just as it was opening. So far so good. It was still pretty quiet, the host asked if we had a reservation …nope. Got a bit of an eye roll but that’s OK, and then were seated way in the back corner. The adjacent dining room is where all the local people who came in after us were seated, we had the other one all to ourselves. The servers were business-like and the food was quite good. I again tried my Italian with them to soften them up, not gonna work with these veteran Abruzzesi! I had greater success with the younger girl who brought over the dessert cart. She didn’t know any English, which was good with me. We managed to have a nice chat about the lovely desserts and even got her laughing a bit. So there’s hope! Anyways, I don’t want to insult these people. That’s not my intention. I am just relating our experiences. It really had us wondering what we were going to encounter further south in Puglia, but I can state that we had a completely different experience there. If I could have done the trip over I would have skipped Abruzzo in it's entirety and perhaps rather than driving down to Puglia, flew into Bari or Brindisi and picked up a rental car there.

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Recent experiences in Italy, including Abruzzo and Puglia - Part 3

Before we made it to Puglia we stopped off in Matera (in Basilicata) for a few nights. Wonderful experience. A truly fascinating town, don't miss it if you're near that part of Italy. We stayed at a B&B and meet the lovely owner and his family. During our first breakfast in the common eating area we met another couple (an Italian couple no less, from the nearby town of Taranto). They were very friendly and we made plans to meet for dinner later. Between the language differences we still managed to have an enjoyable experience talking about our families and the differences in our lives and countries. We explored Matera both days, and then fired up our rental car from the nearby garage continued on south. Next stop on our agenda was the city or Lecce. Also called the "Florence of the South". I guess that comparison is used to let you know it is a nice town. That part is definitely true! This was our home base for about a week. And not a hill town too so leaving in the morning and returning later in the day was easy-peasy. We spend a couple of days exploring both the centro area and the newer part of town just adjacent. Both really lovely. A few times we must have looked a little lost as we were consulting our map (of Google maps) and had a local person ask us if we needed help or directions. Our hope was restored!

We visited the trullis of Alberbello, the lovely towns of Ostuni and Otranto, and swam in the Adriatic. This area, called Salento, seems to have a laid-back vibe that was much appreciated. We wrapped up our trip by dropping off the rental car in Bari and catching a train back to Rome (only 5 Euro per person - cheap!).

Well, that's my report. Keep on travelling!

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547 posts

Thank you for this report. I enjoyed reading your experiences and observations. This is an area I would like to visit.

Posted by
5156 posts

I really appreciate your report, Roscoe, especially since you went to some less known locations! And when I saw Spello - a soft spot in my heart!

I haven’t been past Salerno/Paestum, so it’s great to hear which places you really liked & why.

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1987 posts

I too really appreciated the details on southern Italy. It is on my too long list! I still have not made it to Umbria which was a causality of 2020. We actually went to Italy in 2021 but skipped Umbria since it was August and we thought northern Italy would be cooler.

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8921 posts

We also enjoyed Puglia and the town where we stayed, Polignano a Mare. We found the locals welcoming, helpful and friendly.

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22274 posts

Great report and nicely formatted. The comments about your reservation experience is very appropriate ---- the host asked if we had a reservation …nope. Got a bit of an eye roll but that’s OK, and then were seated way in the back corner.

When this question of reservations come up on this site I have often posted that reservations are expected and service is better. Some posters have been quick to dismiss that idea. But, your experience matches our experiences very well. So we always make that reservation even if it is only a couple of hours in advance.

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3890 posts

Thank you Roscoe for sharing your recent experiences. Great read! I especially enjoyed your route for “off the beaten track.” Timely, since I have been researching a culinary tour in Abruzzo!

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3380 posts

Thanks for the trip report. It was an interesting read and will surely be helpful to others planning travel to this area of Italy.

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3199 posts

Abruzzesi from the mountains are quite typical of southern people living in the mountain areas not touched by mass tourism: reserved and shy. Since you have visited Italy many times I am surprised you are surprised. Jokes about Abruzzo and Molise are frequent.

These people have been starving - even by southern standards - till the 50s. This means that there are still elders around who know what famine means from first hand experience. Matera before mass tourism was not that different.

They are not rude, they just don't get the idea of fake-smiling to complete strangers without a good reason. Not surprisingly, Abruzzo's "symbol" animal is the Marsican brown bear: shy, small, quite harmless and almost extinct! There are only 50 Marsican bears left...

I doubt the restaurant owner rolled his eyes because you had not reserved, most probably because he had to seat you in the back all by yourselves. If you had reserved, you'd have "enjoyed" the noisy room... to make life easier for their snooty waiters.

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7 posts

Thanks for your comments Dario, I appreciate hearing from an Italian on this topic.
I was surprised that you were surprised that I was surprised ....haha. I guess what I mean by that is even though yes I have been to Italy before this trip, I was not aware of the particular traits of southern people living in mountainous areas. This last trip of ours took us from Umbria through Abruzzo down into Puglia. I tried to find out as much as I could about the Abruzzo area, mostly by reading trip reports or postings from other good people on this site. There is just not a lot of info available.

I do want to be clear however that when I travel to Italy I always try to be respectful and considerate to local customs and people. To try and further enrich my experiences, I have been learning and studying Italian over the last 5 years. I had a lot of fun in the smaller towns engaging with people who don't speak English, who were mostly pretty patient and I thought appreciative that I was at least trying. It opened some doors of communication, which is all I was hoping for. And as I mentioned earlier, it allowed us to meet a lovely Italian couple as well.

I posted this in Trip Reports because I wanted to share what my experience was in an honest way. I am sure other people have had completely different experiences as well. All good and I like to read about theirs too.

For sure we should have made reservations. Our decision to venture out was made rather last minute so that's on us. Not to file folks - make reservations! My wife and I look back at our "Abruzzo" experiences (some others not mentioned because I don't want to make too big a deal out of it) with humour and as a learning experience.

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1 posts

Thanks for your honest and interesting post. It's helpful to see how we American tourists, no matter how well-schooled we might be by Rick Steves, can be a little uncomfortable with the cultural differences even within a given country. I spent two weeks in Alberobello two decades ago, and it was an utterly charming base for exploring southern Italy. The trulli are unique and offered a marvelous, completely fabulous experience as an Airbnb.

Janet
11/1/22