Castelli to Chieti: A Drive with Something for Everyone
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Once you've had your fill of nature hikes, this trip presents some of the more traditional Italian offerings: exquisite hill towns, interesting museums, art-filled churches and palazzi. To begin, take A24 east from L'Aquila to Colledara, then head south on the local road to Castelli. This is a classic hill town with fabulous views of the valley. Gran Sasso, highest point on the Italian peninsula, seems to hover overhead as you stroll through the charming streets and alleys. But you haven't come here in search of ancient art. Castelli is a place to buy contemporary art: its inhabitants are some of the most talented ceramicists in all Italy, and their wares are on sale everywhere. Before you start shopping, visit the excellent Ceramics Museum to see many beautifully displayed examples of the local skills, dating through the centuries.
Back on A24, go east one exit, then take SS150 towards Roseto degli Abruzzi (or, to save the toll, continue on the state road from Colledara to Sant'Agostino, where you'll pick up SS150). After about ten miles, turn off onto the local road to Atri. Its ninth-century cathedral is built on the ruins of a Roman bath (look for the dolphin mosaic), and the fine frescoes by Andrea De Lito are considered the most important Renaissance works in Abruzzo. In the main square, Roman mosaics take shelter under thick glass panels set into the pavement. Pause in the Belvedere Garden for a spectacular view across the valley, all the way to the sea, which is where Pescara is. You'll reach it by continuing along the road you took to Atri, then turning south, past groves of ancient olives, and strange canyon-like rock formations, along coastal route SS16.
The story of Pescara is quite a unique one, even for Italy. It is the birthplace of the great poet and dramatist Gabriele D'Annunzio, who was one of Mussolini's staunchest supporters. But the megalomaniacal artist was born in the original Pescara, a small (and rather insignificant) town that lay on the northern bank of the river of the same name. When he devised a plan to unite it with Castellamare Adriatico, an equally forgettable village across the water, Il Duce obliged and allowed his ally to create " Italy's youngest city." As a result of all this, as well as some Allied bombings in World War II, Pescara is hardly Italy's most picturesque town. It boasts no famous art museums, no illustrious churches, no architectural wonders. Still, this quintessential provincial capital makes a great base for touring a lovely area, or for spending a few days at the beach.
When you first come to Pescara, you will be struck by the pleasant atmosphere of its tree-shaded streets, lined with modern apartment buildings, affordable boutiques and well-stocked food stores. The locals love to windowshop, gather at outdoor cafes and stroll along the seaside Lungomare Matteotti at sunset. Joining them, you will have a real sense of what it's like to live in a prosperous Italian backwater. Then, when the sun has set, enjoy some of the best seafood cuisine in the entire country, available at almost any trattoria, no matter how unimposing.

During your stay, stop in at D'Annunzio's birthplace to see a typical upper-class turn-of-the-century home and learn more about this extravagant genius (who would best be portrayed on the silver screen by Johnny Depp!). Another highly recommended venue in Pescara is the Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo , a fascinating place where you can learn all about the traditional life of Abruzzi peasants, farmers and artisans, even if you don't speak Italian. And of course, if you happen to be in town from May through September, spend a day at the beach. The best one is in nearby Pineto. In July, there is a world-famous Jazz Festival that fills the town with groovy sounds and grooving visitors.
The next morning, take SS5 to Chieti and visit the National Archeological Museum to see its excellent display of artifacts from the Romans and the ancient Abruzzo inhabitants who predated them. Also visit the 2nd-century Roman theatre in Via Zecca and the small Roman temple behind the main post office building.
From Chieti, take SS5 west about twelve miles to Torre de' Passeri, then follow the signs to nearby S. Clemente Abbey. Widely considered the most glorious example of Abruzzo-style romanesque architecture, this pink-and-white complex has delicate travertine columns, carvings and decorations that resemble the finest lace.

by Kristin Jarratt

The Ceramics Museum (Museo della Ceramica) is in the ex-Franciscan Monastery just outside Castelli; open Tues-Sun, 10a.m.-1p.m. and 3-7p.m.

The National Archeological Museum (Museo Nazionale Archeologico) is in Chieti at Villa Comunale 2; open daily 9a.m.-7:30p.m.

Details about San Clemente Abbey (in English).

Details about the birthplace of Gabriele D'Annunzio.

The Abruzzo Folklore Museum (Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo) is at Via delle Caserme 22 in Pescara; open daily June 26-Aug. 31, 9:30p.m.-12:30a.m.; Sept. 1-June 25 Mon-Sat, 9a.m.-1p.m.; Tues. and Thurs., 3:30-6p.m.; Sun., 10a.m.-1p.m.

Visit the Pescara Jazz Festical web site.

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