|Abruzzo's second national park lies at the foot of dome-like Mount Maiella (also spelled "Majella"). To reach it, take the A24 from Rome, exit onto the A25, get off at the Bussi exit, go to Popoli and then take provincial road 17 to Pescocostanzo. Less organized and more "natural" than nearby Abruzzo National Park, it contains no less than forty hermitages and primitive chapels. Its fields and valleys are blanketed with myriad wild flowers and pungent herbs; in its forests you might even see a wild boar. At the very least, you are likely to find the furrows they scoop as they forage for food.|
|Pescocostanzo, a popular ski resort, sits at the edge of the park. A picture-perfect town with a lovely main square, its quiet streets are lined with 16th- and 17th- century palaces. Ornate fountains grace its squares. The 11th-century church of Santa Maria del Colle has a carved, gilded wooden ceiling; the nearby Collegiata (abbey school) has a magnificent doorway. Stop for a moment in the tranquility of the Gesù e Maria convent's cloister.|
|The provincial road from Pescocostanzo to Cansano winds through the Bosco di Sant'Antonio (St. Anthony Woods), whose huge trees owe their longevity to centuries of careful tending by the monks at nearby Sant'Antonio hermitage. This valley is alive with birdsong, bursting with flowers in springtime, aflame with bright-red foliage in fall and a sea of shimmering grasses in summer.|
|From Cansano, SS487 provides a beautiful drive to Sulmona, where Ovid was born in 43 BC. This is a picturesque medieval town, whose lovely main square is made all the more dramatic by the towering backdrop of the forested Maiella Mountains, and a 13th-century aqueduct that still supplies water to a 13th-century fountain. At the top of the town, the 11th-century cathedral of San Panfilo has a magnificent Byzantine-style relief of the Madonna Enthroned, in the crypt. You'll also want to visit the 13th-century church of San Francesco delle Scarpe and the fascinating 14th-century Annunziata. A harmonious blend of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque elements, the latter is an abbey built by the town's wealthy to take care of its poor, from cradle to grave. Its façade is broken into three tiers dating from 1415, 1483 and 1522. Shop windows display the local specialty, confetti (pictured below at right), which are delicious sugared almonds woven into fantastic floral displays.|
From Sulmona, take the provincial road to Bugnara, then SS479 to Anversa, where you'll fork off onto the provincial road to Coccullo. Stop for a look at the medieval tower and the church of San Domenico, which has some lovely paintings and a fine altar. Then take the A25 autostrada past Pescina's romantic 14th-century castle and on to Celano. This town has no less than seven medieval churches, along with its own well-preserved 14th-century castle, but its most spectacular attraction is the Gole di Celano, a 2000-foot-deep gorge. A well-marked track follows the entire length of the chasm at its base, where it often narrows to little more than a person's outstretched arms. Take this walk before the end of September, when rains may make it impassable.
Now travel north on SS5bis towards Ovindoli, but before you get there, take a 6-mile detour on the provincial road to Alba Fucens (pictured at left). These well-preserved ruins of a 1st-century Roman colony include baths, a villa, theatre, basilica, and a huge amphitheatre, as well as a milestone marking the ancient Via Tiburtina. You'll also see some interesting walls built by the pre-Roman inhabitants of this area.
Returning to SS5bis, continue north to Ovindoli, a charming village that makes a great starting point for hikes and rides into Velino-Sirente Regional Park, a haven for royal eagles, Marsican bears and Appennine wolves.
The Annunziata in Sulmona is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-1pm.