Abruzzo’s coastline stretches for 125km from the border with the Marche region down to the seaside resort of Vasto. The main resort on the Abruzzo coast is Pescara, also the nearest town to Abruzzo’s airport, where low-cost flights from the UK touch down. Outside the summer months, it makes a good base for excursions to the atmospheric medieval villages of Loreto Aprutino and Atri, with the appealing town of Chieti, home to a superb archeological museum, being the next stop along the coast.
Half an hour by train or bus southwest of Pescara is the appealing town of Chieti. Spread over a curving ridge, it offers great views of the Majella and Gran Sasso mountains and – on a clear day – out to sea. It also boasts Abruzzo’s finest archeological museum. From the chunky and much-reconstructed cathedral, the main Corso Marrucino cuts through the town centre to Piazza Trento e Trieste. Behind the post office, off Via Spaventa, are the remains of three little Roman temples.
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Abruzzo, laid out in the dignified Villa Comunale, holds finds from Abruzzo’s major sites: a massive and muscular white-marble Hercules from his temple at Alba Fucens as well as a miniature bronze statue of him, one of several Roman copies of the Greek original by Lysippus. Most interesting is the Capestrano Warrior, a statue of a Bronze Age warrior-prince with strangely feminine hips and thighs.
South of Pescara, the coast becomes less developed, though the long ribbon of sand continues, followed by the train line and punctuated with small resorts. Here, hilltop Vasto and the seaside resort Marina di Vasto are attractive destinations for a beach holiday, while Termoli is a good jumping-off point for trips to the Tremiti islands.
Some 75km southeast of Pescara and close to the border with Molise, Vasto is a fine old city, built on the site of the Roman town Histonium and overlooking the resort of Marina di Vasto. There are plenty of campsites, and some reasonable hotels along the broad sandy beach – palm-lined and beach-hutted in the centre, wilder and rockier to the north (the ever-shrinking free beach area is central), with devices known as trabocchi installed every so often. These are crane-like contraptions of wooden beams and nets, with a complex system of weights, designed for scooping up fish.
Vasto is all about the beach, though if you’re here for a day or so you should definitely take a bus from the train station on the seafront to the upper town, whose rooftops and campaniles rise above palms and olive groves. The centre of town is Piazza Rossetti, dominated by the massive Castello Caldoresco.
Most of the action is down by the beach in Vasto Marina and further south in San Salvo, with no end of hotels, pizzerias and pubs. Note that hotels insist on half-board in July and August.
Buses from Termoli run to the isolated villages of Portocannone, 12km south, and Ururi, another 15km beyond. Their remoteness is such that, six hundred years after their ancestors emigrated from Albania, the locals still speak an Albanian-Italian dialect incomprehensible to outsiders. The villages receive most visitors during their annual carressi – chariot races. Portocannone’s takes place the Monday after Whit Sunday, while Ururi’s is at the beginning of May. The carresse is a fierce and furious race through the village streets on gladiator-style carts, pulled by bulls and pushed by men on horseback with spiked poles. It’s a ruthless business: the horses are fed beer before the race to excite them, and although the riders are supposed to push only the back of the carts, they are not averse to prodding the flanks of the bulls, who have already been given electric shocks to liven them up. The race itself is terrifying, but unforgettable, with bulls, carts and spikes hurtling past the frenzied crowds, nowadays protected by wire fences, though there are almost inevitably injuries. Check www.comune.ururi.cb.it or www.comune.portocannone.cb.it have information.
Top image: City Hall of Pescara, Italy © robypanga/Shutterstock