Sulmona is a delightful city located in the Abruzzo region, about two hours from Rome and just one hour from the Adriatic Coast. We chose it for our base town while visiting two more National Parks of Italy—Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo e Molise and Parco Nazionale della Majella. Nestled in the small valley of Peligna, the home town of Ovid is surrounded by the majestic snow-capped mountains of both parks. Even as late as mid-May, you might see a dusting of new snow, like we did yesterday.
The old town of Sulmona is a popular destination for a visit to the farmer’s market, churches, museums and the beautiful aqueduct along Piazza Garibaldi. It’s also fun to visit the famous candy museum, Confetti Pelino. Confetti is the word for candy in Italian and some of the earliest mass produced candies were made here. As early as 1782, Bernadino Pelino started making almond candies and liqueurs near Sulmona. Now, the town is known for a wide variety of decorative candies & excellent cookies.
Sulmona is also famous for its popular passeggiatta, the evening stroll that has been a popular tradition in many small Italian towns. Here, the fun starts around 5 p.m. and lasts until about 8 p.m. when people start thinking about dinner. But first, they head towards Piazza XX Settembre and find a place to sit or visit with their friends. It’s a great time to shop, stroll or find some outdoor seating and watch the local action. When the sun comes out, the outdoor bars and cafes put out their tables and chairs and it’s a fun time to have an aperativo and a snack. Sometimes, this serves as our dinner if we’ve had a long lunch.
Shopping and eating is easy in this very walkable town. Besides the larger stores, such as Max Mara & Sisley, there are plenty of smaller, locally owned boutiques. I found a beautiful leather purse at Pelltteria Luciano Fuà, on Via Roma,10. It was a small shop with a father and son team who were very gracious. We talked for awhile, and then they gave me a nice sconto, which is the Italian word for discount. The father told me that there’s a saying here, “Abruzzo, forte e gentile”—the people of Abruzzo, strong and kind. We had already experienced the Abruzzo hospitality and kindness in several places.
For a town of 25,000, Sulmona offers plenty of places to eat and drink. You can find delicious pizza by the slice along the main street or you can choose from a wide selection of restaurants throughout the town. Our favorite meal was at Ristorante da Gino, in Piazza Plebiscito, They only serve lunch, so plan your itinerary around going there. The food is exceptional and reasonably priced, and the staff is very professional and friendly. Be sure to try one of their desserts, which are very creative and delicious. They also have a nice deli next door.
The big advantage to staying in Sulmona is that you have many interesting places to visit nearby. The area is surrounded by beautiful scenic forests, caves, hermitages and an abundance of belli borghi, small towns that have been chosen as being the most beautiful small towns of Italy. I’m not sure who does the selecting, but they know what they’re doing. Each town we visited was a treasure for its architecture, clean, cobblestone streets, ironwork, woodwork, stonework and vistas. If you go on a weekday, the TI (Tourist Information Office), might be closed. But the TI in Sulmona has enough information on most of the other burgs. You can also do your research online before you go. If there’s a museum, it will be closed during the long lunch hour, so plan accordingly.
Besides the historic hill towns, there is plenty to do in the parks. In the winter, there’s skiing, and in the summer there’s even more to do. Mountain biking, kayaking and excursions by donkey or horse are offered by many outdoor outfitters. Just driving through the parks and stopping at some of the panoramic viewpoints could take up an entire day (watch out for herds of goats). Even though we were here during a colder than normal spring, we took several short day hikes in each park.
If you like to hike and enjoy the outdoors, we were told that late June or early July are the best months. There is also an exciting Giostra Cavalleresca in late July. This is a very popular event, similar to a Renaissance Fair, but much better. Holy Week is another good time to visit Sulmona because their celebrations are very special.
This was our first time visiting the Abruzzo region, and we hope to return again some day. We received a warm welcome and we have a lot more to explore, the next time around. We had a few challenges with the weather, but we fit in two nice day hikes. Stay tuned…
For a lot more excellent information in English about Sulmona and places nearby, check out the Welcome to Sulmona site.