Abruzzo, in central Italy, no longer has to wear the reputation as Tuscany or Umbria's poor and underrated cousin. Thanks to the ever-growing Italian tourism and the rise of experiential and slow travel, it's starting to be featured more and more on itineraries of world travelers.
A two-hour drive from Rome
, Sulmona is located in the province of L'Aquila and is a picturesque and lively town with a medieval look. But despite this appearance, the town's origins predate the Romans.
Speaking of which, it was the Romans who started the tradition of sugared almonds to celebrate weddings and births. To this day, Sulmona's modern wealth is based on the production of confetti (the Italian word for these delectable sweets, not the paper shreds tossed at weddings).
Here, artisan confectionery makers have been producing confetti since the late 1700s and the main drag, Corso Ovidio, is lined with flowers–not real ones but colorfully covered sugared almonds that have been turned into anything from floral bouquets to beetle bugs and butterflies. It's an art and feast for the eyes.
Locals entrepreneurs are working tirelessly to put Sulmona and its surrounds on the map. Welcome to Sulmona
is a join effort from local Susanna Iraci and UK expatriate Katy Gorman - the duo run market tours and cooking courses that showcases the very best of local cuisine and culinary traditions.
A day with them starts in Piazza Garibaldi, home to a fresh food and general market twice weekly. For over 700 years a market has been held on this site, which remains pivotal to local life and commercial trade. On tour, Katy weaves tales of retired popes and why a braid of garlic at the market is sold with 52 bunches in it, all the while introducing you to market vendors.
Looking up and around, one could be forgiven for thinking the scenery is a fake backdrop. Even in the heat of summer, the snow-capped mountains of the Gran Sasso, Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo and Majella National Park cradle the city.
Much of Sulmona was destroyed by the earthquake of 1706 but some buildings remained, preserving the town's striking architectural history: the Church of Santa Maria della Tomba, the Pallazzo Annunziata and the centerpiece of Corso Ovidio, a Medieval aqueduct and Gothic portal. These older buildings stand in contrast to the rest of the city, which was rebuilt in the elegant 18th-century Baroque style.
The famous Italian poet Ovid was born in Sulmona, and his bronze statue stands tall in Piazza XX Settembre. "This is the city of love," he said, but as you walk through and start to unravel her, you get the feeling that–like the rest of Abruzzo–it's so much more than that.
Welcome to Sulmona Experiences
Foodies will be more than satisfied getting their hands right into making local delicacies like spaghetti alla chittara (egg pasta cut on guitar strings), pizze fritte (golden fried salty pizza) and le pizzelle (sweet waffle-style biscuits). Market tour and cooking classes start at €65. and they offer other experiences like aperitif events to Italian language classes with locals.
A visit to the Confetti Pelino Museum
and factory is a must. The family has been making confetti since 1783 and it's the most prestigious name in the industry locally and internationally. They produce and export to the world and have employed generations of Sulmondini. The museum features well-preserved original equipment and photos, and of course you can taste and buy confetti too.
Hotel Santacroce Ovidius
Located by the park and cathedral, Hotel Santacroce Ovidius is a four-star family-run hotel. With modern rooms, delicious breakfast spreads and an onsite restaurant, it's the perfect base from which to explore.
The Allega family have been running this lunchtime-only trattoria for over 40 years and the food is outstanding. Order the house antipasto with homemade salami, Pecorino di Farindola (in Pescara province), a local cheese and the only one in Italy to be made with pork rennet, cheese with Zafferano dell'Aquila DOC (local Aquila saffron) and zolle di aglio (wild root of the local red garlic) but leave room for first courses like maltagliati pasta with ricotta and guanciale (pork cheek).
Head to this family-run restaurant in Pratola Peligna (a couple of miles from Sulmona) for local cured meats, cheeses, but above all, the famous Abruzzese arrosticini (flame-grilled baby lamb skewers).
, a family-run vineyard and cellar located a few miles from Sulmona in the medieval town Prezza, offer wine tasting by appointment. Think Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and more, which can also be sampled at Pizzeria da Nando
, who serve up the town's best pizza.