In February we headed towards Italy, a country with low priority on our imaginary travel list. Unjustifiably, as we had to learn on this road trip through the lesser known Abruzzo mountains. This incredible region left us speechless and longing for more of this diverse country. Wild animals, impressive mountainscapes and rustic villages. This all awaited us from an area we never heard of before!
Written by Anskar
Where time stands still
After reaching Rome it was just a 1 ½ hour drive to first set foot into the Abruzzo region. Soon we exchanged the freeway for windy roads through mountainous landscapes. Every now and then we passed an old and quaint village nestled into the mountains. Our first highlight was the old city Scanno. Here we spent our first night in our cozy camper. Twice we took the chance to wander through the empty streets and we couldn’t leave the impression behind that here time stands still since the Middle Age.
Early the next day we hit the road again setting Pescasseroli as our goal. On the way, we had to cross several mountain passes while the weather would change from sun to snow in just minutes. But compared to other years climate change hit Italy as hard as the other European countries resulting in a lack of deep snow. In other years driving up windy roads and sleeping in a camper in February would be nearly impossible! As soon as we arrived in Pescasseroli, a small but touristic city in the heart of the Abruzzo National Park, the real adventure was about to start! Here we settled down in a beautifully old and charming hotel and waited for our guide to show us around.
Between wild wolves and mightful mountains
Because the main reason we went on this journey was to track down wolves together with the European Safari Company. We won the tracking adventure earlier this year and couldn’t be more excited to finally head out! Soon after our arrival in the hotel our guide Marco showed up and together with a group of four people, we started our fist easy hike in the area.
Luck was not with us this weekend and we only heard the wolves several times howling in close proximity which was still a truly magical experience! On top of that we observed Red deer, several foxes and the rare Abruzzo chamois. A truly wild weekend with loads of hiking through untouched landscapes in the Abruzzo National Park!
The main reason we haven’t been lucky with the wolf sightings was the lack of snow. Usually a harsh winter pushes the prey species from up the mountains down into the valleys. And with the prey comes the predator. This year however, there was hardly any snow and Red- as well as Roe deer were distributed vastly over the area. But hope was with us, as we still had a week left in other parts of the Abruzzo region!
After our wild adventure in the Abruzzo National Park we headed towards Abruzzo’s second protected area: Majella National Park. Here another picturesque city greeted us while sitting enthroned high up on a mountain. Again, we could have spent hours wandering through the historic streets but hunger was calling. Quite typically for Mediterranean countries all restaurants remain closed during midday. Spontaneously our camper had to serve as our restaurant and, as almost every day, pasta with tomato sauce and regional cheese was on the menu! During sunset we enjoyed the view on Pacentro while sitting on a hill. Slowly the sun vanished behind the mountains dipping the whole scene into a warm orange. An unforgettable moment!
The next morning we started early once again. Our plan was to drive along the streets which cross the national park in order to find wildlife. But we didn’t set our hopes very high because neither did we know the area very good nor was the landscape very promising. There was too much forest and not enough open fields to spot any wildlife close to the road.
But suddenly something was running across the street right in front of us. While I mislead it for a Roe deer, Lea quickly realized that it was something else. Slowly we approached the unknown animal and soon I recognized too what it was: a lone wolf!
Not even 20 meters away from us, Isengrim was observing us as careful as we did him. This was one of the most beautiful and luckiest wildlife encounters of our life!
Being one with nature
After this memorable encounter we headed towards the third national park of the Abruzzo region. Astonishingly, one third of the Abruzzo area is protected and this you can feel! Here, locals live together with nature and not against it. They have a different, rather positive but also grounded perception about wild animals. Smart solutions for arising human-wildlife conflicts are developed together and nature is given a fair chance to develop itself.
While the protection of the area is definitely an important factor for wildlife to thrive, the acceptance of the locals is key to guarantee the long term sustainable survival of these animals.
Once arrived, the Gran Sasso National Park made an epic first impression with the Rocca Calascio ruin watching high above the whole region and some landscapes that could be straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie. We spent the whole evening here before driving deeper into the park the next day. Unfortunately, some closed roads prevented us from exploring more of this incredible landscape and forced us to come up with Plan B. After a quick maps.me search we found yet another protected area. Traveling by camper means ultimate flexibility and soon we headed towards the fourth and last protected region of the Abruzzo mountains: the regional park Sirente Velino.
Sleeping among wolves
On a gigantic plateau surrounded by massive mountains we took our chances one last time to spot some wild animals. However, soon after our arrival a storm surprised us. And while snow and rain ran a race, we hid in our camper, observing the spectacle from our cozy bed. But the storm brought along snow had a most helpful side effect: in the morning after we were able to spot fresh wolf tracks pushed into the snow. After tracking the wolves for some time, we concluded the best spot to spent the night would be a pass between two valleys. And it didn’t take long for the wolves to appear the next morning. Not less than three individuals run past our camper in the morning pushing our wolf counter for this trip up to five! Unfortunately, they were too fast to photograph, but the moment will stay in our minds forever and was the perfect ending to our trip!
The Abruzzo region is a lesser known area of Italy but that should be the main appeal to pay it a visit! It’s the perfect destination for a camping vacation combined with a road trip. The roads are narrow and winding up mountains, but not too narrow for a larger camper. And in the off-season you will have no approaching traffic anyway! There are plenty of camping sites, the food is unsurprisingly delicious and the many rustic villages invite for long strolls. And on top of all that there is true wilderness to find, with wild animals, old forests and majestic mountains. Abruzzo is definitely a recommendation and for us it was surely not the last time!