There are many spectacular places in Italy but one of the elements that makes Rome so ideal is the geographical variety of destinations in its vicinity.
Rome is not much of a winter wonderland nor is it a seaside paradise but both are within reach. There are ski slopes as close as 1.5 hours away, but if you add a mere half hour you can easily reach the stunning slopes of Abruzzo.
Along the way…
As you drive toward the mountains, you will begin to feel the city slip away along with the last traces of traffic, smog and noise. You will enter the peaceful embrace of the snow-capped mountains just as your stomach begins to growl. You are in luck. The food in this area is superb and since foreign tourists are rare, you can be sure you will be treated like a native. Most restaurants found in the countryside feature local specialties made with in-season ingredients which are grown nearby.
Amaaaaazing food! Make sure to stop for lunch!
We usually stop in the miniscule town of Anversa degli Abruzzi where we eat at a little charming restaurant that is so inexpensive, the bill feels like a mere donation. It is as if you have been invited to eat in someone’s home. As you peruse the menu, one of the two four-year-old toddlers, clad in an over-sized apron, will appear with a basket of bread and clumsily reach up to push it onto your table. Meanwhile, his great-grandmother will rest in front of the fireplace while watching TV.
The grandmother will give you her suggestions which always includes the cheese plate. Her son-in-law makes this prize-winning selection and on your way out of town you can stop at his farm and pick some up. My favorite dish is the ‘tagliatelle al tartufo’. I can never resist anything with truffles. My boyfriend, however, prefers the ‘polenta con ragù’, which is completely home-made. I believe we paid around €20 for our entire bill. We did not have any wine but before leaving, the grandmother offered us a shot of her home-made cordial made from local berries.
Ristorante La Fiaccola Di Marcelli Biancamaria – Via Duca degli Abruzzi, 67030 Anversa Degli Abruzzi, Aquila (Abruzzo) Italy – 0864 49474
Anversa degli Abruzzi is about 20 minutes off of the main road to Roccaraso. If you have time after lunch, continue out on that road and visit the Gola del Sagittario, which is a stunning gorge that should not be missed.
The Abruzzo National Park is also nearby and makes a great day trip when it is yet to be covered in snow. Depending on the season, you can go and pick berries, mushrooms, walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts and more. The list of items and limits per person is at every entrance. If you find any mushrooms, make sure to take them to an expert or a pharmacist in order to determine whether they are safe to eat. Stay away from the red and white spotted ones as they are highly poisonous.
I suggest you begin your trip in the morning so you are in the vicinity of your destination by lunchtime. Anversa degli Abruzzi is less than an hour away from most of the popular skiing destinations. There are various towns near the slopes to choose from. Find one that fits your budget and needs.
The most convenient choice is Roccaraso, which is a lovely little town with restaurants, shops, hotels, B&Bs, an ice-skating rink, bowling alley and an olympic-size indoor pool. It lies a mere ten minutes away from Aremogna’s slopes. My boyfriend has been coming here since he could walk. It is a perfect town for families with children, groups of friends, couples and anyone without a car. There is a nearby train station and many hotels have shuttles that take their guests to the nearby slopes of Aremogna. Restaurants are open late and there are clubs, lounges and pubs that offer a decent nightlife.
Roccaraso is just as far from Rome as it is from Naples so you will find many people from both cities here for their winter fun. I once went in the Fall and expected to enjoy some outdoor activities. I was surprised to notice how many go to simply have an aperitivo in the mountains. My boyfriend and I went for a jog while everyone else was dressed up like chic fashionistas sipping Prosecco in the piazza.
Dinner is the highlight of the day and you will be more than impressed with the food no matter where you go. Most hotels in this area will offer three types of prices:
- Pensione completa: This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. Remember, if you plan to ski all day, you will miss lunch so this might not be your best option. This option gets more bang for your buck as you get two full meals for an unbelievable price but only if you plan to be nearby during mealtime.
- Mezza-Pensione: This entitles you to breakfast and one meal, which is your choice of either lunch or dinner. You usually have to confirm which meal you plan on having.
- Camera: Only breakfast is included in this option. This option is also ideal if you would like to try the various restaurants in the area or would like a wider selection to food to choose from. If you are staying for more than one night, you can choose mezza-pensione for some days and not for others. This enables you to tailor your experience to your needs.
If you prefer a more picturesque and romantic village, Rivisondoli is the perfect choice. Aremogna is just as close to Rivisondoli as it is to Roccaraso. It is so charmingly beautiful that you feel as if you have stepped into a postcard. There are some shops and restaurants but on a smaller scale than Roccaraso. Although Rivisondoli is located only 5 minutes away from Roccaraso, the prices are definitely higher to match its more elegant ambiance.
Get what you need...
You can rent skis, snowboards, helmets, ski boots and poles in either town or pay about 10% more at Aremogna. Prices range from €15 – €75 for a complete set of ski equipment, depending on your level of ability. As an adult beginner, I always paid about €19. Ski passes are available for the day, weekend, week, month or season. Since I am better at falling than at skiing, I always skip the ski pass, but get a one-trip ticket to the top in order to admire the breathtaking panorama at some point in the afternoon.
There are several small towns around Aremogna. Many people who stay a week or more tend to rent a house in these surrounding areas. While there is a train that goes to Roccaraso, you will need a car for most other areas. Many of the other towns may be beautiful but have few restaurants and shops, if any.
Hitting the slopes!
There is a lovely ski lodge at Aremogna, complete with a fireplace to snuggle up to and pleasant staff. Although the food is quite good, you could also take the ski-lift to the top and get a kebab for €3, cash only. There are several piste for varying levels and a school that offers group or private lessons for both skiing and snowboarding.
Snuggling up to the fire…
The last time we went to Aremogna, I felt that I was beginning to get sick. In order to avoid a full-on flu, I decided to spend the day in the ski lodge. I chose a quaint little table near the fireplace and plugged in my computer. The staff was very friendly and kept me stocked with vin brullèe, hot chocolate and tea all day long as I wrote, watched a film and enjoyed several episodes of Oprah. My boyfriend joined me for a delicious lasagna at lunchtime. During the afternoon, a girl limped in with a sprained ankle and after chatting for a bit, she asked if I would be there all week. She had hoped to have some company at the ski lodge while she was stuck on vacation with her family.
Whether you are stuck indoors due to an injury or by your own volition, you can still have a pleasant day while your companions ski the slopes. Some hotels have spas while others simply offer a cozy environment. Bring a book or your computer to keep you busy. You will notice the hours fly by as you sit by the fire and people-watch.
But wait! There’s more!
If you think the idea of skiing near Rome is incredible, you will be flabbergasted by my next suggestion.
You can ski, snowboard or even kite-ski in Abruzzo well into March and sometimes early April. Last year, we went skiing one week before Easter. It had recently snowed and everyone fled to the mountains to take advantage of it.
When you live in Italy, you begin to notice that Italians tend to migrate together depending on the season. The great exodus occurs in August. In January they all go away for a week in the snow and call it ‘settimana bianca‘, white week. Schools in wealthy communities actually close down due to this trend. What I find most amusing is how everyone flees to the same destinations. Romans tend to go north to CortinaD’Ampezzo in January and Porto Cervo in August. If I chose to go there at those times of the year, I would literally run into all of my neighbors. While in most countries, seasons change gradually. In Rome there is a drastic change.
Easter came one week after our winter weekend. Easter also marks the beginning of the beach season. At the beginning of the week we were waist deep in snow and by the end of it we were sunbathing and snorkeling on the Amalfi Coast. I do not know of many places where this is possible. It was amazing to get home and pack up my Moon Boots only to immediately start digging up my bikini and snorkeling gear. The Amalfi Coast is about 3.5 hours away from Rome and easily accessible by train as is Roccaraso.
So while Rome may not be a winter wonderland nor a seaside paradise. Both are truly possible and sometimes even in the same week!
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