Outside the Alps, the highest mountains in Italy are located in the Gran Sasso National Park, in Abruzzo, with the Corno Grande peak reaching almost 3000m. Rupert Parker reports.
These are the Apennines, right in the centre of the country, and Abruzzo is bounded by Lazio to the west, Le Marche to the north, Molise to the south and the shores of the Adriatic to the east.
This is a wild region, its villages perched precariously on the heights as a protection against marauding pirates coming from the sea. It’s also sheep country with shepherds moving their flocks to Puglia in the winter and bringing them back into the mountains in the spring.
The mountains are rugged here, with some of the most dramatic scenery in Italy, and they’re perfect for both winter and summer sports. Indeed they brag you can ski in the morning and lie on the beach in the afternoon as Pescara, on the coast, is only an hour away. Rome is only around 90 minutes by road, and Romans flock here to ski in the winter and hike in the summer.
Campo Imperatore is one of the oldest ski resorts within the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park. Known as the Tibet of Italy, it’s a large plateau at over 1500m, 30km long and 10km wide, overlooked by the Corno Grande at 2,912m. It’s one of the coldest places in Italy with consistent snowfall from November to April.
A cable car from the village of Assergi brings skiers to 22km of downhill slopes and more than 60km of cross-country trails. The winter sports area is situated between the elevations of 1,115m and 2,235m and there are 11 pistes, a mix of red and blue and four ski lifts. Interestingly Mussolini was imprisoned in 1943 in the Hotel Campo Imperatore before he was rescued by the Germans in a daring raid. In the summer many of the peaks are connected by long ridge walks, although the weather is always unpredictable.
Roccaraso is the largest ski area in central Italy with 150km of slopes that connect the resorts of Rivisondoli, Pescocostanzo and Pescasseroli through 32 lifts. It boasts 22 blue, 9 red with 8 black runs for more advanced skiers. There’s also 60km of cross country trials. For beginners there are 45km of green and blue runs which vary in length from 100m to 5km. The ski school has several English speaking instructors and there are teaching areas at the base of five chair lifts.
25 red runs, for intermediate skiers, criss-cross the mountain, totalling over 40km and ranging in length from 1km to 3km. For advanced skiers, there are around 20km of slopes on 11 designated runs including steep thigh burning descents down to Pizzalto and Lago d’Avoli.
Ovindoli Monte Magnola, located in the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, has 35km of slopes with 6 blue, 8 red and 7 black with 11 lifts and 50km of cross-country trails. Due to its northern exposure the ski season runs from December to May and there’s an abundance of snow. Beginners and learners slopes are in two areas – at the base and higher up at 1900m in the Amphitheatre Bowl. If you’re an advanced skier, don’t miss out on the spectacular 4km Pistone slope off the Monte Freddo lift.
Nestling at the foot of the Gran Sasso massif, the city of L’Aquila is the capital of Abruzzo and sits upon a hillside in the middle of a narrow valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. A maze of narrow streets, lined with Baroque and Renaissance buildings and churches, open onto elegant piazzas and, since it’s a university town, there’s a lively restaurant and bar scene.
In 2009 it was struck by a strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3. Thousands of buildings were damaged and 65,000 people were made homeless. Reconstruction is still going on but many of the churches have now been restored. It makes an excellent base for exploring the mountains and has some of the best food in the region.
Around 40km south of L’Aquila, Campo Felice is a small resort set in a vast natural basin, surrounded by five mountains over 2000m high. There are 40km of slopes (31km downhill, 10km cross-country), 21 trails and 15 lifts. The wide Campo Felice base has gentle slopes, ideal for beginners. Several intermediate runs (blue and red) fan across both sides of the mountain. The longest black descent is an invigorating 2.5km.
The ski season in Abruzzo stretches from December until early April, and its southerly location means there are many days of sun. From May to October, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rafting and even paragliding are all on offer. Expect good quality local food and drink at prices far lower than those of Tuscany.
Tell me more about the Mountains of Abruzzo
Vueling has direct flights from London Gatwick to Rome Fiumicino.
The Gatwick Express is the fastest way to get to the airport from central London.
The resorts can arrange airport transfers or there’s a train from Rome to L’Aquila.
Nido dell’Aquila Hotel in Assergi for Campo Imperatore
Aqua Montis Resort in Rivisondoli for Roccaraso
Grand Chalet delle Rocche in Rocca di Mezzo for Ovindoli and Campo Felice
La Dimora del Baco is a stylish 4* hotel on the outskirts of L’Aquila with an excellent restaurant.