Driving Tour: Cut to the Heart

  • Start Sulmona
  • End Riserva Naturale di Punta Aderci
  • Length 245km to 310km; one week

A cobbled oasis of food, culture and history in mountainous southern Abruzzo, Sulmona is the place to start. With its attractive historic centre, welcoming vibe and great trattorias, it's an undemonstrative gem of central Italy. Check out the market on Piazza Garibaldi (Wednesday and Saturday mornings) then join the locals on their passeggiata (evening stroll) along Corso Ovidio. After a night in Sulmona, push on southward to hilltop Scanno. It's a slow, scenic drive that takes you through the breathtaking Gole di Sagittario, a rocky gorge that squeezes the road like a natural vice, and up past the beautiful Lago di Scanno. Scanno's dramatic appearance has made it something of a tourist attraction, but visit outside summer and you'll find it a tranquil spot.

From Scanno, the next leg takes you into the national parks. From Lago di Barrea you can head deep into the magnificent Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise, the most popular of Abruzzo's three national parks, and set up camp in Civitella Alfedena. Or you can head north and take the long way round to pretty Pescocostanzo in the Parco Nazionale della Majella. Either way, spend a couple of days exploring the surrounding mountains. Once you've recharged your batteries, continue on past Isernia to the well-preserved Roman ruins at Saepinum.

After the mountains, it's time to hit the coast and top up your tan at Termoli, or further up the road at Vasto, both popular Adriatic resorts. From Termoli the Isole Tremiti, three gorgeous islands in the Adriatic, are just a day trip away. But if the crowds get too much (and they might in summer), go north to the Spiaggia di Punta Penna, a lovely beach in the Riserva Naturale di Punta Aderci.