On August 24th, the world looked on in horror as images came in from central Italy in the aftermath of a dreadful earthquake. It was the second major seismic shock to hit the region in the last decade, and repair and recovery efforts have been hindered by ongoing aftershocks. The damage to the region has been immense.
Tourist authorities in the region also fear longer-term consequences, as nervous tourists stay away. Whilst this is an understandable sentiment, as long as you follow the guidance of the UK Foreign Office, there is no reason to avoid this remarkable area, and countless reasons to do the opposite, and make a point of going there. That way you will both be aiding the quake-hit regions and simultaneously enjoying some of the finest art, architecture, nature and gastronomy that Italy has to offer anywhere.
In case you’re not familiar with the area, allow me to help. Here are six places you should write into your travel plans for 2017.
Macerata, Le Marche
At the epicentre of several of the major aftershocks, the medieval hill town of Macerata suffered damage which has meant the closing of several churches and other public buildings. Nonetheless, life goes on inside the old walls, home to a 13th century university and the early 19th century neo-classical open-air Arena Sferisterio, which hosts an opera festival every summer.
“Assisi è stata miracolata” declared the mayor of the Umbrian town, after it escaped damages despite being close to the epicentre of one of the heavier aftershocks. If you believe in miracles, then Assisi, the birthplace of (among half a dozen other saints) St Francis, founder of the Franciscan stream of Catholicism, would be as likely a place as any to find them. It is a major pilgrimage site which has become synonymous with the Christian faith. The churches are many and remarkable; of particular note is the Basilica of St Francis, which contains works by Giotto, among others. The view from the Rocca Maggiore castle is also not to be missed, and more than justifies the climb to it.
The Capoluogo of Umbria, and a city with a decidedly youthful feel to it, Perugia is one of Italy’s cultural capitals. For music aficionados, July sees the annual Umbria Jazz Festival, one of the most prestigious in Europe, roll into town. Foodie? Hold out until October, and treat yourselves to a visit during EuroChocolate, one of the largest festivals dedicated exclusively to the sweet stuff for which Perugia is famous. Perugia is worth a visit at any time, even when there are no festivals on. It has a bevy of historical sights to see, both religious and secular, and a particularly lively feel thanks to not one, but two universities.
Urbino, Le Marche
Up in the hills of Le Marche, Urbino is all too often overlooked by visitors to Italy, perhaps because of its slightly isolated location. The heart of the city, dominated by the Palazzo Ducale and Duomo, was all constructed in the same style, making it appear as one contiguous block. The city is particularly famous for its contribution to the arts, as the home of the Renaissance maestro Raphael, to whom there is a dedicated museum in the house of his birth. Head up to the Giardini Pubblici for a wonderful view over the whole city from above.
Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche
This town on the Marche/Abruzzo border is most famous for its olive production, and for the “olive all’ascolana” dish; olives stuffed with meat and fried in breadcrumbs. Piazza dell’Arengo, in the centre of town, is faced onto by the 12th-century Palazzo dell’Arengo, as well as the Duomo. The skyline is dotted with towers constructed over the centuries, around 50 according to some estimates.
Gran Sasso National Park, Abruzzo
For those who need wide-open spaces, Abruzzo is one of the top destinations in Italy, and the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park is the pièce de rèsistance. With 300km of hiking trails spread out over 150,000 hectares of mountainous land, there is enough to keep any outdoor-enthusiast busy. Monte Gran Sasso d’Italia is the highest peak in the Apennine mountain range, the “backbone” of Italy which runs from Liguria all the way down to Sicily. On its southern slope stretches the Ghiacciaio del Calderone, the southern-most glacier in Europe. Keep your eyes peeled for one of the highly endangered Marsican brown bears, of which only 40-50 are estimated to be left, all in this region. Other wildlife native to this region includes the Italian wolf, chamois, lynx and golden eagle, making it any budding zoologist’s dream.
Liked this post? Tell your friends. Didn’t like it? Tell them anyway, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
-The Wandering Jew-