2021 Region of Honor: Abruzzo

Introducing the National Italian American Foundation’s 2021 Region of Honor:  Abruzzo! Last spring, we announced that Abruzzo would be our 2020 Region of Honor. Little did we know what 2020 was about to hand us. And, like everything last year, our plans to honor Abruzzo were cancelled or rather, postponed. From the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery and the NIAF Board Mission Trip to Italy to the New York Gala and the most celebrated Italian American event in America, our in-person Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C., all of our plans to honor this Italian region the NIAF way were set aside.

Now it’s 2021 and things are starting to resemble pre-pandemic times. On May 16, after more than a year of an imposed travel ban for non-Italian citizens, Italy opened back up to American tourists.

Whether you plan to travel abroad right away or not, NIAF is working with our business partners in Abruzzo and is dedicated to bringing Abruzzo to you. We will be highlighting Abruzzo tributes on our social media, Ambassador magazine, and beyond. So when you do plan to book your flight to Italy, we hope you’ll put visiting Abruzzo on your itinerary.

Whether you enjoy basking in the sun along on its beautiful Adriatic beaches, exploring dreamy medieval towns full of history, skiing on the Apennine Mountain range, or hiking through stunning nature, Abruzzo has a something for every traveler. In true Italian style, it offers phenomenal food and luscious wines to accompany you along your journey.

For starters, Abruzzo is synonymous with nature. A third of the region consists of national parks, making it Italy’s most rural region. If you love peaceful nature walks and majestic mountains, Abruzzo is your region. Its vast natural splendor includes seven picturesque lakes, such as the famous heart-shaped Lake of Scanno which, if you look at it on a map, looks nothing like a heart, but when you see it in person it’s a heart! Next are the three national parks and mountain ranges, among them the Gran Sasso (meaning “Big Rock”) and Maiella Massif, which slope all the way down to the coast of the Adriatic and offer an abundance of outdoor activities, including hiking, skiing, mountain biking, climbing and paragliding.

Along the way, you’ll run into small medieval towns with towers and castles. Just keep on eye out for Abruzzo’s indigenous wildlife, which includes the golden eagle, the Apennine wolf, the antelope-goat-like Chamois and, most famously, the Marsican brown bear (a critically endangered species that can only be found in the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise).

If you prefer the water, Abruzzo boasts 80 miles of sandy beaches and pristine sea. Most notable is Pescara, Abruzzo’s most populated city that sits right on the coast and offers beach clubs and fresh seafood. Such coastal poetry! It also happens to be the birthplace of famous poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. Abruzzo’s seaside provinces of  Chieti and Teramo time after time receive the enviable “blue flag” rating for the world’s most pristine and clean waters.

Writing about Italy requires writing about food and wine, and Abruzzo is no exception. With the diverse landscapes of the region, farming and fishing are prominent. Like everywhere in Italy, pasta is life and Abruzzo has a long history of pasta-making. The regional pasta is spaghetti alla chitarra (guitar-style spaghetti), an egg-based pasta that is pushed through a wooden mechanism that has stainless steel strings that resemble those of a guitar. Abruzzese have been making it for more than 200 years.

And what to put on that pasta? A little-known fact about Abruzzo is that it’s one of the leading suppliers of truffles! Sixty percent of Italian truffles come from Abruzzo and Molise.

Many precious white truffles sold in Alba (Piemonte) actually come from Abruzzo, where the climate offers a perfect environment for the growth of several varieties of truffles: the white truffle, black truffle, two types of summer truffles, the winter truffle, and the bianchetto truffle. So, truffle hunters are busy all year round.

You’ll also want to indulge in some arrosticini—thin, flame-grilled lamb skewers that are simply salted (no marinades, no special oils and no rubs). Arrosticini are so important to the Abruzzese people that its typical for every family to have a specially designed charcoal burning barbecue called a canale (meaning channel, and in dialect Lu Furnacell) resembling a narrow gutter where the meat is placed in line over the coals. No family gathering is complete without one—and they can be ordered by the hundreds from the local butcher.

In Italy, with food comes wine. Abruzzo is famous for its red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, made with the Montepulciano grape—not to be confused with the Montepulciano wine region in Tuscany where the Sangiovese grape is used to make the famous Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Abruzzo’s main wine-producing area is in the province of Chieti, home to one DOCG and three DOC wine designations, where the winemaking traditions date back to the Etruscans. Also native to the region is the white Trebbiano grape.

Perhaps Abruzzo is most famous for one thing: confetti! Yes, those sugar-covered almonds Italians give out at weddings, baptisms, first communions and every other celebratory life event, originate in Abruzzo, specifically in the beautiful town of Sulmona. The confetti industry dates back there to 1783, when the first producer, Pelino, opened its factory doors. Pelino remains the leader in the industry, so famous that the recent royal nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle featured confetti from Pelino. The streets of the town are adorned with small shops selling confetti in any flavor imaginable, from Nutella and tiramisù, to limoncello, ricotta and hazelnut; the list goes on.

Aside from its natural beauty, tourist attractions and cuisine, Abruzzo made international headlines in April of 2009 when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook the region and the lives of its citizens. The quake resulted in 308 deaths, more than 1,500 injured and the displacement of 65,000 people. In the capital city of L’Aquila, at the University of L’Aquila, administration buildings and residence halls collapsed. The academic institution, home to 27,000 registered students before the quake, was forced to close its doors.

With NIAF taking the lead, a coalition of Italian American organizations, universities and individuals worked tirelessly to raise funds for affected victims and communities. Soon, the U.S. Department of State, the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Consular Network joined the coalition to aid the citizens of L’Aquila.

The NIAF-Abruzzo Relief Fund raised nearly $800,000 for relief efforts, while a public-private partnership between NIAF and the State Department helped bring 52 displaced University of L’Aquila students to the United States to continue their studies at American universities. NIAF was chosen by the U.S. State Department to lead this initiative, which was the first public-private partnership established by the Obama Administration.

The National Italian American Foundation could not be more thrilled to finally celebrate the culture, traditions, food, wine and people of this diverse Italian region. Look for more about Abruzzo in the upcoming 2021 issues of Ambassador magazine, on NIAF’s social media, and, of course, at the 46th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 23, 2021. Arrivederci in Abruzzo!