The Abruzzo, for those not familiar with the setting of Francesco’s journey, is considered a southern region of Italy. The branches of the Apennine mountains spine forces it south; and there are cultural and historic reasons for this placement as well. A glance at a map of Italy, however, shows it is geographically situated in central Italy, with its eastern border on the Adriatic and its western border about 50 miles from Rome.
Nearly a third of this area has been set aside as national park land which makes it fairly unique in Europe, attracting travelers to its natural preserves and some of the most beautiful medieval towns and villages in Italy—picturesque communities nestled on mountain hill sides, jutting peninsulas, rock outcroppings and prominences in and around the national parks. In these settings, visitors and locals can wander the charming streets and piazzas where feelings of romance, peace and tranquility are easily aroused. Twenty–three of the most beautiful towns in the country, designated “I borghi piu belli” by an organization of Italian tourism, are in the Abruzzo; second only to Umbria and a few more than Tuscany.
Francesco’s journey in the region during the Second World War traverses its two major zones: the Adriatic coast line with its beaches and ports of Pescara and Ortona, the site of one of the most brutal engagements of the entire war; and the mountainous interior, where the central Apennine spine has distinct but uneven ranges, principally the Maiella and Gran Sasso with its pine forests and meadows.
Francesco’s story with the escaped prisoners of war through the Maiella takes place in this natural setting and varied landscape in and around the villages of Roccamorice, Caramanico, Sulmona, Guardiagrele, Polumbaro, Casoli, and Altino— where the Sangro River formed the German army’s Gustave line. This was a part of their Winter defensive line against the British Eighth Army advance in the east along the Adriatic, and the Allied forces with the American Fifth Army’s advance in the west.
The story touches on the life of shepherds and food in a time of hunger. Francesco and his companions travel under the guise of shepherds. Abruzzo is Italy’s pastoral land, even though the traditional shepherding, farming and fishing occupations have largely given way to a more modern industrial and business economy. At the time of Francesco’s story, however, the movement of sheep flocks south was a well-known, annual event.
The German occupation was indeed, a time of hunger for much of the rural population; “la fame” is still a bitter remembrance for those who experienced it. The meals that Francesco and his companions share in the story were meant to reflect that time. Those historic, rustic dishes remain part of an eclectic and innovative cuisine that today is served in a range of Abruzzo establishments from the humble osteria to the multi-star Michelin restaurants.
Francesco’s Journey through the towns of Abruzzo begins with a click. For more on the sites and culture of Abruzzo, visit www.abruzzisimo.com.