The hills are alive in Abruzzo, final leg of our road trip

We left Puglia surprisingly tanned and ready for the next adventure. The next stop was in Abruzzo, one of many regions in Italy that we wanted to discover more about on this road trip of a lifetime. Popular areas for Brits are Tuscany, Umbria, Sicily, Lombardia for the lakes and Veneto for Venice. I wanted to visit Le Marche after seeing Alex Polizzi on TV. This region houses factory outlets for shoe designers, what is not to like? In the planning stages I came across a hotel in a medieval village through Mr & Mrs Smith. They had special offer of 4 nights for the price of 3, brilliant. It was booked back in the Spring along with the rest of the trip and then I realised it wasn’t in Le Marche but Abruzzo! So the shoes would have to wait until we drove home, via Modena and Annecy, France.

Santo Stefano di Sessanio is a small medieval village in the hills of Abruzzo, 5,000 meters above sea level.¬†Located in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, in the highest region of the Apennines, it looked like a film set. It shouldn’t have surprised us as we found out that a nearby castle, Rocca Calascio, was used for the 1985 film Ladyhawke. The hotel in Santo Stefano is what they called a diffused hotel, where the rooms are spread around the village. The rooms are plain yet stylish with underfloor heating and minimal lighting to try and keep it as authentic as possible. Candles are liberally used and with fires in communal areas between rooms give a romantic atmosphere. One evening we booked a pasta making class with chef Emilio. The weather outside was ferocious. Thunder and lightning crashed around us as we walked to the building that housed the restaurant and breakfast room. Ravioli was on the menu. All aspects of the meal were hand made. With the pasta dough kneaded by hand, we then had to roll it out using a rolling pin. No machines here.

The weather wasn’t helping us get out and walk in the national park that surrounded us. It was rubbish. But we couldn’t let it stop us from going out. Castelli is a small town about an hour and 15mins away and it is known for ceramics. It was a stunning drive through the mountains and we arrived relatively unscathed as there was a lot of debris on the roads from the storm. The town has loads of ceramic producers whose colourful style is not to everyones taste. We were a little frustrated however. There are a lot of benefits to travelling out of season, but the downside is not everything is open. 4 shops were open out of what could have been potentially 40! Pressing our noses against the windows of shops muttering “that looks nice”, we kept looking and eventually found an open one. Christmas baubles were a popular offering, so we bought two!

The other thing to do that the weather couldn’t spoil was visiting a cave, Grotte di Stiffe. They¬†are beautiful caverns with a waterfall inside a cave. We live in the south of England and so have memories of visiting Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole. This was a strong rival. Such awe and wonder at the natural phenomenons. And because of the rain, the water and waterfalls were powerful and loud. Driving home through the national park the clouds parted and we went for a quick walk in the stunning countryside. We certainly blew the cobwebs away!

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We had loved our stay in this region but it was time to head home. Our next stop was an overnight in Viano near Modena, not that far from the balsamic B&B that we stayed at in our first few days. Boy had the scenery changed. Autumnal greatness was everywhere. Gorgeous leaves. The colour in the countryside was magnificent. Refreshed and revived by the in-hotel spa and the best breakfast spread of the trip, we drove on to Annecy, France. I have wanted to see this town since the chef James Martin featured it in one of his tv programmes. The rain was back and there seemed to be a lot of people on the roads. Turns out that it was a national holiday, All Saints Day. Annecy was busy. Free parking, result, but far too many people for my liking so we had a quick look and then continued around the beautiful lake to our B&B. As I said before not many places were open, add to that a national holiday and it equals no where for dinner. Not good. I had spotted a pizza place down the road as we drove in so we chanced our luck that it would be open. Yes! One takeaway pizza with a bottle of wine and Netflix on the iPad and we were sorted for the night!

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It would be good to come back and visit the lake again, it had such a peaceful quality. Off once again northwards in France and our final destination near Reims. One of our longest journeys, we tried to keep it to a maximum of 5 and a half hours at a time, we arrived to find that reception wouldn’t open until 5pm. Argh! Tired and a bit grumpy I persuaded J to pop to a supermarket to waste some time. Eventually we could relax and have some food. As morning broke over the Chateaux’s grounds the mist and ground frost gave the scene a magical air. We both felt very lucky to have had this time away. We are glad to have done it now and not waited too long and maybe then not be able to do it because of physical restrictions. J has back issues that I won’t get into, but has been one of the driving forces behind our decision to spend our money on having more experiences rather than buy more ‘stuff’. Hopefully these memories will last a lifetime. Especially now I have written some of it down! Hope you have enjoyed reading about our trip. xx

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A few facts: 4,900 miles, 40 days, 13 hotels or B&B’s and only 1 pair of shoes bought!

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