As is the case around most of Abruzzo, the drive into the hamlets and towns of Chieti province can be a bumpy one. Many of the roads around here aren’t really taken care of. Many of the buildings look abandoned or are in need of repair and it’s as though life just keeps passing them by.
Abruzzo from an economic standpoint is one of Italy’s struggling regions. Yes, Italy has been in recession after recession for more than a decade, but some regions have felt it more than others. Abruzzo is one of them. And it has been for a very long time.I should know! I’m a living product of it with both my parents Abruzzo-born and part of the mass wave of migration that took place in the post-Second World War era. Just like they left in search of a better life and opportunity, so too are waves of young Italians in the current climate.
Regions like Abruzzo that have such a diverse culture, historical and gastronomic offering should be benefiting from tourism as a steady source of income. But it’s not. While Abruzzo has certainly sparked some foreign interest of late, it’s certainly not on par with regions like Tuscany or at the moment, even Puglia.
With online destination marketing on the rise and the increasing influence of social media, lesser know travel destinations like Abruzzo are starting to appear on international travel itineraries.
There are a few people in Abruzzo who, in the face of political, systemic and economic adversity are championing this cause.
Emiliana Dell’Arciprete is a champion of Abruzzo. Founder of the Abruzzo4Foodies blog, she is a real trailblazer. A mother who also works full time, she emits passion for this region as she speaks. But also a sense of melancholy. Frustration. Sadness. That the political and economic complexities of Italy have left this region behind. Abruzzo’s own worst enemy is its mentality and absence of community spirit. Not because there isn’t a strong sense of community in the provinces and towns, but in the business sense – that is, to positively exploit the wonders of this region to create a tourism industry that could provide a formidable stream of resources to sustain its future.Talking to Emiliana, I asked her what she loves most Abruzzo and what she sees as the major challenges facing the region.
“There are so many things I love about Abruzzo especially given that it holds a special place in my heart because I was born here. I love the climate, the people and of course the food. I created my blog in 2012 and completely in English, because I wanted to share this passion and Abruzzo’s story as a local with a foreign audience.”
Emiliana says that food and wine tourism is a critical factor in Abruzzo’s future, if not the most important. “Historically, any tourism to this region has been because of the parks and nature reserves it offers and even the mountains in winter for skiing. So food and wine is another, and perhaps unexpected drawcard for visitors to Italy and one which Abruzzo needs to work on finding a synergy between”. She speaks so passionately about towns around here, like Guardiagrele, famous for a sweet treat nicknamed Nun’s Tits (because of its rounded shape; a pastry is soft sponge filled with fresh Chantilly cream and made only here); just one of many towns ripe for food tourism.
Abruzzo has its work cut out she says if it’s to effectively position itself as an Italian destination of choice. “The region needs to invest in marketing, in campaigns to educate local tour operators on providing high level and adequate tourist services from accommodation to other activities and ensuring locals understand the importance of tourism and are accepting and welcoming”.Together with a number of local partners (all of which are listed in the acknowledgements below), Emiliana and B&B owners Antonello and Annalisa Primavera and the local councils of Chieti Province, Tollo and Canosa Sannita, put together a blog trip in June to have bloggers like myself explore the region in an authentic way. These are just some of the positive initiatives that local ambassadors are working hard to deliver.
Speaking to Antonello, you can’t help but empathise with his plight. Many people in the area aren’t all that aware of what’s required to put this region on the map. He and his wife however have a vision, and that is to keep bringing tourists to this part of the world and provide them with a local accommodation option – Eco B&B Primavera that is the only B&B in Abruzzo that has received the European Community Ecolabel. Antonello says, there’s more to be done to promote the area but the challenge is getting other locals on board.Another inspirational local I spoke to was Erica Nasuti. In her mid-twenties, this young woman from Orsogna in Chieti province, together with her brother, owns and operates Italiana THR, a company which produces jams, conserves and sauces. Her parents ran a small grocery when she was born and so food and produce has been in her DNA since birth.
She says their philosophy is to showcase locally grown produce in a jar. Abruzzo, Erica says, is unique in that it’s bio system is diverse and still allows for the traditional production of quality food products. To that end, their company uses seasonal produce to produce things that are typical to the region, like Montepulciano jam for instance. These stories are just a glimpse of the promising and positive work that is happening in Abruzzo to grow and sustain the region. These unsung heroes if you like, are examples for locals to draw on and to hopefully replicate across a range of sectors.
I hope in some small way that by me sharing their story, you’ll be encouraged to take a glance at what Abruzzo is, what it offers and how you might be able to do your bit to support a slowly growing tourism industry that has so much potential – if it was only given the chance.
Signing off from Trastevere,
Acknowledgements: Special thanks go to Eco B&B Primavera, Abruzzo4Foodies, Comune di Sannita Cannosa & Comune di Tollo for hosting this special blog program. I also acknowledge the program supporters: Trappeti di Caprafico, Pasticceria Lullo, Trattoria Ketty, EnoMuseo di Tollo, Le Api di Papa, Lido Barracuda, Lido Esperia, Cantina Cerretano, Casa dell’Arciprete and Italiana THR. As always, all thoughts expressed are my own – nobody tells me what to write on my blog.