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A Northern Abruzzo Weekend

Eating & Sleeping in Val Vibrata

The early morning view of the Gran Sasso from Tortoreto
The early morning view of the Gran Sasso from Tortoreto

Villa Mascitti, Tortoreto Alto

Tortoreto Alto is one of several ancient hilltop towns in Abruzzo that look out over the Adriatic coastline from elevations of around 1,000 feet. Some are quite well known like Atri and Città Sant’Angelo but others like Tortoreto and Silvi Alta much less so. Tortoreto Alto is one of the closest of these towns to the sea with its twin, Tortoreto Lido, being just below it on the beachfront.

Villa Mascitti in Tortoreto, Abruzzo
The beautiful Liberty style Villa Mascitti with its owner at the front door

Tortoreto is in the Val Vibrata of northern Abruzzo and also in the middle of the Colline Teramane wine district and one of our favorite wineries in Italy, Tenuta Terraviva, occupies the slopes below the town. Also nearby is the olive oil producer Monaco, so for us Tortoreto is the perfect location for a northern Abruzzo weekend and there is no better place to stay in town than Villa Mascitti.

It’s a good old-fashioned bed & breakfast as distinct these days from the typical airbnb accommodation and in fact breakfast is one of the highlights here. It’s also a real villa in the proper sense of the word, being a classic Liberty style villa from the late 19th century. Fully and faithfully restored in recent years the villa has also been decorated and furnished in keeping with that same Belle Époque or Italian Art Nouveau style while lacking nothing in terms of comfort and functionality.

There are only 4 double rooms for guests, all on the first floor, and being a traditional bed & breakfast establishment none of them have any type of kitchen. For short stays that’s often a good thing because it’s much less hassle to eat out and here one has no other choice.

The back garden of Villa Mascitti
The relaxing back garden of Villa Mascitti with expansive views of the coastline

Villa Mascitti is in an ideal location at the western entrance to Tortoreto with views from the front of the building towards the Gran Sasso mountains and views from the back that include the entire coastline stretching north to the border with le Marche.

The front terrace of Villa Mascitti
The small front terrace

The back garden at the villa is a nice place to relax after a day touring the Val Vibrata and there’s also a small terrace at the front for an early evening aperitivo or breakfast outside in the morning.

It’s very peaceful around the villa because Tortoreto Alto is a quiet place at night in contrast to its Lido twin by the beach, especially in the peak summer months, and if you go down to Lido for dinner you’ll notice the difference.

Zenobi, Colonnella

The dining area at Zenobi near Colonella
The inside/outside terrace at Zenobi depending on the season

Over the years we’ve had dinner in many different places in northern Abruzzo, including a very pleasant dinner in Tortoreto Alto very close to Villa Mascitti, but the restaurants we keep going back to are Le Meraviglie del Mare in Martinsicuro for seafood and Zenobi near Colonnella for everything else. Zenobi is located south of Colonnella, in the countryside below the town, and is about 5 miles north of Tortoreto which makes it an ideal dining destination during a northern Abruzzo weekend.

It’s not a tourist restaurant at all and you’ll only come across a smattering of foreign reviews but Italians love the place and we’ve met people here who have driven all the way from Offida for dinner.

Maccheroncini all'Abruzzese con polpettine di carne (above left) and Agnello alla scottadito (above right).

In summer most of the tables are outside on the terrace surrounded by the large garden so it's very much a country dining experience and then at the beginning of October they enclose the space again for the winter.

Zenobi prides itself on its traditional Abruzzese menu and some of its dishes have local heritage in Teramo, like the Timballo teramano, or are even more local to the Val Vibrata like the Capra alla neretese.

The bar at Zenobi restaurant
The Monaco olive oil is favored also by the owners of Zenobi

There are two dishes that I like to order whenever I'm in Abruzzo. The first is an antipasto called Pallotte cacio e ova which is a typical Abruzzese cucina povera dish consisting of meatless meatballs, made instead with pecorino cheese, eggs, homemade breadcrumbs and parsley. The pallotte are then browned in oil and finished in a classic tomato sauce.

The inside of Zenobi restaurant
Two happy customers, Elena and her mother, enjoying dinner at Zenobi

The second dish is a secondo piatto known as Agnello alla scottadito which is simply young lamb cutlets grilled briefly on high heat with rosemary and a touch of garlic.

Abruzzo is known for its lamb, especially the ubiquitous arrosticini skewers, but for me they are more street food than restaurant food and grilled lamb cutlets on the bone will always be the best way to eat lamb in Abruzzo.

Zenobi is also much more than your typical restaurant because they own 25 acres of land in the Val Vibrata where they cultivate vines, olives, seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs. This level of vertical integration guarantees quality and freshness and everything else not produced by them is sourced locally.

Their own label is sold in the restaurant as vino della casa and at 6 or 7 euros a liter it represents tremendous value. Quality and authenticity at Zenobi do not come with the sort of price tag one is used to elsewhere in Italy because our excellent dinner for 3 people including a liter of house wine came to only 75 euros including tax and coperto.

Note: Given that we now live in a world of paid 'influencers' (better described as 'grifters') who pretend to be impartial commentators, let us be clear here that as with all of our articles describing restaurants and accommodation we never solicit or receive any type of discount or compensation. We pay in full for everything. Furthermore we decide after the fact as to whether a particular trip or experience is worth writing about and most of the time we don't even bother to inform the subject of our article after publishing it here.


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