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Eating & Sleeping in San Valentino, Abruzzo

San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore on the lower slopes of the Maiella
San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore on the lower slopes of the Maiella

Gianna's house

I spent an entire month renting Gianna’s studio apartment just outside San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore, by far the longest holiday rental I’ve ever done, and I could have happily stayed longer.

Over the past ten years Elena and I have rented all sorts of different holiday homes in 16 out of Italy’s 20 regions and this one ranked near the top on several metrics. It was without doubt the best value for money and Gianna herself is the most attentive and friendly host who likes to engage with her guests. Also, her personal touch is a far cry from the current trend of professionally managed properties where the owner and/or manager is rarely available, and then only by phone or email.

Gianna's house in Solcano near Scafa
Gianna's house is where the road ends so there is peace, quiet and privacy in the ground floor studio

It helps that she occupies the apartment above the rental so she’s available much of the time to help you out with suggestions and advice; something not to be underrated given the complicated geography of the Maiella, especially if you only have a few days to explore the area.

Situated in the frazione of Solcano about 1.5 miles north of San Valentino, Gianna’s house is at the end of a rural cul-de-sac with views over Scafa all the way to the Adriatic sea. The location made a significant contribution to the experience for me because there is nothing but peace and solitude day and night, seemingly remote but in fact everything you need is within a ten minute drive.

The view from Solcano across Scafa towards the Adriatic at sunset
Looking across Scafa towards the Adriatic at sunset

If you book here during the warmer months then, like me, you’ll find yourself outside on the patio all the time when not sleeping and if you have a bike with you and don’t mind the hills you can cycle up to San Valentino, Caramanico Terme and all the other Maiella towns on roads that have much less traffic than I’m used to in Lucca. And from here you can tackle the legendary Blockhaus climb if you're so inclined or do a loop around half of the Maiella.

The other big advantage of the location is its proximity to the autostrada intersection only 4 miles away at Alanno Scalo which means that you can be on the beach near Pescara in 30 minutes going east or Rome in 90 minutes going west. It’s also the quickest way to to get to Sulmona which should be on everyone’s itinerary no matter how short the visit here, as should Campo Imperatore and Rocca Calascio.

An old olive grove around Tocco da Casauria
One of the many old olive groves around Tocco da Casauria

The Guardiani Farchione winery in the center of Tocco da Casauria
The Guardiani Farchione office, cellar and tasting room in the center of Tocco da Casauria

Gianna’s house is very convenient for the nearby olive oil town of Tocco da Casauria which is also the home of a very good winery called Guardiani Farchione that first came to our attention through a discussion with Gianna.

Just past Alanno on the northern side of the autostrada is one of our favorite Abruzzo wineries, Cingilia where Fabio di Donato’s wines get better every year yet remain tremendous value for money.

Col di Gotte

Just as Gianna’s house is not technically in San Valentino, neither is the restaurant Col di Gotte which is officially part of the hamlet of Abbateggio but in fact is surrounded by fields on a hilltop only a mile south of San Valentino.

You turn left up the drive at the thòlos (dry stone hut) which was faithfully reconstructed in 2017 to celebrate the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia. These dry stone huts were used by shepherds for centuries in the Maiella and built using ancient techniques that go all the way back to Magna Grecia. They are the symbol of the Abbateggio territory and there is even a reconstructed thòlos village in Abbateggio called the Ecomuseo del Paleolitico.

The commemorative Thòlos in Abbateggio, Abruzzo
The commemorative Thòlos with the restaurant Col di Gotte in the building above it to the right

The Col di Gotte is exactly the type of restaurant that we seek out on our travels and it didn’t disappoint. Their business card in bold print says 'cucina tipica Abruzzese' and that's exactly what it serves. It’s also a family run, no frills place that offers tremendous value for money along with its traditional Abruzzese food. This is home style cooking at its finest or as the Italians would say, alla casalinga. Also, you have to love a place that is so unpretentious that the sole reason for its name, Col di Gotte, is because that's the name of the street. No inflated egos here!

One of the first things to order whenever you are in this part of Italy has to be Pallotte Cacio e Ova. These are 'meatballs' where the meat has been replaced by cheese and bread, reflecting the cucina povera history of the area.

Traditionally a semi-hard cheese called rigatino was used made from a mixture of sheep’s and cow’s milk but pecorino is now often used instead. The grated cheese is added to a mixture of old bread and beaten eggs to form balls that are then deep fried before being simmered in a thick tomato sauce - truly comfort food at its best.

Lamb of course is always on the menu in Abruzzo whether by itself, as part of a mixed grill or on skewers called Arrosticini.

Mixed grill above left and Pallotte Cacio e Ova above right

I've written about several restaurants on this website and have frequently made the observation that when you use Tripadvisor to look for somewhere to dine you should pay attention to places that have a high number of Italian reviews and very few foreign language reviews.

By applying that filter you will discover good restaurants frequented mostly by Italians who cannot be fooled as easily as tourists when it comes to quality and authenticity. I know this from experience because I've been living in Italy for 10 years with the benefit of an Italian wife.

Putting this theory to the test for Col di Gotte you will see that not only are Italians from just about everywhere very enthusiastic about this restaurant but various Abruzzesi reviewers from nearby Pescara have made the following comments: "cace e ova buonissime, le migliori della zona" and "arrosticini fatti a mano (veramente) ed agnello alla brace, spettacolari" and also "ci si sente a casa".

The morning sun in early September illuminating San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore with the Morrone mountains behind
The morning sun in early September illuminating San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore with the Morrone mountains behind

When natives of Abruzzo make comments like these about an Abruzzo restaurant serving local dishes you know that you've found a gem of a place for dinner, and when dinner for two with two courses each and a half liter of good house wine comes to a grand total of 43 euros fully inclusive you also know that you're not in Tuscany anymore!

Eating & Sleeping in San Valentino, Abruzzo is the latest of several of these types of article that we've written and both the accommodation and restaurant were by far the best value for money; not surprising perhaps because Abruzzo generally is one of the cheaper regions of Italy.


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