Abruzzo and Molise were one region called Abruzzi until 1963. Both are sparsely populated, mountainous regions  and both have always been outside the mainstream of Italian affairs.

Bordered by the Apennines, Abruzzo holds some of Italy's wildest terrain: silent valleys, vast untamed mountain plains, abandoned hill villages, and some great historic towns, many of them rarely visited by outsiders. 

But this is only half the story: the Abruzzesi have done much to pull their region out of poverty, and join the modern world. Its Adriatic coastline has a string of lucrative beach resorts, and its national park, the Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, has become a major tourist attraction – its wolves have been rounded up, enclosed and demystified.

L'Aquila and Sulmona are the most visited of Abruzzo's historic towns.

The hill villages around L'Aquila at the foot of San Grasso mountain are worth visiting if you have the time. They are deeply rural places, where life seems to be from another century. Life is hard here, and strangers are a novelty.

The region's costumes, crafts and festivals have a natural appeal to tourists.

In Scanno the women wear costumes that, like the Scannese themselves, originated in Asia Minor. Down the road, another hill village, Cocullo, annually hosts one of Europe's most unusual religious festivals: A statue of the local saint is draped with live snakes before being paraded through the street.

Bominaco, to the east, has two impressive churches, one a perfect and pristine example of the Romanesque, the other covered with Byzantine-style frescoes.

Among other hill towns worth visiting is Atri, whose cathedral protects a stunning cycle of frescoes.

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