Like other regions in Southern Italy, Abruzzo, except for a relatively few intrepid souls, has yet to be "discovered" by English-speaking travelers. That is changing, as new highways, linking Abruzzo's principal cities to Rome, Bari, and the cities of the Marches, Umbria and other points north have penetrated the region and made it more accessible.
Word of Abruzzo's abundant cultural, geographical, natural, architectural, and culinary riches is now reaching the "outside" world.
As in Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata and Campania, in Abruzzo you will find an Italy quite out of synch with the sophisticated northern cities. It is an "old Italy" slowly moving into the modern era. There are wolves, bears and cougars at large in the mountains; shepherds mind their flocks as in time immemorial; castles and monasteries stand on precipices guarding or protecting, as the case may be, valley passes and vast tracks of empty land. It is charming, curious, interesting and compelling all at once, but also perhaps, a bit slow, and sometimes frustrating to people used to a faster paced life.
The Appenines, where you will find the highest peaks in the range, run through central and western Abruzzo. In the Gran Sasso, the Appenine's highest mountain, Monte Corno, reaches 9560 feet, while Monte Maiella and Monte Velino-Sirente are almost as high. Throughout the mountainous regions one finds rugged canyons, forests, rivers and lakes. All the land that can be farmed is farmed, particularly in the eastern foothills of the Appenines that taper off to the long and sandy beaches on the Adriatic coast.
The earliest italic tribe known to occupy Abruzzo were the Picenians. Starting in the 3rd century BC, due to its proximity to Lazio Roma - or Latium - the region came under increasing domination by the Roman Empire, who established firm control by about 90 BC. The With the decline of the empire, some 600 or so years later, the area broke into a number of often warring feudal fiefdoms. A measure of control, and unity, was restored when most of the territory came under the control of the Longobard's Duchy of Spoleto during the 6th Century AD.
In the 12th Century, the area was conquered by the Normans. It was later conquered and merged into the Kingdom of Sicily under the rule of Frederick II. The Kingdom of Sicily may have changed hands throughout the succeeding centuries, but Abruzzo remained more or less within it (Napoleon asserted control from 1799 until he was routed) until Italian unification in 1861.
Given the political history and geography of Abruzzo, it should come as no surprise that the traveler will encounter ruins and extant architecture that dates back to its earliest tribal days through the Romanesque, Gothic and, to a limited extent, Renaissance periods. The principal cities have churches, museums and other public buildings which house important collections of art and artifacts.
Economically, the area continues to struggle, but there is economic and industrial development, particularly around Pescara, and from Chieti to the Adriatic. There is some large an medium sized farming on the eastern side of the region, mostly of wheat, grapes, olives, and potatoes. Licorice, saffron and tobacco are also produced.
Many of the rivers have been harnessed to produce hydro electric power that is fed into the main grids serving all of Italy. Bauxite is mined in some locales; methane gas is trapped and distributed on a commercial basis.
If you are a traveler looking for an authentic Italian experience, you will do well to make your next trip a trip to Abruzzo. It is, in many ways, a step back in time.