Why visit Abruzzo’s charming Gagliano Aterno, in Italy’s gorgeous L’Aquila Province?
Where is Gagliano Aterno?
Have you heard of Gagliano Aterno?
If you can possibly tire of stunning Sulmona, then venture on a day trip to the quaint medieval village of Gagliano Aterno.
Perched at a height of 653-metres within the National Park of Sirente-Velino – in the southern part of the Sirente mountain range – Gagliano is not on the tourist trail. You are assured of an authentic Italian experience in this village of around 250 people and one that is different from other traversed areas of Abruzzo.
Located in the vicinity of an ancient pre-Roman settlement, Gagliano dates back to the Middle Ages.
Although we receive a few inquisitive looks as we look like foreigners, locals are friendly in this sleepy village.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Gagliano in the summer, you can experience wine-making festivals.
Also in August, Gagliano hosts the Sagra de J’ntremè, which draws crowds from around the region. Streets set up with laden tables await guests to feast on a traditional ancient lamb-based recipe. The Gaglianese dish is prepared with sweet and sour lamb livers. Much music and dancing follow the indulgence.
What to see
One of 6 villages in the valley, Gagliano offers several must-sees, although just ambling along Gagliano’s side streets and absorbing local life is enough.
Gagliano still bears the scars of the 2017-earthquake to strike L’Aquila’s northwest. Remnants of time-worn buildings propped up by scaffolding are still evident as are several irreparable homes. Rebuilding and restoring is a slow process.
Of course as with many cities, towns, and villages in Italy – no matter how small – there’s always a fabulous Centro Storico (historic centre or old town) to explore.
Gagliano’s historic centre is small compared to others I’ve visited in Italy, although worth visiting nonetheless.
There’s always something unique and interesting to absorb in a small Italian village, isn’t there?
Medieval angles create unforgettable and delightful framed canvases, which help push you back in time to past history.
Antiquated external steps adorned by arches descend or ascend to landings that encircle squares and narrow streets.
Centro Storico heritage tour
The main reason for visiting Gagliano Aterno and Sulmona on this Easter weekend is to catch up with a good friend from the volunteering days in Thailand.
With Italian heritage on his father’s side and roots tracing back a century ago to Gagliano Aterno, the whole family is visiting Abruzzo on a journey of self-discovery and to connect with unknown distant relatives.
Doesn’t everyone want to know about their heritage? It can be hugely emotional and moving connecting with and learning about your ancestry. Especially, when your roots hail from such a tiny ancient village.
Luigi – Mayor’s son – kindly accompanies us on a private tour around Gagliano. Bringing our attention to important family Crests that adorn doorways, a testament that Gagliano was a wealthy village.
Strolling through the narrow cobbled alleyways, we reach the centre of Gagliano once more – all roads lead to the centre.
One building still displays barely recognisable words. As with the Fascist stencils in many areas of Calabria, they’re protected. And, it’s not until time’s wrath and the environment wear away the proof of history that aged walls can be covered or renewed once more.
Castello di Gagliano Aterno
With foundations dating back to 1328 and built by the de Aquila family, the majestic castle is now privately owned and closed to the public.
Sadly, this imposing castle is only visible only from its gate. Or, by glancing longingly from a distance at the castle perched atop a hill, whilst in the Fontana Medieval’s carpark.
When the owner Baroness Lazzarini died, the castle was sold off and is now owned by 16 parties, which split the castle into 18 new apartments. None are interested in opening this wonderful piece of Gagliano’s history for public viewing. The castle’s underground still holds large wine-making cellars.
On the rare occasion that the castle is open to the public, the views spanning from the castle’s loggia (external corridor) and sweeping across the Subaequan Vale below are rumoured to be dramatic.
I guess at least the castle is maintained as the outgoings and payment of initial shares to buy into the castle are high. Hope that sometime in the future the castle opens to the public as I’m told that it’s quite impressive.
The grand stone medieval fountain, which has withstood earthquakes through time, still stands defiantly in the People’s Square in the village.
Gagliano is the only village in the area with a fountain in the centre, which marks its importance and once the richest village in the valley because of the natural spring/well in the village.
Typically in villages, collecting water involved a walk to a nearby fountain and was not always within easy reach.
Facciata della Chiesa di Santa Chiara
With foundations dating back to 1286, the monastery of Santa Chiara was donated to the Poor Clare nuns – an order founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi.
The L-shape and church’s facade were completed over the 16th and 17th-centuries.
The Cuban-founded Claretian Sisters also used this as a worshipping site from the 19th-century.
Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista
Continuing the heritage tour with a short drive from Gagliano, we’re confronted with the stone walls of the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista.
Etched in stone blocks on the church’s external facade, confirm the blocks originate from an Ancient Roman city: Superequum.
Gagliano street scenes
Wander around Gagliano for contrasting vistas of the village.
You will stumble across monuments dedicated to Gagliano’s past inhabitants.
As lands belonged to the wealthy, farmers would often work for a year with nothing to show and barely enough to feed their families, if at all. Rent and perpetual outgoings paid by farmers kept them in poverty and miserable living conditions.
Many left Italy to seek a better life away from famine and heartache. Although leaving their homeland also brought on heartache for families.
A monument honouring the fallen graces every village, town, and city that I’ve visited in Italy.
Practising the Italian sign language in Gagliano…
Check out its evolution in my Italian Languages, Dialects, and Hands: An Outsider’s View post.
A surprising and unusual stone fountain almost Asian in appearance emerges from the trees.
Clean drinking water is readily available throughout most of Italy.
From spectacular Sulmona, it’s around a half-hour’s lovely drive until you arrive in the small village of Gagliano Aterno.
The snow-capped Apennine Mountains form a spectacular backdrop against the undulating hills reaching down to farmlands, unfolding a scenic drive along the road.
For those readers that don’t have a car, you can catch a public Corriere Pullman Trasporti bus between Sulmona and Gagliano, although bus times are not as regular as you wish.
Where to stay
If you’re visiting Gagliano during the summer months, then more accommodation is on offer than during winter.
The newly opened Gagliano Experience (B&B) in the Centro Storico, offers a modern stylish renovated and comfortable self-contained apartment.
The B&B’s owners are also passionate beekeepers and sell high-quality products. Check out their Essenziale Come Natura site for more intriguing information. Gifted a small jar of floral honey, I can vouch that it’s delicious.
Where to eat
Gagliano offers one cosy bar.
This is the place where locals gather to play Italian card games while relaxing and catching up on local happenings – or just to enjoy a refreshment and pastry.
Stop for a couple of stunning photos along the drive to absorb the natural breathtaking surrounds…
…until you come across this great Agriturismo and B&B, which serves the freshest of delicious local dishes.
Specialising in wines and local products with an amazing view, enjoy a traditional leisurely long lunch, while owners offer excellent food and service. The homemade pasta and house wines are wonderful.
Antichi Sapori is only open in the summer, Easter, or other major holidays.
Returning to Sulmona
As half of our group stayed in Gagliano for the night, the other half decided to train it to Sulmona, from a nearby deserted station.
The Sulmona-L’Aquila line – celebrating 125 years of service.