Publisher’s Tour 2016: Abruzzo
Part 6 – Abruzzo and the Towns of Vasto and Loreto Aprutino
The tour group departed Barletta in the region of Puglia and headed north by motor coach. Our first stop was in the town of Vasto, soon after we entered the Abruzzo region. The region is breathtaking, with the beautiful blue Adriatic Sea along the coast and the majestic snowy mountain peaks inland. Abruzzi boasts a steadily growing economy, with agriculture as an important industry. Grapes, olives, wheat and sugar beets are grown and its saffron is considered to be the best in the world. Its local wines - Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC wine and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC are outstanding.
According to tradition, the town of Vasto was founded by Diomedes, the Greek hero. The earliest archaeological relics date to 1300 BC. Under the Roman Empire, Vasto was called Histonium and it was a flourishing and opulent town. The remains of the Roman era include vestiges of a theater, baths, numerous mosaics and statues. Following the Romans, the area was ravaged successively by the Goths, the Lombards, the Franks and the Arabs. From the 13th century, it was part of the Kingdom of Naples, which later merged into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In the 15th century, the town center was transformed by Giacomo Caldora, who became its Lord. The Caldora family built new city walls still seen today, including the Torre Bassano Tower in Piazza Rossetti, the Torre Diomede in Vico Storto del Passero, the Torre Diamante in Piazza Verdi and Castello Caldoresco, its primary defensive outpost.
The old part of the town (centro storico) features a number of buildings and churches dating from the 12th to 18th centuries, including Vasto Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Giuseppe) and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Dating from the 12th century, it is the largest and oldest church in the town. The most revered relic of the church is a thorn from Jesus' crown (Sacra Spina). Below the hill on which the town is located, the beach resort town of Marina di Vasto offers a large sandy beach and several hotels and other facilities.
After our stop in Vasto, the travelers boarded the motor coach for the drive north to Loreto Aprutino, located about 10 miles west of the coast. The town is located on a 1,000 foot tall hill. The Romans named the area “Lauretum,” meaning laurel grove, but the area has been continually inhabited since at least the 6th century BC. The medieval connection to the past is evident as one approaches the town. In the early Middle Ages, the town was called Castrum Laureti and its importance during the period is reflected in the many works of art which embellished its rich medieval center. Historic and architectural features are clearly visible all along the main road of Via del Baio, where you encounter the successive facades of ancient palazzos leading to the imposing Castello Chiola and the church of St. Peter the Apostle, dating the fifteenth century.
The 13th century Castello Chiola stands on the foundation of Castrum Laureti, a Lombard fortress dating to the 9th century. The castle is now a luxury boutique hotel and was the home for the Publisher’s Tour group while staying in Loreto.
The castle grounds served as an outpost for the Normans, beginning in 1071, and over the centuries passed through the D'Aquino, D'Avalo and Caracciolo families. In 1843, the castle became the property of the Chiola family, who lived there until 1995 and oversaw the restoration into its present hotel and conference facility. In the restored cellar of the castle, the Celliere restaurant offers fine cuisine based on the finest culinary traditions of Abruzzo. Guests can also take advantage of the hotel's splendid garden, which features a terrace and a swimming pool, with outstanding views over the surrounding landscape. Castello Chiola truly offers exclusive accommodations and fine dining in an unsurpassed setting.
Located in the lower part of the village is the Monastery of St. Francis of Assisi, founded in the 13th century and an interesting museum center which contains the Acerbo Museum, filled with 570 ancient ceramics of Castelli, while the Oil Museum is contained in the ancient olive oil mill of Raffaele Baldini Palladini. Loreto Aprutino is famous for both its excellent olive oil and fine wines.
Other beautiful palaces and mansions located within the town include the Palazzo Acerbo, Casa Antimo, Casa Baldini-Palladini and Casa Raietta. Also worth visiting are the Church of San Pietro Apostolo, with fine frescos and silver urn containing the relics of San Zopito. However, with all of the sights to be seen in Loreto, nothing was more peaceful and serene than gazing over the valley below, with a glass of Trebbiano d'Abruzzo in hand.