Local Pia Simone shares her list of magical things to see and do when in the seaside town of Fossacesia (CH).
“Fossacesia, Un Amore a Prima Vista” (Fossacesia, Love at First Sight) was the title for an advertisement for our town a few years ago, and if you ask me, the title is very à propos. I think that’s because in small towns like Fossacesia, there are normally two types of visitors: people who have roots here, and people who just happen on it and are smitten by it. And then there are those times when even the people with roots become enamored like I did; I was the classic Italian-American girl visiting my grandparents during my childhood when something magical happened, and by the stroke of destiny, years later I ended up marrying the boy who lived next door…to them.
Fossacesia, with a population of just over 6000 people is officially considered a city, although I prefer to call it a village, because even though it’s bigger than a village, it has that down-home, village feel about it. There is a lovely piazza where children play and people gather on hot summer evenings to listen to a concert, inebriated by the scent of potted flowers everywhere. There are five bars, a green-grocer, five bakeries and two butcher’s shops. There are two churches in town, and one down at the beach, where Sunday Mass is celebrated outdoors at 8 p.m in summer, the perfect hour, when dusk casts its long shadows and the calm sea takes on pastel hues.
Fossacesia is a community in which most people know each other by name, and some of them make up the typical characters one would expect to find in a southern Italian village: the pastor, who organizes summer camps for our youth; the barber, who on weekends is an actor in a theater group, the shop owner who is also president of an association that has set up a Little Free Library in a cozy piazza hidden behind the town’s fountain. This association has also organized “meet the author” events and book exchanges, where people leave and take books from festive wooden crates on the walls of a street where several shops are located, as well as at the beach clubs at the Marina. Every summer, the shop owners of stores like Il Tempo Delle Donne, Believe in Dreams, Tre Civette Sul Comò, and La Ginestra among others, team up with hair dressers, jewelers and beauticians to put on a fashion show featuring our own local girls, guys, and children as models.
There is a beautiful, cypress-lined road leading out of town, with at the beginning hosts a huge park nestled in the midst of an olive grove, a favorite birthday party venue for children, and at the end, an old villa where free art exhibits and concerts are held in a spectacular venue followed by elegant aperitivi for about five euros. Although time has taken a toll on the sidewalks of the Viale due to disruptive roots breaking through the tiles, the Viale di San Giovanni offers twenty minutes of a cool, shady stroll in the morning, its boughs ultimately opening up in front of the monumental landmark that stands at the far end. It is the well-known Abbey of San Giovanni in Venere, which rises on a promontory overlooking the Val di Sangro and the Golfo di Venere. The 12th-century monastery was built on the ruins of a Roman temple to Venus in her lesser-known attribute of mediator of family unity (Venere Conciliatrice). In Roman times, it was a pilgrimage site for families, young couples, and expectant women to pray for peace and harmony, a safe childbirth, eternal love. Even in modern times, at least until the 1960s, this is where young men would propose to their beloved, but not without first obtaining the blessing of the compare, the best man.
San Giovanni is where our romantic belvedere is located, boasting one of the most remarkable views of the Costa dei Trabocchi. Although we have several religious festivals, my favorite one takes place on June 23rd, the evening before the feast of San Giovanni, when hundreds of people head down the cypress-lined lane leading to the abbey, carrying baskets full of food and wine for a community picnic on the church grounds. There are live music and festival lights, porchetta and arrosticini trucks, and the ubiquitous peanut and candy vendors. During the picnic, people go around sharing their food with other tables, and if they find out that someone prepared the traditional specialty of “lumache” (snails), that would be the most popular table of the evening, because it’s becoming a rarity to find anyone willing to do all the work involved with preparing it. Some people spend the whole night there, waiting for the magical sunrise on St. John’s day, in the days of the summer solstice. The festivities continue with a religious procession and terminate with a spectacular firework display from the terrace above the olive groves.
Vineyards and olive groves blanket the countryside surrounding the town, where agriculture makes up the heart and soul of its people. Many workers at the nearby Sevel factory that produces commercial vehicles for Fiat and two other big-name auto manufacturers are also farmers, tending to their lands according to their work shifts. Wine lovers can enjoy a visit to a couple of wineries in the immediate area like Venea, a private winery and the Cantina Sangro co-op which recently merged with award-winning Cantina Frentana, located in neighboring Rocca San Giovanni. The Azienda Agricola Fonte dei Sapori is a cheese producer located in the countryside of Fossacesia. They have often organized tours of the farm for children and adults, where not only can visitors watch cheese being made, they can also have a hands-on experience of making some to take home with them. Last, but not least, a well-known extra virgin olive oil brand that is produced in Fossacesia is award-winning Ursini Srl, which you may have tried if you’ve been to an Eataly. There are also several smaller olive mills that crush olives for the locals, who sell extra virgin olive oil to the public. [/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Fossacesia Marina is synonymous with hot summer days, and long, refreshing dips into the crystalline waters of the Adriatic. In recent years, the south side of the beachfront has been attracting large crowds of young people, and the north side, where the atmosphere is a bit more relaxed, is geared to families. There is a bike rental business at the entrance to the Marina, IXAGO, where you can rent a three-seater or mountain bikes and ride them along the Via Verde, a new bike path that has been constructed along the former tracks of the railway. When completed, this path will be part of the longest bike trail in Europe, all along the Adriatic, north to south, and it will hopefully be the game-changer for bringing folks to Fossacesia all year round, not just in summer.
Where to Stay
Beach clubs have been growing in recent years, both in number and in popularity, with Supporter Beach leading the way. This club is mainly frequented by young people looking for a good time at the open-air disco, where they serve fresh sushi and elegant aperitivi. It is located away from the residential area, so those who rent an apartment will be able to sleep at night relatively undisturbed. Over the years, many local property owners have preferred to invest their resources in apartments along the Marina, so accommodations are mainly in the form of full-sized flats. Another option is the Oltremare residence, with its one and two-room studio flats for rental, or Villa Maria al Mare , a lovely BnB along the lungomare where several rooms are available for shorter stays. Both of these businesses offer reserved parking on site – an amenity that is hard to come by on hot, crowded summer days. Another option is to stay at an agriturismo like Casale San Giovanni or at a holiday house in the center of town, like Villa Anna Maria, which has the advantage of having shops and bus stops nearby for those who don’t want the hassle of trying to find a parking spot in high season. Some buses also load bikes for those wanting to ride along the Via Verde bike path.
There is one four-star hotel at the Marina, Hotel Levante, located on the Strada Statale Adriatica, just across from the entrance to the Lungomare (beach front). The hotel has a lovely swimming pool and a restaurant serving local dishes, such as Brodetto di Pesce. If you prefer to pamper yourself in a deluxe atmosphere, Five-star accommodations can be found at the Supporter Hotel (website not yet live) (the same proprietor of the previously mentioned beach club). This recently renovated hotel boasts an elegant all-white décor, a sea-view swimming pool, and a banquet hall for special events. Its top-notch restaurant serves stellar meals and guests can opt to have breakfast on a trabocco every morning and lunch at Twin Beach, the hotel’s private beach club.
Where to Eat
There are several eateries along the beach front which serve arrosticini, a frittura or panino di pesce, an absolutely delicious sandwich made with barbecued seafood, all for reasonable prices. Some of them, like Lido Pesce Palombo (currently under renovations, but will be opening soon), Tempio di Venere Mare, and Il Tempio del Mare for example, are also beach clubs where you can have lunch, and rent an umbrella and a couple of lounge chairs and enjoy the sun and sea.
Seafood Dining on a Trabocco
And of course, an experience well worth the advanced booking requirement, is to have a lovely seafood meal on a trabocco, a traditional fishing rig that allows fishermen to work safely even in bad weather directly from the shore; all they need to do is lower their nets and reap the abundance of the Adriatic. Through the years they’ve developed into a full-fledged tourist attraction, with four of them dotting Fossacesia and Rocca San Giovanni’s shared Golfo di Venere. Punta Cavalluccio, Punta Punciosa, Pesce Palombo and Punta Rocciosa (part of the Supporter Deluxe Hotel) serve fantastic seafood at lunch and dinner, generally with a fixed menu and prices, and in terms of quantity and quality, they will not disappoint! The best time to go is on warm summer evenings, at the sweetest hour, when the sea takes on pink and purple tones and day transforms into romantic evening.
Other Places to Visit in the Immediate Vicinity
Fossacesia was an important stronghold during the second world war and was in fact heavily damaged. There is a famous photo of General Montgomery standing amidst the rubble of San Donato church just after the allied forces crossed Gustav Line. A British war cemetery is located just across the River Sangro in Torino di Sangro. It is a lovely, peaceful resting place for those who gave their lives for a greater cause, and well worth a visit, combined, perhaps, with a hike in the Lecceta Nature Reserve, a holm oak forest with trails throughout for nature lovers.
Fossacesia Marina & Trabocchi Coastline by Steve Barber
Read Pia’s blog about moving from the US and her life in Fossacesia – Beyond the Horizon. Thanks to the LifeInAbruzzo Facebook Group for use of images!
Try Pia’s recipe for Cozze (Mussel) Balls