Our superb 24-hour guide to Serramonacesca is written by two locals, Jacqui Mathews Price and Cece Camara, who run Kokopelli Camping and the Casa Olivia farmhouse rental and who have lived in the town for over a decade.
1. Serramonacesca in 5 Words!
5 words! Then you get to choose from 4 options! The many treasures of Abruzzo or Serramonacesca – The soul of Abruzzo or Serramonacesca – small town with a big heart or just – More than 24 hours needed! “The Land of the Monks” is the translation of Serramonacesca.
2. What to Visit in Serramonacesca, Churches, Museums, Galleries?
Serramonacesca is rich in history!
The Abbey of San Liberatore of the Maiella: Serramonacesca is famous in particular for the presence of one of the most beautiful medieval churches in Abruzzo, the Abbey of San Liberatore a Majella, built from the rare white stone of the northern slopes of the Maiella. It can safely be said that the Abbey certainly existed before the year 884 and enjoyed a very privileged position as the head of the assets and monasteries of Cassino in Abruzzo. The origins of the monastery link it to Charlemagne: a battle took place on the site of the monastery in the year 781 where the Frankish army was victorious over the Lombards. Charlemagne had a church built on the battle site and dedicated it to the Divine Liberator. On the wall of the apse of the central nave, there are a number of frescoes summarising the history and events of particular importance for the monastery. The Abbey was left abandoned until the 1960s, and then between 1967 to 1996, there were several restorations that returned the monastery to its ancient splendour.
The Castel Menardo: Located on the Ciumina hill, in a dominant position over the Alento Valley, the fortress was probably erected between the 12th and 14th centuries at the behest of Charlemagne, to defend the surrounding populations and the nearby Abbey of San Liberatore a Majella from Saracen raids. Sadly, only part of the mighty fortress remains but it is still possible to identify the two access portals to the castle and the defensive positions of the archers. The walk through the woods up to the castle takes about 25 minutes and, although mostly uphill, is relatively gentle. Halfway along the path, there’s a picnic area with wooden tables and benches and a freshwater fountain. From the walls of the fortress, the views across the Pescara valley to the sea are spectacular.
The Hermitage of Sant Onofrio: Built by Benedictine monks within the rock face and caves above Serramonacesca (around 725m asl), the hermitage was probably built between the 11th and 14th centuries, most likely as a place of spiritual retreat for the monks of the nearby Abbey of San Liberatore a Majella. Today, its structure consists of two floors: upstairs is the charming little church. Behind the altar, through two small doors, you enter the oldest part of the hermitage – a cave with tunnels, yet to be fully explored, containing the remains of burials. In a corner of the cave, there is a bed, called the Cradle of Sant’Onofrio, where even today the faithful lie down to heal from a stomach ache or persistent fever.
On June 12 of each year, at the first light of dawn, the local populations take the climb up to the hermitage of Sant’Onofrio for mass, followed by healing bathing in the adjacent fountain. The path, while not presenting particular difficulties, is all uphill and fairly steep in places. It is, however, a beautiful climb through an untamed wilderness.
The source of the Alento river, the Alento Gorge and the Polegra Tower: From the Abbey, you can take the enchanting excursion that combines the unspoiled and spectacular beauty of the waterfalls and plunge pools of the Alento river with the artistic aspect of the Abbey. The vegetation within the gorge is lush and rainforest-like and rich in all species suitable for wet and marshy areas, such as poplars, willows, ferns, hornbeam and many other varieties of hydrophilic plants. The biodiversity even continues from a wildlife point of view. It is not impossible, in fact, to come across roe deer, foxes, hedgehogs and porcupines, trout in the river or the rare yellow-bellied howling amphibian (bombina variegata).
Heading upstream, the path is dotted with bridges and small waterfalls and the only sound you hear is the continuous roar of the river waters. As you reach the end of the Gole dell’Alento, you have the option of continuing to the source of the river or taking the path to the left that meanders up through the woods towards the Torre di Polegra, strategically placed, together with the Castel Menardo, to defend the Abbey of San Liberatore a Majella. The views from the Torre make the climb well worth the effort.
Best Places to Get a View?
During the day, Castel Menardo gives you a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside and on a clear day you can see past Chieti all the way to the Adriatic sea (try to find your favourite town while there!!)
The Piana del Ginepro: for fresh air and spectacular views, as well as being a gateway to some epic hikes, the Piana del Ginepro, on the vast plane above Serramonacesca, is a must. You can drive up the winding pass to the picnic area and just while away the day here, enjoying the views amongst the tholos, wildflowers and herbs. Alternatively, you can leave the car and hike up to the higher peaks of the Maiella, or head across the plane to Lettomanopello and beyond. Sunset or sunrise, you won’t be disappointed. See Map
The back road to Manopello Scalo: at the crest of the first hill heading out of Serramonacesca in the direction of Manopello, take the right turn opposite Colle Serra and follow this road through the other territories of Serramoncesca, San Gennaro and Santo Ienno, heading towards Manoppello Scalo. The road follows the ridge giving fabulous 360 views of the high peaks of the Maiella and Gran Sasso, as well as down into the valleys and vineyards and across the mesmerising sculptured hillsides formed of the calanchi. A great place for birdwatching too, where you are likely to watch bee-eaters and buzzards alike.
4. Local Dishes to Try?
From the Ristorante Borgo Nuovo: their very own “anti pasti Borgo Nuovo” gives an amazing selection of hot and cold seasonal specialities of the area and region, including (but not limited too!) locally sources cheeses, hams and salami accompanied by homemade jams, pizze fritte drizzled with local mosto cotto and, of course, pallotte cacio e ova.
La Tua Fattoria: head to the local shepherding family for their award-winning pecorino cheeses and salami. Their ricotta is one of the best you will find in Abruzzo, but you will need to order in advance as it sells out fast. They also sell their own arrosticini (absolutely worth the trip for) but only in packs of 100, so get together with some friends if you can’t quite manage 100 on your own! See Map.
Parco Turistico Roccamontepiano: Just outside Serramonacesca, but a great place to visit in the winter when “Coniglio sotto lu cop” is on the menu! A traditional, warming peasant dish of rabbit and potatoes cooked on the hearth of their big open fire.
5. Great Walks & Cycle Rides in and Around Serramonacesca?
Our favourite place to take visitors is for a gentle ramble along the Alento river just below the San Liberatore Abbey. There you will find ancient tombs, waterfalls and plunge pools to cool off on a hot summer day.
Serramonacesca is a great gateway for many hikes and rides into and around the Maiella, the choices are many and featured in a number of different sources: The official map of the Maiella National Park: the D1, D2 and D3 hiking trails all cross the
the territory of Serramonacesca.
The Cammino di Celestino: Serramonacesca is at the end of the Cammino di Celestino, a long-distance, a multi-day hike that starts in Sulmona and follows all the hermitages of the Maiella. Cicerone Guide to Walking in Abruzzo (Stuart Haines): you can find the fabulous, half-day circular hike detailed on Walk 10 (page 78) “The Alento valley above Serramonacesca”.
Wikiloc: there are a number of hiking suggestions, along with gps info, on this popular hiking app. Of particular interest are those added by Kokopelli Camping, giving detailed itineraries for anything from a short woodland walk to half-day excursions: Explore the trails from Kokopelli Camping Retreat on Wikiloc.
For mountain bikers, the most popular trails start from the picnic area of the Piana del Ginepro. Alternatively, take the road up to Passo Lanciano (1200m asl) and then pick up the D1 and enjoy the long downhill run all the way back to Serramonacesca!
6. Where to have an aperitivo (quality and for great views or atmosphere?)
Tricky one, as Serra isn’t exactly the place to go to for aperitivi, unless you like microwaved pizza from the Bar dello Sport, or fancy picking up some porchetta from the piazza and taking it to one of the bars on a Friday night! Actually, for the authentic experience that’s not a bad thing to do! You can also get a pizza from the Pizza Van on a Tuesday night (the pizze are actually superb!) and take that to one of the bars.
7. Recommendation of a Local vineyard to Visit or go for a Tasting
Tenuta Arabona is our nearby and often visited organic vineyard in Manoppello. We always have a few bottles in the house from them! You can even refill that 5-gallon bottle you have been saving while there, at bargain basement prices! Also in Serramonacesca, we have La Tua Fattoria – where the local shepherd, Ennio, makes and sells his fresh and aged cheese from his farm’s sheep and goats. Local olive oil and honey can be found at the farm Colle Rosa.
8. Which Budget or High-End Restaurants Would you Recommend in Serramonacesca?
For a special night out at totally reasonable prices – Brancaleone in Roccamontepiano is usually at the top of our list (Rocca is the next town over from Serra). It is just a beautiful restaurant with wonderful food, chef-owner on site…and it is always a treat! There are, of course, so many amazing restaurants in Abruzzo, from budget up to Michelin-rated, all-natural and organic, so you must just strive to try them all!!
9. What Sagre and Feste Would you Recommend in Serramonacesca?
June brings our largest Festa di Santo Antonio, and Halloween brings our Festa di L’Aneme de la Morte!
L’Aneme De Le Morte is a real fusion of pagan and Christian traditions and is held within the Centro Storico of the village on the nights of 31 October and 1 November. The streets and alleyways are lit by torches and candlelit pumpkins, and the cantine of the old houses are opened, decorated and become old taverns for artisan beers, wines, and sausages cooked on the open fire washed down with Vino Cotto. There is the pumpkin carving competition, street entertainers, stalls and a marquee for food (pumpkin-based, of course!). SEE THE PROGRAM
Festa dell Vino Cotto e Castagne, Roccamontepiano (5-6 November): the home of Vino Cotto of Abruzzo, where the wine is still cooked within the clay-covered copper vats, the festa is held in the Terranova area of Roccamontepiano.
10. The Best Things to do Locally for the Under 12s
The kids love the walk by the river and the whole family would love the fun and nature of camping out at the highly-rated Kokopelli Camping (bring your gear or use theirs)!