Casale San Nicola (TE) is one of those secret Abruzzesi villages that you stumble upon and then can’t wait to make a return visit. It’s a picturesque mountain village that should be on everybody’s Abruzzo ‘bucket list’, particularly for those that like an easy ramble, view some fantastic art and for those on a budget to eat extremely well! The A24 passes giddily over the top of the far end of the village as it comes out of the Gran Sasso tunnel which runs through the Corno Grande mountain. This means so many people simply motor over the village and are unaware of this little gem far below, but do take the Colledara A24 exit and have an excursion here!
We landed in Casale San Nicola an attempt to escape the heat and after reading about a fabled giant Sycamore or if you are from Northern America, Sycamore Maple tree a walk away from the village that is known as ‘Acerone’. It can fit 6 people inside its enormous girth and is 35 metres high, supposedly the largest of its type on the peninsula. We sadly didn’t get to meet the tree but am keeping my fingers crossed for the next time we visit!
The village dates back to medieval times when a Camaldoli monastery was built up here in the 11th century. It no longer exists but you can see what attracted these monks to build here, magical ancient beech forests, gurgling cool mountain streams and incredible mountain views. It’s a delight on the wildlife front too, there was an incredible array of diverse butterflies and moths dancing about, which are picked up on too in the al fresco art exhibition in the village. I would love to come back in the Spring to see its high meadow pastures in bloom as well as in the Autumn and see the mostly beech tree canopy in its golden retirement.
There are a choice of walks that follow working mule paths which are still trod by horses and mules today for logging purposes.
Take a left just before the bus stop of the village and drive down to a natural clearing that acts as a car park. From here you can walk under the most cooling canopy that crosses many mountain streams as they make their way down to mountain, both offer perfect temperatures to counter a hot summer’s day. We met some grandparents who had driven their battered old Fiat Panda all the way to the small little waterfall in the photo with their grandson to take a cooling dip. We marvelled at their 360 degree turn on a skinny mule track, however we recommend ditching the car even though the first 5 minutes of walking is shaded rather than under fall canopy!
Another walk is from the top of the village up to the hermitage of San Nicola a Corno that sits on high mountain meadow of Prati dei Fiore. Small and Romanesque in style it dates back to the C14th with some small remains from the monastery here still visible. It is at 1000 metres above sea level and Casale is at 860 metres above sea level so a small but manageable incline and 45 minute walk.
Do walk around the village and hunt out its open air 3d street art exhibition, they are wonderful. Created by 2 local artists whose name together are the tag ‘Malina’, some of the paintings are nod to classic vintage photographs and art of the region. They show off the village and aspects of Abruzzo without the history and character of the village and area being lost.
After any morning ramble or hike and literally walk round the houses art viewing it is time to eat. The small family run hotel, Albergo Ristorante Casale that has been going for more than 100 years, provided the perfect lunch and is super affordable with such friendly service and even accommodating our dog that we took along with us on the walk.
It is positioned next to the stream and small waterfall that runs through the centre of the village so you have a wonderful soothing and cooling background noise and temperature as you eat as the water carries on its journey down the mountain. For anyone who doesn’t speak Italian you’re covered. Locals and tourists are given a print out of the menu and you simply write in the numbers you want. It’s not an extensive or elaborate menu rather traditional favourites that are made well. Our antipasti of local meats and cheeses were all good, our primo was handmade chitarra with polpetti (Teramo’s finger nail sized meat balls) was delicious and at €5 per head who could complain. Grilled meats included their own lamb and were perfectly cooked for those who prefer rare rather than cremated meats. If you would rather just have a drink, this small hotel offers a bar with small covered outdoor space and a little mini market as there is no shop in the village. The decor may be a little dated but for those who love comfort, friendliness and affordable great food it’s really worth a stop!