Five ways to enjoy an Abruzzo hidden gem, Ortona

Often overlooked in favour of the better-know Pescara and L’Aquila, Ortona is an understated hidden gem and one of the best towns to visit in Abruzzo. While the main draw of the area is without a doubt the spectacular views of the sea and the mountains, Ortona has a few fascinating attractions which makes it a place rich in history. Just half an hour away is the stunning Majella National Park, while there are also several Blue Flag beaches nearby. Here are five ways to enjoy Ortona, located near much of our Abruzzo accommodation, should you wish to explore the town.

A trabocchi in Ortona near our Essential Italy Abruzzo accommodation

See the remains of Thomas the Apostle

With a pilgrim trail leading from Rome to Ortona, the town attracts some religious tourists due to it being the site of the remains of Thomas the Apostle. Although he travelled to India to preach the Gospel, somehow some of the bones of Thomas the Apostle have ended up in Abruzzo, and have been kept under Ortona’s basilica since 1258. Unfortunately, much of the basilica was destroyed during World War II, meaning that much of it has been reconstructed. It is, however, still an interesting place to visit, packed with small but fascinating details, and in the crypt below the church you can see the golden coffin which contains the holy relics.

Climb the Spanish castle

Built by the Spanish king Alfonso d’Aragona during a period of rivalry with the Republic of Venice in the 15th century, the remains of the Spanish Castle (Castello Aragonese) stands below the harbour of Ortona. Although it was damaged greatly during WWII, new life is still being breathed into the remains of the old castle, as it regularly also operates as an open-air theatre and music venue. You can even climb to the top, where you’ll be greeted with incredible views of the coast and the dazzling blue seas.

Enjoy a stroll along the promenade

Like many other coastal towns in southern Italy, Ortona prides itself on having a pretty promenade, offering magnificent views out to sea. As you enjoy a gentle stroll along the coastline, you’ll find pretty piazzas, well-kept gardens and plenty of cafes.

See the fishing machines at work

The coast located south of Ortona is often referred to as the Costa dei Trabocchi due to the ancient trabocchi fishing machines which are still used there to this day. Some of these are still used for their traditional purpose of catching fish, while others have been transformed into restaurants and hotels. Along this stretch of coastline you will also be able to see a number of other interesting landmarks such as the striped lighthouse, the harbour’s St Thomas monuments and the many watchtowers.

Shop until you drop

Though much of the centre of Ortona is modern and much like other towns, there are still a number of interesting shops, museums and galleries to discover. The locals love to gather on the café terraces, while you can also get a better glimpse of life in Ortona at the museums dedicated to music and war and the curiosity shops which stock items ranging from sweets and liqueurs to mirrors.

Image: Enrico Pighetti, Ra Boe, available under Creative Commons