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Automotive Traveler Magazine: 2011 04 Colors Flavors And Back Roads Of Abruzzo Page 2

My friend Leonardo has already put me on notice. "Please, Richard, don't refer to Abruzzo as the next Tuscany. While Tuscany has its charms, we who live here feel that Abruzzo has so much to offer, that to compare our region to our neighbor to the northwest really serves to sell the Abruzzo short."

This is my second visit to the region and, to a degree, I agree with Leonardo. Dating to its time as part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 19th century, Abruzzo is traditionally associated with Italy's less prosperous south. In the aftermath of the Second World War, however, the region has gained a degree of prosperity more associated with central Italy. After all, Rome is less than two hours away from the most western borders of the region.

Bordered by more than 100 miles of pristine Adriatic beaches to the east and the Apennine Mountains that form the spine of the Italian peninsula to its west, Abruzzo offers visitors dramatic geographic diversity. Its heavily forested land mass of 4,167 square miles is dominated by several national and regional parks: the Abruzzo National Park, the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, the Majella National Park, the Sirente Velino Regional Park, and the Lago di Barrea (Barrea Lake Wetlands).

With the geography lesson out of the way, it's time to return to the true reason for our visit, to scout out sports car-friendly two-lane roads, sample the region's varied cuisine, and follow Leonardo's lead in seeking out accommodations that would give us a true feel for the region's hospitality. It's a great advantage to have someone "on the ground." Leonardo knows of places that rarely show up in even the most comprehensive guidebooks.

Before leaving southern Abruzzo and starting our drive north up the coast--Leonardo in his Mercedes-Benz ML and Susan and I in the MiTo--we were the guests of Pino Mangifesta. He is the proprietor of Il Mulino di Roio just outside the hilltop hamlet of Roio del Sangro along Abruzzo's southern border shared with Molise. His restored water mill milled grains dating back to before Columbus discovered America. Sunday lunch here is an institution for the locals. On our Sunday afternoon visit, one such family was celebrating its patriarch's 70th birthday.

While we got comfortable, the kitchen served a traditional selection of cured meets and cheeses, all