Just soaking up the atmosphere is one of the greatest Italian experiences, and Sulmona is the best example of that…
Those looking for the authentic Italian strolling experience need look no further. The historical centre of Sulmona lends itself perfectly to this cultural phenomenon as it’s flat and there’s only one major route through the city from the Cathedral at the Northern end right up to Porta Napoli at the Southern end. La Passeggiata happens every evening from about 6.00pm until dinner time, and in the summer people are often also out after dinner until quite late. For Northern Europeans it might seem like a slightly pointless exercise. Where are these people going? Well the answer is nowhere in particular. This activity is known locally as ‘fare le vasche’ (doing laps) and they do really just walk up and down, again and again. It’s an opportunity to see and to be seen. You stroll along slowly and stop when you see someone you know, have a chat and then move on. It’s an opportunity to catch with friends and neighbours, to exchange news and gossip, to check out other people’s clothes and other people’s babies and for the youngsters it’s a valuable dating ritual too.
2Get an Ice cream at La Rotonda
There are many excellent gelateria in Sulmona but La Rotonda has a particularly strategic position. It sits at the top of the steps of the lateral door to the Church of San Francesco delle Scarpe and overlooks Corso Ovidio, the Aqueduct and Piazza Garibaldi. The ice cream is top-notch, often with a number of special ‘flavours of the day’ and you can sit on the steps of the church to enjoy your gelato.
3Have your photo taken by the statue of Ovid
Sulmona is well-known for being the birth place of the Roman poet Ovid. His statue dominates the centre of Piazza XX Settembre and it serves as a meeting place and local landmark. It also has a particularly dramatic backdrop including a number of ancient buildings and the imposing bell tower of the Annunziata complex.
4Sit on the steps of the Annunziata and surf the net
Sulmona has its own free wifi service available throughout the centre of the city. If you need to check your emails, or want to Skype with friends and family back home, you can pick up the signal very well from here. Make yourself comfortable with your tablet or laptop on the steps, or in one of the bars opposite, and enjoy the unique experience. Just follow the simple instructions to connect once you have identified the signal.
5Get off the main drag
Sulmona’s historical centre is shaped like a lozenge and is surrounded beyond the ancient walls by a ring road. This means that you can’t get lost! The ‘Cardo Maximus’ (principal north-south road) is called Corso Ovidio and it is intersected by numerous cross streets. Just take any of these side streets and wander around. You’ll find lots of interesting ancient buildings, tiny little squares, and quirky architectural features. Don’t forget to take your camera. This pic is of the old Porta Molina on Via Quatrario.
6Go to the Pelino Confetti Museum
A short walk from the city centre takes you to the factory of the famous Pelino Confetti and their museum. You can see examples of the old candy-making equipment, some of it going back over 200 years, plus numerous photos and memorabilia from a bygone era. Make sure you stop in the factory shop on the way out to buy some souvenir confetti candy to take home with you.
7Have a drink from the Fontana del Vecchio
This fountain, so called for the stone carving of the old man at the very top of the structure, used to be connected to the old 13th-century aqueduct – now defunct. The water comes directly down off the mountains and is clean, pure and particularly refreshing. The face itself may be a depiction of Solimo, the mythical founder of Sulmona, but no one knows for sure.
8Sit and relax in the Villa Comunale
Built at the turn of the last century, the Villa Comunale (city gardens) is a pleasant and tranquil urban open space much beloved by the Sulmonesi. In the summer the trees and fountains help to keep the area cool and it’s a popular place to walk dogs and to play cards. There are a couple of small rides for the little ones in the warmer months and you can also pick up the town’s free wifi signal here.
9Pop into a few churches
Each and every church in Sulmona is special in its own way but there are a few that stand out. The Cathedral of San Panfilo has a particularly impressive crypt and a small exhibition of relics of Pope Celestino V. The church of the Annunziata has unusual twin organs on either side of the main apse and The Church of Santa Maria della Tomba has a beautiful 15th century rose window above the main portal.
10Go to the market
Sulmona’s market is the largest in the area and is well frequented by locals and visitors alike. It’s held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings (excluding Giostra season) and is at its busiest between about 11.00am and 12.30pm. You’ll find the usual stalls of clothes and bags (often with some great bargains) plus furniture, bric-a-brac, household items and handicrafts. The real joys however are the fresh produce and local speciality products. Italian cooks only ever buy fruit and vegetables in season so when it’s ready there’ll be plenty of it, then a last minute glut and then its gone! You’ll find bananas of course but as a rule of thumb the produce is all local, some of it comes from less than a kilometer away, and at its furthest from Puglia or Sicily. Many stall holders will allow you to sample the produce before you buy so don’t be shy. Sulmona is famous for its red garlic, amongst other things, so this often makes a good gift or souvenir to take home.