How to get the most from a family holiday in and around Sulmona
It would be flippant to suggest that Abruzzo is the perfect destination for a family holiday simply because the Italians love kids. It’s true – they do – but in the absence of huge theme parks, burger restaurants & indoor play centres, how are you going to keep your little ones busy? There is (of course) lots to do but you need to know your way around a bit and be able to plan your days out.
Sulmona itself is a child-sized town. You can walk from one side to the other in about half an hour and it’s pretty much all flat – so that’s an added bonus if you have a buggy to push.
La Giostra Cavalleresca
Held on the last weekend of July and the first weekend of August, Sulmona’s jousting tournament is great fun and a massive spectacle. Each of the seven participating neighbourhoods of Sulmona is represented by a liveried rider who gallops around the track attempting to collect rings with his lance in the fastest possible time. It’s very exciting but there is quite a lot of preamble and the event can get repetitive for younger viewers. You can, however, leave your seats, have a wander around, and come back when it suits you. Make sure you choose one of the seating areas out of the sun and on the end of a row. Drinks & snacks are available to buy from the vendors in the stands. Prior to each event, there is a wonderful costume procession through the streets which is a spectacle for all ages. We’ve written about our beloved Giostra here and here.
This is, in effect, the kids’ Giostra and it’s usually held in early June. Sadly it doesn’t coincide with either UK half-term or Spring Break but those who live a little closer to Sulmona could make a weekend of it perhaps. The children parade in their wonderful period costumes through the streets towards the stadium where the ‘riders’ actually run around on foot collecting their rings.
Curiously Halloween is now quite a big thing in Sulmona. Children dress up as you would imagine but stick with a spooky or ghoulish theme – no Superheroes here! The shops all along the main Corso Ovidio have baskets of sweets for those who enter and demand ‘Dolcetto o Scherzetto’! One of the neighbourhoods, Sestiere Porta Filiamabili, usually holds a children’s event in their part of town – you’ll be able to see the entranceway just off the Corso Ovidio at the Via Roma / Via Mazzara crossroads near the Aqueduct. They have games & competitions and serve great pizza fritta too! In 2015, the neighbourhood of Porta Bonomini turned the ancient Palazzo Tabassi into a very realistic Haunted House. It was a fun evening…
January 6th is ‘Epiphany’ and it’s characterised by the visitation of the Befana on the evening before. La Befana is a benevolent witch who brings sweets for the good children and coal for the naughty ones. There is usually a big event in Piazza Garibaldi were one of the local firemen abseils down from the bell tower of the Rotonda into the piazza dressed as la Befana. It’s a fun, family event and if you queue up at the end you’ll get a stocking full of sweets!
Carnival is always held on its traditional day of the Tuesday at the beginning of Lent. At least 10 floats with different themes start at the Villa Comunale and travel right to the other end of town along Corso Ovidio before ending up in Piazza Garibaldi for the prize giving. There will be lots of silly string and ‘coriandoli’ paper confetti being thrown too.
Places to go
A kind of Donkey World just outside of Sulmona on the outskirts of Introdacqua. It’s a donkey sanctuary and agriturismo. You can go along to pet & ride the donkeys and they often have special events in the summer.
Via Piè Tassito – Introdacqua
The Pelino Confetti Factory
This is a short drive out of town on the road to Scanno. You can see the production rooms through a small viewing panel and upstairs there are various exhibits on the history of confetti production. It also opens at 3.00pm so it’s a good activity for straight after lunch when most other things are shut. Open every day except Sundays and national holidays. You can read more about the king of local sweets here.
Via Stazione Introdacqua, 55 – Sulmona
The Sulmona Costume museum
This is a couple of rooms on the first floor of the museum complex of the Annunziata on Corso Ovidio in the centre of Sulmona. On display are the traditional costumes of the various villages in the area and some exhibits and artefacts relating to shepherding. For a small child it’s a good half an hour’s worth and it’s free.
Piazza Santissima Annunziata, 6 – Sulmona
Gole di San Venanzo Nature Reserve
This local nature reserve near Raiano is a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors and there are marked walking routes suitable for children.
Things to do
Sulmona Cooking Class
We recently had some little ones participate in our cooking class and it was a huge success. The kids learnt how to roll out pasta dough, make meatballs and cookies too. We offer a discounted rate for junior participants so think about coming together as a family.
We have a walking quiz on our website which is just as much fun for kids, if not more so. The route starts at the Cathedral and follows a straight route up through town to Piazza Garibaldi. There are 9 visual clues to spot: it should take you about an hour with little ones, we think.
Most Italian kids attend summer camp at some stage during their super-long, 15-week summer holiday. There are a number of very good day camps in and around Sulmona if your kids speak a little Italian or are prepared to jump straight in. Our favourite camp close to Sulmona, at the Agriturismo called ‘La Tana della Volpe‘ (The Fox’s Den), also offers a ‘Nature Week’ residential option for both anglophone and Italian kids to mix together. You can check it out here.
The closest beach to Sulmona is in the centre of Pescara and can be reached in about 45 minutes. You may however prefer to go a bit further up or down the Adriatic coast in search of a slightly different experience. Many foreigners are a bit sniffy about the beach clubs called ‘Stabilimenti’ but they are really worth the money if you have little ones. You pay a fee for the day (some clubs allow you to arrive after lunch and pay a reduced fee) for a big umbrella and a couple of sun beds. The clubs all have changing rooms, loos, a bar, often some good lunchtime snack options and many have some play equipment for kids too. Expect to pay more for the first few rows closest to the water.
There is a very nice public pool, with a grassy surround and sun beds, at the Incoronata swimming pool on the SS17 on the edge of Sulmona. You can buy a day ticket or even a season pass if that suits you. There is also a lovely, private outdoor pools for guests at the Hotel Santacroce Meeting on Viale Repubblica – about a 5-minute drive outside of the city centre.
This small facility in nearby Corfinio (close to the motorway exit at Pratola Peligna) has pools, slides, a play ground, a beach volleyball court and a picnic area.
Note that you can also swim in the lake at Scanno but it is cooooooold.
Sagras and festivals
The local food festivals are always fun for all the family but generally they don’t get started until at least 8.00pm, if not later. Keep an eye out for posters in the surrounding villages. These three however are worthy of mention and feature afternoon entertainment.
The Palio degli Asini
Navelli’s sagra, held at the end of August each year, features food made from chick peas and saffron (surprisingly yummy) but it is better known for the afternoon’s donkey race called the ‘Palio degli Asini’. Navelli is just over half an hour by car from Sulmona. You can read more about the palio here
Di Che Gusto Sei
This is an ice cream & cake food festival held every year usually around the end of May / beginning of June at the Port of Pescara.
Sagra delle Ciliegie
Raiano’s cherry festival in early June has a fabulous procession through the streets on the Sunday afternoon and don’t forget to try some cherry gelato!
Places to play
Happylandia is the closest thing we have to a Northern European or American-style indoor play park. It has a ball pit, climbing structure, mini football goals, video games and a selection of toys. It’s open from 4.00pm every day but closes in the hotter summer months.
Via Provinciale Morronese, Sulmona
There are 2 play grounds in the centre of Sulmona but many of the outlying villages have some kind of provision too. In Sulmona the best playground is in the Parco Fluviale (Daolio) and can be accessed either from Via Papa Giovanni XXIII (opposite the elementary school La Dottrina Cristiana) or from Via Japasseri. The other play ground is at the end of Viale Togliatti in the new area of town.
Sulmona is wonderfully situated for easy access to the ski slopes. The nearest ski station to Sulmona is at Monte Pratello where you can hire skis and attend ski school. First time skiers can book just one lesson with an instructor (and many of them speak passable English) and there is a ‘tapis roulant’ beginners’ lift here too. A little further along brings you to the bigger ski area of Roccaraso where you will find something for all members of the family. Pescocostanzo has a play park in the snow for the little ones and there is a snow tubing run next to a nice restaurant at Coppa dell’Orso in Pizzalto.
Skating is available at the ‘Palaghiaccio’ in Roccaraso – about an hour away from Sulmona.
Day trips and further afield
The Zoo at Lanciano
Lanciano is about 75 minutes from Sulmona. The zoo has had some recent investment and has quite a lot to see including lions, elephants, camels etc.
Museo delle Genti d’Abruzzo in Pescara
This museum works hard to plan a programme of events and workshops that appeal to children but to date none of it has been in English. They do however provide quiz sheet type activities that are fun & easy to follow. It’s located right in the old part of Pescara so worth a visit anyhow.
Parco Aventura Majagreen
Swing though the trees on a zip wire! Great fun for children of 4 and up, on three different routes. Its not easy to find though!
Museo dell’Orso (Bear Museum)
This tiny museum has a stuffed bear and a number of other exhibits that are interesting to small children. Gagliano Aterno is about 40 minutes by car NW of Sulmona.
Centro Visita Pescasseroli
This little zoo has rescue animals from the national park such as bears, wolves and otters and has a little play ground too. Pescasseroli itself is lovely and a nice day trip from Sulmona. The roads are very windy however so not a good choice for children who get car sick. We know this from experience!
Where to stay
Some of the local hotels and B&B’s, such as Santacroce Guesthouse and La Locanda da Gino offer family rooms with beds for up to 4 family members sharing a room, or connecting rooms, or even complete, self-contained apartments with kitchen facilities; so there is a good variety of suitable accommodation for families here. What you won’t find is any kind of babysitting service but that’s OK because Italians take their kids out with them until very late at night. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a 4-year old fall asleep in a buggy in a restaurant so just go with the flow.
Check out our selection of recommended stays here.
You won’t find a children’s menu here but what you will find is a willingness to produce a small plate of simple pasta so don’t be afraid to ask. Be aware of meal times though as you won’t find non-stop service. You need to be sitting down for lunch no later than about 1.30pm and restaurants generally don’t open early in the evening.
The well-kept secret about Italian gelato
Italian gelato isn’t quite the same thing as our ice cream. It’s actually a far superior and much healthier product so it’s more than just a sweet treat for Italian kids – it’s a nutritious, daily essential for growing bambini.
Italian ‘gelato’ uses whole milk, little or no cream, egg yolks are rarely used and it usually has a fat content of between 5% and 7%. Encourage your kids to get creative with the fruity flavours or just give in and buy them a ‘Hello Kitty’ or something in Smurf-blue with sprinkles on top.
Italian children’s clothes are beautiful but the formal outfits can seem pricey to visitors. For something special, go to ‘B Store’ opposite the Aqueduct on Corso Ovidio. The proprietress is very nice and speaks a little English. For something a little more everyday, go to ‘Z Generation’ on the corner of Corso Ovidio with Via Roma. For cheap, emergency options, try ‘Oviesse’ just beyond Porta Napoli at the southern end of town or ‘Upim’ in the shopping centre called ‘Il Borgo’ as you head out of town towards the motorway.
There are a few toy stores in the centre of town. One is on Corso Ovidio at the Piazzetta Celestino V on the way up to Porta Napoli. There is also one at Piazzetta San Domenico opposite the theatre. The biggest toy store however is at ‘Il Borgo’ shopping centre – see above. For quick & cheap pocket money solutions, many of the ‘tabaccaio’ stores sell a variety of little packets each with a small gift or toy inside for a couple of euros. There are often also bigger themed bags of toys and activities plus crafts supplies such as pens and colouring books available here too.
There is only one set of public toilets in Sulmona on Viale Roosevelt next to the town park (Villa Comunale). Don’t worry however as most bars and restaurants (even if you are not a customer) will allow you to use the facilities if you have a small child in hand and you smile nicely! (…remember to always have pocket tissues and hand wipes with you though!)
We haven’t yet found a proper baby change station in Sulmona. If you have a portable change mat, be prepared to get down on the floor of a bathroom somewhere and just make do – sorry.
Not something done openly here in Sulmona but obviously mums must have to do it. Be discrete. Formula milk is available from most pharmacies but not necessarily from the supermarkets.
We hope you enjoy your family holiday here in Sulmona!