Close your eyes and imagine a castle, open them and discover that your vision is identical to Rocca Calascio in the province of L'Aquila: the mother of all manors in the world. If you have not seen and "experienced" it at least once in your life, you cannot say you know Abruzzo. Even the prestigious international magazine National Geographic got excited, placing it among the top ten most beautiful fortresses in the world while the film industry named the whole area a "set par excellence" (dozens of films have been shot there, including the wonderful fantasy Ladyhawke starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauer and Matthew Broderick).
You are in Calascio, in the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park and among one of the Authentic Villages of Italy, which pops up about 1,200 metres above sea level in the southern part of Gran Sasso, below the Campo Imperatore plain.
It is a tiny town of just over a hundred inhabitants, with the settlement of early medieval origin, where stone houses and towers face each other in a network of narrow streets and elegant little squares, bearing witness to a rich past thanks to the Carfagna wool trade. Dominating it are the imposing remains of the fortress, set at about 1,500 meters, suspended in an enchanted time that does not go back and does not go forward, with its four cylindrical towers with Ghibelline battlements, weathered but still mighty and exciting.
To reach the fortress, which can be visited free of charge every day, you have to scarp 20 minutes (two shuttles are available in summer and on holidays), on the small road, which connects it to the village where we recommend you park your car.
The undertaking is not easy considering the many visitors who, especially on weekends, do not give up a selfie at the first glimmers of sunset when the lonely fortress, founded around the year 1000, absorbs all the gold of the sun, falling behind the horizon.
If you climb to the highest vantage point, the keep - open year-round barring adverse weather conditions - you get lost with your imaginary horse between the Tirino Valley and the Navelli Plain.The castellans used to control it by communicating with other forts all the way to the Adriatic coast, with the help of flashlights at night and mirrors during daylight hours.
A strategic role, enhanced around the second half of the 15th century when Rocca Calascio, long linked to the Baronia of Carapelle, came under the rule of the Piccolomini, who gave it the form that you can see today.
In 1703, after an earthquake damaged it irreparably, the fortress was almost completely abandoned and most of the population moved to Calascio below.
Below the castle, you can also admire the octagonal church of Santa Maria della Pietà built in 1451, a delightful little temple erected between the 16th and 17th centuries on the path leading to Santo Stefano di Sessanio in a location of extraordinary scenic beauty.
In Calascio, don't miss a visit to the 1645 church of Sant'Antonio Abate, which preserves "The Temptations of St. Anthony in the Desert", by Teofilo Patini. The others - San Nicola di Bari and Santa Maria delle Grazie - are uninhabitable due to the earthquake.
Lentil soup with fried bread, volarelle (pasta squares), local lamb, pecorino cheese and cured meats await you at the gate: the same dishes that, with some differences, used to eat feudal lords and nobles.