A few years ago, and quite by chance, I discovered the beauty and magic of Gran Sasso. Because of my interest in history, I decided to plan a trip to Campo Imperatore (“Emperor’s Field”), the great plateau located above Gran Sasso (Big Stone).
In Campo Imperatore, there is an old hotel where Mussolini was once held prisoner, before being rescued by the Germans. The surprise of the road trip was not the history of the hotel, but discovering an amazing landscape, which felt like suddenly finding myself on the moon!
The Gran Sasso range and Monti della Laga National Park is only 2 hours away from Rome, close to L’Aquila, the capital city of the beautiful Abruzzo region. After passing through the medieval town of Castel del Monte, you follow signs to Campo Imperatore (the highway is called Strada 17bis), and you will find your-self on an expansive plain, surrounded by grand mountains.
The location takes your breath away. All those mountains. Blue skies and white clouds. Wildflowers. In the distance, you can see sheep, cattle, and wild horses roaming. It is an experience like no other.
You are on the roof of Abruzzo – Little Tibet, they call it – 1,500 meters above sea level. It is stunning, yes! But that’s just the beginning. Before you arrive at that “Mussolini” hotel in Campo Imperatore, you should keep your eyes open for an American-style log cabin by the side of the road. There will be lots of cars and motorcycles parked outside, and you need to do the same. If you do, get ready for the most memorable lunch at the Ristoro Mucciante (www.ristoromucciante.com).
This place is a butcher shop in the middle of the plateau, where you would never expect something like that, offering the finest Abruzzo’s meat – arrosticini (thin lamb skewers), sausage, massive steaks and pork chops – along with wine, local sheep and goat cheese, homemade bread, and sweet ciambelline cookies to hungry travelers.
All you need to do is to go inside, buy your meat, and then take it to one of the many outdoor charcoal grills, or fornacelle. They are purpose-made for the arrosticini, and are exactly the right width to hold the skewer so it cooks perfectly.
Ristoro Mucciante has become an institution for mountain lovers, bike riders and families who decide to spend the whole day there, bringing tables, chairs and relaxing with excellent food and wine, surrounded by a breath-taking landscape.
But why is there a log cabin in the middle of this spectacular nowhere? Because in 1970, it was built as a set for the movie “They Call Me Trinity,” which was one of many spaghetti westerns that were filmed in and around the area at that time. Later, it was bought by the Mucciante family, who decided to open a roadside BBQ attraction that now draws tourists from all over Europe.
This place is now in my heart, for its simplicity and authenticity, for upholding the deepest Abruzzo culinary tradition of “arrosticini,”, and for the incredible landscape of the Campo Imperatore plateau.