There are villages in Italy that look like remote hermitages, far from the frenzy and mass tourism: here the rhythms are slow and the lifestyle simple and frugal, with ancient traditions handed down through the centuries. Since 1 August 2020, some of these villages have been part of a community called "I Borghi del Respiro" ("Breathing Villages"): this alliance was created in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment with the aim of encouraging the development of more sustainable tourism that respects the environment, thus guaranteeing the liveability and vitality of the villages themselves. Behind this otherwise known as the "Patto del Respiro" (Breathing Pact) is a scientific committee made up of pulmonologists who monitor the quality of the air in these villages, in the same way as those ancient cures for tuberculosis that involved staying in places where the air was healthy and clean.
Today there are 15 "Borghi del Respiro" (Breathing Boroughs) where a great deal of effort has been put into initiatives such as banning smoking in public places, encouraging sustainable mobility and the use of natural areas and the creation of pedestrian islands.
The Villages of Breath in Abruzzo
Scanno, in the heart of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park, has been described by CNN as one of the most enchanting villages in Italy, whose views have fascinated many famous photographers including Mario Giacomelli, whose work 'Il Bambino di Scanno' is now on display in the MoMA museum in New York. The road to Scanno itself is spectacular, as it passes through beautiful landscapes such as the Sagittario Gorge and Lake Scanno.
Scanno's historic centre is a riot of wrought-iron balconies, external stairways called cemmause, elegant buildings such as the beautiful Palazzo Rienzo and goldsmiths' shops where you can buy the presentosa, a jewel with a heart that mothers-in-law used to give to future daughters-in-law. Scanno's landmarks include the Sarracco Fountain and the Wool Museum.
The village of Fontecchio lies in the heart of the Aterno Valley, a stone's throw from L'Aquila. The symbol of this picturesque village, which can be reached through four gates surrounded by greenery, is the Clock Tower with its curious clock on the façade consisting of only six hours. A few steps away is a staircase leading to a scenic belvedere alongside the Corvi Baronial Castle. There is also a beautiful 14th-century fountain and the 13th-century Convent of St Francis of Assisi, decorated with medieval frescoes of the Giotto school, including the one depicting Mary Magdalene in the cloister.
Photo by Giorgio Marcoaldi
Amatrice and Cascia
Today, nothing remains of Amatrice following the terrible earthquake that struck central Italy in 2016: the Lazio town stood in an enchanting position between the Monti della Laga and the Monti Sibillini and enjoyed an important historical and artistic heritage. Along Corso Umberto I stood the 13th century Civic Tower, still visible today, while the Church of Sant'Agostino, with its bell towers and splendid frescoes that adorned its interior, today shows only a surviving late-Gothic portal.
Amatrice was also once home to the 14th-century Church of San Francesco, enchanting with its 15th-century frescoes, and the Cola Filotesio Museum dedicated to the works of the artist of the same name.
The rebirth of Amatrice is still a long way off, but in the hamlet of Villa San Cipriano a Polo del Gusto has been created, a food area designed by the Boeri architecture studio that is the perfect place to taste the typical dishes of Amatrice, from curly gnocchi with cheese to spelt soup and the inimitable amatriciana.
In Umbria, in the splendid Valnerina and a stone's throw from the Tazzo Forest, lies another of the Borghi del Respiro, Cascia. The town on top of the hill of Sant'Agostino is identified with Santa Rita, the saint who lived between the 14th and 15th centuries and who won the love of thousands of believers who still today go on pilgrimages to her tomb in the Basilica di Santa Rita di Cascia. In addition to the Sanctuary, Cascia also has other churches of great value, such as the Church of Sant'Agostino, decorated with beautiful frescoes of the Umbrian school, and the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria, which houses a precious 15th-century crucifix.
Not far from the Sanctuary stands Palazzo Sanzi, recognisable by its grandiose ashlar portico and home to the Civic Museum, which houses paintings, archaeological finds from the 8th century BC and coats of arms of the nobility.