Tocco, meaning 'touch', is an undiscovered sanctuary nestling between sandy beaches on the Adriatic coast and the majestic Apennine mountains of central Italy.
A road winds steeply through olive groves to bring you to the historic centre of Tocco da Casauria, an ancient town crowned with a castle dating back to the 12th century and the beautiful church of Saint Eustace. From Tocco there are stunning views in every direction: the gently curving Maiella National Park to the South West, the more rugged Gran Sasso National Park to the North West and the Pescara river valley running down to the sea to the East. On a sunny April day you can take a short drive to the local ski resort in the morning then pop down to the coast to swim in a warm sea in the afternoon.The air quality is a joy and the gentle scent it carries changes with the seasons.
You'll also find a town filled with warm, fun and friendly people who will go out of their way to help you. Whilst not many people speak fluent English, and some of the older population speak only dialect, the Italian passion for communication can surmount any language barriers.
In the centre, sometimes behind an unprepossessing door, you will find bars, cafes and restaurants from basic to gourmet; a bank with a cashpoint; a pharmacy; a post office; a florist; various mini-markets, bakeries, butcher, off-licence, pizzerias, greengrocers as well as the essential and really excellent gelateria (freshly made Italian ice cream). There's even a lively and welcoming Irish Pub.
Tuesday, market day, is a chance to buy local produce and all sorts of useful items. Do make sure you try the delicious olive oil, local wines and the famous Centerba Toro - a powerfully alcoholic herbal aperitif that you may prefer sprinkled lightly on fresh watermelon. By appointment booked through their website, you can visit the cellar of the Filomusi Guelfi wines made in Tocco, which includes a well-known Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
Whenever you visit you'll always find something going on - a saint's day or festival, street theatre, cooking demonstrations, rock festivals, olive oil or wine festivals and, in November, the olive harvest. These events are organised by the residents for the residents, they are not tourist spectacles, yet you will be welcomed as honoured guests if you join in. It would be hard to find a community with stronger bonds or a clearer sense of identity combined with an exceptional openness to newcomers.
A short walk from the town brings you straight into the mountains of the Maiella National Park. As if mountains and beaches aren't enough, you will find ravines, freshwater springs, rivers and lakes all on the doorstep and countless beautiful towns and monuments. The olive groves are carpeted with wild flowers as agricultural land quickly gives way to wilder terrain - yet the bustling city of Pescara (with an airport served by London Stanstead) is half an hour away to the East, and Rome just an hour and a half of breathtaking bus or car journey to the West.
Bina de Wilde, from personal experience.