Every morning, Marino Verì walks onto the trabocco built by his family generations ago and listens to the Adriatic Sea rumbling beneath him. A lot has changed since the stilted wooden structure was built: Marino’s family have gone from fisherfolk to successful restaurateurs. Even the landscape here, just south of Pescara, has transformed — an earthquake in 1627 destroyed the original coastline. But one thing remains constant: the Adriatic.
Further north, Italy’s Adriatic coast is one seemingly endless beach, but here, between Ortona and Vasto, it becomes a 24-mile crescent, where the crumbling cliffs splinter into rocks, the sea foaming around them. Along this stretch are what look, from afar, like spiders spinning webs. In fact, they’re former fishing platforms turned restaurants, jutting out over the deep water, attached to the land by rickety catwalks and with spindly wooden arms that drop nets into the deep.
These trabocchi have been part of the coastline since at least the 1700s, enabling the locals to fish the deep waters around the rocks without their boats coming a cropper. As for their origin, one theory is that after the earthquake, the Verì and Annechini clans — thought to be Jews fleeing persecution in Northern Europe — sought refuge on this abandoned coast. Not being expert sailors, their only way of reaching the fish was via these bridges in the air.
Today, Marino fishes part-time in winter, but during the summer, he can be found at his family’s trabocco, Sasso della Cajana. Today, like most other trabocchi along the coast, it’s a restaurant. Tourists cross the fairy-lit walkway to sit at tables gently rocked by the wind and the water beneath them to eat traditional food: octopus and potato salad, anchovies spiced with chilli flakes, and pasta heaped with whatever the nets pulled up that morning. Below, waves froth and seagulls perch on the lashed-together acacia branches from which nets dangle.
It wasn’t always like this. Most trabocchi were abandoned in the 1970s and ’80s, as fish populations declined and families couldn’t afford the upkeep. “If you had a trabocco, you were poor,” says Marino. Battered by the waves, some lost their catwalks and wooden arms. But in the early 2000s, a scheme funded trabocco-rebuilding projects, enabling people to reclaim their heritage. Most families took a bet on culinary tourism and turned them into restaurants — a virtuous circle, helping the fishing community as much as the families themselves. Marino’s mother and grandmother also got involved. “Before, trabocchi were men-only. The walkway was dangerous, and people said women brought bad luck,” he shrugs.
A five-minute walk from Marino’s restaurant is Trabocco Punta Tufano, where Rinaldo Verì (no relation) shows visitors how to sink nets into the water — two people guiding a wooden lever in a circle, like donkeys round a millstone, gradually unwinding the ropes that drop the nets. A mile south is the very different Trabocco Punta Torre. Here, custodian Claudio Ambrosini is keen to share the history of his 19th-century trabocco, which is open most weekends. “I want to keep the memory of the trabocchi, to highlight the beauty of the place,” he says, gazing out at the sea and its layers of colour: grey, eau de nil, jade, turquoise, royal blue. To do that, the former ExxonMobil salesman shows guests around, reads poetry and offers lunch, which might include local sourdough, tomatoes and olive oil. “The sea helped me rediscover simplicity, manners and love,” he says. “I wouldn’t give this up for anything.”
Published in the September 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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