Saturday, 1 December 2012

SABINA TRAVELOGUE Part 4 - March 23 - Farfa!

March 23
Farfa Abbey photo courtesy of
I woke up surprisingly okay this morning... Richard plans to avoid liqueurs and coffee after large dinners from now on... Ma, Ricardo, sia corragioso! We are so glad you are all enjoying the travelogue. In these 48 hour Sabine days a lot can happen, and if we don't write it down right away memories can be affected by the 48 course dinners!

This morning we woke up with one mission in mind... To make sure that the car we rented was safe to drive... We picked up a car from an agency on Via Po in Roma. We were heading out of town and all of a sudden there were lights flashing demanding we add or change the oil and take the car in for some type of tune-up. This was exceedingly disconcerting... I had visions of our gar engine bursting into flames on a deserted incline in the middle of nowhere (Vi chiedo scusa) and that does not make for a relaxed drive on a twisting narrow unfamiliar road in a foreign country, no matter how much you love it.

This morning we headed out, thinking we would first check the oil to see if we would be okay, but I wanted to take the car to the gas station across from the alimentari. We had to pick up some plug adapters for our new cell phones so we headed to the alimentari and explained our situation to Irene, one of the owners. She recommended we head down the road to the Ford dealership for more "certain" service, so we drove to the dealership, and we could not have been in better hands. 

Paolo, the manager, took us in hand and spent what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time on his cell with the dealership in Roma. He checked the oil and assured us that everything was okay... He told us that the signal had more to do with an annual service requirement that anything crucial... What a relief!

Again we were struck by how kind and friendly the people were in this part of Italy. Reassured that la nostra machina non esploder
mai we set out for Farfa via Roccantica and Poggio Mirteto... 

Roccantica courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
However, road work blocked off the way to Poggio Mirteto just before Poggio Catino, so we retraced our steps and headed west for a bit to try a different road...

We passed through Poggio Mirteto and then came across a town I had learned about through Giorgio Clementi's photos, Montopoli

Each one of these Sabinissimi hill towns each have their individual flavours... To assume that Casperia is like Cantalupo is like Toffia, etc., is a huge mistake. Each have different layouts and use different stones for their construction. Casperia for instance, is a town of stairs. Ci sono scale dappertutto! But Montopoli's streets and vicoli were paved with basalt cobbles that rise as a gentle slope instead of steps. I think Richard agrees with me that Montopoli was one of our favourite hill towns yet visited. 

There was a lot of public art around, and the main piazza with its waterless fountain was one of the most evocative we had seen so far. We had a great conversation with a nonno taking the sun in the piazza about the fountain and how his ancestors went all the way back to the Sabines whose wives and daughters were kidnapped by Romulus' ancient Romans. Here we were face to face with the proud Sabina legacy and identity. 

We walked through the gently winding streets of Montopoli, taking pictures as we went. 

There were no stairs here like in Casperia. Rather, the streets were all gently sloped

Eventually we made our way to the top of the town where there was a beautiful piazza with a breathtaking view of Farfa and a number of other hill towns. 

At the peak of the town is a 10th century watch tower, similar to the one we found in Casperia, but no where as tall as the landmark Lombard tower in Poggio Catino. Still, there is a great sense of history here.

We took our leave of the centro storico and headed toward Farfa, but we were hungry and needed to eat.

We stopped at a roadside pizzeria/ristorante called La Locanda...

...and although it was not La Locanda di Cle', we felt the name was close enough to the name of a dear friend Clelia's Facebook group that we stopped and had some really good Stringozzi all'Amatriciana

Refreshed and restored, we headed off toward the Abbey of Farfa

Farfa Abbey courtesy of

Farfa is a Benedictine Abbey that held sway over much of central Italy in the middle ages. It sits on the lower slopes of a hill in Fara in Sabina. When we arrived it was the siesta hour, so we headed off to a picnic area to rest. This is what I wrote there:

Mi dispiace, Richard, ma questa foto dimostra quanto veramente pacifico è Farfa.

Could there be a more beautiful place on earth? We are resting in a little picnic area above the Benedictine Abbey of Farfa in Fara in Sabina. From my viewpoint I can see the church and towers of the old stone abbey. The colour of the stones range through a complete vocabulary of sand tones, light greys, pinks and light browns. The tiles of the roofs of the venerable abbey have their own slightly darker but still muted spectrum.

The wind dances through the rustling branches of the umbrella pines, cypresses and olive trees that dot the grounds of abbey. A choir of birds chirrup, coo, and warble in the branches of the trees above us, including what I am sure must be a few cuckoos.


Several hill towns perch upon the crests of the hills across the valley. To the north east is Montopoli with its Lombard tower... That is where we had our stringozzi lunch. Behind the Carolingian bell tower of the abbey, I see Toffia which I recognize from the albums of pictures posted on Facebook posted by photographer Giorgio Clementi. 

Toffia, courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

Between Montopoli and Toffia are two other hill top towns. I don't know for sure, but they are most likely Salisano and Castelnuovo di Farfa with its olive oil museum. To my right, Richard sleeps on a bench. 

His intermittent gentle snores punctuate the bird song. The acrid fragrance of wood smoke from farm fires permeates the air. 

Montopoli seen in the distance from behind an ancient olive tree at Farfa Abbey

This is a rich, fertile valley. Olive trees climb the sage green slopes in ordered rows. Vineyards and vegetable farms spread here and there. Farm and roadside houses that line the winding country roads that link the chain of hilltop towns sport ochres, orange, cream yellows, light greens and sometimes even pink. The region is an artist's paradise.

Farfa Abbey courtesy of

After a tour of the abbey church and a visit to the apothecary shop where we bought a number of soaps, we headed home. 

Shops along the main road to Farfa Abbey. The highlight of our visit was the linen shop...

On the way we stopped to tour the hilltop town of Bocchignano. Bocchignano is a charming frazione or hamlet (component subdivision) of Montopoli. 

Canadians may not be too common in Bocchignano.

This cat seemed very curious to see us

The highlight of our visit was seeing a shepherd and his dogs expertly herding his large flock of sheep down the hill where they had been grazing back to the farm. The view reminded me of a pachinko game or pinball machine, but instead of steel balls flowing through the various set decline routes, it was bleating very wooley Sabine sheep.

We finally got back to Casperia around six. We dropped into the alimentari and bought bananas, some produce and black olives, and headed up the hill to Friends' Caffe' where we had a couple of Negronis and some of the most delicious bruschette ever. 

Here are three video segments from our time at Friends'. Listen for the church bells in the second video.

Over and over we have been reminded of the fact that it is often the most simple and honest food that is the most delicious.... Toasted homemade bread, drizzled with intensely fruity, grassy, peppery extra virgin olive oil can be the best food on the planet, especially if it is D.O.P. Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Sabina.

A Facebook post from our friend Alessandra
Dice il proverbio "La vita è fatta a scale, chi le scende e chi le sale". James le scende e le sale, tutti i giorni, più volte al giorno. Un applauso!

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