Tuesday, 4 December 2012

SABINA TRAVELOGUE Part 5 - March 24 - Rocca Sinibalda

March 24 - Oggi, siamo andati a Rocca Sinabalda!

The Castle of Rocca Sinibalda circa 1940 by kind permission of Alvaro de Alvariis from his website Roma Ieri Roma Oggi

Old Friend's, new friends: A day of new discoveries in the Sabina.
Three years ago when Richard and I were in Rome we were invited to the home of a delightful Irish woman, Trish, who works for F.A.O. with our friend Steve. She lives just a stone's throw from San Giovanni in Laterano in an amazing multi-roomed apartment. Trish is a true gem of a person whose warm hospitality we will never forget.

We were wined and dined. It was an amazing fun-filled blur of an evening... a great send off... One of the wonderful surprises of the evening was meeting Norm and Aldo. Norm, who is English, heads a large language school in Rome, while Aldo who is Italian, works for the post office. By happy circumstance, Norm and Aldo were heading to Vancouver shortly after our return, so we exchanged numbers. While they were here we had them over for dinner and I toured Aldo around Vancouver while Norm was busy with his convention. It was a wonderful visit for us, first of all because Aldo and Norm are great guys and good company, but also because in a way a bit of Italy followed us home to Vancouver.

Today, after three years, we finally met again in the Sabina. We made arrangements to meet for lunch in in a castle town named Rocca Sinabalda. 

This town is quite isolated in a beautful valley, south of the city of Rieti, the capital of Rieti province. I first learned about Rocca Sinabalda from a link to an online vintage postcard sales site that our friend Clelia Angelelli sent me. She was primarily interested in old post cards of Casperia, but I searched the site one evening and downloaded about 50 images from the site. One card that totally blew me away was of the castle of Rocca Sinabalda. Era un'immagine mozzafiato as they say here. I made a mental note to add Rocca Sinabalda to the list of places I hoped we would visit here, so when I heard that we were to meet Norm and Aldo there for lunch at a restaurant called La Fontana at 12:30, I was very excited.

We set out early from Casperia... We had talked to Norm and Aldo on the phone earlier and knew that Rocca Sinabaldi was just south of Rieti. I knew if we could reach the S44, the Via Salaria, that it would be just a matter of looking for the signs as we approached Rieti. 

But instead of heading south out of Casperia, on a whim we followed the signs for Rieti that point left out of Casperia and headed north... Okay, this would be what we would call an adventure day, but I was concerned as the road wound higher and higher and got narrower as we passed Cottanello

Cottanello courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
The scenery was indeed mozzafiato. We have a plan to visit the town of Cottanello, with its famous hermitage of San Cataldo, and the ruins of the nearby Roman villa on another trip, so it was great to get a sneak peek as we flew by Cottanello. This stunning Sabine town is perhaps most famous though as the source of much of Bernini's carving material, the red Cottanello marble.
Four Cottannello pillars sculpted by Bernini in San Andrea al Quirinale Church in Rome
Cottanello stone has been used by local carvers since the 1st Century BC. Several artifacts carved in Cottanello stone have been unearthed in the region, including this stunning 2nd to 3rd century AD labrum recently sold for $266,500.00

The road continued to wind up and up. We climbed so high that we even saw some snow by the roadside. The only saving grace of this route was that there were few cars on the road. I get nervous when people in a hurry follow too close... Anyway, we finally crested the hill between Monte Macchione and Cimamacchia, and descended into the beautiful Valle di Rieti, Saint Francis' Sacred Valley, driving through the picturesque little town of Contigliano enroute. 

Contigliano from Comune website
Rieti Valley courtesy of escapisttraveller.com
If we had had the time I would have liked to have visited the tiny hilltown of Greccio just to the north. 

On Christmas Eve of 1223, St. Francis of Assisi organized a reenactment of the Nativity in a cave there, thus establishing the tradition of the Presepio or Nativity Scene

The cave (see left) where the reenactment took place is now a chapel and Greccio is one of a number of towns in the Rieti Valley on the St. Francis pilgramige route that links to Umbria and Assisi.

We turned south though, heading towards Rieti, the provincial capital. I figured that as soon as we got close to Rieti we would find the Via Salaria and see signs pointing the way to Rocca Sinibalda. As we got closer to Rieti there were indeed many forks in the road with many blue signs pointing the route to various nearby towns and villages... The problem for me was that there were often more than fifteen place names jumbled all together, and with this set up, it was very hard to read the signs and to pay attention to the road at the same time. We took a wrong turn and ended up heading into the centre of town... Something I had not planned to do.

The good thing was that we had some time. We parked the car by one of Rieti's city gates and headed toward the centro storico.

Gate into Rieti's Centro Storico
Rieti had not been on my list of places to visit this time around, so unfortunately neither of us really knew what there was to see in the ancient Sabine city

Beyond the crenellations of Rieti's amazingly intact medieval stone walls the romanesque campanile of a number of churches beckoned. We walked through the closest gate and wandered around the town taking pictures, all the while trying to find a store that would sell us a road map of the Sabina. 

 We ducked inside the Chiesa Sant'Agostino. There were some amazing old frescoes inside and a beautiful rose window. I wish I had had a better camera.

Rose window of Chiesa di San Agostino
The Rose Window

The Blessed Virgin and St. George

We went back outside and wandered some more. There was a small farmer's market going in one of the piazzas. All sorts of amazing local products, fresh and aged cheeses, salami, prosciutto, honey and fresh produce was being sold. 

We bought a bunch of wild asparagus (something Richard has been looking for obsessively ever since we heard from Alessandra that it was wild asparagus season in Sabina) and some beautiful striped zucchini...

We wandered some more, and eventually found a store that sold a proper road map of the Sabina, then headed back outside the stone walls to the car. We will have to come back to Rieti for another visit.

On the road south, we stopped to ask directions once or twice, but I took wrong turns several times. I had us stuck on a road that paralleled the Via Salaria and hoped we would eventually join up with it, but that did not happen.

We pulled into a gas station to read the map and ask directions again, but as I was looking at the map I chanced to see a road sign across the street pointing to Rocca Sinabalda. Relieved, we got back in the car and travelled the relatively curveless and smoothe Route 31 all the way to our destination. You really have to be here to fully appreciate just how amazing the views are here. Compared to other valleys in the Sabina, Rocca Sinibalda is quite isolated from other hill towns. It truly dominates its valley from atop the cliff it perches on, and it is not just a walled town, it has a castle... 

Rocca Sinibalda courtesy of icastelli.it by Luca Bellincioni
We pulled up into the piazza and parked about 10 metres from the restaurant. 

 There we were greeted by our friend Norm and his friend Anne, a long term Roman resident from Ireland who worked for a long time for F.A.O. Aldo joined us and we sat down to an amazing lunch... This started off with an antipasti plate, various salumi, prosciuto, etc, pickled eggplant, carcioffi (artichoke), chunks of parmiggiano and dollops of fluffy white ricotta. This was followed by a plate of bruschette drizzled with D.O.P. Sabina extra virgin olive oil... Delicious!

At this time were joined by two more of Aldo and Norm's friends: Alice Baker, a retired mezzo-soprano opera singer who was born in Detroit of Canadian and British parents, and her Italian husband Paolo Crucil. Paolo is a forester by trade, but he is also an accomplished artist. Alice has travelled all over the world singing opera, including Vancouver, and by the sounds of it may have done a rehearsal at the Russian Hall a block away from where we live in Strathcona.

Our fabulous lunch continued. Next came some delicious stewed ceci, then came our mains. Most of us had two types of pasta. I had ravioli stuffed with nuts and cheese in a herbed butter sauce and some broad flat noodles called Sane with a tomato and basil sauce. Richard had the ravioli, but had Fettuccine with ragu' instead of the Sane. Richard and Norm and I shared a delicious crema Catalana, sort of like a fluffy, lighter creme brûlée for dessert. We then took a walk around the town and took a lot of pictures. 

Aldo, Ann, Norman, Alice, Paolo and little Suzy.

What a view!

L. to R. Ann, Aldo, Norman, me, Alice and Paolo enjoy la bella veduta!
Unfortunately, the rain that had been threatening to pour all day began to splash down in earnest. We got back into our cars and followed Norm and Aldo to their weekend house that overlooks the man made Lago del Turano. This was a bit of a scary drive. The road was very curvy and the rain made visibility difficult at times. If the car went off the road, it was a 50 metre drop to the bottom. I concentrated on enjoying the scenery. We passed by an incredible medieval town called Posticiolla 

Posticiolla from Google Maps
and crossed a huge dam built by Mussolini in 1939. Apparently it was the unsuccessful target of allied bombings during WWII.

There was only one lane across. The drop to one side of the dam made me feel dizzy. I wasn't so much concerned about going off the edge of the dam... there were ample walls on both sides of the road. Rather, I was afraid that I would get part way across and have to back up to let someone pass. We made it safely across, but then, just as we were arriving at Valle Verde and Norman and Aldo's cottage we had to drive up one of the steepest parts of the road. I stalled the car on what seemed to be a 45 degree incline. I was more embarrassed and angry than scared... Anyway, after much grinding of gears, we finally made it up to where Norm and Aldo's weekend getaway home perched above Lago del Turano

Even with the overcast sky the view from their house of the lake and the lakeside towns of Colle di Tora and Castel di Tora in the Valle del Turano was mozzafiato (breathtaking). 

Panorama of Colle di Tora taken on a brighter day via Wikipedia
To the northeast, perched ridiculously higher up the mountain, was another picturesque hill village called Stipes. Apparently they have a truffle festival. In fact, the entire route we took today south of Rieti through Rocca Sinibalda to the Valle del Turano is called the Strada del Tartufo e della Castagna, the Truffle and Chestnut Road. I love truffles and chestnuts so perhaps we will have to plan another visit for when they have their local Sagra.

Norm and Aldo's weekend cottage truly is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of life in Rome. We had some coffee and a chat, and would have loved to stay longer, but it was getting late. I was nervous of driving back to Casperia in the rain. Things worked out well, though. Norm and Aldo were heading back to Roma and escorted us through the winding roads by PoggioMoiano and then left us at the Via Salaria at Osteria Nuova where we followed a sign that said Poggio Mirteto... but somehow we got lost around Frasso Sabino

We eventually found the road to Castelnuovo di Farfa via the wonderful sleepy little town of Monte Santa Maria. Just outside of Castel Nuova di Farfa we went through one of the largest olive orchards we had seen so far. 

Monte Soratte courtesy of Paolo Pitoni
The red disk of the setting sun hung like a shining medal over Monte Sorrate. I was finally in an area I was comfortable driving in, even if it was getting dark. We drove up and over the last hill before Casperia through the winding streets of Cantalupo, passed Monte Fiolo and drove into town exhausted, but happy. We had made it safely home from another adventure. 

We staggered up the hill carrying our shopping and a five litre bottle of white Italian wine, and other tasty souvenirs Norm and Aldo gave us. 

 When we arrived home we had a Negroni. : )

Tonight Richard made risotto with porcini stock, while I sautéed the zucchini with prosciutto, and boiled the wild asparagus. 

As we were about to sit down to eat, we received a video Skype from our neighbors Drew and Sophie and their two kids Ella and Max who are spending over a month in Botswana where Sophie, who is an emergency room doctor, is volunteering working with patients with AIDS/HIV. The connection was not great, but it was wonderful to see them all. The kids seemed as delighted to see us as we were to see them.

Wow, what a long post... Tonight, Italy changes to Daylight Savings Time, so this will be the second time we "spring forward" this year.

Tomorrow we go to Roccantica for the Sagra del Fritello (cauliflower fritter festival). There will be all sorts of food stalls with local Sabina delicacies. This will be another fun filled day in the Sabina. Alla prossima!

No comments:

Post a Comment