Tuesday 20 November 2012

Il Sogno - How Our Love Affair With the Sabina all Began

Italy and the words “dream vacation” are inextricably linked for me. My first visit to Italy was in 1999. I fell in love with the country, the people, the food, the wine and culture. What’s not to love? Highlights from that trip included a day wandering through the Roman Forum, a visit to the Pantheon, and two unforgettable side trips: one to the Umbrian hilltop town of Orvieto, and the other to Byzantium’s outpost on the Adriatic, Ravenna, with all its dazzling mosaics.

Orvieto's famous Duomo
Ten years later, we wanted to experience a different side of Italy — something slower paced, more restorative — something with a base in the hills outside the city, but still close enough and connected to Rome for us to be able to hop on a bus or train and head there, or north to Orvieto, if we pleased. Through an online search of hilltop towns in Lazio, we came across a picture of Casperia

Casperia photo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
 There was just something about it that grabbed our attention and captured our imagination. The more pictures we saw and the more we read about the town we realized that “this is the place.”

Il Sogno Dining Room photo courtesy of Chris and Meg Phillips
At first we considered staying in a bed and breakfast, but we discovered the website for “Il Sogno” and opted for a house rental. We are sure glad we did. The photos on the website can only hint at the character and charm of Chris and Meg Phillips’ house. The moment we came through the door we were in love with the place. Chris and Meg have done a lovely and respectful job of rehabilitating and restoring their old house, saving original features wherever possible. Il Sogno is on two levels with the dining room, living room/library, kitchen and main bedroom (with fireplace) and main bathroom on the main floor. 

Il Sogno living room photo courtesy of Chris and Meg Phillips
The living room has a well stocked library with great books about travel and culture in the region. It suited our needs perfectly. Downstairs is another beautifully appointed bedroom and en suite bathroom. 

Downstairs bedroom, Il Sogno - Courtesy of Chris and Meg Phillips
We were staying during Easter long weekend and so there were lots of visitors from Rome and other parts but the town was generally peaceful and quiet. The people were very friendly. Some basic Italian and some smiles will take you a long way.  The whole place is exceedingly comfortable and the Sabina countryside setting was absolutely stunning.

For one glorious week in April 2009 Il Sogno was our home away from home. We spent most of our time just exploring the winding streets and alleyways of Casperia. 

Winding Casperia Street by Alessandra Finiti
Around every corner was a new adventure. We love cooking, so we used the kitchen a lot at Il Sogno. The little alimentari outside the walls had everything we needed, from fresh produce (don't touch the fruit!), delicious local campagnolo pecorino cheese, local prosciutto and other deli products, to a good selection of local wines, Prosecco, and even Grappa. 

Bounty from Casperia's Alimentari run by Massimo and Irene
Massimo, his wife Irene and the staff at the alimentari are great. There is also a butcher shop and wonderful little pasticceria at the gate that can make cakes to order as well. 

A culinary highlight of our stay was Easter lunch at the nearby agriturismo, Gusto Al Borgo just a short drive south of the town. The owners Franco and Paola were very welcoming. The meal Paola prepared for us was indimenticabile

Gusto al Borgo Easter Sunday by Richard Rooney
It was also my first introduction of the joys of Sabina D.O.P. Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

From Farfa Abbey to the winding streets of Roccantica to the Archeological Museum in Fara in Sabina, you’ll love exploring the back roads of the Sabine Hills. Orvieto and the delights of Umbria is little more than an hour’s drive away. We found that, in Casperia, every day trip departure had a promise of adventure that was always amply rewarded. But equally rewarding was our down time back at Il Sogno.

Just inside the city gate, situated on a picturesque little piazza with a beautiful view of the surrounding Sabine countryside is Friends Caffe'. 
Friends Caffe' photo courtesy of Stefano Aperio Bella
For us, Friends became the heart and soul of Casperia. The owner Stefano Aperia Bella is a wonderful host. Depending on the time of day or the season, it's a great place for a quiet drink or a lazy lunch, but the time this place truly shines is the evening. 

Friends Caffe' photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
This is where you’ll want to watch a sunset and toast your good fortune with a Negroni followed by delicious bruschette drizzled with Sabina D.O.P. and a plate of Stringozzi al Ragu'. We availed ourselves of that happy opportunity many a time as we dreamed of the day we would be coming back again.

Photo courtesy of Richard Rooney
We really wanted to see Italy off the beaten track. One of my favourite experiences from this visit was driving to the nearby hill towns of Roccantica, and Montàsola that were literally 15 minutes away in either direction, but so different in layout and character than Casperia.  

I loved the scenery around the little fortified town of Rocchette

Rocchette courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
The tiny church of Santa Maria in Vescovio in Torri in Sabina situated in the still largley unexcavated ruins of the Roman city Forum Novum had beautiful medieval frescoes, and an amazing restuarant called L'Oasi

Santa Maria in Vescovio with L'Oasi Ristorante to the left
By some sad fluke we missed the restaurant on our first trip, but will be reading about our visit in March 2012 in subsequent posts.

As mentioned above, The Friends Caffe' just inside the gate in Casperia was our favourite hangout. It was there that I first experienced and fell in love with the Italian cocktail called a Negroni. I had read about Negronis a lot in Felice Picano's novels and had always wanted to try them. 

They are one part gin, one part sweet red vermouth and one part Campari over ice with an orange slice. They are the colour of a Sabine sunset and has a wonderful bittersweet taste... one that summed up my entire holiday. Sweet to be in Italy again, and bitter to know I had to go home ... but I drink them after I got home in memory of a fabulous holiday that added 10 years to my life and in the anticipation of a trip back there sometime soon. And it worked... Three years later we were back in the Sabina. Salute!

Photo courtesy of Richard Rooney
This first post on La Mia Sabina is an adaptation of a piece I wrote for the Phillips to promote Il Sogno on the Slow Travel website.

Here are other reviews of Il Sogno:



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