Tuesday 14 January 2014


Salisano Panorama courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
I have written in previous posts how Facebook has been an influence on our relationship with the Sabina. Though it was a random picture of Casperia found in an Internet search that first brought this amazing region to our attention, it was seeing pictures of nearby hill towns taken by photographers like Giorgio Clementi and Alessandra Finiti that were posted on Facebook that shaped our subsequent travel plans to the area. 

The Langobard Pentagonal Tower looms over Catino, courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
During our 2012 trip we got to visit Catino, Poggio Mirteto, Montopoli, and Bocchignano thanks to these photographic introductions. 

An archway in Montopoli
When we got back to Canada, I started to explore more of the Sabina online and made up a list. For our 2013 visit to the Sabina, there would be some repeats... We knew we had to visit the Abbey of Farfa to buy bed linens at the Laboratorio Artigiano Tessile there... And we knew we wanted to revisit Santa Maria in Vescovio in Torri in Sabina... The amazing lunch we had at L'Oasi the year before was impossible to forget.

Troffie con Salsa di Noce at L'Oasi Restaurant
But we had a new list of places we wanted to see... And that included the hilltowns of Salisano and Mompeo to the southeast of Casperia. 

So we hopped into our trusty "automatic" Audi rent-a-car, turned left out of the parking lot and followed the narrow road under Casperia's walls north and then east to the intersection with the highway where we turned south.

I love this particular road... Yes, I know, I say it about most of the roads we have travelled on in the Sabina, but I really do love this one... First you get to pass by Roccantica, which on most sunny days is truly stunning.

So many happy memories of our time spent at the Sagra del Fritello the year before... Built on a slope on the lower skirts of Monte Tancia, the zigzag stone streets through the town make you feel like you are walking through a movie set. And, apparently it was... Just recently I was trying to free up some space on my harddrive and was going through some Italian TV shows and movies I had downloaded when I clicked on an episode of a show called "La meglio gioventù". Imagine my surprise when I suddenly recognized Monte Soratte, and thenwhen they panned awayI saw the main piazza and gate of Roccantica. It is so great to have these surprise discoveries from the Sabina.

As we drove by Roccantica I noticed the sign for La Tacita Country Club. Apparently, the restaurant there, Triskelis, is absolutely amazing. Trip Advisor ranks La Tacita Number 4 of 24 attractions in the province of Rieti. But more than anything I would like to go there during the summer months when the roses are in bloom to see Vacunae Rosae, their international renowned rose garden. 

I have always loved roses... My home town, Victoria, British Columbia, is famous for its English-style gardens. There are roses everywhere. The heady perfume of an old fashioned hybrid tea always takes me back to my childhood. It is such a powerful primal thing. 

The small Vancouver East End lot of the house I used to live in had a garden with 70 different roses. La Tacita's Vacunae Rosae has 20,000 square metres with 7000 roses bushes and 5000 varieties. Lucky visitors must literally swoon from the scent!

Photo of La Tacita's Rose Garden, Vacunae Rosae, courtesy of Rosemania.it

It is ironic to think that way back, when I was planning my first trip to Italy in june of 1999 that one of the places I wanted to visit was this rose garden in Roccantica. Sadly, we only had two weeks, and there were so many other things I really wanted to see and discover during our visit to Rome, Ravenna and Pompeii. We came so close to visiting the Sabina and perhaps even discovering Casperia in 1999 because of Roccantica's roses. That had to wait ten long years. Sadly, every visit to Italy since then has been in the "off season" when the roses are not in bloom... Oh well, some day...   

Further south, the road swings by Poggio Catino and Catino's hauntingly beautiful landmark pentagonal Longobard tower. If the road is not too full of cars it is easy to park on the side of the highway and get some amazing pictures. 

It was this photo of Catino's tower looming out of the mist, taken by Giorgio Clementi and posted on one of the Sabina Facebook pages that really opened our eyes to just how amazing every turn of the road in this special region could be. Last year when, through Giorgio's invitation, Richard and I were able to visit Catino and actually touch the tower, was a truly magical experience. 

So when we drove by Catino we rolled down the window, waved, and shouted, "Ciao Giorgio!" Pazzi Canadese!

We continued southward, happy to be on a familiar road with so many memories, but anxious to discover a new one. The traffic increased as we wound our way closer to Poggio Mirteto. 

We followed the traffic travelling Via Matteotti, the road that skirts around behind the main town of the Sabina Tiberina. 

The main piazza of Poggia Mirteto fast approaches on the right. We are heading straight though...

We passed the entrance to Poggio Mirteto's beautiful piazza that we visited with Alessandra the day before and followed Via Roma southward to its juncture with the Strada Provinciale 46 where we turned east. But even this stretch of the road was familiar. We were deep in olive grove country. Some of the best olive oil in the Sabina comes from the trees around Bocchignano.

Bocchignano is truly one of the Sabina's jewels. As we passed by the town gate with its pretty turreted church I suddenly remembered a particular moment from our visit to the town last year. 

Photo of Bocchignano courtesy of Castelli di Bucciniano
We were on the village ramparts looking across a beautiful green valley. It was almost dusk and we could see a shepherd with his sheep dogs expertly herd a large flock of baaing sheep, down a steep slope toward what I assumed was a farmyard. 

You can't see or hear the sheep, but they were there...

As they coursed down the hillside zigzagging in their dozens, bells clanging, I was reminded of the way the steel balls of a pachinko machine travel down through the maze of troughs, barriers and moving bats to and make their way down to the bottom of the machine. The sheep and their bells were of course much more beautiful to the eyes and ears than those steel balls pinging and clanging in the Japanese machine, but the image I think is apt.

The road descended down into a beautful olive tree studded valley. To our right, as the curve of the road would allow us, we could see in the distance Montopoli resplendent on the crest of its hill. Somewhere down in the valley below us nestled below Fara in Sabina was Farfa Abbey... But beautiful Farfa would have to wait for a bit. 

As we followed SP 46 skirting the feet of Mount Tancia new vistas opened up to us. Up on a ridge to our left was a new hill town. Was it Salisano? 

Castel San Pietro seen in the distance from an olive grove - Courtesy of http://castelsanpietrorieti.altervista.org/

It looked too small. I asked Richard to pull out the map and check and see what it was called. It turned out to be a pretty little village called Castel San Pietro which, we found out later, was a frazione or outlying parish of Poggio Mirteto... a place to visit when we knew more about it and had more time with a car. 

Salisano and Mompeo both finally appeared across a valley on their respective peaks.

A light mizzle rain was falling when we drove up the winding road into Salisano. We parked our car just outside the gate of the Centro Storico and set out on a stroll.

Like most hill towns in the region, there was a small, but pretty central piazza with a beautiful monumental fountain... one that actually worked!

According to "Modalità e forme di organizzazione territoriale della valle del Farfa tra il IX e gli inizi del XIII secolo: il caso di Salisano (Rieti), in Temporis Signa, Spoleto 2009" a scholarly article co-authored by Federico Giletti and Donata Carrafelli and published in 2009, the first recorded mentions of Salisano appear in the documents of the Abbey of Farfa between the eighth and ninth centuries AD. These documents mention a "fundus Salisanus", the name of a parcel of land which belonged to the Abbey of Farfa corresponding roughly to the whole hill on which todays historic centre of Salisano stands. In addition to Salisano, the same sources mention other place names preserved to this day in the region such as Grassianus and Galonianus, corresponding to modern day Rasciano and Gallo.
It is very likely that
"fundus Salisanus" represents a preservation of a Roman place name from the classical era, probably derived from the name of a noble called Salisanus Salisius who likely was the owner of a rustic villa that was once located on the hill of Salisano.The first indication that there was a castellum or fortification on the hill comes from a document dated to 961.

You have read these words before from me, but I will write them again, each and every one of the Sabine hill towns has its own unique character. Each has their own unique feel, atmosphere, and layout, which is influenced by its environment, topography, the types of available building material, which also influences the dominant colour scheme. My initial impressions of Salisano were that it was much more refined, neat and tidy than Casperia or even Roccantica. It could be a difference in the type of stone available that determines all this, but it made me think of the original name of Casperia, which until the late 1940s was "Aspra", which translates from Italian as rough, rugged, harsh, etc. Salisano with its beautifully paved flat streets is none of that.

The gate of the castle town from the Salisano Commune Website
 So we went inside the old town and did some exploring.

The Chiese San Pietro e San Paolo
Just inside the centro storico is a beautiful golden stuccoed church, the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. From the piazza in front of the church the two main roads inside the town diverge and then reconnect on the other side of the town sort of forming a canoe shape.

Inside the city gates we found a notice board with some very sad news for Richard.  In January, during the Feast of the Epiphany, or La Befana, as it is sometimes called, there was a Sagra for Polenta in Salisano. Richard wept when he found out he had missed it... We both love Polenta, but Richard really loves Polenta. He is actually quite good at making it and would have been really interested to try Polenta in Salisano.

Don't cry Richard... There is always next year!
 Off the sides of the two main streets were side streets or vicoli, many covered with stone arches. 

We found this lovely little fountain. Some of the vicoli lead out to the circle road from where we could enjoy some beautiful views of the Sabine countryside. 

The streets in Salisano are paved in a much more finished style than those in Casperia... Because of the mist of rain on the cobbles the contrasting colours really popped. Again, there is a sense of refinement here.

I took a picture of this doorway, but this one by Giorgio Clementi is way better.

We turned around a corner and found a restaurant called Locanda del Gufetto which translates as the Owlet Inn. The Locanda del Gufetto is very highly rated on TripAdvisor. The funny thing was that there was a man standing in one of the doorways using a blowtorch to burn the feather stubs off a chicken which seemed destined for a soup pot or some other dish. I have a feeling that not a lot of foreign tourists come to Salisano so I didn't feel comfortable asking if it would be okay to take a picture... Then again, perhaps I should have...

Salisano is a very beautiful, but at least on the day we visited it, a very quiet town. It may be very different on a weekend or during the summer though. I would love to come and visit at some other time of the year and perhaps try a dish at the Locanda del Gufetto. For a virtual tour of the exterior and interior of the restaurant, click here.

Satisfied that we had had a good look at Salisano, we headed back to the car and headed down into the valley to find the road that would climb up to Mompeo.  

Antique postcard of Mompeo, date unknown
According to the Italian language version of Wikipedia, the territory of Mompeo in antiquity was certainly inhabited by Sabines connected with the city of Cures which was located near present day Corese Terra in the commune of Fara in Sabina. During Roman times there were a number of important villas in the vicinity. Today some water reservoirs, aqueducts, and baths are the few visible remains of these ancient rural country homes.

Gnaeus Pompeis at the Louvre. Photo by Leon Reed
Certain traditions claim that one of these villas was owned by the Roman Dictator Fabius Maximus (275-203 B.C.)  but this assumption is not supported by conclusive evidence. Much more certain is that another villa near Palombara was once owned by Gnaeus Pompeius, the elder son of Pompey the Great.

It is no wonder that upper class ancient Romans chose this part of the Sabina for their villas. Besides its proximity to Rome, its healthy climate, its fertile soil, the abundant water all spoke to them of another ancient Sabine city, the ancient Regillum, the supposed home of the Sabine Attius Clausus, also known as Appius Claudius Sabinus, the semi-legendary founder of the Gens Claudia, one of the most prominent patrician houses of ancient Rome. Tradition holds that ancient Regillum was located in the territory of Mompeo. The main street of the town was once called Corso Regillo. 

Old colour photograph of Viale Regillo and the asylum in Mompeo
Nowadays the south stretch of the ring road is known as Viale Reggilo while its northern half is called Via Appio Claudio.

Google Map of Mompeo
During the middle ages, Mompeo belonged to Farfa Abbey. Later on in the renaissance it was held by the Orsini family until 1559. After being held for a short while by the Marquis Caponi of Florence, Mompeo was ceded in the 1600s to a noble Roman family named Naro who held it until the early ninteenth century.  

Among the many interesting ancient Roman era artifacts found in the area are a number of funerary stone tower monuments and a Roman milestone 1.75 metres high and 2.10 metres in circumference. This milestone, discovered in 1956, was erected by the Emperor Augustus some time between 16 and 13 BC. The milestone is evidence of a paved Roman road that branched off the Via Salaria near Passo Corese and passed through the Valley of Farfa, passed Mompeo and climbed over the hills near Monte San Giovanni, then descended into the Rieti Valley to Rieti. Besides connecting the various villas in the area, this road is thought to have been principally used to transport salt to the various centres in the Sabina. 

The inscription on the milestone reads: IMP (erator) CAESAR DIVI F(ilius) AUGUSTUS COS(nsul) XI TRIBUN(iciae) POTEST(atis) VI EX S(enatus) C(onsulto) XXXV, which translated means: Emperor Caesar Augustus - son of the Divine (Julius Caesar) Year XI of the consulate Year VI of the Tribunician Power By decree of the Senate 35 (miles from Rome). 

For those of you who read Italian, here is a link to an account of the milestone's discovery by a farmer plowing his field. 

Of course, when Richard and I headed out on our drive, we really didn't know any of this. We just knew we were heading out on another adventure in the Sabina and were just happy to know we would be making wonderful new discoveries...

View of Mompeo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Though Mompeo is the next town over, it has an entirely different feel from that of Salisano. There is something weightier about Mompeo... a sense of sturdiness that pervades this town of 600 inhabitants. 

Salisano across the valley seen from Mompeo's ring road... Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

When we got to Mompeo the main piazza was cluttered with trucks and tables like a morning market was just being cleaned up... I did not take as many pictures as I did in Salisano. Here is one by Giorgio Clementi showing the rampway in front of the main gate.

Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Chiesa della Natività di Santa Maria Santissima courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Richard, with Salisano in thebackground
The main gate of Mompeo
A stemma or coat of arms of the Naro family over the main gate of Mompeo
The history of the Sabina is full of stories of the various local and Roman noble families, particularly the Colonna and the Orsini, who plotted, connived, manouevered, and fought in bloody Byzantine fashion for the control of the Sabina and other parts of Italy. You see the stemme or coats of arms of these noble families carved into the keystones of the main doors to a lot of the palazzi. I knew the stemma of the Orsini and that of the Colonna. But this coat of arms with its triple crescent moons carved on the keystone of the main gate into Mompeo was unfamiliar to me.

It turns out that this stemma belongs to the noble Naro family who in 1646 bought the Castle of Mompeo and rights to its adjoining lands for 39,000 scudi (crowns) from the Marquis Scipione Capponi. At Mompeo Naro was the promoter of major innovations in urban planning. He totally rebuilt the parish church, la Chiesa della Natività di Santa Maria Santissima and commissioned substantial alterations to the baronial palace, including frescoes by artists Vincenzo Manenti and Salvi Castellucci. 

It was past noon and we were getting hungry. Though Farfa was not too far off, the roads here wind and loop up and down and around the hills, and therefore distances and the time necessary to travel them can be deceiving, so we decided to get back in the car and head for Farfa for lunch at Da Lupi.   


Located in a quiet valley the Carolingian era Abbey of Farfa is truly a magical place. It is one of our favourite spots to visit. The Abbey church is beautiful. The Abbey gift shop, called L'Erboristeria, is an absolute must to see. Not only does it sell beautiful smelling soaps and lotions, herbal essences and cosmetics, biscotti, herbal teas and other products made in monasteries and convents all over Europe, it also sells a great selection of beers, liqueurs and grappas produced by happy monks and nuns in various religious communities as well.

The gate leading to the main entrance of the abbey church
But before anything, we wanted to go for lunch, and if you are in Farfa, you go to Trattoria da Lupi.

We have only gone to Da Lupi in the off season... The place is almost always more or less empty. I can imagine the place is hopping on the weekends and during the summer. I love how they promote the Sabina D.O.P. Olive Oil.

We ordered a nice bottle of Pecorino wine and some acqua frizzante...

...and pored over the menu.

I have a weakness for truffles. I was needing comfort food so I ordered something I have liked on previous visits, their Fettucine Tartufatte. It was exactly what I needed.

Richard loves his polenta as I mentioned above, and the proof of that is that he ordered polenta with a sausage and mushroom sauce. It came served on this wonderful wooden platter. Unfortunately the steam from the dish blurred he focus. Richard let me try some and it was delicious.

And who doesn't want a nice coffee and something sweet after a nice lunch? The little coffee shot glasses are from a company based in Rome called Moca, which besides coffee and coffee paraphernalia produces and sells things like tea, cocoa, sugar, rice, tapioca, bread and pastries... Their coffee is as delicious as their choice of logo is curious...

At the end of the meal our waiter, I believe he might be one of the proprietors, came by and presented us with a small tin of Sabina D.O.P. Olive Oil! Hooray!

By the time we finished our lunch the L'erboristeria and the linen shop were closed for the lunch time siesta. We were in no hurry. We waited outside the shop on a sunny terrace and made some friends with the local cats.

 Even on a grey overcast day the views from here are amazing. We could see the towns of Toffia and Castelnuovo di Farfa in the distance.


This old guy wanted attention but did not want to share the picture frame with me.

He wanted his solo shot.

 Quite a lot of cats came over for a visit and a pat. Not to be outdone, this older puppy came over for some attention. The cats and the dog seems to get along well together. The sun was coming out and our meal and the Pecorino made us feel sleepy... Then again, perhaps we were still not 100% jetlag free. Whatever it was, the peace and quiet of Farfa was so relaxing.


This old orange and white cat in particular was very happy to see Richard. He kept on coming back for pats. Here is a link to a YouTube Video of the encounter. 

There were of course other cats that demanded our attention, including this beautiful female Tabby.


But she had a friend...

...who wanted all of her attention and came to remind her...

With some extra time before the shops opened we wandered into the Abbey church...

Interior of Farfa  Abbey courtesy of Vagabondo.net
...just in time to hear the monks singing in an adjoining chapel one of my favourite Gregorian chants, Thomas Aquinas' hymn, "Adoro Te Devote". Here is a link to the YouTube video Richard took. It was truly another magic moment in the Sabina.

Three o'clock rolled around so we headed over to the L'Erboristeria and bought some soap, essential oils, and some Trappist Beer...

We then headed to one last store... and if you appreciate good bed linens, the Laboritorio Artigiano Tessile di Gustavo Scipioni is going to be your favourite place to shop in the whole world. 

This photo courtesy of the Laboratorio Artigiano Tessile website
This little shop that has been here in Farfa for three generations produces some of the most amazing bed sheets I have had the pleasure to sleep on. The ones we bought are 50% linen and 50% cotton, although they do sell 100% linen as well as 100 cotton. When you first lay down you think, this linen is going to be too rough to sleep on... then eight hours later you wake up from the best sleep you have ever had in your entire life.

We bought a number of hand towels for souvenirs and Richard splurged on a second set of 50/50 sheets. Our shopping mission accomplished, we went out to the small park adjacent to the monastery and sat on some picnic benches on a slope shaded by olive trees. It was cool, but not cold. Mourning doves were cooing, and other birds trilled and chirruped as we sat and soaked it all in... 

Farfa really is a little bit of heaven on earth. When we have visited it at least it is not overrun with tourists... If ever you needed a place where you could just sit and truly relax, breathe deep and feel the weight of the years roll off your unkinking shoulders, Farfa is truly the place to be.

Sunset over Farfa, courtesy of Paolo Pitoni
We had one last objective for the day. Since our last visit to the Sabina I had been interested in visiting the Olive Oil Museum in Castelnuovo di Farfa.

After taking some last pictures of Richard's tap shoes at Farfa for his tap dancing blog, The Happy Hoofer, we set off for Castelnuovo di Farfa.

Like its name suggests, Castelnuovo di Farfa, or Newcastle of Farfa, was a fortified hill town built above the valley where the Monastery lay. Human habitation in the area goes back to at least ancient Roman republican times. The ruins of a cryptoporticus of a rustic Roman villa can still be seen beneath modern buildings in the town. In the year 817 a church dedicated to Saint Donatus was built atop the foundations of the old villa around which the village of San Donato. 

A short distance from San Donato, a small castle named Agello was built in the early 900s against the wishes of Farfa Abbey. In response the Abbott of Farfa fortified San Donato with castle walls. This fortress was abandoned, however, after a few decades. Recent archaeological surveys conducted by the University of Sheffield have brought to light the nave of the little church in the modern cemetery. In the adjacent medieval cloister can be seen spoglia, or recycled building materials, appropriated from pagan funerary monument and reused in its construction.

Photo courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Castelnuovo itself was founded sometime between 1287 and 1312 on the ruins of San Donato and incorporated also the mostly abandoned castle of Agello and another nearby fortess called Cavallaria and also absorbed the sparse rural population that had surrounded a medieval church dedicated to Saints Philip and James in Quinzá. The town remained under the overlordship of the Abbots of Farfa for a number of centuries, although at the beginning of the fifteenth century, at a time of political and military instability it was occupied by some followers of the Orsini.

Street scene in Castelnuovo di Farfa courtesy of Alexxandra Finiti
In 1817 Castelnuovo di Farfa was organized as a commune under the government of Fara Sabina and had 635 inhabitants. By 1853 the population had grown to become 690, 25 of whom lived in the countryside. This population was divided into151 households living in 132 houses. Castelnuovo's parish church was dedicated to St. Nicholas.

Photo of the Castenuovo di Farfa Olive Oil Museum courtesy of Giorgio Clementi

We arrived in Castelnuovo all excited to see the Olive Oil Museum. Sadly our anticipated visit was not to be... Though the museum website indeed indicated that it should be open on Thursday apparently it was bt appointment only and we didn't have one... Oh well, these things happen. We would have to visit some other time... 

Whether the museum is open or not, Castelnuovo di Farfa is indeed a very beautiful hill town and well worth a visit. We spent a good half hour exploring the vie and vicoli of the little town and took a few pictures before we headed back to Casperia. 

Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
A beautiful window display in Castelnuovo di Farfa
Back in Casperia, Negronis, good wine and a nice hot dinner was waiting for us at Friends Cafe. We may not have been able to see the inside of the Olive Oil Museum, but the fragrant green Sabina D.O.P. olive oil used on the toasty warm bruschette served at Friends comes from a family farm at Castelnuovo di Farfa. As we happily chatted with Stefano and Nicoleta about our day, in between sips of my favourite drink and savouring the crunch of the toast and the lovely green spicyness of the oil that soaked it, all disappointments I may have had faded away. 

Thanks to Alessandra Finiti, Paolo Pitoni, Giorgio Clementi and Richard Rooney for permission to use their photos for this blog.


1 comment:

  1. WOW!! OH MY WORD!! This is awesome!! :) How absolutely exciting!! :) I adore Italy and can't wait to see and read about your exciting adventures!!!

    planning a trip to italy