One of the best reasons to travel to Italy repeatedly is that there are always new places to visit. It’s doubtful anyone could see every nook and cranny of this unbearably beautiful country. Two or three times a year I get the privilege of visiting there as well as sharing with a small group of travelers some of the gems I’ve discovered over the years in northern Lazio and the surrounds.
The last trip, in September, was again not as I expected. Of course I love to share some of my favorite spots in Bagnoregio, Orvieto, Castel Giorgio and Bolsena, but this trip we also found some places I hadn’t yet explored.
We usually treat our guests to a small tour of Bomarzo, sometimes called the Monster Park. It was created over 500 years ago by a local nobleman as a tribute to his wife, whom he adored. Artisans were brought to the site to sculpt large figures out of the enormous boulders in the area. The result is a sculpture park or estate that is utterly fascinating. Most of the pieces represent ancient mythological figures that are easily recognizable but seem so out of place for the time they were created. The Pagan atmosphere is such an odd juxtaposition of the papal art that was produced in the period. Nonetheless, it is a lovely place to enjoy quiet, woods, walking and sprawling lawns.
This trip, we decided to explore the village of Bomarzo that stands high up over the park itself. It’s a small, sleepy hilltop village and the climb to the historic center is a bit of a challenge. Driving is not encouraged except for the residents at the top. We discovered that we were the only folks there to enjoy the phenomenal views that swept away on all fronts, as far as we could see. The wind whipped at us and all around us forcing us to walk into the center.
Walking into the center there is a small piazza with a lovely church, also empty. But the most exciting surprise was the palazzo that sits at the top, empty. The city had just begun work on restoring it and the workers were kind enough to show us an unlocked door so we could wander in. There were faded fresci on the walls, carved ceilings, views from the recently windowed terraces that one can only imagine. The floors had some of the original stonework as did some of the giant fireplaces. Wide stone staircases led to other floors. These are some of the hidden treasures we seek out on our small group tours.
Another day, we drove west to the three towns on the ancient Etruscan trail, Sorano, Sovana and Pittliagno. These lovely little towns are connected by a 3000 year old trail hidden in the valleys below them. Both Sovana and Pittliagno sit high on their somewhat crumbling hilltops, reminding us of their need for protection.
Not so for Sorano which was once a fortess, on a flat small property, no longer protected by its fallen walls. The length of it is not more than 6 or 8 blocks but it has an elegant old cathedral, very plain and unadorned as well as a small church with an exquisite alter piece unlike any other I’ve seen. This alter is plain and rustic and simple which sets it apart from most of the carved, polished alters we find throughout Italy.
Pittliagno is a charming little place with much to offer. We were surprised by some of its wide, tree lined streets, being a hill town where space is usually more preserved. One of the special features here is the old Jewish Ghetto which has been restored for tourism. There are only three Jews left in this town which once made room for its Jews in an underground setting given to them by a member of the Medici family. The cave shops underground are amazing to see along with the pictures of workers baking bread, slaughtering meats and generally going about their business in one of the few towns willing to share their culture with this group. The city voted not long ago to completely restore the synagogue at their own expense. Preserving the ghetto by making it into a museum lends a special note to this period in history.
Along the way, with new additions to our excursions we managed to also find a few wonderful eateries to experience as well. One of our favorites is near Bomarzo and is called Nona Y Papa. The setting itself was very, hmm, shall I say strange, unattractive, but the food was FANTASTIC. We’ll be going back there again. It’s not far from the town of Soriano, which is another place we’d like to add to our list of “off the beaten path” favorites. Since we plan to continue our small group tours to Italy for as long as we have breath, we’ll save that town for a future trip. And let’s save Civita Castellana for a later report as well. We don’t want to give all the undiscovered gems away at one time!
Cheryl and friends