Lazio Explorer : 2013 blog resolutions

2012 was a quick year wasn't it? Only 18 posts (19 including this one). Must. try. harder. I guess we've been busy. It's been a great year though. Plenty of sagre, some wonderful trips, and some amazing people met along the way. Anyway, enough of 2012, here are our plans for the blog over the coming year. I can't promise we'll do them all, but hopefully we can tick some of them off the list, and you can see where we want to go with LazioExplorer.

Resolutions and plans for 2013:

1. An interactive map of Lazio. We hope to roll this out in the coming weeks. It'll be a google map, with links to blog posts from the various places. This is primarily to you help you, our dear reader, to navigate and explore Lazio (and our blog) better, but will also help us to see where the gaps are, and where to visit next.

2. A 2014 Lazio Explorer Calendar. There, I said it. We've always planned to do this, but have never got round to it. We want to do a calendar for ourselves, and family and friends, with photos of our favourite places in Lazio. Of course, we'll also place a link here if anyone wants to buy it (reasonably priced just to cover costs, of course).

3. To explore more. More of what? Well, everything. There are still many places in Lazio we haven't been. Plus, after brief flirtations with Tuscany, Campagna, Lombardia, Umbria, Emila-Romagna and the Veneto, I definitely want to explore Italy beyond Lazio. Plus, given my thing for train travel, I want to take the one of the frecce, or the new Italo trains. Anywhere.

4. A sagre app. I know. Where do we find the time? Well, this one is on our wishlist, rather than our 'to-do' list, but, given our love of sagre, and your love of sagre (those posts were some of our most viewed last year), we can see a good, well-written sagre app would be a good thing. We also think it would help all the Pro Loco to get the word out about their sagre and feste, so everybody wins. However, we don't know where to start. So... if you're an app developer (both iPhone and Android), or a Pro Loco organiser, get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

5. More book reviews. I've been quite bad this year. However, next year will be different, and I've got a reading list as long as my arm, so it's time to get reviewing again. As always, our reviews are impartial and personal, so you can always trust my opinion, if not necessarily agree with it.

So there you have it, five new year's resolutions. Of course, I don't think I'll be able to keep them all, but you can dream, right?

What about you? What plans do you have for the new year, or is there anything we have missed off our list that you would like us to try to do over the coming year?

Christmas fun in Lazio - markets, fairs, and more

It's that special time of year. Snow is falling, the kids are getting excited... and you've got a lot of presents to buy. But there's always time for a little sight-seeing, right?

Lazio is positively bursting with Christmas markets and fairs at this time of year. Stalls are full of locally-produced artisanal gifts, one-off pieces that can't be found in any shopping mall. So it's an ideal time to combine a little sight-seeing with that gift getting.

As long-time readers will know, one of the things I love about Italy at this time of year are the nativity scenes (presepi) that pop up in practically every town and village (see my post of the presepi I saw last year, for a taster). These can range from small, humble pieces to live presepe, where half the village gets in on the act.

So, here are our picks of the markets and presepi in Lazio this month:

Christmas market, Anguillara, Prov. di Viterbo 8th Dec - 6th Jan.

Anguillara sabazia, perched on the edge of lago di Bracciano, is hosting a Christmas fair, from December 8 to January 6th, with crafts, an antique fair, flea market, gifts, ethnic and speciality stands and even an ice skating rink! More information can be found here.

Natale nei Vicoli, Sant'Oreste, Prov. di Roma 8th Dec - 6th Jan.

Sant'Oreste, perched on the shoulder of Monte Soratte, about 40km north of Rome (on via Flaminia) is hosting 'Christmas in the streets', in the medieval old town. There are events on every weekend, including a visit to the wartime bunker under Monte Soratte, ordered by Mussolini himself. Click on the poster image below for more information.

Christmas market, Sacrofano, Prov. di Roma, 15th - 16th Dec.

Sacrofano, about 25km north of Rome, and easily accessible on the Roma-Civita Castellana-Viterbo trainline, is a charming medieval town. On the weekend of the market, there will be Christmas trees, chocolate tasting, candied sweets, arts and crafts, along with other food stalls, throughout the streets of the old town. More information can be found on their facebook event page.

Christmas market, Nazzano, Prov. di Roma, 15th - 16th Dec.

From 3-8pm on Saturday, and 10am-7pm on Sunday, Nazzano, situated about 40km north of Rome, will host its Christmas Arts and Crafts fair, with only handmade objects on sale. The fair will be in the Museo del Fiume.

Presepe vivente, Corchiano and Sutri, Prov. di Viterbo, 25th Dec - 6th Jan. 

Presepi viventi, or 'living nativities' are a pretty big thing in Lazio. We went to the one in Sutri last year, where the presepe was set in the ancient etruscan caves just outside the town. We had a great time, there were lots of people dressed up, re-creating a whole town scene, cooking bread, making pottery, tending animals (and letting you stroke them) - it was a lot of fun, and all for about 5.

Presepe vivente, Greccio, Prov. di Rieti, 24th Dec - 8th Jan.

Greccio, twinned with Bethlehem (bizarrely), is a sleepy hilltop town nestled in the Monti Sabini hills. Every Christmas, the town comes alive with over 100 people involved in the living nativity. The nativity is split into six scenes, and has its origins in a cold Christmas Eve of 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi, on his return from Palestine, wanted to rebuild with the people and animals of the time the Nativity in Bethlehem. More information, in Italian, can be found on the Greccio ProLoco site.

These are just a selection. There are many more fairs, presepi and markets happening in and around Lazio over the coming month, such as those in the towns around Viterbo, as covered by Mary Jane Cryan. If you spot any other good markets, fairs or presepi in Lazio this year, feel free to add more in the comments section (or tweet/email me) and I'll add them to this post.

But what can you do if want to feel all Christmassy, but you don't have the time to leave Rome? A good place to start would be a recent post by Buzz in Rome, which covers the best decorations in Rome. If you need to do a little gift shopping in the eternal city, you should head over to Revealed Rome, where, among many other useful articles, Amanda's got gift-getting in Rome covered. With shopping sorted, you'll no doubt be thinking about food. Thankfully, Tavole Romane have thoughtfully provided an annotated list of all the best restaurants in Rome, that are open over the Christmas and new year period. Finally, don't leave Rome without taking part in some Roman Christmas traditions, such as the Piazza Navona Christmas market, or indulging in a slice of fluffy Pandoro. There. That's Christmas sorted.

This will most likely be my last post before Christmas (I've got to get gift shopping myself!), so all that remains is for me to thank-you for all your comments, tweets and friendship over the last year and to wish you a very, Merry Christmas!

Pete (aka LazioExplorer)

Italian Olive Oil - the organic, traditional, hand-picked way

Imagine, the sun glistening through the leaves, the sound of the olives dropping on the floor, the calm tranquility of an age-old ritual, repeated every autumn for millennia. I lived it. A few weeks ago, I became an olive oil producer.

OK, maybe that's a bit strong. I became someone who helps other people who are far more experienced in making olive oil. OK, full disclosure, I helped my father-in-law collect his olives and take them to the press to make olive oil. But kind of, in a way, on some (very low, discreet) level, I was an olive oil producer. I made olive oil.

The scene of the crime
'The early bird catches the olive' could be a saying around these parts. I arrived late, around 9ish, and a few trees had already been de-olived (I may have just made that term up). It was time to man up and meet the olive.

So how do you do it? Well, it's pretty simple. You find an olive tree with plenty of olives and place nets all around it on the ground. These nets are pretty big and have to cover as much ground as possible as the olives can fall quite a distance from the tree (they aren't apples after all). Then, with a (gloved) hand or a small stick, you start to remove the lower-hanging olives. All the olives are removed, although the blacker they are the better, as this means they contain more oil. Then, with a larger stick, you start beating the higher branches in a downward motion. This is where you have to be a little careful, as the olives start to rain down at this point. I managed to get at least three straight in one eye, almost one right after the other. You continue to do this until all the olives have fallen. Where there were higher branches, we took to the ladders with a saw. Apparently, when pruning an olive tree you are meant to remove many of the internal branches, so much so that a bird is able to fly straight through the middle of the tree, without touching a branch.

My brother-in-law making sure every last olive is collected

Anyway, back to the picking. Once you're finished with the tree, you round-up all the olives on the ground, removing any attached leaves, twigs etc., and collect them all in a sack. Then you choose your next victim. I mean tree.

What about the worker's camaraderie, you know, the songs, the banter? I tried to make a bit of light chit-chat, you know, of the 'soooo, did you see the game last night' variety. Roma had just lost the derby della capitale 3-2 to Lazio and thus this was a risky venture. Little response other than a few 'don't mention these things to me' kind of hand gestures, and we were back to silence. Mrs LazioExplorer though, is a dab hand at the chit-chat. The daughter of the local landowner came down to see us, so the wife promptly stopped and, well, you know, engaged in public relations. For about 2 hours. These things are important. The men, however, continued to whack seven shades of $hit out of the tree.

A morning's work

So we have the olives, now what? Well, turns out we aren't the only ones with the idea of making olive oil at this time of year. The frantoio, which I guess translates to olive press, makes all its money in these 2 months or so of olive oil production. It seems everyone with a patch of ground makes olive oil. Thankfully, my father-in-law is an old hand at all this, and (as he often is) was ahead of the curve. We had a reasonably-timed appointment at the frantoio and had to get there promptly in order to not miss our slot. My uncle wasn't quite as organized though and so had an appointment for 3am the following night.

At the frantoio, when it's our time, our olives are machinated into a pulp, finer and finer, with the olive oil dripping out through various filters until it comes out, with an overpowering spicy smell.
Ready for their final journey

The frantoio machines

Where the magic happens

Fresh, smelly-but-oh-so-lovely olive oil

So there you have it. Organic, hand-picked, locally produced, high quality olive oil. It tastes amazing. You can drink it. Fresh, it has a spicy pepperyness that is almost too much. It's liquid gold. We have too much of it, of course, my father-in-law gets carried away with these things. He wants to sell it, but we don't know where to start. So, if you want some pure olive oil, produced in the most organic, simple, and local way we know how, just let me know. My father-in-law would be thrilled, and it is the best around, even if I do say so myself ;)

Italy in Books - An Italian Education, by Tim Parks

I know, I know, it's been a while. I promise I'll put more book reviews up here in the future. Here, at last though, is another one. Here's my review of one of my favorite books - An Italian Education, by Tim Parks.

This is my second Tim Park book, and, while I enjoyed A Season in Verona, partly for the Italian aspect and partly for the footballing aspect, I think I like this book more. Focusing on Tim Park's musing about his children growing up Italian, this book is a window into Italian culture from someone who's living it, both vicariously through his children, but also through the close interactions that having children in another country brings.

The book starts on the beach, explaining in great (and accurate, in my humble opinion) detail the precision and metronomic perfection of Italian beach life. Hilariously, this idyllic, regimented hierarchical structure is compared to an English beach holiday. Something I can easily relate to. By doing this comparison, Tim Parks opens the book by opening the mind of the reader to the possibility that la dolce vita is less about a carefree frolic in the sun and more about following a set pattern, never stepping outside of opaque boundaries, and never, ever, going for a swim until 3 hours after lunch. It's a great opening, and one that helped me adapt to my own Italian beach experience this summer.

After this, the book relates various aspects of Italian life, detailing the social fabric of the local community, the little white lies and manipulations present in every society, plus the joys of attending an Italian school's parents evening, and generally living a life Italian. I found the book really easy to read, and fun. I particularly enjoyed the sections where Tim Parks talks about his kids learning uncomfortable jokes or coming out with something deeply Italian. It's a perfect beach book (in fact, I read it on the beach at Riccione), and is a good book to take with you if you're traveling around Italy. It's quite light and funny, yet still covers some serious stuff.

An Italian Education is filled with anecdotes about Italian life. It's all told with compassion and understanding, so I never felt as if any situation was overplayed or exaggerated. It's obvious that Tim Parks loves his adopted country, and his musings on Italian life, seen through his eyes and through watching his children grow up Italian, are a joy to read, as well as an education.

An Italian Education can be bought from Amazon (US) through the LazioExplorer Amazon store, or from all good bookshops.

Sagre and Feste in October - it's Chestnut time!

The nights are drawing in. Winter is supposedly coming. In northern Lazio, an area famed for its chestnuts and hazelnuts, the sagre take on a distinctive nutty glow, while in other areas mushrooms of all shapes and sizes come to the fore. So, as the air turns chilly and the leaves crisp-up, here's my selection of sagre and feste around Lazio this October.

First up, here's a few Chestnut festivals...

Giornata della castagna, Canepina, Prov. di Viterbo
13-14th, 20-21st, and 28-29th October

In its 31st year, this festival, which runs on the last three weekends in October, acts as the cultural hub of the area, with a series of artistic, music, and cultural events spread around the town, all accompanied by free handouts of roasted chestnuts. The festival is opened on Friday 5th October by a 20 hour 'dinner of solidarity' with nearby Viterbo (called 'Viterbo with love'). The dinner costs 22euros and includes a taste of local dishes and is a great way to give back something to the town and pro loco association for all the free chestnuts. More information on the dinner, and the chance to go on a horse-riding trek around the woods of Canepina on Sunday 7th October, can be found on the Canepina pro loco website.

Sagra delle castagne, Soriano nel Cimino, Prov. di Viterbo

This is the big one. Over the first three weeks of October, Soriano nel Cimino really becomes the Chestnut capital of the world. Along with the inevitable roasted chestnuts, there's jam, sweets, sauces, AND historical reenactments. That's right, Soriano gets medieval about chestnuts! Don't just take my word for it, check out the video...

Promo Sagra delle Castagne 2012 - Soriano nel Cimino from WebNovo on Vimeo.

The streets and squares of the town are arranged according to ancient traditions, with processions of local people over 500 strong marching through the town in medieval and renaissance costumes (I'm not vouching for their historical accuracy here - they look authentic to my untrained eye). There's also a parade of horsemen and swordmen and flag-bearers and... well, you get the picture. It's a big thing. So big, in fact, that we've even given it its own blog post.

Now it's time for fungi....

Sagra delle Tacchie ai funghi porcini, Bellegra, Prov. di Roma
6-7th and 13-14th October

Hosted at the town hall, this sagra pays homage to the many mushrooms found in the fungi-filled forests around the small town of Bellegra, perched in the mountains to the west of Rome. Lunch or dinner at one of the many food stalls will cost 13 for a taster of bread and mushrooms, a plate of tacchie pasta with porcini mushrooms (tacchie is an old traditional type of pasta where the pasta is cut randomly but in such a way as to give irregular rectangles, perfect for soaking up mushrooms!), a portion of meat with mushrooms, and a glass of wine or water. There's also a child's menu for €8, which is disappointingly mushroom free, consisting of a schnitzel, chips and a coke (oh dear...). The fun starts at 11am with a craft market, while the food stalls open at 7pm. As with any sagra worth its salt, there's live music and line dancing. Why not head down there on Sunday 7th, when there's also a handicraft market and music from midday?

Maybe a little wild meat to go with those chestnuts and mushrooms....

Sagra del Cinghiale, Castelnuovo di Porto, Prov. di Roma
14th October

Castelnuovo di Porto, a short trip up the SS3 from Rome (or train from Piazzale Flaminio), is hosting the opportunity to 'know and taste' cinghiale, or wild boar. For the meateaters, this simple sagra provides wild boar in a variety of formats. A primi piatti of pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (ribbon pasta with wild boar sauce), a secondo of wild boar sausages and french fries (they get everywhere), and, for dessert... cinghiale ai cioccolato, which sounds, unusual... 

Fancy a less meaty dessert?

Festa di Sant'Edisto - Sant'Oreste, Prov. di Roma
12th, 13th, and 14th October

Also known as the 'Compleanno di Sant'Oreste', this festival involves the whole town coming out to share in the festivities in celebration of the founder and patron saint of Sant'Oreste, Saint Edisto. To celebrate, there are stands with local products, street performers (usually with fire), secret botteghe with cheap food and great music (the first time I had a polenta-jazz fusion), and of course, a massive birthday cake.

Enough food? How about a night of witches...

Notte delle Streghe, Calcata, Prov. di Roma
October 31st

Calcata, a charming bohemian place, hosts a notte delle streghe (night of the witches) on Halloween, where locals recant pagan rites, play folk music and perform dances. More information on Calcata can be found in this recent blog post

Whatever you do this month, be sure to check out the Lazioexplorer twitter feed and facebook page for more updates about sagre and feste in Lazio.

Sagre in Lazio - Feste in Lazio in September

Ferragosto is over! It's harvest time. This is a great time for feste and sagre.

For the uninitiated (or those new to this site), according to wikipedia, a sagra (plural: sagre) is a local festival, very often involving food, that often ties in with a historical pageant or sporting event, such as a joust or a horse race (where it is called a palio). From May onwards, the number of sagre and feste increases, almost exponentially, until around November time, when it trails off as Italians huddle next to the fire and wait for Ballando con le stelle to come on the TV.

I love sagre and feste. I think they are one of the best things about Italy. They combine local food, history and culture, and moreover, they are a great day out.

Here's my selection of the sagre and feste happening in Lazio over the month of September. There are many more happening throughout Rome and Lazio. To find out more, check out the LazioExplorer twitter feed and facebook page for updates on other sagre and feste this month.

13th-22nd September - Rieti, Prov. di Rieti

Fancy a bit of Germany? No, not in Munich, but in Rieti, from the 13th to the 22nd September. In its 8th year, this festival, which is one of the largest beer festivals in central Italy, will play host to over 15,000 people, with music, DJ sets, authentic Bavarian dishes (roasted piglets and pretzels), and, most importantly, certified 'augustiner munchen' beer. What's more to like? All this takes place in the Edelbier pub, which is actually housed in a palace that was built in the 1700s.

Festa dei Santi Marciano e Giovanni
13-23rd September - Civita Castellana, Prov. di Viterbo
(Main days 16th- 18th)

The whole of Civita Castellana comes alive in this festival of the two saints of Civita, Marciano and Giovanni. Starting on the 13th, and incorporating a city-wide holiday (on the 17th), the city plays hosts to religious celebrations, fairground and a market, live music, fashion shows (this year's highlight is a dog fashion parade...), and much more. An overview of this year's program (in Italian) can be found here. If you want more information about Civita Castellana, so you can make a full day of it, click through to my post on Civita.

Civita gets busier than this, but is no less pretty for it
9th Sagra del fungo porcino
14th-16th and 21-23rd September - Oriolo Romano, Prov. di Viterbo

Oriolo Romano, about 40km northwest of Rome, 30km south of Viterbo, is the place to be for mushrooms. Head to the splendid setting of Piazza Umberto I° for olive oil, wine, meats, cheeses, and homemade pasta, all accompanied by locally-foraged mushrooms. There will be live music and street performances every evening, so get there early to get a good seat. More information (in Italian) can be found here.

Sapori di Mare
21st-23rd September - Sperlonga, Prov. di Latina

Three days of fish. I love that. OK, OK, you may not like fish like I like fish, but, if you're in the area and you fancy a cheap, locally-sourced meal, you could do worse than heading down to Piazza Fontane for a taste of the sea. As usual with sagre, it's not just about the food. There's also stalls with local food and wine, plus, a little randomly, a salsa band playing Cuban and Latin beats, a blues night, and events to keep the kids entertained. What's not to like, unless you don't like seafood that is. More information, and the full programme (in Italian), can be found here.

15th Sagra della polenta
22nd-23rd September - Villa Santa Lucia, Prov. di Frosinone

Prefer polenta to fish? Get down to Villa Santa Lucia (near Cassino) on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd for all the polenta you can eat. The polenta itself is served at 9pm on each day, but there is live music, exhibitions and demonstrations throughout the evening. The Sunday is also filled with demonstrations of farm animals and agricultural vehicles. The full schedule can be found here.

Polenta with beans

OK, so there you have my hand-curated picks of the best sagre and feste coming up in September. There are many, many more. Please leave a comment below if I've missed your personal favorite or if you know of any other sagre or feste that are worth mentioning.

Buone sagre a tutti!

Photo credits (click the link):
Civita Castellana
Fungo porcino

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino

San Marino? What? I thought this site was about Lazio? San Marino is a whole different country! Well, while San Marino is indeed a different country (technically a microstate, whatever that means), it's well worth visiting, even if it's a good 4-5hr drive from Rome. Even moreso if you go there as a break from sunning yourself on the beaches of nearby Rimini and Riccione (as we did).

So where is it? San Marino is on the north-eastern side of the Appennini, sandwiched between the rolling hills of Emilia-Romagna, Marche, and Umbria. With an estimated population of 33,000, and a size of just over 24 sq miles (61sq km) it's the smallest member, population-wise, of the council of Europe. A small country, sat within another one. Not that you'd notice. They speak Italian (with the local Romagnolo accent), there's no passport control, and, other than a simple road sign, there's nothing to tell you that you're not in Italy anymore. Oh, and the text-message from your phone company welcoming you to yet another country. Wherever you are in San Marino, there's the massive Monte Titano, 739m high, towering over you. This is what most visitors think of as San Marino. It's an UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2008) and houses the historic, picture-postcard capital, the 'city of San Marino'.

We drove right up Monte Titano to car park number 7, almost at top and near one of the towers. A short walk past the official San Marino tennis courts and we were in past the thick city walls into the city of San Marino proper. Then, it hit me. Despite the stunning views, the other country-ness of the blue and white flags everywhere, I felt a little disappointed. All the shops appeared to be selling one of three things: trinkets and crap, authentic leather goods at amazing prices (Mrs LazioExplorer was sorely tempted on numerous occasions), and extremely cheap (and sometimes frankly dodgy looking) strong liquors. It's true, many people come to San Marino for the tax-free prices, but there must be more to this country. After all, it's the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world (since the 3rd September 301).

We walked on. After the initial buzz of disappointment, my spirits improved, thanks to the thinning out of shops selling crap I wasn't interested in (oh, I forget to mention, they also have shops selling guns, both real and fake - just what you need next to a shop selling alcohol at ridiculously cheap prices), and the well-kept picturesque streets and stunning views. It's amazing to think that this place has remained pretty much independent since the Romans. They have a distinct government system, their own military (though national defence is outsourced to big brother Italy) and, despite using the Euro, are not a member of the European Union. Indeed, San Marino even has its own Euro coins, although, they are a pretty rare, and not to mention expensive!
Someone will buy these, and a little piece of me will die inside

So what is there to see in San Marino, other than the shops and the stunning views? Well, the City of San Marino is protected by three towers: Guaita, Cesta, and Montale (which isn't open to the public). You can't miss them, just keeping walking upwards and you'll get to one. A ticket for entrance to both Guaita and Cesta will set you back €4.50, while entry to just one of the towers is €3. Personally, I'm not sure they are worth it, as there isn't much to see, but what is worth it is to walk a little through the relatively car-free streets to find the Palazzo Pubblico, the public palace, the town hall of San Marino.
Palazzo Pubblico on the Piazza della liberta`

It's a fairytale building, in a fairytale square (the Piazza della liberta`) but it's also an important, working building. It's where all official ceremonies take place, and is the seat of the Republic's main institutional and administrative bodies: the Captains Regent, the Grand and General Council, the Council of XII, and the Congress of State. You can have a look around inside the palace, for a small fee, but remember to be respectful of the guards, in their snazzy green and red uniforms.

We didn't have time to make it across the whole of the city of San Marino, but we did take in a local beer, which was surprisingly tasty, and see the vertiginous cable car. There's plenty more to do and explore though, which surprised me.

The San Marinese are not scared of heights

San Marino is charming. At first, I didn't think I'd like it. I didn't expect it. It seemed to be all designer bags, perfume and branded goods. All at low low, tax-free prices. One for the ladies, perhaps, not for this intrepid explorer. Well, San Marino grows on you. The incredible views help. I think it's somewhere you should visit if you're in the area. It's charming, and somewhere I'm definitely going to visit again!

Getting there

San Marino is only 10km from the Adriatic coast (and Rimini airport). There's a regular bus service to Rimini, and the city of San Marino can be reached by cable car from Borgo maggiore, at the base of Monte Titano.

Photo credits: All photos copyright

Eating the heart of Rome with Eating Italy Food Tours

You are what you eat, and when in Rome...

All other cornetti are dead to me now

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of joining a tour around the working class neighborhood of Testaccio, courtesy of Eating Italy Rome food tours. We learned a lot, not just about the food but also about the history and culture of Testaccio, which is very much the beating heart of Rome. 

Led by Sarah, a bubbly well-traveled American, the tour takes about 4-4.5hrs and takes in loads of 'gastronomic' stops. Testaccio is one of the oldest districts of Rome. Positioned over the Tiber near the Porta San Paolo, this neighborhood has been the food market of Rome for over 2000 years, back to when the Roman Republic first built food warehouses for supplies coming in from the river. While a walking tour, the distance between food stops is small. We started off, as all Romans do, with breakfast at a local pasticceria. This wasn't any ordinary breakfast though. We were treated to handmade cornetti, which tasted better than any I've ever tasted (thanks to the addition of a real vanilla pod to each cornetto), and a tiramisu` taster in an edible chocolate cup. The tour was off to a great start!

Sabina: a little haven in the countryside near Rome

Sabina is a little-known area of countryside in the Lazio region of Italy, around an hour’s drive north-east from Rome. It's a beautiful area of Lazio, with a culture all of its own. In this post, Emily from Visit Sabina introduces her little piece of paradise...

Photo of the medieval village of Tarano, Sabina, Italy

Introducing Sabina...

A street in Farfa, Sabina
A street in Farfa, Sabina
Left undisturbed and untouched by mass tourism (postcards are hard to come by), Sabina is a picture-perfect combination of breathtaking panoramic views, quaint hilltop villages, medieval castles and olive groves. And then of course, there is the local food...

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Sabina is just how close it is to Rome! It’s perfect for a day trip or short breaks from the city, and also ideal for longer breaks since it is easily reachable from both Ciampino and Fiumicino Airports.

There is no shortage of lovely places to visit on a trip here, so when Lazio Explorer asked if we could put together a little mini-guide to the Sabina region, we couldn’t resist! You can also check out our website for more information on Sabina in Italy.

Sagre in Lazio - July picks

Time flies when you're having fun! As I mentioned in my last sagre post, the sagre and feste are coming thick and fast now. The trick is in separating the wheat from the chaff, and this is where we come in. After extensive research, we've compiled our picks of the events in Lazio in July. There are many, many more. If you want to look for sagre/feste yourself (and can roughly read Italian), I can recommend,, and perhaps the best of the three,

Before I go any further, I best explain what a sagra is, just so you know what you're letting yourselves in for. A sagra (plural: sagre) is a local festival, very often involving food, that frequently ties in with a historical pageant or sporting event, such as a joust or a horse race (where it is called a palio). Italy, birthplace of the slow food movement, is positively buzzing with sagre and feste. Going to one of these is a great way to see Italy, as you'll be surrounded by locals and have the opportunity to taste real local food, both grown and prepared locally. It's as good as it gets.

***NOTE: These dates have been updated for 2013***

La Notte Bianca
7th -8th July Ronciglione, Prov. di Viterbo

La notte bianca - the white night, is a bit of an institution in Italy. Essentially, over the summer, many towns and cities throughout Italy host a night of food, music, culture, history and, of course partying, all night. That's a notte bianca. This weekend, starting at 5pm on the Sunday and continuing until 4am on the Monday, Ronciglione, home of a famous palio, takes its bow. It's a lovely town, perched on the edge of a volcanic lake, lago di Vico, and one that I often visit. More information on Ronciglione and nearby Caprarola can be found in my guest post for Arttrav. Along with all the shops, restaurants, bars etc., staying open all night, there will be live music (including tributes to U2 and Queen), fashion shows, children play areas and street performers dancing to famous songs such as Tarantella and Salterello. If that's not enough to tempt you, there's an exhibition of local antiques, crafts and art taking place throughout the city.

Interested? The full program (in Italian), can be found here.

10th Raduno Fiat 500
14th July, Tivoli, Prov. di Roma

Nothing says Italy like the old-style Fiat Cinquecento. It is the Italian car for Italians. If you want to see a cacophony of Cinquecento (I'm sure cacophony is the collective noun) head to Tivoli, 30km east-north-east of Rome, to catch the 10th Raduno (gathering) of Fiat 500s. These much loved (and polished) cars will assemble at 8am in the center of the town before taking off for a panoramic tour through Tivoli, before stopping at Bar-Gelateria Azzura di Villa Adriana for a coffee, and then pootling towards the restaurant 'Royal Lake Park' (on Via Tiburtina Valeria KM 34.500) for lunch. At 6pm there is a presentation, before they rev up their engines and return for a lap of Tivoli around 7pm.

Fiat 500 photos courtesy of Nicolee Drake (@cucinadigitale)

If you want to participate with a fiat 500 yourself, you'll need to register by calling 347.8403946 asap (they are limited to 100 entrants).

Di Tuscia Un Po'
2nd-4th August, Bolsena, Prov. di Viterbo
Tuscia comprises an area of Northern Lazio that was under Etruscan influence over 3000 years ago. We refer to the area that the Etruscans controlled as 'Etruria'. The Romans referred to it as Tuscia, which has evolved over time through 'Tuscania and finally, Toscana (Tuscany). Tuscia, is now the unofficial name for the southern part of Etruria, which roughly corresponds to the present day province of Viterbo. Di Tuscia Un Po', in Bolsena, is a showcase of all the local produce, recipes and traditions of northern Lazio. The market will have over 50 stands with tastings of local wine, oil, cheese, meat, honey, nuts, legumes and cured meats, as well as other local produce like plants and animals. In addition to the market, there will be artistic performances, music, and other cultural exhibitions.

Tuscia in Jazz
9th July - 12th August, various cities, Prov. di Viterbo

Stretching over a number of cities in the Province of Viterbo - Soriano nel Cimino, Ronciglione, Sutri, Tuscania, Caprarola, Bagnaia, Tuscania and Bagnoregio, the Tuscia in Jazz movement promises a showcase of talent. The full program is here. The festival starts in Ronciglione and Caprarola, from the 9th to the 13th July (so straight after La Notte Bianca) before moving onto Soriano Nel Cimino from the 14th to the 29th (with a particularly interesting night of 10 concerts on the 28th), then Viterbo (30th) and Bagnoregio (1st-5th), before finishing in the city of Sutri (with its Etruscan necropolis and Roman amphitheatre) from the 7th to the 12th August.

As we're going on holiday for a bit, we won't be doing a sagre post for August, but we will still post links to sagre/feste that we think are interesting on our facebook page and twitter feed, so, if you use either, then don't forget to 'like' or 'follow' us there. Finally, if you want to know about other festivals/sagre in Lazio, click on the 'Festa' topic on the right hand side of the page. Buon divertimento!

Photo credits:
Sagre introduction and Di Tuscia un po' images from
La notte bianca poster from Associazione 1728 (Ronciglione)
Fiat 500 photos by Nicolee Drake from Cucina Digitale
Tuscia in Jazz logo from their website.

Medieval festivals in Italy - Ludika

Italy is often referred to as the living museum, as living in the past. People often relate things back to the Romans, to some ancient incident that happened over a thousand years ago. However, one of the things I hadn't realized was that Italians are pretty into their medieval history too. All over Italy, festivals spring up throughout the year where towns are transported back to medieval times, with medieval pageantry, food, and music.

One of the largest takes place in the northern Lazio city of Viterbo from the 18th to the 24th June... (8-13th July in 2013)

Ludika 1243 is a medieval festival that takes the San Pellegrino quarter (the oldest part of Viterbo) back to 1243, with games, historical reenactments, music and food. They transform the streets, with locals wearing medieval clothes, and street performers, jugglers, fire-eaters and the like wandering around. Plus, rather than breaking the ambiance with a modern day meal, you can also eat in special taverns serving food from recipes from the XIII century.

Ludika (from the Latin‘ludus' meaning a game, sport or training) is not only a medieval feste, where you turn up in your modern clothes, gawk and stare, and generally feel out of place. Oh no, in Ludika, you can actually take part! In a cool twist, you can sign up to take part in various medieval reenactments, such as the big battle between the Guelfi army (yay!) who defended the city of Viterbo against the Ghibellini army (boo!), under the order of Federico II. You can pick which side you want to fight for and then you'll be given clothes and weapons and even the possibility to train during the days preceding the battle. This battle itself usually involves hundreds of people and is a highlight of the festa. After a parade that passes through the city streets, once the “Guelfi” and “Ghibellini” armies reach Faul Valley, at the sound of the battle-horn, they start the battle royale. Every year the result changes, but once the battle is over, everyone retires back to the streets to partake of the food and wine. You'll have to be quick if you want to take part. Contact details can be found here.

If you don't fancy taking part in the battle itself, there's plenty more to be kept busy with. For example, there's a street play, where over 20 actors present an interactive wandering show where they search for the mysterious Brancaleone. Click here for the full programme (currently only in Italian, although they promise an English one).

If that isn't enough, there's also a photo competition. At the end of the festival there is an award ceremony (I'm not sure what the prize is) for the person who has best captured the spirit of the festival.

If you can't make it to Ludika, there are plenty of other medieval festivals in Lazio. Here's two more:

Medioevo a Soriano, Soriano Nel Cimino, Viterbo - from Friday June 22nd to Sunday June 24th. Highlights include a falconry show, reenactments and music. More information can be found here.

Carosello storico dei Rioni di Cori, Latina - from mid-June to the end of July.
Highlights include two palio, various festivals and medieval food. More information can be found here.

Who knew living the past could be so much fun!

All photos taken from

Sagre in Lazio - my June picks

Wow, the days are flying by! It's already time for my Sagre and Feste picks for June! I hope some of you managed to get to the sagre I recommended last month. From now until, well, winter, the number of sagre and feste in Lazio and indeed Italy seems to increase every month. For the novice reader, a sagra (plural: sagre) is a local festival, very often involving food, that frequently ties in with a historical pageant or sporting event, such as a joust or a horse race (where it is called a palio). Here, from a veritable feast of feste, are my highlights for June.

Sagra delle Fettuccine
Grotte Santo Stefano, Prov. di Viterbo

Sagra della fettuccine - in Grotte Santo Stefano

One of the things I enjoy about sagre is that they put traditional food in context. They are educational. For example, this sagra is about a type of pasta. Now, before you skip this section, you may be interested to learn that Fettuccine is a flat, ribbon-like pasta (the name translates literally to "little ribbons") and is similar to tagliatelle (from Bologna). It's made with flour, eggs and salt, and is a traditional pasta used in many Roman dishes. The Sagra delle Fettuccine, now in its 13th year, celebrates this local food hero. Grotte Santo Stefano, a small town near both Viterbo and Bomarzo (the one with the weird sculptures in the park), will come alive on the weekend of the 14-16th June with live music (and a disco on Saturday night), food stalls and good cheer. The fabled fettuccine will be available with a variety of sauces, and if you fancy more than one, then the 'Tris' is for you:  a trio of fettuccine with Ragu`, wild boar (cinghiale), and Porcini mushrooms. When you're all fettuccined-out, you can try other local dishes such as beans with pork rind (my father-in-law's favourite!), tripe, or sample a glass of the local wine....

The stands open at 7:30, and further information (in Italian) can be found on the Pro Loco Santo Stefano website.

Sagra della Ricotta 
Guadagnolo - Capranica Prenestina - Prov. di Roma

Capranica Prenestina, nestled in the Monti Prenestini mountain range in the Lazio sub-Apennines, is hosting a Sagra della Ricotta on Sunday 17th June. The town, approximately 40km to the east of Rome, will showcase homemade, traditional ricotta in every dish and style possible. Food stalls will open at 10am, with music and dance performances taking place throughout the day. More information (in Italian) can be found on the Pro Loco Guadagnolo website.

Sagra del Cinghiale
Castel San Pietro Romano - Prov. di Latina

Just down the road from the sagra above, there's the Sagra del Cinghiale (Wild boar food festival). I love wild boar. I actually prefer it to pork, although it is very gamey. Over the weekend of the 23rd-24th June, Castel San Pietro Romano, approximately 40km to the east of Rome, will host loads of food stalls, selling wild boar, porchetta, and many other (admittedly very meaty) food types, mixed fresh with pasta to eat there and then, or as salsicce to take home. There's also music, local food and craft stalls, and, of course, cheap, yet really good quality, local wine. I'm drooling already... 

For more information (in Italian), click through to the Pro Loco site.

Sagra della Frittella

Paliano - Prov. di Frosinone

If wild boar isn't your thing, what about pancakes? On the same weekend as the sagra above, the 23-24th June, frittelle, a kind of fried pancake, will be celebrated in the town of Paliano, approximately 60km to the south east of Rome. Both sweet and savory frittelle will be available, along with the local Rosciola oil, and other local products. Various cultural and sporting events will be held during the two days, with music and cultural performances every evening.

Palio del Velluto
Leonessa - Prov. di Rieti

By the end of June, you may be sick of sagre, and want to go to a non-food-related event. Thankfully, during the last week of June (29th June-1st July), Leonessa holds its annual "Velvet Contest", a historical eight day commemoration of Saint Peter (the Fiera di San Pietro). The Palio del Velluto takes its name from the local weaving style and was held from at least 1464 until 1557, when the event was abolished by the local Governor after a dispute that resulted in four deaths. Mercifully though, things are a little more civilized nowadays, and the games are back on.

The games are fought between the six quarters of the city - Corno (Horn), croce (cross), Forcamelone, Poggio, Terzone, and Torre (Tower). In addition, there aere various music and dance performances, concerts, taverns with dishes of the day, jugglers and other street performers throughout the city to evoke the atmosphere of 16th century. All in all, a great day out! More information (in Italian) can be found here.

Finally, I want to quickly mention the infiorate (street flower petal displays) that will be popping up throughout Lazio for Corpus Domini on the 16-18th June. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should check out this post.

OK, so there you have my hand-curated picks of the best sagre and feste coming up in June. There are many, many more. Please leave a comment below if I've missed your personal favorite or if you know of any other sagre or feste that are worth mentioning.

Buone sagre a tutti!

Photo credits:
Sagra delle fettuccine
Pappardelle al cinghiale