Friday, 6 September 2013


It is another beautiful day in the Sabina. The sun is out, but the skies are not quite as clear as yesterday. 

Montasola in the hazy distance
There is a haze in the air, perhaps from the farmers burning their piles of pruned olive branches in the olive orchards... But perhaps there is a turn in the weather. I don't really care. Rain or shine, I am just happy to be here. 

I look out of our bedroom window at Il Sogno down to the street many metres below. There is a cat patrolling down there somewhere. I can hear his assertive yowl. "Questo vicolo è mio! Meow!"

I think of our cat Smokey back in Vancouver and I wonder how he is dealing with the kitchen renovation.

I look at the moss and lichen covered terracotta tiles roof across the way and revel in the myriad of colours and textures there. Like every morning here we wake up to a mixture of excited bird song, the muffled dingledong of distant sheeps bells and the sound of farm machinery... Music to my ears...

I can smell the rich aroma of Illy Coffee bubbling in the Bialetti on the stove in the kitchen... It is breakfast time and I am hungry.

In preparation for my arrival, Richard bought a goodly amount of delicious supplies at the alimentari, but he has also supplemented our stash with some great bread from Figlii Giusti, the same family-run bakery just outside Casperia's Porta Romana where we bought Clelia's birthday cake last year. At first glance, the bread looks like pane di segale or Italian rye, but Richard informs me that it is a special and particularly famous whole wheat bread called pane di Lariano made in a town just south of Rome. It smells delicious. I pull out the toaster, plug it in, and then open the fridge and fish out a package of our favourite local prosciutto.

I also grab a bottle of our favourite blood orange juice and pour two cups full.

I scramble a few eggs while the bread toasts and decorate the small omelette with black olives and some cherry tomatoes.

Up pops the toast, half which I drizzle with some beautiful golden green Sabina D.O.P. extra virgin olive oil, the other half I drape with prosciutto. As soon as the unctuous pork hits the toast, the fat begins to melt "like butter" and a savoury salty porky perfume fills the room.

Breakfast!!! I know its not traditional Italian to have breakfast this way. Most Italians are happy with just a cornetto or cream-filled pastry and a caffè, but we are Canadesi... and though we are trying to learn as much Italian as we can, and absorb as much of the culture as we can, our breakfasts will likely be substantial, more hearty affairs for the duration of the trip.

Today is a special day. One of our friends, Alessandra Finiti, is coming to Casperia for a visit. I became acquainted with Alessandra, a lawyer, born in nearby Poggio Mirteto but who lives and works in Rome, through Facebook. Alessandra is a proud Sabine and a passionate Sabina booster. She manages a number of pages promoting the Sabina on Facebook, including Hello Sabina, and La Bassa Sabina in Vetrina.

Richard and I met Alessandra and her father Dottore Luigi in person for the first time during our visit to Italy last year at I Mille Sapori restaurant on the main piazza in Poggio Mirteto. 

After a nice lunch together Alessandra took us on an wonderful walking tour of Poggio Mirteto's centro storico...

...and later during the trip also introduced us to our friend Fiorenzo Francioli who works for the Pro Loco, or comunal promotional office, of the town of Montebuono. If we had not gotten to know Alessandra through Facebook, we would not have been able to have so many of the amazing experiences we had during our 2012 trip to the Sabina. We were so looking forward to seeing her again. 

We got a call that she was on her way so I grabbed the camera and Richard grabbed his trusy IPad and we headed down to the Porta Romana. I took a few random pictures on the way, mostly cast iron storm drain covers... inspired, by Giorgio Clementi who finds great photographs and potential art everywhere.   

It was interesting to see what was made locally near Rome and what came from foundries further away. During this visit, more than the two previous ones, I noticed small details about our surroundings. Here and there on the town walls, usually over the doors of houses, were bricks incised with the date of construction. Some of them were so old that they were difficult to read. Is this from 1812 or 1842?

We headed down the last set of steps to Piazza Umberto I. Our friends Stefano and Nicoleta were already at Friends Cafe, but Alessandra had not arrived yet. We headed for the town wall by the old fountain and looked down toward the car park and there she was, camera ready, wouldn't you know. That is so Alessandra! We shouted down "Bella! Ciaoooo!" and took each other's picture. Here is the photo we took of Alessandra...  

And here is the photo she took of the two of us.

Courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

We rushed down to the Porta Romana to give her a "Welcome to Casperia" kiss and escort her up the stairs up to the Piazza. As you can see, it was a cool march day. Richard and I were bundled up in our puffies. Alessandra had on a long coat amd a scarf. We hung around Friends for a bit chatting with Nicoleta and Stefano. Alessandra got into a lively discussion on the Sabina with Giampiero, one of Friends Cafe's loyal locals. We watched from the sidelines.

We decided we would go for a walk with Alessandra through the old town and show her where we were staying. 

Though she had seen photos of Il Sogno before, she hadn't yet seen it with our own eyes.  Just as we were about to head up, Alessandra took a picture of us sitting on the wall outside the cafe. It was a cool dark day, but we were with good friends... In our hearts, the sun was shining.

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
It was still early and things were a bit slow at the Cafe, so Nicoleta got to accompany us on our tour. 

Photo courtesy of Richard Rooney
We headed up the stairs into the inner borgo, stopping first to take pictures at the Piazza Comunale.

"Say cheese, Alessandra!" - Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti

We continued our journey up the meandering cobbled streets of Casperia up Via Mazzini, past La Torretta B&B to Il Sogno, our home away from home here in the Sabina, and gave Alessandra and Nicoleta a tour inside. Alessandra's partner, Giovanni, is a house building and restoring contractor so Alessandra was very interested to see how Chris and Meg, the owners of Il Sogno, had restored and decorated the house. She walked around the house taking everything in with an appraising and appreciative eye. Like everyone who ever sees the inside of the Phillips' house, with its rustic (but heated) terra cotta floors, its beautifully recycled centuries old wooden doors, the magnificent fireplace in the main bedroom, the over-the-top mosaiced bath, to the spiral staircase to the second bedroom below, Alessandra was suitably impressed. So many old apartments in Italian hilltowns get totally gutted and modernized, but the Phillips certainly treated their house in Casperia with a deep respect, maintaining and featuring as much of the original brick and stone features inside as possible. It truly is a jewel.

Front steps of Il Sogno - Courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
You may have been wondering what Alessandra was carrying in that blue plastic bag you saw in the photos earlier... At the house the precious and much appreciated contents were revealed... a beautiful bottle of Sabina D.O.P. Olive Oil... just the right size to take home to Canada! Grazie Alessandra! What a thoughtful gift!

From Il Sogno, we continued to climb up more stairs to the top of the hill, taking pictures as we went... 

...and listening to Alessandra explain the historical significance of the names of the streets along the way. 

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
Tito Tazio, or Titus Tatius as we know him in English, was the Sabina king of Cures who, after the rape of the Sabine women, attacked Rome and captured the Capitol with the help of the treacherous Tarpeia. 

The Sabine women, however, convinced Tatius and the Roman king, Romulus, to reconcile and subsequently they ruled jointly over the Romans and Sabines until Titus Tatius death in 748 B.C.E.


The oldest building in Casperia is he remains of a 1000 year-old watch tower just a stone's throw away from where we stay. Many centuries ago, it must have been much taller... perhaps not as tall as the beautiful pentagonal tower in Catino, but taller than it is today. 
It would have been from here that the alarms rang warning the people of Aspra of an impending attack. Each time I walk by I lay my hands on the ancient stones and think that if these old rocks could only speak, what stories they could tell.

It was during this walk through Casperia with Alessandra and Nicoleta that I came upon my idea of a blog post on the history of the street names of Casperia.

Alessandra did not have long for a visit. She had to get to Poggio Mirteto for a work appointment. She wondered if we might like to take the drive back with her, tour around Poggio Mirteto's old town which we visited with her the year before, while she had her appointment.

Richard took this picture of Alessandra in the car's rear view mirror enroute to Poggio Mirteto. Everyone sees things differently. Alessandra was born and grew up in the Sabina... and it is wonderful to see the Sabina through Alessandra's eyes.

Poggio Mirteto is a bustling town, a full service hub of commerce in the Colli Sabini with shops, restaurants, boutiques, a book store, several real estate offices, alimentari, and a great shop specializing in the local food products of the Sabina, including Sabina D.O.P. Olive oil. According to Wikipedia, it had a population of 5,879 in 2008 so it is about six times larger than Casperia, and is a fun change of pace.

Having said that, after a quick espresso in a new caffe on the main piazza, we bid farewell to Alessandra who went off to her appointment, and Richard and I took leave the bustle of the main square and head through the gate for a trip down memory lane in Poggio Mirteto's old town.

Like our previous foray into Poggio Mirteto's Centro Storico, we find the cats very welcoming. And, as in the past, we stop and pat every furry back that is offered us, missing our Smokey back in Vancouver...

Last year Alessandra had posted a great picture of four cats ensconced in planters on this balcony. When we visited Poggio Mirteto with her in 2012, the cats were waiting there for us to take our own picture, but this year, with the cool weather, we have no such luck. The balcony door is closed and the cats are all locked inside... Oh well...

It may have been my imagination butI think I recognize a lot of the feline faces we see from our previous visit...

Like Casperia, Poggio Mirteto's Centro Storico is an amazing maze of stone cobbled streets and alleys. As you wend your way through the old town it sometimes feels like you have entered an Escher painting. One big difference between Casperia and Poggio Mirteto is the colour that is used on the buildings... There are many more houses and buildings that have been plastered and brightly painted while Casperia is mostly made of rugged grey stone. 

Here in Poggio Mirteto there are delightful pinks and creamy yellows and terra cotta colours mixed with the greys and browns of the local stone.

But like Casperia, and perhaps every hill town in Lazio, Poggio Mirteto is a feast of textures and subtle hues as well. Is that Roman brick from some ruined villa there among the medieval stone? Chissa? Who knows? And perhaps not knowing adds to the romance of it all.

As we wander through the streets we find places we remember from our previous visit... Memories flood our mind bringing even bigger smiles to our faces... I love this yellow, but I doubt it would work in Vancouver... We have too much rain, too much grey sky...

We stop and take a "selfie" with our new digital camera. Say "Sabiiiiiiiiina"

We continued our journey through the winding cobbled streets of the old town. Because of the different topography of the hill sites and the differences in the local stone, how streets are laid out, their design and colour, each of the hill towns have their own unique appearance and feel.

There are quite a few houses painted in pastel pinks and cream yellow.

Yes Richard. You are perfectly framed but... Ahem... A little bit posed, don't you think?

The beauty of the old doors in these hill towns never ceases to impress me... There could be a whole calendar or post card series, or even a coffee table book of just these doors.

It is too bad the weather was overcast... A little more sunshine and these photos would be popping with colour...

Here and there we noticed for sale signs... this one for a mini apartment with a cantina (rustic storage room) and a balcony with a panoramic view. The key words in this sign are "da ristrutturare" which means that the apartment is likely in poor shape and needs some serious T.L.C. in the form of restoration... With a little money, a good architect and reliable contractors, this little apartment is going to be someone's perfect Sabine pied à terre.

We round a corner and come across our first graffito in a hill town.

It is a bit of a shock... Graffitti is something you expect in Rome. It's everywhere. But here in the Sabina, it was a little unexpected... But how romantic! Instead of some angry political rant or a declaration of support for this or that soccer team someone wrote is bold red letters "TI AMO" I LOVE YOU. So we took a couple of pictures knowing full well we could use these in the blog and in future Facebook posts. No doubt we are not the only ones to have used it this way.

Over the past while I have used this photo quite a few times as my Facebook cover photo or profile picture and it always elicits a large number of "Likes".

So, to whomever wrote this powwerful message of love, I hope the person you intended it for responded positively and that you are happy together. Un abbracio da lontano...

We continue our walk through the old town, eventually heading back out the gate onto the main piazza. 

We take a tour around the piazza and through a number of back streets checking out a few of the shops as we wait for Alessandra's appointment to be over. 

I love taking pictures of the displays of fresh produce...

The boxes of multi-coloured tomatoes make me think of our own little garden in front of our East End Vancouver rowhouse... When we get back to Canada, it will be too late to plant tomatoes from the seeds we saved from last year's harvest. Last year we raised over 100 plants of more than twelve different varieties... This year we will have to content ourselves with what seedlings we can find in the farmers markets...

Though I am not a fan of extreme heat, I envy Italy's long hot growing season and the many wonderful things farmersand home gardenerscan grow here because of it.

Rounding another corner we come across the shop where Alessandra bought us our Sabina D.O.P., E... Non Solo Carne at Via Giacomo Matteotti, 23. The name means "And... Not Only Meat".

And it is true. The little shop sells an amazing variety of Sabine specialties, from cheeses, honey, and wine to olive oil, and all sorts of local goodies. Yes, the Sabina, like you would expect Italy is all over the place, is a true foodie paradise. Thank god we have those 200 steps from the Porta Romana to our house or we would be going home with a serious weight problem.

A few steps from the shop we find an interesting looking restaurant, Osteria La Chianina. We don't have time to eat there today but I take pictures of their extensive beef-heavy menu which looks really interesting.

At the top of the menu is a picture of a white bull. The restaurant is named after the ancient Chianina breed of cattle which has been bred and raised in the Tiber Valley for over 2200 years... There are a number of depictions of ancient Roman sacrifice still extant, including this relief showing a Suovetaurilia where a bull, a sheep and a pig are to be sacrificed. 

It is quite likely that the pure white bulls used in these sacrifices were of this ancient Chianina breed.

We find another vegetable stand with a beautiful display of apples and artichokes. I love artichokes, and I am looking forward to the time when we can go to Rome and finally experience the famous deep fried Carciofi alla Giudia, or Jewish style artichokes in Rome's old Jewish Quarter.

The sign below the artichokes in the photo above boasts that the newly arrived Bufala Mozzarella is so fresh that it is "ancora calda..." ...still hot!

We receive a call from Alessandra. Her appointment is over and we are to meet her back at the piazza. She introduces us to her colleague, we have another coffee at the little cafe, and then she drives us back to Poggio Mirteto station where we do a little shopping at Ecofattorie Sabine before we board the bus back to Casperia.

As we pass through the Porta Romana, I think "What a great day!" But it is not over yet. There is one more thing I want to do before we climb up the stairs to Il Sogno, and that is to drop by to see Stefano and Nicoleta at Friends Cafe... and maybe have a drink...  or two...

Negroni time segues into soccer time, which builds an appetite for dinner time. I order my usual, bruschette with sliced ripe Italian tomato drizzled with Sabina D.O.P., and Stringozzi al Ragu'. Heaven!

Tomorrow we have a big day ahead of us. Stefano and Nicoleta have made us promise that we are theirs every Wednesday, their day off. Tomorrow for our first Wednesday together, we will head off to the Castelli Romani south of Rome for a culinary adventure. I can't wait! 

We watch the sun as it sets gloriously over the gold-bathed Sabine Hillsthe Colli Sabinithen kiss Nicoleta and Stefano goodnight and happily head up the 200 stone steps to our home away from home.

Good night! Buona notte!


Poggio Mirteto Piazza Vittoria Emanuele 1913 Carnevalone, courtesy of Lorenzo Ballanti
For those of you who have not visited Poggio Mirteto, it is certainly worth a visit. Not only is the main town with its old centro storico worth a visit, but there are important Roman ruins nearby as well, and some great stores that sell Sabine specialties like the aforementioned E... Non Solo Carne which is in downtown Poggio Mirteto, and our favourite, Ecofattorie Sabine, which is in Poggio Mirteto Scalo. 

Here are some links relating to the comune and its attractions:

Poggio Mirteto on Wikipedia (Italian)

Comune of Poggio Mirteto Website:

Pro Loco di Poggio Mirteto: 

Photos of Poggio Mirteto by Giorgio Clementi 

Bagni Lucilla - Roman Ruins in Poggio Mirteto 

Villa Ettorina - Holiday Villa in Poggio Mirteto 

Other Accommodations in and near Poggio Mirteto: 

Restaurants in Poggio Mirteto on Trip Advisor:

E... Non Solo Carne (Meat and other Specialties of the Sabina) 

Ecofattorie Sabine (Organic Specialities of the Sabina)

Monte Soratte from Poggio Mirteto courtesy of Alessandra Finiti