Monday, 2 June 2014


This image of Rocchette courtesy of Alessandra Finiti
It is cold, drizzley, and dreary grey in the Sabina, but we can't let this day go to waste. We have only a week with our rent-a-car, so every day counts. Yesterday we looped south to see the hill towns of Salisano, Mompeo, and Castelnuovo di Farfa, and had a wonderful visit to Farfa Abbey followed by a happy lunch at Trattoria da Lupi.

Today we head north. We know we want to go for lunch at one of our favourite places in Italy, a restaurant called L'Oasi which is nestled up again a 1200 year-old romanesque church called Santuario Vescovio. We had an amazing lunch there during our visit in March 2012 and well, we were hoping we could relive some of that experience. But what could we link with a visit to L'Oasi? Hmmm Rocchette! Rocchette has to be one of the prettiest little castle towns I have ever seen. In more than two past visits to the Sabina we have driven by it a couple of times, but each time we rounded the bend we couldn't see an available parking place. Perhaps today since it is a week day and raining we might have a better chance of it. 

Before we headed out we took a couple of pictures of Richard's tap shoes for his tap dancing blog, the Happy Hoofer.  Instead of the garden gnome from Amelie, Richard's tap shoes will tell a story of his stay in Italy.

We veered right out of Casperia's public parking lot and followed the road south past a hill called Montefiolo. On one of our previous visits Richard and I hiked up a nature trail to take a look at the quiet Benedictine convent on its summit. It is amazing to think that within sight of this little hill there were once about seven castles...

Soon we were passing through the frazione of Paranzano with its Roman villa ruins and ancient underground aqueduct.

The remains of the bath complex of the Roman Villa at Paranzano
Once past Paranzano we realized that we should have taken the turn off to San Vito so we could head to Rocchette via Torri in Sabina, but we continued on to just before Cantalupo, took a right on Via Ternana and doubled back. 

After a kilometre or so the road started to climb up a hill with some great views of Casperia to our right... I noticed a street with an odd name as we passed... Strada Cavallomorto...  Street of the Dead Horse... 

I wondered what the story was there... If any of you know the history behind this street name, please leave a comment...  

We continued north on the road that lead north towards Vacone. We came to an T intersection where we turned left on the road towards Rocchette and Montebuono. About two kilometres down the road, rain-soaked Rocchette came into view.

There is a real sense of "castle" when you see Rochette. Though it sits in the bottom of a river valley, the river Laia forms a natural moat. There is a sense that if you were travelling down this valley road back in the day that it would have been impossible to escape the attention of the people watching from the walls.

The history of the fortress town of Rocchette is linked with that of its twin, the now abandoned castle of Rocchetine. Both were built in the 1200s. Rocchette and Rocchettine are not the original names of the two towns. Rocchetine was originally called Rocca Guidonesca and Rocchette was named Rocca Bertalda. Rocca means fortress in Italian. They were built on two sides of the gorge of the River Laia, a tributary of the River Imelle which in turn is a tributary of the River Tiber, to protect a major artery that connected the Rieti valley with the River Tiber and Rome. Travellers from Rieti in the north would cross into the Tiber valley from the Pass of Fontecerro and the village of Cottanello, while traffic from the south came from Montebuono and Magliano.  

Initially both these fortresses were possessions of the Bishop of Sabina but control soon passed to the Holy See. At the end of the 16th century, the two castles were occupied by the Savelli family who ruled for a long period. At the beginning of the 1500s both Rocchette and Rocchettine, along with Torri in Sabina, became fiefs of the powerful Orsini family. By the 1700s, when the two castles passed back to the direct control of the Church, Rocchettine was already abandoned. Through the course of the 17th century Rocchette continued to grow as a fortified rural centre overlooking the main access road, while Rocchettine was gradually depopulated through natural attrition. Thanks to this process of abandonment, Rocchettine preserves its pure medieval shape without accretions.

This section, was adapted and paraphrased from a post on Rocchettine on

The ruins of Rocchettine, an abandoned castle on the other side of the valley
We parked the car in an open lot across the highway and set out to explore the little castle town. The main gate seems to have been rebuilt or renovated in 1607.

Richard heads into the borgo
Of course, with all the rain, the streets were deserted... It felt like we had the entire little town to ourselves...

Two very old chairs. What stories they could tell.

At first you notice the art of the grill above... then you realize, it had a purpose... 

Unlike those of Casperia, the streets inside Rocchette mostly follow gentle inclines. There are no stairs here on the road... only those that lead up to each house.

A very elaborate gateway into a house

The cobbled streets were very slippery from the rain, and the town itself seemed even smaller inside the gates compared to how it looked outside... Before we knew it, we were ready to go. On some sunny dry day in the future we will return and explore around the town further, and take the road to the ruins of Rocchettine. There is a fireworks festival here in August that is supposed to be quite spectacular.

On the way back to the car we stopped by this old  fountain. You see them all over Italy. The metal bars near the water spout are there to support a bucket. The wide pool with the low brick walls  on the outside is built so that animals, not only horses but sheep and other herded animals as well, can get a drink. The interior pool has another purpose... it is a communal laundry. The sloped stone edges along the side of the tank we built so you could scrub your clothes on the wet stone surface. 

We hopped back into the rentacar and continued driving through the winding roads of the Sabina to our next stop... 

...Santa Maria in Vescovio.

The Sanctuary of Santa Maria in Vescovio was for many years the Cathedral Church of the Sabina. It lies in the midst of what is now a fertile valley which is often used as pasture land for sheep. But 2000 years ago, what is now peaceful pastured countryside was the bustling Roman market town of Forum Novum. Legend has it that Saint Peter visited the small Christian community in Forum Novum enroute to Rome and that the site of the family home where he presided over the fractio panis lies directly under the altar of the old cathedral.

Recycled bits of ancient Roman marble and other building material from the ruins of Forum Novum can be seen in the walls and in the tower of the old Cathedral Church.

The inside of the old cathedral church is a true marvel. The stone walls are covered in some very beautiful medieval frescoes. There is an air of true sacredness in this ancient place. It commands quiet, respect, and reverence... and in return fills you with a sense of deep peace. This is probably one of our favourite places in the Sabina to come and just relax and reground... Our friends Chris and Meg who own Il Sogno in Casperia often come here for Sunday Mass... followed by a lunch at L'Oasi.

Interior of the former Cathedral of Sabina in Vescovio courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
Above the high altar there is an almost Byzantine Icon of the Blessed Virgin... For as long as I remember I have always loved Gregorian Chant. When I was in my teens, our Anglican Church youth group would go on retreats to Westminster Abbey, the Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery in Mission in the Fraser Valley. One of my favourite chants was at Vespers where the monks would sing Salve Regina.

The accoustics in the church are beautiful. Every time I go there--when we are alone--I sing that song... It is a bit of a miracle that I can remember the Latin words.
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ,
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

The pulpit with recycled pieces of marble from Forum Novum
We walked back outside... The rain was lifting a little. The valley floor around the church and the excavated ruins of Forum Novum were a beautiful verdant green.

But is is time to move from one oasis to another, L'Oasi Restaurant, and have some lunch. 

During previous visits to L'Oasi, we have eaten outside, but since it was a cool and wet day that option was out of the question. 

We wanted to be inside where we saw there was a roaring fire in the fireplace.

As soon as we sat down the proprietor of the restaurant, Marco, took our wine order. presented us with water and a plate of freshly toasted bruschette drizzled in the most amazing green Sabina olive oil... We were so focussed on looking at the menu though, that we did not eat these when they were served.

Some time passed as we were still poring over the menu trying to make a choice, and Marco came by and whisked away the bruschette replacing them with a new plate fresh from the grill. As he laid these down he told us, just a little reprovingly, "These you eat when they are still warm". Whoa! This man was proud of his bruschette! Now that got our attention. As we happily crunched into the beautifully toasted Sabina DOP-annointed bread, Marco explained that the delicious olive oil came from his nearby family farm, Fattoria San Biaggio.  I noticed that there were some bottles and tins of this treasure on display and made a mental note to remember to buy some when we left.

We finally came to a decision. Richard ordered rigatoni alla carbonara for his primi... 

...while I decided to reorder a pasta dish I had fallen in love with during our last visit... trofie con salsa di noci, which is a Ligurian dish with a creamy walnut sauce.

L'Oasi is known for its beautiful seafood and I was in the mood for their mixed seafood fry which was absolutely delicious.

Notice the bottle of Fattoria San Biaggio extra virgin olive oil in the background.
We topped off our wonderful lunch with coffee and tiramisù. We afterwards spent some time chatting with Marco. I used his computer to show him my blog and the post I had written about our first visit to his restaurant they year before. I think that made Marco happy... and hoped that it made up for our letting his beautiful bruschette go cold earlier... 

Outside the restaurant it was still cold and grey, but the rain was holding up for a bit. In the fields directly behind the restaurant shepherds were grazing their sheep just metres above the buried ruins of the Roman city beneath our feet. 

Somewhere out there under all those sheep lay the ruins of an amphitheatre... Its location and the location of many of the main buildings of the buried city have been charted using ground penetrating radar.

Photo of the Forum Novum survey and excavations courtesy of
Out in the field, almost indistinguishable from the sheep they were guarding were a number of the beautiful white Italian sheep dogs.

When we got back to the car we found it being watched by another kind of guardian...

We took one last walk around the excavated ruins... took some pictures, and headed off for the next stage of our adventure.

Next stop, Cantalupo in Sabina!

Just as we pulled out from L'Oasi the rain started up again.


Cantalupo, whose named translates as "the wolf sings", is the next town over from Casperia. You have to pass through this picturesque hill town every time you go to Casperia from the train station. Though we had passed through it hundreds of times before, we had never actually stopped there to explore. The guest information book provided by the Phillips at Il Sogno says that "Any need not available in Casperia should be able to be met in nearby Cantalupo", and there is a considerably larger supermarket by the road below the city, but we had never had a chance to shop there yet.

Cantalupo in the fog courtesy of Giorgio Clementi
We drove close to the centre of town where there was a car park with an amazing view of Monte Soratte.

Cantalupo has a very different aspect than Casperia... Cantalupo is of course larger than Casperia and is much less castle-like. The houses instead of being bare stone and plastered and painted and the streets through the historic centre are mostly level. There is car access that Casperia does not enjoy.

This plaque proudly proclaims that for a brief moment on July 7, 1849 Cantalupo hosted Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the central figures in the Italian risorgimento, and his wife Annita.

Cantalupo does have some stairs... We found these in the vicoli or alleys that connect the streets of the town...

This imposing palazzo was once home to the Savelli and other noble families that once ruled Cantalupo. It is now apparantly a museum but I don't think it is open at this point to the public.

On the main piazza there is a very well stocked butcher shop. Notice the signs that say there was bread baked in a wood-fired oven, liver, tripe, mixed fry, as well as porchetta available that day. 

At some point I hope they reinforce the shelf with all the wine... It looks like it is sagging a bit from the weight of all that goodness.

Our walk finished, we headed back to the carpark where we took a couple of pictures with Soratte in the background before jumping in the car and driving down to the supermarket.

Compared to the alimentari in Casperia, the supermarket in Cantalupo is indeed huge. We did a tour of the store, taking note of the very well-stocked meat counter, the produce aisle, and some of the interesting packaging on some of the products. 

Look at the price of a 1.5 litre bottle of Fontana di Papa from the Castelli Romani. This exact same bottle of wine which sells for 3.10 euros in Cantalupo we pay close to $20 for in Vancouver.

We did a little shopping and then drove back to Casperia. At Friends Cafe Nicoletta was sitting outside at one of the table with Boh, the restaurant mascot.

We had a little visit with Nicoletta, had a glass of wine, then headed up the hill with our groceries to make dinner and plan our next adventure. Tomorrow we cross the Tiber and head into Etruscan territory!

If you are travelling through or staying in the Sabina and have the chance to visit Vescovio in Torri in Sabina, I highly recommend you search out and have a meal at L'Oasi. No matter what the conflicting TripAdvisor reviews say, we have never been disappointed there. Here is the address and phone number. Remember, they are closed Mondays.

Ristorante "L'Oasi di  Vescovio"
Località Santuario Vescovio, 
02049 Torri in Sabina, Rieti, Italia
Tel: +39 0765 608032
Closed Mondays
TripAdvisor Reviews for L'Oasi