History & Geography
Starting with geography, Acuto stands over 700 mtrs asl on a ridge forming part of the Hernici Mountains above the Sacco Valley.
According to records, Acuto was founded in the 5th century AD - by inhabitants of nearby Anagni, who were fleeing invasion, although other findings show that there was already a small settlement up there. Records dating back to 1051, mention a stronghold close to Anagni called Castrum Acuti presumed to be referring to present day Acuto. This stronghold fell under alternating dominion of local feudal lords, and bishops from Anagni, until the end of the 14th century. The bishops succeeded.
In 1557 Spain declared war on the Pope and Anagni as well as the rest of the Ciociaria and the whole territory was attacked by Marcantonio Colonna, head of an army of Spanish soldiers. To cut a long story short - Spain won! But Acuto wasn't crushed (unlike many of the surrounding settlements) and became predominant, clashing with Anagni over the course of the following centuries. Anagni wanted to claw its power back! These clashes eventually came to an end at the start of the 1800's at which point Acuto fell into decline.
What to See & Do
The atmosphere was wonderful the other day - feeling more like a typical English Autumn with the temperature up there slightly fresh and breezy than an Italian September and we really enjoyed our brief visit.
Culinary-wise Acuto is linked with the Cesanese wine with vineyards in surrounding areas and there are two fine restaurants here but best to check opening times before you set off - we have included opening hours for 'Il Frantoio'. The other 'Colline Ciociara' on via Prenestina 27, Acuto is an elegant establishment with 1 Michelin 'star', with panoramic views but it seemed closed Thursday lunchtime.
There is an unusual positioning of 2 churches right next to each other (pictured). Church of the Suore del Preziosissimo Sangue, is the smaller on the left - founded by Saint Maria de Mattias (b. 1805 at Vallecorsa FR) whose name is referenced around the town and who started the congregation of the 'Nuns of Adoration of the Blood of Christ' and there is still a convent here today. The second larger church is the 'Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta' and was built first. This larger church commissioned local man and famous 'stuccatore', Paniccia di Sgurgola, to decorate the interior (in 1870) with fancy plaster work, but he was not a fan of "the church" and designed an image of an eagle overpowering a crow in a bit of a protest, on nearly all of the column bases. The eagle representing monarchy and the crow representing the church. This was a personal rebuff, but we don't know if the church understood this, as the images are clearly visible today and seem never to have been covered over.
We noticed several religious niches in the sides of houses - probably created by grateful owners giving thanks to a particular saint for answering a personal prayer. Depictions or objects of the saint would be placed inside. This ancient pagan practice is thought to have originated as early as Roman times, but was popular during the Medieval and Renaissance eras.
The oldest church in Acuto - the Church of SS. Sebastiano & Rocco (not pictured) - hides a bit of a mystery - a maze palindrome, or labyrinth palindrome incorporated into the frescoes, plus four red crosses inscribed in circles, similar to those seen in churches or other religious buildings that belonged to the Order monastic knights of the Knights Templar. The frescoes are splendid - dating to the 1500's - carefully restored in the 1980's. The crest of Acuto is 'Three Nails' (tre chiodi) and can be seen on the back wall. There is a niche where once stood a wooden statue of 'Madonna of Acuto' but it was moved during the Fascist period to the Map Room inside Palazzo Venezia, in the centre of Rome. It is a valuable piece.
Pretty much the highest spot in Acuto with great views of the valley over there to your left :)
We were SO tempted to knock on the door here as the most wonderful smell of yellow peppers being cooked was wafting out into the air!
Aren't these mini slatted vents a brilliant idea - love them! And below is the old chemist shop with a seemingly original interior, or at least, jolly old.
This fresco is just outside someones home. It's 17th century and was originally inside the Church of Saint Nicolas and depicts the Madonna delle Cese. The plaque reads: 'in memory of Stefania without whose keen interest and hard work this work of art would have been lost to time' - rough translation. Restoration was completed in 2010.
Above are two examples of the religious or votive niches. The one on the right is protected by glass.
Views of the war memorial.
We had a go at translating the Latin (above) which seems to have been chiseled into this plaque by the man who restored the building or who paid to have it restored and we think the eagle is his family coat of arms (just a guess, because it's not the symbol of Pope Clement). Building restoration was completed during the Pontificate of Pope Clement IX in the year AD 1668. If anyone can set us straight we'd like to hear from you.
Above we have a lovely coast of arms of a cardinal, an even more lovely entrance to someone's home - below a storm drain which is situated on the upper square (the one with the views). We believe that snow is common in winter too which probably adds to the mystery of the place. An finally just a nice blue door.
So, there we were....trundling around Lazio on yet another exploration - in the province of Latina this time, trying to locate an obscure wine producer (which we found, but they don't currently open to the public).
By the time we'd finished getting lost [among sunflower fields] it was way past lunchtime; we were in the middle of nowhere, hungry, not a 'pizza a taglio' (pizza takeaway) in sight, and restaurants all closed.
Eventually at a crossroads (which turned out to be the village of Campoverde) we spotted this place....and it was open....and they had food!
In fact they had a surprisingly amazing range of cheeses - including Burrata from Puglia, Buffalo Mozzarella from Naples, sheep's milk ricottta, harder cheeses with pistacchio nuts, cured hams and other cold meats, grilled veg (courgette, aubergine, zucchini, etc...), several types of bread rolls, and a well-stocked mini-market section.
The staff were really friendly. They even prepared our filled rolls for us (which they weren't obliged to do at all) and invited us to eat under their sun awning and gave us cutlery & cups for the water - not the Ritz, but who cares. Food was delicious, proportions generous, prices excellent! They seem to open pretty much all the time. Just so that you know, the shop is called: "Mangia Qui", which means "Eat Here!". It seems like an order, but we can promise you'd be sorry if you drove past with a rumbling tummy without stopping.
The Twig Nativity....
MYSTERIOUS TWIG NATIVITY IN RURAL LAZIO & A SIMPLE HISTORY OF NEPI.
Driving from the village of Nepi on Via Umiltà we came across this very unusual Nativity scene.
We decided to name it 'twig sculpture'. It's quite bizarre and is there all year round - although we can see how it would be difficult to dismantle and rebuild each year. There are shepherds, the Three Wise Men, Baby Jesus, Mary & Joseph and other figures and animals.
We don't know who built this or when so we can't solve the mystery but we have some fun photos.
A bit about Nepi....
Nepi is small and quaint. Not a lot to do or see here really, but there could be. As usual we see huge potential in many of the places and sites we visit. There is a small beauty spot with river, waterfall, bits of original Roman road dating back to the 4th C. BC, buildings from the 15th C. AD including a castle (with extensive walls intact - but not possible to visit as far as we can tell). Cafè-bars are decent enough and the village square is well maintained. We were there in winter so there was a heavenly smell of woodsmoke in the air as we walked through.
A bit of history....
Nepi was built between the 8th - 6th centuries BC. Its original name was Nepet and lay more or less on the border between Faliscan and Etruscan kingdoms. A possible origin of the name Nepet could have been in reference to a snake - Nepa - which locals considered to represent fertility. Today the Nepi Coat-of-Arms still bears the image of a snake. In the 4th c. BC it was conquered by the Romans.
Savinilla, a Roman woman who converted to Christianity had the bodies of mytrys Ptolemy and Roman buried in Nepi's catacombs. Ptolemy and Roman were the founding Bishops of the Christian community in Nepi - murdered at the orders of Emperor Claudius the Goth at some point between 268-270 AD. The catacombs are called the Santa Savinilla Catacombs and have been dated to the 4th c. BC. There were 1000 bodies interred. There is a dedication to Ptolemy - Patron Saint of Nepi - inside the church (named after him: Chiesa San Tolomeo) at the entrance to the catacombs. It IS possible to visit the catacombs but there are no set visiting hours so you have to phone and try to arrange a visit when the church is open and a custodian available.
To book a visit:
Contact the Museo Civico
Office closed Mondays & Tuesdays.
In more recent centuries Nepi has belonged to the wealthy and important families of the Borgia, Farnese and Borghese. The castle (Castello dei Borgia) was built in the 15th c. at command of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (perhaps more commonly known as Pope Alexander VI) on the site of a pre-exisitng Roman fortress, which he then left to his daughter Lucrezia. The cathedral was built on ruins of the Roman Temple of Jupiter. Today's council building was built by Pier Luigi Farnese in the 16th c, and there is an acquaduct which was inaugurated in 1727.
Have a look, see what you think....for some reason I felt black & white photos would look nicer with just a few colour ones mixed in here and there.
LAKES TURANO & SALTO IN THE NATURE RESERVES OF MOUNT NAVEGNA & MOUNT CERVIA IN THE PROVINCE OF RIETI.
A corner of Lazio that we had not visited properly, so today was the day - which was early March! We openly admit that we'd not planned this - we just decided to set off and see what happened.
First stop: Lake Turano....we really liked this lake and even though it was cold and a bit grey, we could imagine how splendid this whole area will be in the Summer.
We saw no signs of any boating/sailing clubs, but there are activities in Summer - kayaking, canoeing, river-trekking and other more extreme sports. The lake is safe and we've not heard any tales of strange currents, BUT if you decide to have a picnic in surrounding areas, it is important not to leave any rubbish or foodstuffs as there are Wild Boar who will smell the food and could attack you for it!
There was a restaurant we wanted to have lunch in called DEA but we didn't book ahead (silly us) and it was full when we arrived. Not surprising - cooking is said to be excellent and there are only 5 tables! Very cosy, just like dining in someone's home. There were a couple of other places we could have tried but we did not see a single ATM machine - and places in the middle of nowhere tend not to accept credit cards - so instead of risking delaying further we dashed up to Rieti in the hope of finding somewhere still serving at 3pm!
We were lucky! We found a restaurant called Pepe Nero (sadly, it is no more) and it was SO good. Excellent prices & very friendly, professional service. Ample, rather than extensive, choice and everything perfectly prepared. As hungry as we were, we could not finish the meal!
With happy tummies we were back on the road for part 2 of the adventure to Lake Salto via Rocca Sinibalda. Disappointingly, the Rocca Sinibalda Castle - which looks magnificent from the outside and has a large hanging garden from where you would be able to see the valleys on both sides - is privately owned and they re-opened to visitors in 2014 but you need to pre-book for a minimum of 10 people. The village is very pretty and both the village and castle offer stunning views.
From Rocca Sinibalda we took the route through Longone Sabino and Varco Sabino. A never ending journey, all twisty-turny roads following the shape of the mountains. Some areas up here are only accessible by donkey. We saw several farmers leading donkey's down mountain trails, laden with logs.
Conclusion - we loved the untamed feel of this area and will definitely return!
THE ABBEY IS SITUATED AT THE FOOT OF MONTE CORVINO (circa 100mtrs asl) TUCKED AWAY BETWEEN NINFA AND SERMONETA.
It's a lovely complex. The church is plain but gives a sense of calm. The cloister is attractive but small with a well and trees in the central lawn area and mountains hovering above.
One room has been converted into a gallery with some very special pieces - including an etching by Canaletto, no less!
According to various sources the first monastic settlement was somewhere between 8th and 12th centuries AD, by Greek Basilian monks (monks who followed the 'Rule' of St. Basil the Great) and in the 13th century it was occupied by the Templars. In fact on the front of the abbey there is a rose window with a tiny Templar cross in the stonework, then inside the church there is another on the first step as you enter, and a third in the ceiling of the cloister.
There is a curious medieval legend about a Templar Grand Master called Jacques de Molay in relation to the abbey. It is told that when he was burned at the stake in Paris, in 1314, the chrurch's architraves broke.
Today the abbey belongs to Cistercian monks from the Casamari congregation. The name Valvisciolo remains a bit of a mystery - it could mean 'Valle dell'Usignolo' which means valley of the Nightingale (lat. vallis lusciniae), or 'Valle delle Visciole' which means valley of the wild cherry, or that the name was given by Cistercian monks who came here from another abbey near Carpineto Romano (now ruins).
As with all Cistercian abbeys the architecture respects the typical layout of having the various monastery buildings built around a central cloister - e.g. the church, refectory, dormitory, scriptorium and kitchen. The Cistercian abbey at Fossanova has an indentical layout but is larger in size and is now run by Franciscan monks.
ALVITO IS A QUAINT LITTLE VILLAGE SITUATED IN THE VALLE DI COMINO, IN THE ABRUZZO-LAZIO-MOLISE NATIONAL PARK.
Snuggled onto the mountain on 3 levels with Alvito at the lowest, Peschio part way further up (we didn't stop here) and Castello is the highest up the mountain. Locals are welcoming and they make the best little torrone marzipan chocolates you ever tasted - just get one of each flavour.
The first set of photos are all Alvito.
Photos below show the amazing scenery on the drive from Alvito up to the Madonna di Canneto Sanctuary (open Sundays only for visitors) and our first imprints in this years' snow....you really don't get a feel of the size of the mountains rising on either side of the sanctuary but they were very imposing!
Last call of the day was the very picturesque hamlet of Castello - which also has a castle. Pity it's now quite in ruins and the hamlet is distinctly lacking in inhabitants, so if you're looking to buy a winter hideout miles from anywhere with crystal clear fresh air and fantastic views, this place is worth considering.
HERE ARE OUR SUGGESTIONS FOR A WINTER WEEKEND GETAWAY IN LAZIO:
A selection of unique & unforgettable places where you can switch off from the world - at least for a few days.
Province of Frosinone
Sotto Le Stelle in Picinisco, at over 2000 mtrs asl, has to be at the top of the list for anyone in search of peace & quiet, breathtaking scenery and high comfort! Part of a fairly new concept called 'Alberghi Difusi' where age-old, slightly forgotten hamlets & villages are brought back to life. Sotto Le Stelle (lit. Under the Stars) is the sort of place you'd be happy to hibernate in until Spring! D. H. Lawrence, the English writer, also thought so - he lived in this area for a short time during 1919 and found the inspiration necessary to complete his book 'The Lost Girl' while he was here. There isn't much to do in the village itself (2 bars on the main square and a couple of restaurants) but a short drive takes you to the very pleasant town of Sora (good shopping), or the Abbey at Monte Cassino (Cassino town, smaller than Sora but also very pleasant with some nice shops and eateries), or go up into the mountains over the border into Abruzzo. Call into D. H. Lawrence's old house (Agriturismo Casa Lawrence) to buy their local produce. Picinisco is known for its Pecorino cheeses (made from a choice of sheep or goat milk).
Prices at Sotto Le Stelle start at €200 per apartment per night.
Province of Rieti
Labro & Amatrice
Palazzo Crispolti situated in the medieval hamlet of Labro close to the Lazio-Umbria border is unique in that no cars are allowed - not that they'd fit down the narrow, steep alleys anyway - so it's a nice break from polution & noise. There is a car park a short distance away on foot. The little hotel's rooms are basic but charming and do provide everything you need. The village has 3 restaurants but you need to check their opening times. We were there Sunday and we only found one open at lunch time called Arco Luna (ask for the table-for-two in the grotto). Don't expect haute cuisine in a medieval hamlet but do expect fresh nutritious food that has been part of the way of life here for centuries. If you are looking for something a little more gourmet take a short drive to Relais Villa d'Assio, near Colli sul Velino or La Trota, Rivodutri.
Prices around €120 per room per night.
Below: images of the hamlet and a view over the other side of the hill.
Villa Retrosi, in the heart of the Appenines, is a real 'back-to-nature' type structure located close to Amatrice - a small town particularly famous for one of its dishes: Bucatini all'Amatriciana. Also part of the 'Alberghi Difusi' concept with apartments rather than rooms, in a very simple style with bare terracotta floors but neverthless comfortable, with everything provided/included such as heating, lighting, bedding, towels, extra blankets, an equipped kitchen and private bathroom. Naturally for those who can't be completely cut-off each apartment has a high speed internet connection and TV as well! Closest town is Leonessa which has a very good restaurant (Leon d'Oro), or hop over the border into Abruzzo to L'Aquila which is the closest, largest town.
Prices around €80 per room per night.
This accommodation is temporarily closed - I'm guessing on account of the earthquake in August, 2016.
Province of Viterbo
Corte del Maesta offers yet another unique experience, situated in the ancient Etruscan hamlet of Bagnoregio. It seems everyone has been to Bagnoregio at one point or another from Visigoths, Goths, Byzantines and Lombards to the Franks (Charlemagne). Following several earthquakes around 1695 inhabitants left and for many years Bagnoregio was a ghost town. In recent decaades curious tourists have been coming here in from all over the world to witness the unusual geological formation. Rooms at Corte del Maestà are courtly - quite rightly as the name would suggest - each one different from the next and very cosy, giving the unusual sensation of having travelled back in time whilst enjoying all modern comforts.
Prices €300 per room per night (min 2 nights).
CHURCHES IN WHICH TO SAY "I DOOOO . . . ." !
Travelling around the region we have discovered some beautiful churches which would be sure to delight family & friends on your wedding day....other than you looking stunning, of course!
All very different styles but each located in close proximity to suitable reception venues.
This is San Benedetto Church in the Medieval Borgo of Frosinone. For us the key feature is the ceiling and cupola in blue/green pastels. There is a small curious portrait from the 16th century inside of the "Madonna del Buon Consiglio" (loosely translates as the "Virgin Mary of Good Advice"). Legend has it that on 10th July 1796 a miracle occurred - the Madonna opened her eyes and looked at the parishoners, her eyes were the colour vermillion and the left eye had tears whereas the right eye remained dry: this phenomenon continued for 6 months. The church's priest - seeing an opportunity - "strongly encouraged" his flock to make generous donations in return for being allowed to view the portrait. His plan worked like a charm and he collected enough money to be able to make much needed repairs to the church and to have a very elaborate frame built for the painting. The church is mentioned in records dating back to 1134, however, the church we see today is the restructured version (work carried out between 1750-1797).
The church is at a high point overlooking the valley and the piazza is large enough for guests to mingle (and throw uncooked rice at you), but there aren't many places - if you were doing 'Italian traditional' - for your wedding photographer to work his/her magic, so we would suggest that be done in the grounds of your chosen reception venue.
POSSIBLY THE MOST MACABRE CHURCH YOU WILL EVER SEE IN LAZIO AND ONE OF VERY FEW REMAINING IN ITALY! Churches where those condemned to death, and their families, were allowed to pray - for a last minute reprieve or forgiveness.
Rome had three of these kinds of churches but the one where the condemned were hanged and thrown into a pit right in front of the church, was demolished in 1938.
"HODIE MIHI - CRAS TIBI" Translates as: Me today - You tomorrow! (I die today - you die tomorrow, or: we all have to die sometime). Notice the ever presence of skulls & skeletons inside the church, there to remind the condemned of what lay ahead - as if he/she could forget! The atmosphere in here was definitely strange and melancholy.