Discovering Ciociaria...a breath of fresh air

Mon, 04/27/2009 - 12:02
Words and Pictures by Melissa Ormiston

Ciociaria is undoubtedly one of Italy’s most fabulous and understated places for culture, art, food and natural beauty. One thing that you’ll notice in particular when travelling throughout the region is how friendly everyone is. With these little towns and villages with the most astounding panoramas it’s no wonder they enjoy their calm pace of life and when asked you’ll find that they are very happy to try to explain more about this beautiful region.

We took a stroll through the pretty centre of the medieval town of Fiuggi and were taken to the famous Fonte Bonifacio VIII place of waters. here is revealed one of Italy’s best-kept health secrets - mineral-rich acqua.

Drinking it has benefits such as helping clear gallstones and keeping blood pressure as it should be. Fiuggi’s spa area has been a popular destination for many a century and the spa here was named after Pope Bonifacio, who was partial to a sip or two of the miracle water.
Also part of the spa a little further away is Fiuggi golf club, the oldest municipal course in continental Europe and a beautiful, well-maintained one it is too - set in a green and lush valley, surrounded by tweeting birds and with a very friendly cat in residence.

After a hole in one it’s off to another thermal spa in the neighbouring town of Ferentino with overbearing external walls dating back to the second century that are almost entirely preserved. These impressive and vast polygonal walls are built from huge uninterrupted blocks of stone weighing tons each that just fit snugly into each other. They obviously were of key importance when the town needed defending and are said to date back to Hernician origin.

Skeleton in the Cupboard

Nearby in the wonderfully mystical village of Fumone is some magic to send chills down your spine for a different reason. We headed for the beautiful and baronial Castle. Fumone gets its name from the important part it played in telling Rome when there were invasions during medieval times through smoke or fume signals and the perfect place for this was the castle of Marchesi Longhi de Paolis.

The castle also served two more purposes, the first in the 11th century as a fortress to protect the city and over a hundred years later as a prison when Celestino, the only pope to have scandalously abdicated, was kept there towards the end of the 13th century.
Today you’ll find a beautifully restored set of rooms with portraits in oils on the wall and large stone fireplaces.

To break (or enhance) the spell try an entertaining visit to the Taverna del Barone. Purists may baulk at the thought but it really is a very funny evening and Italians seem to go crazy for this fabulous and unusual entertainment. We were introduced to the ‘Baron’ who looks astoundingly like a swarthy Oliver Reed and he is loud, funny and really proud of his job, which is host of a medieval banquet.

Stairway to heaven

We move southwards to Veroli, a picturesque and fabulously art-laden town that lays claim to being the town housing the third holy staircase. There is one in the Vatican city, one in Jerusalem and one in this teeny tiny place.
As we stand admiring the sparkling polished marble staircase, a smartly dressed woman comes in and as if she’s placed her shopping outside she smiles at us, walks to the staircase and then elegantly kneels and moves up the stairs. We don’t see her full ascent because it takes a while but I imagine that she does this every week, perhaps before picking the children up from school.

We also visit the small and modest town of Arpino. It has locals that are proud of its heritage, which includes being the birthplace of Cicero and the music legend Ennio Moricone. Here you’ll find some very charming venues for museums. The wool museum is set in a deconsecrated church in the back streets and the charming lute museum is tucked away in a courtyard.
Also definitely worth a look is the museum dedicated to the sculptor Umberto Mastroianni whose large abstract pieces can be seen throughout the region in parks and on hillsides.

Risen from the ashes of war

  • Montecassino to see one of the most beautiful and important abbeys in the world. Below you’ll see more wonderful stretches of green valley and a tribute to the soldiers that died in the Second World War. The gardens are well tended and it’s well worth visiting the museum with capitals and inscriptions dating back to Roman times.

  • Another breathtaking view, which has the widest expanse, is the tiny village of Picinisco. Down below about ten minutes’ drive away is the museum dedicated to D H Lawrence. This was the home of Orazio Cervi, who invited Lawrence to stay and references to the place can be seen in the The Lost Girl, which Lawrence completed whilst in Italy.

  • The final part of the epic journey is to the beautiful Monastery of Casamari where we were lucky enough to witness the mind-blowing Infiorata held on Corpus Christi feast day. The entire aisle from the door to the altar is taken up with a stunning carpet of flower petals (and a few corn kernels from what could be seen) that has been created by monks and volunteers. People come from all over the world to witness this marvel and file silently around the church with the occasional gasp of appreciation.

This article was originally published in the print edition of ITALY Magazine