Soriano nel Cimino is a hill top town in Lazio, the beautiful county that often is overlooked by being home to Rome. It is surrounded not by green hills like Tuscany but shimmering blue mountains that stand between here and the capital. The train stops close by in Orte just a 20 minute taxi ride up hill to an altitude of 500m. I don’t usually mention the name of my hotel but this guest house is so totally amazing that I could spend the entire blog writing just about Casina degli Specchi, the House of Mirrors.
The entire house is ornately painted and decorated with vast wooden panelled painted ceilings and baroque painted windows.
The entire house sits in well tended gardens of scented plants and neatly manicured lawns. The family who own the house are so kind and open with all their guests and their breakfast is organic, fresh, local and totally delicious. Much of the never ending feast is baked and cooked by the mama of the house and a special effort was made to create beautiful vegetarian dishes for me.
I selected my stay here in Soriano nel Cimino to attend their Chestnut Festival. Once held yearly in medieval times the modern festival was started again in 1968 the same year I was born and today I and the festival are 49 years old. What a splendid choice of place to spend my birthday it is. The entire town is bedecked with banners and flags and looks very much like the set for a film or Game of Thrones.
Four districts compete against each other in a series of performances. I take my place at the far end of the main Piazza. Let the drum off begin. Alright in my head they are drumming and playing their fanfares for my birthday but as each of the groups enter the square from their respective gateways I marvel at their displays. The four teams are San Giorgio, Nobilis Trinitas, Rione Rocca and Papacqua. My guesthouse displays the flag of Papacqua but while I wish to support this team I am really just there to be entertained by them all.
It all start with the children of the town who play drums and blast their trumpets as other members of the team perform spinning flamming balls or spinning and throwing flags.
Then a team steps forth and their young knights perform sword dances, clashing their swords together in time to the music. The festival is really about the pride of the town and there are few tourists here to enjoy this spectacle. What a wonderful morning watching all the hard work of the town’s children.
I also get to enjoy all the delicious chestnut foods on offer in the market. Roasted chestnuts, chestnut beer, chestnut ravioli made with chestnut flour and filled with chestnuts and Casta Gnocco. Tiny yeasted chestnut flour gnocchi deep fried that resemble chestnuts topped with chopped chestnuts and a chestnut cream. Dreamy chestnut heaven.
There is also a demonstration of falconry and archery too and in the evening there is a dramatic reenactment of the story of St. George and the Dragon. Sadly my camera was unable to capture this spectacle and then died on me before the dragon appeared. But I did grab a snap of this actor waiting at the side of the square have a fag to calm his nerves.
I went again to the amazing Rottezzia for my dinner. This is the most wonderful restaurant inside a series of caves and is run by the most wonderful family, Famiani who were so kind to me the three nights I ate there.
The mama is the cook and she is such an amazing cook too. Rustic local food that they were always willing to adapt to make it suitable for vegetarians. Papa Famiani works all the guests throughout the restaurant with his stories and humour. Their son, Emanuele is the Maître d who greets all his guests with a warmth and enthusiasm that charms all their patrons and Emanuele’s girlfriend works in the kitchen learning all the recipes from his mother to safeguard the traditional dishes on offer here.
As I mentioned at the top of this blog Lazio suffers from being swallowed up by Rome and in the UK we think of Tuscany as the go to place for for true Italian food but it is time that we all sat up and booked a visit to these little towns of Lazio. Their cuisine is truly rich and wonderful. It is also half the price of Tuscany and twice as fresh in my opinion. I loved all the staff here in Rottezzia.
My meals were a banquet of courses of increasing delights. Cheese, pears and honey with rum, chocolate and orange slices. The aromas that swirled around my table were wondrous.
Local eggless stretched spirals of gnocchi with porcini mushrooms and cream. Bruschetta with the freshest ruby red tomatoes and local creamy mozzarella.
Dark brown casseroles of garbanzo beans thick rich potage of chickpeas and chestnuts.
Wide Soriano macaroni like pappardelle pasta with lightly fried local mushrooms steaming with heat like pasta never is at home.
And to top off my birthday feast a chocolate and chestnut cake and panda cotta crown with fig and cinnamon marmalade dusted with coco powder and etched with a greeting to me. All served with felicitous song by happy minstrels dressed in medieval clothes. Now that’s what I call a perfect birthday.