10 Things We Love About Ciociaria | Wild Heart of Italy
It’s over 2,000 years since Ciociaria was known as the hottest food and wine destination in Italy
So here’s a list featuring everything that makes our heart sing in this fabulously hidden secret gem of a region. It’s probably time everyone got to know about it again! In absolutely no particular order, as you could throw these into a hat and draw them out randomly:
It’s Etruscan soul
Kelly here – these were some of the first photos I ever took in Ciociaria, five years ago in the 18th century town of Sora – which lies along the Liri River at the junction of the region’s three valleys of Liri, Roveto and Comino. Sora was originally an ancient settlement site of the Italic Volsci tribe, before being conquered by the Romans circa 300 BC. These photos were snapped up a side laneway during the town’s Corpus Domini Infiorata (flower) festival in May, when the entire main street is covered with flowers depicting religious scenes. Can’t be sure, but it’s a fabulous story, always had a strong feeling that this festival is perhaps based on a pagan Etruscan festival that’s been shadowed in time… Just look at those sneaky magic symbols!
This could actually be number #1, but you can’t always save the best for last! Drink like a Roman Emperor when you visit the hidden food and wine region of Ciociaria, as Cesanese is the indigenous variety of the region and it’s more than likely what Roman nobility were drinking back in the day (thousands of years ago). These days, Cesanese is making a strong comeback with more and more wine critics stating it’s poised to become one of the hottest rediscovered red wine varieties in Central Italy. Rome-based wine historian Andrea Gabbrielli: “Among the rare red wines of Lazio, Cesanese del Piglio is the most interesting. Today, the market wants wines with identity and personality and even though Cesanese is an antique variety, it represents an exciting new trend.” We take our Wild Heart Of Italy guests through the Piglio wine region of Ciociaria to visit a biodynamic vineyard specialising in Cesanese wine.
ps: can’t pronounce it? chez-an-aye-zee
It’s known the ‘City of Popes’ and was once the centre of the Medieval world with five of the earliest Popes ruling from this magical mountaintop village in Ciociaria…but just look at those magic symbols in the backstreets of its vicoli (laneways)! Peel back the layers in every medieval mountaintop village in the Ciociaria region, and you find a Roman temple underneath the village church. And underneath that is an Etruscan temple. and omg how to pronounce that beautiful looking name? an-un-yee
Know any other medieval villages in Italy with their own waterfall in the heart of town? Isola del Liri in Ciociaria is something else. The whole village promenades past the waterfall on Friday and Saturday evenings, just add gelato + prosecco and you’ve got yourself a magical evening. Full disclosure, we are totally biased on this one – Paolo was born here!
The traditional fennel-flavoured ringbread of Ciociaria is a chewy sensation of goodness, and best bought fresh from a street stall to tear into bite size pieces as you wander through local market days. Also good: ciambelline. Little sugar-coated fennel biscuits for dipping into your wine. The Romans did this to flavour their wine so it was drinkable, but now it’s just a seriously fun (and delicious!) thing to do.
Hey the 1,000 year old Benedictine monastery is actually built into the side of a cliff and is pretty spectacular, but this place has THE BEST GIFT SHOP IN THE WORLD. Those delightful monks ramble out into the forests, foraging for wild berries and herbs, and then come back to the monastery to make some serious magical potions and health tonics – read wine and liqueurs. In amongst all the rosary beads and icons and postcards of frescoes, it’s wall-to-wall amazing beverages in there!
This is hands-down our favourite mountaintop medieval village in Ciociaria and was a beloved city of the Hernici Italic tribe thousands of years ago. The Romans took over around 300 BC. These days there’s a palpable feeling in the air of the town returning to its Etruscan roots, with many young people reviving ancient Ciociarian traditions in cuisine, craftsmanship and song. A truly breath of fresh air – To Veroli, Always Remain True 💜
The Ciociarian wild spirit
Fammi povera, che ti faró ricco. Give me the poor and I’ll give you the rich
It’s an ancient proverb about the vines, but it rings true today about the spirit of the people in the Ciociaria region. Deeply connected to their rivers, mountains, lakes and forests, the Ciociarians have endured many setbacks but they have kept their spirits alive through food, wine and song. The whole region is experiencing a sense of revival, and there are some incredible people doing incredible things. Like our friend Luigi, a local vigneron who listened to the ancient proverb and planted his vines in the calcium rock of the mountain. His first crop failed, but now his vineyard is flourishing. He’s producing some amazing local wines that taste of earthy minerals and the wild fennel he lets grow through his biodynamic vineyard.
We’re probably going to have to start another series straight after this one ‘The next 10 things we love about Ciociaria’ because there’s lots of beautiful villages we’ve missed this time. BUT these are the medieval mountaintop villages of Ciociaria that have completely stolen our hearts 💘
Oh Picinisco, just saying your name in local dialect is fun! pizz-in-iss-ko
Clinging to the Apennine mountains with soaring views of the Comino valley, Picinisco celebrated its 1,000 year old anniversary last year. BUT IT’S WAAAAY OLDER THAN THAT! There’s an ancient Roman road that leads the way through the valley to the foot of the village’s mountain pathway, and you only need to take a deep breath of the fresh air to feel its’ Etruscan spirit.
We searched for five years to find our ideal Ciociarian village for our Wild Heart of Italy food and wine experiences, AND. THIS. IS. IT.
✔️ Boutique luxury accommodation (in a diffused hotel in a restored Bishop’s palace within a medieval castle).
✔️ Utterly charming (in 10 minutes you’ve covered the entire village, but it’s SO much fun rambling through its cobbled stone laneways).
✔️ Perfect piazza for sipping prosecco and espresso (bonus: there’s a gelato shop).
✔️ Friendly locals (and what a creative bunch of happy souls they are! artists & vignerons & shopkeepers & bakers & chefs & cheesemakers & shepherds & artisans) They are truly what makes this little village so special
We’ve already kind of alluded to this in a few of our posts in this series, but hands down while the scenery of the Ciociara region will knock your socks off it’s the Ciociarians themselves you’ll fall in love with. Gentle and kind and generous, with a huge serving of humour – and food! and wine! and song!
You will never leave this region hungry, but you’ll be hungry to come back for more.
We take small groups of fellow travellers with soul to Ciociaria with us on our Wild Heart of Italy food and wine adventures every September and May, see our Wild Heart of Italy page for more details.
All images © Silver Compass Tours