Located on the west bank of the Tiber River and south of Vatican City, Trastevere has a spirited medieval old-town feel. Greenwich Village in New York came to mind as I slowly made my way through the tightly winding streets. Quaint, comfortable, charming, incredible nightlife….Trastevere is all of these and more. Read more →
We hit a goldmine….of delicious and authentic Italian food, that is. My blog tour group, This Is Your Time, had just arrived at Trattoria La Grotta for lunch. We had previously toured the famous Orvieto Cathedral with its striking Luca Signorelli frescoes that spanned over the gothic interior of one chapel. It seemed only right to turn down the old cobbled street Via Luca Signorelli after we left the cathedral. And there we found our memorable Trattoria.
“A Stone’s Throw from the Cathedral of Orvieto and the dizzying Clock Tower, you will find our local housed inside a former stable, furnished in a simple style trattorias…”
Franco, the proprietor, met us at the front door dressed in a crisp red checkered shirt and white apron that almost touched the ground. With warm handshakes, he quickly took us inside and sat us at a table that accommodated our entire group.
The interior was a cellar-like space with intriguing yet subtle Picasso-esque murals on the walls. We learned that Franco had operated his trattoria here for nearly 30 years, with a steady American clientele as well as a local following.
Proud yet gracious, Franco described some of the dishes on the menu. His knowledge of local Italian wines was superb, and we took him up on his recommendations. The red wine was delicious and a perfect match for our meal choices.
The menu items feature grilled meats, pasta and fresh vegetables featuring the traditional flavors of Umbria. Most all of the ingredients, from homemade pasta to extra virgin olive oil, were locally grown or made. Gluten free options are possible if discussed with the staff.
We were served a mouth-watering plate of steak bites. It was sauced just right, tender and succulent. Before long, a large serving of chicken with local olives arrived. Spiced perfectly, not a piece was left over.
During our meal, Franco shared the history of his trattoria and the people over the years who had graced his tables. He brought out several photos to share from his beloved collection and passed them around the table. He had a story to tell about each one. Among them was a photo of his lovely wife. With soft eyes, he spoke tenderly of his strong love for her.
Franco and his staff soon brought more plates of food. We were beginning to feel full but found the room to squeeze in pappardelle with wild boar sauce and buttery gnocchi.
His staff was all smiles. Personable and friendly, we felt extremely well taken care of.
The chef made a quick appearance at our request. We gave her a round of applause and praised her culinary skills.
We said our goodbyes to Franco and promised we would revisit him one day soon. As we walked up the street to our next destination, our hearts and tummies were warmed by a joyful contentment that is not easy to find. It was simply the result of a personal touch, authenticity and warm regards from a proprietor and staff who valued quality and professionalism. Signorelli would be proud.
When was the last time you were greeted on a hike by a noisy band of geese? Like a royal round of trumpets, a herd of white geese announced our arrival at the Orsini Farm in Umbria. Piercing blue eyes sized us up and down as they waddled by. These guardians of the gate made sure the Orsini family and those in the vicinity were keenly aware of our presence.
Earlier that morning, my blog tour group, This Is Your Time, met our guide Fabrizio at a trailhead near Lake Trasimeno in Umbria. He works with Umbria Action, an outdoor adventure team designed to introduce the best back roads experiences of the region. Programs range from hiking, rafting, free flying, canyoning and biking just to name a few. Wine, food and cultural tours are designed for the individual or a group by guides who thoroughly know the land and are enthusiastic about sharing it.
We met our tour guide Fabrizio, soft-spoken and very knowledgable about the area. He took us on a trek through open fields and groves of tall green trees with lovely views of Lake Trasimeno. Along the way, he pointed out the various types of plants native to the area. Prickly pear cactus grew in mounds with bright red buds. Fabrizio proved to be an excellent guide who answered our questions with a lot of patience.
We passed charming old villas lined with Cypress trees. The air was fresh and clean with only a hint of a breeze. I felt like I had just stepped into one of my favorite Italy scenes. All was peaceful and quiet except for the crunch of our shoes on gravel and quips of conversations shared between us.
We arrived at the Azienda Agraria Orsini farm, our destination for lunch and a farm tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of our welcoming team of noisy white geese with piercing blue eyes, but trust me, they were there!
As we approached the house, two baby goats skipped playfully out from under the shaded patio followed by a couple of quacking ducks. Perky and nimble, we laughed as the baby goats pirouetted around our group. Soon puppies began to wiggle from underneath the old rock and mortar farm-house. We were highly entertained by these little members of the Orsini family.
The Orsini Agriturismo is a small-scale, family run operation, all sowing and harvesting is done by hand including fagiolina beans, grapes for wine, and olives for olive oil. The fagiolina beans are native to the area and had nearly died out of existence. Thanks to Flavio Orsini, the family has worked hard to cultivate them and once again bring them back to the meal table near and abroad.
A visit to the Orsini Farm means “spending a few hours immersed in a simple atmosphere of nature and colors that represent the great beauty of the hills of Lake Trasimeno.” We were introduced to the traditional local cuisine as well as the old authentic techniques of production.
Flavio Orsini is the family patriarch and president of Umbria’s Slow Food Movement. The Slow Food Movement is basically everything fast food is not. For example, Slow Food is all about preserving indigenous varieties of plant and animal food sources. It is also the promotion of local culinary traditions and local foods as well as preserving the local food products along with the lore and preparation. Organizing small-scale processing is very important in bringing about a complete cultural experience.
Flavio took us on a farm tour and gave us a demonstration of how he shells the fagiolina beans that he harvests on his property. Afterwards, the bean shells were carried to the goat pen and dropped over the fence. Nothing goes to waste. This is one of the major themes of the Slow Food idea.
Lunch was a long wooden table with plates of various traditional crostini. Carafes of full-bodied red wine provided a wonderful tasting experience. Fabrizio and Paola, both from Umbria Action, joined us at the table. Our view was the beautiful and serene Lake Trasimeno.
Paola could no longer resist and picked up one of the scampering puppies. They enjoyed a nose to nose moment of puppy love.
After lunch and the farm tour, we said good-bye to Flavio and his family. We had places to go and things to see before nightfall. But we found ourselves lingering too long. The Orsini Farm was a beautiful oasis in a world spinning out of control. Nature worked side by side with man in perfect rhythm. It was all good and right. And very hard to leave behind.
Paola Orsini is a woman who orchestrates her booming olive oil business with finesse. She is the third generation to own the Orsini Olive Farm (Azienda Biologica Orsini) located just 70 miles south of Rome. With the help of her husband Paolo, they have developed an Extra Virgin Olive Oil that has earned the highest of points and awards within the olive oil industry.
It all began with her great-aunt Olivia, an elderly maid, when she acquired the olive farm with an old mill at the end of the 19th century. The farm is located in Priverno, in the Lepini Mountain basin. Most of the 4,000 olive trees are over 200 years old. They are interspersed with almond and citric trees on 123 acres. Olives are harvested between October and December.
The Orsini family has witnessed the sacrifices of many a family member in its time. Paola’s great-grandfather was a chemist, but traded his dream of owning a pharmacy for running the family olive mill. It was Eduoardo, Paola’s father, who continued the farming of the olives and gave up his plans to become a lawyer. However, all good things come to those who wait, and this is one great example. Today, the consistent quality of their extra virgin olive oil is superb and continues to remain in high demand.
My travel group, This Is Your Time, received a warm greeting from Paola and her husband when we first arrived. Afterward, we enjoyed a tour around the olive groves with Paolo. The late morning air was fresh with an earthy scent. As we gathered around Paolo to learn about the Itrana olive, exclusively grown on the farm, we noticed the trees were heavy with fruit. Harvest time was soon to begin. The Orsini family have made a commitment to use organic farming, saying no to chemical fertilizer, genetically modified organisms, pesticides and forcing plant growth. They have converted the common cultivation into a biological agriculture, since environment protection is very important to them.
Harvest each year brings about 200,000 kg of olives, which produces 26,000 liters of oil. The Organic Itrana Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Azienda Biological Orsini (name of the farm) has consistently won multiple awards at major international olive oil competitions. They are ranked among the very top EVOO’s of the world as listed in major olive oil guides and publications. Ercole Olivario, the oldest and most prestigious olive oil competition in Italy, awarded Orsini Extra Virgin Olive Oil first place in its medium fruity category. This in itself is a high achievement.
The oil has been described as organic, intense limpid yellow, rich in aromas of medium ripe tomatoes, apples and rosemary. Its taste as a whole is harmonious with notes of bitterness and spiciness. It is typically paired with bluefish, roasted mushrooms, boiled octopus, broccoli soup and aged cheese. I can attest to its delicious taste and fragrance from our farm sampling.
After our tour, we followed Paolo into the old olive press barn where we met up with Paola once more. A large assortment of traditional cuisine was spread out on the long wooden table. Bowls of tasty olives, sliced prosciutto, small brine onions, and roast pork encased in a thin crispy shell decked the table. Of course, there was plenty of olive oil and bread. We sat together with the family and enjoyed a bountiful meal over engaging conversations.
The huge fireplace against the far wall brought visions to my mind’s eye of flaming logs casting a glow onto a festive winter dinner, while shadows of merrymaking danced across the walls and laughter accompanied the clinking of glasses. The meal was a restful respite from walking the orchards.
Olive oil steams out of the processor at the Orsini olive mill. Products can be bought at delicatessens, specialty shops or online**
Paola and her husband display a great passion for the land. As stewards of this family business, they are following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. Their great care combined with the perfect climate, the high quality trees and meticulous hand harvest all contribute to bring about an exceptional product.
We stood transfixed at the majestic panoramic view of Terracina below and further points unknown from the Temple of Jupiter Anxur on Mount St. Angelo. I had previously gazed up at the temple from below and noticed the large terraced platform with a long row of support arches running underneath. It was then that my thoughts recalled a Bible verse I once read about putting your light on a hill for all to see. This was certainly a place to display ones most highly prized possession. Its beauty and importance could be seen by everyone for miles around.
Terracina is located 47 miles southeast of Rome on the Tyrrhenian coastline. My blog tour group, This Is Your Time, had just arrived at the Temple of Jupiter Anxur with Danilo Mastracco from Slow Food Terracina, and Laura Marano from Terracina Live, the local newspaper. We entered through the ticket office which is run by the organization Munus. This association also manages the Tempio di Giove by working to support the communications and promotional aspect of the site.
We enjoyed frothy cappuccino outside the Piano Bar Tempio di Giove while conversing with Professor Vencenslao (Lavio) Grossi about the history of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur while taking in the views.
After coffee, we passed through the Piano Bar to the back room where we saw a large model of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur. The Roman Sanctuary, a large complex of several buildings, dates back to the 4th century B.C., although most of the development is believed to have happened over a period of time up to the 1st century. The spectacular position of the large temple mounted high on the terrace, accessed by twelve steps, would have dominated the skyline . Although now merely foundations, a vaulted gallery and a cryptoportico, it is still commanding.
The Temple of Jupiter Anxur is mentioned by Livy, Virgil and Servius. Livy records lightning striking the temple twice. A passage in Virgil’s writings indicate that the worship of Jupiter Anxur extended to neighboring towns and that the Temple complex was highly visible all around. Servius wrote that the infant Jupiter was worshipped under the title of Anxur.
In the photo above, you can see the arcades and vaults of the substructure that supported the large terrace above where the Temple of Jupiter Anxur stood. The vaulting at the base of the temple area are the most impressive remains of the complex. Below is how they look today.
During the first century it was also used for military purposes. At the decline of the Roman empire in the 5th century, the site caught fire and burned. Afterward, a Benedictine monastery was built in its place. It was later abandoned in the 16th century.
The arches of the subterranean support system are regarded as one of the best examples of “opus incertum,” which was a Roman construction technique using concrete. As I walked through them, I was very impressed by the strength and precision of the structure. The Roman complex was built to last.
Twelve arches give the impression of a single corridor. The figure at the end below increases the effect of one single line of arches. The construction of the rock and brick walls was fascinating. It all fit tightly together like a puzzle.
A large covered gallery behind the portico is believed to have been used for processions.
In the past, a cave connected with the oracle’s rock podium, which had a hole that winds passed through and made eerie sounds. Because of this, the cave was chosen as a holy site associated with the god Jupiter’s voice.
A priest stood in the cave and gave answers to the questions of the devoted by deciphering the voice of Jupiter.
Professor Vencenslao (Lavio) Grossi was a wealth of information concerning the historical facts and timeline of the Temple. He is a researcher, author of numerous scientific papers on archaeological Terracina, and a very engaging speaker during his guided tours. He is associated with the Archeoclub of Terracina.
The word Anxur is a Volscian name for Jupiter as a youth. The Volsci were an early Italic tribe that lived in the hills and marshes of the area. Although they fought against the Romans, they eventually succumbed to domination.
Mount St. Angelo, at 227 m high, stood directly in the way of Rome’s most important road. The Via Appia, built in 312 BC as a major road between Rome and Capua, ran up the steep slope of the mountain. It was Trajan who had the rock face cut below the complex along the coast to enable travel at sea level. The completed bypass was not finished until the early 2nd century AD.
The area of the complex is grassy and inviting for an outdoor lunch. There is no charge to enter from the generous sized parking lot. A small bar (cafe pictured above) sits inside the walls on the sun-splashed terrace with outdoor dining tables where you can also purchase a guidebook. Cats lounge about soaking up the warmth of the stonework.
For those more energetic, walk up to the temple complex from Piazza del Municipio in Terracina and soak in the flower strewn olive groves along the way.