The Ciociaria, ancient land of border between Lazio and Campania, is a place rich in history, with a nature that it still shows sometimes wild and a kitchen that is closely linked to the territory. Today I want to take you with me along a route that I studied, and of course route, for those who want to spend two days in a small part of Ciociaria. An itinerary designed especially for the Romans and Neapolitans, Since the Liri Valley is located about an hour away from Rome and about an hour and a half from Naples. Small towns in stone, caves, typical cuisine and relax are the ingredients of this weekend: It is a two days, on a Saturday and a Sunday, to spend time in unexpected places and unexpected. You already know how much I love the borderlands: their wealth is in the mix of different identities, dialects, Customs, kitchens, which make the segment between two regions unique and unrepeatable. The Ciociaria is no exception.
My itinerary starts from the winding road that, leaving the highway Rome-Naples, at the height of Ceprano, door in Pastena: maquis, farms and fields planted with vegetables follow each other before meeting the tiny village of Favaterra, perched on a hill. Small but lovely medieval square: a walk through the narrow streets of stone will take no more than five minutes. A few minutes drive and arrive in Pastena, historic town in the province of Frosinone, that holds a treasure of great value: the Pastena caves. Five kilometres of this cave, along the route of the river Master, beginning in Pastena and end at Falvaterra. Only the first kilometre is practicable, on various heights, but it is a fascinating and full of surprises. For those unfamiliar with the environments of the caves, the Pastena is an opportunity to learn how to closely observe the force of nature: Here there are waterfalls, underground lakes, large vertical walls, tunnels dug by the water in the rock. Pastena is a living cave, that changes every day: has a constant temperature of 15 degrees in all seasons and water, copious flowing, continue to form stalactites, stalagmites, columns, digging pits and to shape the stone. All rooms have a special charm and every year are seen by about 30 thousand visitors: I am a fan of caves, I visit many in Italy and I think these Pastena deserve absolutely to be admired.
The Caves, that are included within the monti Aurunci, at an altitude of 165 metres above sea level, have been mapped for the first time by Carlo Franchetti in 1927, but have been known for a long time at the local population and not only. Were inhabited since the Neolithic times. Dating, In fact, Al 2016 discovering some arrows used most likely prehistoric times for hunting. The guided tour (9 euro) takes about an hour and is curated by the guides of the “Consortium Pastena caves and Collepardo”, running the nature site. Will unravel all the curiosity of these karstic environments, where everyone, with a little’ fancy, can see and imagine being faced with the strangest forms inside: Indian totems in wayfarers with the beard and the saddlebags on the shoulders. The path is well marked and lighted and, If you're lucky, You can also see the waterfall that plunges into the Blue Lake during periods when water flows more caves.
With the same ticket, in the historic centre of Pastena, You can pay a visit to the Museum of farming and olive. A good opportunity to understand how people lived in those territories that are far away from big cities and you are always based on an agro-pastoral economy. Don't limit yourself to the Museum: Palani has many corners to discover, like the old district of Santa Maria, where you can even think of buying one of the many small stone houses for sale.
After the trouble of visiting the caves, I suggest you take a break for lunch by moving in Castrocielo, at the restaurant Tsukuneya. The restaurant belongs to the resort of the same name and is run personally by the owners (him chef, her sommelier), that with great vivacity deal with 11 rooms in the hotel and restaurant. The kitchen, curated by historian and expert Peter Honey, is traditional but slightly revised and lightened. Obvious attention to the raw material, that comes from the land and fishing whenever possible especially in the vast wealth of local meats and vegetables: Pepper cornetto Pontecorvo to broccoli of Roccasecca, Colle San Magno's truffle or Cai caciocavallo di Agnone, the torn of Capracotta and pecorino of Picinisco. Nice little attention given to the customer: from home with savory muffins at homemade buns and crushed with sourdough (with the exception of the bread, provided by a local bakery oven), up to small talk after a meal (during the Carnival). The menu is varied and offers good value for money, that becomes very good when you look at the wine list, where Italy and especially the Lazio are well represented, with some sightseeing in France and prices sometimes below average. I tasted a great cod and potato pie with peas and pepper sauce of Pontecorvo (10 euro), ravioli stuffed with burrata cheese and accompanied by a cream of broccoli in Roccasecca (12 euros) and two seconds typical: a wild boar goulash with buckwheat (I expected a spicy sauce but instead had a sweetness) and a good stuffed chicken, made with the traditional recipe served with tasty Parmesan potatoes and broccoli (both dishes to 12 euros). Among the desserts: a sampling of desserts (prepared by the daughter of the managers, who studied pastry making at the school “Alma”) in which stands a great shortcrust tartlet with orange curd and meringue (12 euro for two persons). It's also a good tasting menu at 30 euros, a vegetarian menu and a gluten free.
After lunch we head toward our appointment with relaxation: Pontecorvo is a town of Lombard origins of the Valley of the river Liri, divided into two by the river and connected by a bridge that offers postcard views at sunset. To visit the Castle and the fortifications of the old town, but don't forget to buy here the pepper Scone, a vegetable Dop which is grown throughout the territory of the municipality and that is famous for its easy digestibility, because it has a very thin Peel. During the Carnival, Don't miss the parade of floats and masks. The place where I suggest you stay is the Tenuta Ezra, just outside Pontecorvo: a agri Spa managed by a young entrepreneur, Erika Votta, He bought and renovated an 18th century patrician villa. Now the villa has a new life and boasts a resort with 11 rooms, a Spa from the wonderful views of the mountains Ausoni, a small Oak Grove, an organic garden, a herd and a restaurant led by a young chef whose, in my opinion, hear. Deciding to invest in an area not really is a courageous choice, that gave visiting tight Ezra 12 people, all highly prepared (Honorable mention for the sommelier Federico Highs). Tranquillity is the watchword in this place: a breakfast with homemade cakes, a sauna and a dip in the warm waters of the Spa in the winter or in the outdoor pool in the summer, with a Crown of mountains around, a walk in the Woods and a dinner prepared by chef Donato De Filippis (Click here to read the full review of restaurant and see the beautiful chef De Filippis) will leave you with a wonderful memory of this weekend. As many relaxation packages and offerings available: the holder is eclectic and always think to organize events and offer new experiences to customers. But even a simple meal in the restaurant is already a good reason to visit Held Ezra.
You know they are always looking for high quality products and that, everywhere I go, I love to browse through the local products. And just looking around I found that, among the suppliers of the estate, deserve a quote Roberto Carver and Julius Brown: the first is the holder de Butcher's shop by Earth and the second wine cooperative Casalvieri delle Ginestre. Carver is an expert in millburn and I can only share his philosophy: buy meat of small farmers (over 20 those which give the meat, all within 20 kilometers) and, for each type, Yes invent’ a sausage that might enhance it at most. This is how crafts at 100%, Obviously in very small quantities, sometimes surprising flavour: the rabbit mortadella sausage of veal, from black pig ham and culatello Cardozo mortadella with Nougat dried figs, almonds and dark chocolate (awesome), passing through the ham of angus, Il violino di capra, tinned meat '’ that has nothing to do with canned meat you can imagine. In its products there are nitrates, nitrites, salnitri: just salt, and the thickener is simply toasted flour.
The second largest producer is Julius Brown, former chemist who, initially teetotaler, you are so passionate about wine to establish a cooperative with six friends. The path of Terra delle Ginestre, started 18 years ago in Spigno Saturnia (province of Latina), continues today as a sign of recovery and valorisation of the oldest vines of Lazio as the Metolano, the Bellone and the Abbuoto. A track back in search of the origins, that has given rise to different wines that aim to respect nature and in growing methods, both in working in the cellar. Together with the owner I could taste two whites (Joy and Mastic) and a red (The General). All products of great immediacy and drinkability, the restaurant has chosen to put in your wine. A niche production, about 15 thousand bottles, for a product that relies entirely on the territoriality. And that from 2013 also has the labels without the use of sulfites.
On Sunday we begin our journey by visiting Pico, North of Monti Aurunci: a small stone village dominated by the Castello Farnese, of medieval origins (year 1000). From the castle the view stretches across the Valley: I arrived just before sunset, with a warm glow, Orange, intense and really impressive. Slate roofs and stone walls are illuminated by shadows and colors and seem to come to life. Worth the climb for the country to capture the reflections of the last rays of sunshine on roofs and steeples. Within walking distance there is the Church of Sant'Antonino martire. Pico's typical dish is the “Pano below”, a rustic bread soup served with different vegetables, Unfortunately I couldn't taste: also why I'll be back soon in Ciociaria. Pico is also famous for being the birthplace of Tommaso Landolfi (1909-1979), that in the twentieth century gave prestige to this small country with his work as a poet and man of letters.
Let's close this route with a small ' trespassing’ in the province of Latina, to learn about and wander through the narrow streets and arcades of Apple Field, but for a really tasty lunch break. The village is situated on a hill at 650 meters high, a few kilometers from Pico, and is surrounded by a fortified wall of medieval walls with twelve towers, restored in the 1990s. I'm used’ a very small country but very impressive: Here, too, the best time is when the Sun enters into the illuminating stones and roofs. To visit the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel and the monastery of Sant'Onofrio (dating back to the 11th century). Mandatory stop on the Town Hall square where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the valley below: at dusk the scenery is postcard. A small curiosity: will the healthy air, but the village is famous for the longevity of its inhabitants, and there are several scientific studies carried out on the population of Apple Field to learn their secrets.
The lunch break I mentioned is the one at the restaurant The Appetizer, very well known in the area for the quality of the raw materials and the traditional cuisine and well taken care of. Always full, and you should then book, the restaurant operated by Roberto and Francesco makes a kitchen that fishing in the truest tradition of Lazio, using local ingredients of choice, from salami to vegetables to meat. Pasta, homemade bread dumplings and complete an offer that has in the quality-price ratio and abundance of its strength. I tried the antipasto della casa (10 euro), with grass pea soup, Escarole and bean soup, bruschetta, but especially great meats from Bassiano ham, and then salami of various types, ricotta, Pecorini, bread pancakes, omelettes and soufflés. Then gnocchi with wild boar sauce (8 euro) and ravioli filled with Braised beef with chestnuts and vegetables (9 euro): excellent both, handmade egg noodles and dumplings, well seasoned and well presented: We asked two half portions and have prepared without any problem. The two half portions were plentiful and, on the account, We paid 6 euros each. As seconds, We tried the goat's broken Campomelana (10 euro), the barbecued lamb ribs (12 euros) and the broccoli of Roccasecca passed by again. Here too, all good, large portions, perfect cooking lamb, juicy goat stew. The only criticism I have to make it to dessert, a Bavarian chestnuts with persimmon cream (5 euros): totally tasteless, with my eyes closed I would never say that it was chestnuts and persimmons. It remains a safe address and an Inn's old fashioned’ highly recommended. Now you just need, satiated and relaxed, getting home.