Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Search for the Best Ice Cream

Every summer I put on weight when I come to Italy, despite the walking and swimming I do. It can only be the wonderful food that I eat here and my daily ice cream. I have tried to limit myself to one every other day, but the pull of incredible tasting ice cream is so strong!

Everyone I know has a different opinion where the best ice cream is made, but we all agree on one thing: it has to be home-made or 'artiginale'. Everything else is bland in comparison. A lot of good ice cream is made here, but when you find the best, it is hard to go back to the normal stuff. So where is the best in our local area?

I think the best ice cream is found at a small place in San Felice, near the sea called Lillio along the Via Terracina. It is artiginale of course, but their flavours are a little different and out of this world! The last time I was there, I had ricotta and honey ice cream with melon and a bit of 'panna' on top (cream). Yum. I was going to take a photo of it, but couldn't wait to eat it. A cone with two flavours and panna on top is 2 euros.

My brother disagrees and swears that the best place - while still in San Felice - is at another place - Il Gelatone on Via Tommaso Tittoni.

Try them yourself and see what you think!


Monday, 7 July 2014

The Via Appia Antica

This is the old Roman road that runs from Rome all the way south to Terracina in an almost straight line as most good ancient Roman roads do. It then continues further to the south to Brindisi. It passes very near our farming village and we regularly use it to go to Terracina or even up to Rome on an alternative route to the bigger road - the Pontina.

It's easy to take it for granted - it's just a road. But occasionally you are reminded of its great past when you pass the scattered Roman ruins and mausoleums. This greatness is at it's best near Rome, where there are old Roman buildings on either side of the Appian Way. The large ancient Roman slab stones are still in place on the road making driving very bumpy! Some of the ancient Roman slabs still have grooves dug into them from centuries of carts passing over them. Casual archaeological evidence of life thousands of years ago is evident throughout the region: an aqueduct here, an ancient bridge here. Part of the charm is in the casual nature with which they are treated. Unfortunately, this casual treatment also threatens the preservation of some ancient monuments as well as the lack of funds for their upkeep.

The two lines of the umbrella pines are an easy way to identify this road.



Sunday, 6 July 2014

Food from Local Farms

The Agro Pontino is an agricultural area. It was inhospitable marshland up until the 1920s. The land was drained and reclaimed, settled by farmers from the north of Italy. This explains why Northern Italian food often appears on restaurant menus in the area. The Italian Fascist government organised the farmers, gave them a house, land, some animals and farming machinery. Nowadays it is an area of very fertile land where many crops are grown: tomatoes, peppers, melons etc. The area is also known for its buffalo mozzarella and other cheeses such as ricotta and provola.

Some farms sell their produce directly to the public. This includes vegetables, fruit as well as cheeses and meats. Some farms have little shops attached and some also have no-frills restaurants. I have listed some of them here so you can try them out for yourselves. It's worth mentioning that locals go to the farms to buy produce, so they aren't tourist traps. Prices aren't dirt cheap - it's the freshness and wonderful quality that you're buying.

In Borgo Vodice towards the Via Appia:


54, V. Migliara - 04014 Pontinia (LT)

tel: 0773 852204,0773 850096

They specialise in a range of organic cheeses. They also let members of the public visit their dairy to see how the cheese is made. Ask about times and they will let you know.

Across the Via Appia:


169, V. Migliara 51 Sinistra - 04014 Pontinia (LT)

tel: 327 6957856,0773 850147

I wondered if there was an English connection with this British sounding name - but there is none. No one I spoke to knew where the name came from. There was a grill restaurant opening up here in 2013 specialising in lots of different meats. Check that it is still open as these set-ups often come and go.

There are many Caseifici in the area. Many specialise in cheeses, but also sell more products. They often have big signs advertising where they are. It really is worth going to have a look at what they sell.

Organic Honey

Miele Maiero

Via Migliara 54

Borgo Vodice

I love this place and it's one of my first stops every time I visit. I know the lady who owns the hives and she is really lovely. They produce a range of honeys - eucalyptus, orange blossom, acacia, chestnut. They also sell honey grappa.




Sunday, 29 June 2014

Markets in the Local Area

Most small towns have a weekly market. These usually sell vegetables, cheese, meats as well as clothes and household goods. They are genuine markets that locals use and often have bargains as well as local produce. Some also sell second hand goods. They are great to visit.

Below are the times of local markets if you wish to visit them:


Fridays -7:30 am to 2 pm in Viale Italia.


Thursdays - 7am to 2 pm in the central square Piazza Santa Barbara.

San Felice Circeo

Tuesdays - 7:30 am to 1 pm in Piazza Luigi Lanzuisi near the sea promenade.


Thursdays - 8 am to 1:30 pm in Viale Europa.



Local Sagre (Festivals)

All over Italy there are a variety of local festivals held at different times to celebrate different things - olive oil, fish, grape. There really is a festival for almost anything! There usually is a huge amount of food involved and drink. You usually see them advertised on banners, posters or in newspapers. Many are well-known and happen every year.

I have tried to find all the Sagre that are local to the Latina region. Bear in mind that new sagre are organised all the time and although old ones usually do happen, they can be cancelled or have dates changed. Check before heading to one that is listed here. This can be done on line about a month before the festival or checking at information centres in larger towns. There usually are posters and banners on display in the town/village itself. It's worth keeping your eyes peeled as you travel around for ones that aren't listed here!


Sagra del Prosciutto (21-28 June)

Borgo Vodice (the tiny farming village where our house is - we are fortunate to have loads!)

Sagra della Bufala con Polenta (7- 8th June)

Gastronomic festival (Second Sunday in July)

Bavarian Beer Festival (30 July to 3rd August)

Festa di Cristo Re (August)

Oktoberfest and Trebbiano dei Bagigi (10 to 12 October)

Cisterna di Latina

Cisternese Carnival, with a parade of floats and masked groups in the streets of the city centre and ballo in maschera the evening of Shrove Tuesday in the courtyard of the Palazzo Caetani.

Fiera della Ricalata (last Sunday in October), with re-enactment of the ancient market.

Cisternese Christmas (from 8 December to 6 January), with polenta, fagiolata, artistic Nativity scene in the caves of Palazzo Caetani.


Historic carousel dei Rioni-Palio della Madonna del Soccorso (last Sunday in May), with the participation of three districts (Ninfina, Roman and Signina)

Historic carousel dei Rioni-Palio di Mariano Stabile, (third Sunday in July), with the Palio Race.

Feast of the Madonna del Soccorso (second Sunday of May and following Monday), with the Palio Race.


Regne and fire at the Castle (second weekend in July).


Palio dei Comuni Pontini (last Sunday in July).

Sagra Of Olive Oil (last Sunday in March)

Sagra of Chestnuts (last Sunday of October)


Strawberry Grape Festival (1st Sunday in October).

Roccasecca dei Volsci

Feast of the Goat (last Sunday of August)


Agricultural festival 5 - 6 July


Feast of San Giuseppe Faoni (18-19 March)

Festa della Madonna della Vittoria (second Sunday in October), with historical re-enactment of the battle of Lepanto.


Representation of the passion of Christ (Good Friday), in period costume.

Artichoke Festival (mid-April).

Sagra della Panzanella (3 - 6 July).


Festival of Lights (Ascension, 6th Sunday after Easter).

Spigno Saturnia

Chestnut Festival (2nd Sunday of October).


Festa Marinara/ Festa della Madonna del Carmine: The Festival of the Sea takes place in July and occupies an important place in Terracina's folklore, linked to the town's long fishing history. A statue of the Virgin Mary "Madonna" is placed in a fishing boat, and accompanied out to sea by other boats, decked out with shells, flowers and lights. The procession sails from Terracina port to Circeo. On their return, fireworks are set off from the boats. There is also a fish and seafood festival, with exhibitions of folklore and fried fish stands.


Monday, 23 June 2014

Sperlonga and The Grotto of Tiberius

Sperlonga is about an hour drive from the house. It is a small town on a hill right next to the sea. It is very beautiful all whitewashed, a contrast to the blue sea. You can park outside the town and then walk around the narrow streets.

The beaches nearby are very lovely, but a bit narrow. It is best to go here during the week as it gets quite busy during the weekend. At the other end of the beach to the small town is the Ancient Roman site of Tiberius' Grotto. There is a small museum which is full of statues that were in the grotto. You can then wander around the ruins and the grotto itself. It is just next to the sea and it becomes very obvious why Tiberius chose this spot - it is so beautiful!

Tiberius used to hold incredible banquets for his guests in this grotto. It is wonderful to imagine ancient Romans dining in the grotto with the huge statues around them, pools of water and fountains with exotic fish.


The Best Local Beaches


I must say that when it comes to going to the beach, I am a creature of habit. I tend to go to the same ones again and again. This is partly due to the fact that the nearest one is one of my favourites - undeveloped with a clean refreshing sea.

In Italy there are basically two different kinds of beach -

  1. Spiaggia Libera - free beach - no charge and you have to bring your own umbrella, chairs etc. sometimes there are bar shacks that sell ice creams etc, but it's a good idea to bring your own snack and plenty of water.
  2. Stabilimenti - organised, private beaches where you hire umbrellas and chairs. They often have their own bar and sometimes a restaurant.

I go to the free beach - it's cheaper - obviously - and I like the fact that you can sit where you like. There also are less people - unless it's a weekend in August or Ferragosto (15th August) which is a national holiday and EVERYONE heads to the beach. I steer well clear on Ferragosto - it's a good time to go to cities in a car, there's hardly any traffic or any people except for tourists. A big drawback is that almost everything is shut. A couple of years ago I drove down the Appian Way in a Fiat cinquecento to the centre of a nearly deserted Rome. It was fantastic.

The free beach I go to is at Sabaudia. Well - it's almost free as you do have to pay for parking on the road just near the beach. You pay at the ticket machine - they have lots of them all the way down the road. Don't think you can get away with not paying! Traffic wardens regularly go up and down the road and will charge you if you have not displayed the ticket. It is 1 euro per hour. There are kilometres of beach with wild sand dunes behind. There is very little construction here as it is a protected area - a nature reserve.

When you get to the bridge over Lago Di Paola you have a choice - go left or right. There are beaches in both directions, but I go to the right and drive about 5 km in that direction. It's more remote and access to the beach is easier. There are wooden walk ways that make access to the sea really easy.



The Abbey of Fossanova

This Cistercian abbey lies quite near the mountains near the train station of Priverno/Fossanova about a 30 minute drive away from the house. It is very old, plain but beautiful. It is where St Thomas Aquinas died. You can walk around the abbey and part of the monastery.

They make their own biscuits at the abbey bakery and they are delicious. There is a bar (yes in a monastery!) and also a lovely restaurant. It is a great half day visit. If you feel up to it, there are some walks in the woods opposite the monastery. If you are very lucky and are there during August, there is a festival with artisans selling a variety of goods, artisanal beer and good food. Also there is flag tossing in medieval costume!




Domitian's Villa

The Roman Emperor Domitian built the villa on the shores of Lago di Paola in the first century bc. Lago di Paola is the lake which lies between Sabaudia and the sea, about a 15 minute drive away from my parent's house. You can now visit the ruins but only with a guide. It is well worth it, especially if you enjoy history as I do. However, the tours are only in Italian and only on certain dates and at certain times. Even if you speak no italian, you can go along and look at the ruins, well preserved roman toilets and an amazing underground water cistern. Bear in mind though that there is a lot of walking on uneven ground. Wear comfortable shoes and take water in the summer months. Also, you will need to take your car as all visitors drive to the entrance of the archaeological site in a convoy.

To organise the visit, you must go to the Parco Nazionale di Circeo visitor centre in Via Carlo Alberto, 107, near Sabaudia. This is near the outskirts of Sabaudia near the forest. Enquire at the main desk and they will be able to tell you the dates and times of the tours as well as the cost. Also ask if there is a tour in English, this is unlikely, but you never know!

This under ground water cistern is truly amazing. It's like entering a huge cathedral. The Romans took their water systems very seriously, so the cistern is very well constructed with beautiful arches. It also is lovely and cool, great to get away from the intense heat for a while during the summer!


A trip to the Lepini mountains

The Abbey of Valvisciolo

Up in the mountains near Norma in Southern Lazio is the Abbey of Valvisciolo. The abbey of Fossanova is more well known and worth a look as well, but this abbey is more remote and really lovely. It was built in the 8th century by Greek monks and then reconstructed in the 13th century by the Knights Templar. There is also a beautiful cloister which is also well worth a visit.


The church within is dedicated to St Peter and Paul. In the old dispensarium, there is an art gallery 'Galleria Stanislao White' named after an old abbot. There are works by Durer, Rembrandt, and Goya amongst others.

The medieval town of Bassiano

I found this old town last summer in 2012 after travelling around the area for nearly 30 years! It's amazing how there is always something new to discover, no matter how well you think you know an area. It was an easy drive from nearby Sermoneta and through the valleys, not too high up in the mountains. The town is very well preserved with a nearly intact castle wall with turrets all the way around the town. Park your car outside the walls and then wander around the town's narrow windy streets at your leisure.


We found a little alimentari (small supermarket) where the owners prepared us a lovely lunch, sampling local cheeses and prosciutto, which is a speciality. Simple, cheap and yummy!


I returned here about a year later on my yearly visit to the area and found a wonderful restaurant hidden away outside the walls of the medieval town. I just have to share it with you! It is called il Belvedere in Piazza Matteotti owned and run by Vittorio and his family. The pasta was delicious but the star was his ice cream! Vittorio is a master ice cream maker and makes his own on the premises. You can stay and have a meal or have an ice cream in a cone to eat as you are wandering around the town. Highly recommended!


San Felice Circeo


San Felice is a very well-known sea side holiday destination for Italians. It was considered an exclusive sea side resort in the 1980s: its marina was full of impressive yachts and boats and the town had posh restaurants and shops. Nowadays, it is less high-class but still retains some of the exclusive feel. It can still cost a lot of money to rent a villa in San Felice during the summer. Millionaires still own some of the secluded villas hidden on Mount Circeo.

There are actually two different San Felices. The older one with medieval origins is on top of the Circeo mountain overlooking the sea. The more modern town is down below, scattered behind the sea. The older town is a beautiful spot, where you can sit and have a coffee in one of the many bars. You can also wander around the small medieval town and have a look at its small boutiquey shops. The more modern town has a lot of shops as well. One of my favourite ice cream shops is here on the Via Tittoni called Il Gelatone. All home made and delicious!

The name Circeo is thought to originate from the witch Circe in Homer's Odyssey. The witch in the book lives on an island and mount Circeo, being so close to the sea, could easily once have been an island, surrounded by the sea.This is also the area where bones of Neanderthal man were found - in one of the many caves that are on the mountain. There are also beautiful grottoes that can be explored by boat. The beaches are easier to get to and are very beautiful, but less remote than the ones near Sabaudia. As you can see, this is an area with lots to offer.