Casperia and the Sabine Hills

The province of Rieti is filled with fabulous little hill towns which make up that part of Lazio known as the Sabine. It is a province of olive trees and vineyards. The Sabine are also know for their pork products, including porchetta (whole roasted deboned pig flavored with garlic and wild fennel) and a wide variety of flavorful sausages. The 15th-century palazzetto you will be staying in has been painstakingly renovated by artist Roberto Scheda.

The primary access to this nearby area is by the Via Salaria or “Salt Way,” so named as it was the road used by tribes of Latin shepherds to bring the salt from the Adriatic Sea to Rieti.

Rieti is a province of olive trees and vineyards. The Sabine are also know for their pork products, including porchetta (whole roasted deboned pig flavored with garlic and wild fennel, which is then sliced and eaten cold, usually in a sandwich of crusty bread) and a wide variety of flavorful sausages.

Days 1-3: Montavola sits on top of Monte San Pietro, at 607 meters, making it the highest among neighboring hill towns. It still closely resembles a medieval hill town with its towers and single entrance doorway to the town.

Montepiano is a charming location which is attached to the town’s medieval tower. Rooms have separate entrances at different spots, but all with extraordinary views. Montepiano is in the Palazzo of Montasola, which has belonged to the same family for centuries. Here you can enjoy the simple country life with amazing views over the valley, and strolls through the charming town of Montasola. Montepiano sells its own local production of olive oil and chestnut products.

Days 3-7: At 500 meters, Casperia is a charming hill town with two belts of concentric protective walls and a charming square in the center, where one finds the 13th-century church, San Giovanni Battista.

“In all of my travels, I’ve never beheld a panorama of such heroic beauty, as that offered me from the top of the hill of the Cappucins, in the territory of Aspra (the old name of Casperia). It is truly a paradise on earth! A majestic solitude dominates, both the nearby mountains, where timeless castles stood, and the villages of the Sabines, where the descendants of ancient families still dwell, solidly preserving the customs and ways of life of the past…” – German historian Gregorovius, from his famous book “Wandering in Italy,” 1852

Today, 150 years later, Casperia still remains captivating. The 15th-century palazzetto where you’ll be staying has been painstakingly renovated by its owner. He and his English wife are as delightful hosts as the accommodation is itself with its beamed ceilings, period furniture, frescoes and stone fireplace. Each room has a breathtaking view of the terracotta rooftops and cobbled streets overlooking the beauty of the Sabine Hills.

A Flavor of Your Sabine Food Holiday

Day One: Settle into your accommodation and wander the streets of the charming medieval hill town of Montasola. In mid-afternoon the chef of a local restaurant will teach us how to make pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (homemade broad flat noodles prepared in a wild boar sauce). The restaurant owners prepare the wild boar without using tomatoes in the sauce to enable the full flavor of the wild boar to emerge. The cinghiale are all locally hunted in the Sabine Hills.

“Quello Che C’è C’è” was originally an antique mulino or mill for grinding flour and thus represents a charming spot in which to take your class. Other dishes you might learn to prepare here include the restaurant specialities of tartufi, mushroom and homemade pasta dishes as well as other wild board and wild game dishes.

Day Two: Late afternoon we prepare pizza in the forno comunale or town oven. This used to be the only means women had to do their baking as individual family ovens were nonexistent. Montasola, which has only 60 residents, still preserves this tradition although most now have their own ovens. Maria Letizia, owner of Montepiano, will lead us in our pizza making. Our pizzas will be made with freshly picked zucchini flowers (season permitting), which we will pick ourselves from a local garden.

Early in the day those interested will join us for a trip to Altopian di Cottanello, a beautiful wooded area extending dozens of miles where we can have a picnic lunch of porchetta sandwiches and local wine and observe a cooperative of free range pigs (hundreds of them!), sheep, horses and cows. None are fenced in yet all return to their home at night, but not before feeding on the wild grasses, roots and berries in the woods.

During the day Maria Letizia will also show us how to make some delectable regional homemade liqueurs. One of her specialties!

Day Three: Today we will pack our bags, ready to settle into our next hill town accommodation in Casperia. But first we will head off for a day’s outing to Contigliano for a brief tour of the hill town and cooking lesson and then on to Greccio. Our cooking lesson will be in a local restaurant. Here we will learn to make some Sabine specialties from two of the nearby Sabine towns. An ancient gastronomic custom in the capoluogo town of Rieti occurs in the December/January holiday period, just following olive oil pressing. Flat, hard buns are soaked in oil and sometimes flavored with garlic. Today this holiday treat dating back to the Sabines is well-known to all as bruschetta. We’ll learn to prepare it and its many toppings. Another famous Sabine town is Amatrice which has given us the well known pasta dish spaghetti all’amatriciana (spaghetti served with tomatoes, onion and pancetta, cooked in olive oil and then garnished with pecorino cheese.

This afternoon we will visit the magnificent town of Greccio which at 705 meters provides a breathtaking view of the surrounding Sabine Hills. Greccio is best known for Saint Francis of Assisi who established a sanctuary here in 1217. It was here on Christmas Day of 1223 that St. Francis prepared the first known presepio (nativity scene), at the time a live presepio. There is an extensive presepio museum here we will be able to visit as well.

Day Four: Our morning cooking class will take place in the home of Signora Testa, a fabulous cook with a fabulous country kitchen! We’ll have a lesson at a nearby market on what all the local vegetables are. She’ll also show us some greens and spices from the local hills that you may never have seen or heard of before!

A few of the things you might learn to make with her are:

• Pollo spezzato alla Sabinese – chicken pieces cooked in a sauce of olives, anchovies and capers.

• Maccheroni a fezze – thin threads of egg pasta served with meat sauce and cheese (pecorino)

• Agnello in guazzetto – spring lamb stewed in straciatelle egg and cheese broth

The rest of the day is free to relax and explore the town of Casperia and its shops.

Day Five: Today we will have a walking tour of the village. We will then visit a local organic cheese production facility where we’ll buy some cheese to use in our cooking lesson. Our lesson today will focus on antipasti dishes and the dessert we will make is torta di ricotta, made with the fresh ricotta cheese purchased today!

Day Six: An all-day outing today to a local wine and olive oil producer. We will see what goes into preparing wine, how olives are pressed using a cold press technique that dates back centuries, and have the chance to purchase these and other farm products such as jams and preserves. We’ll have a country lunch out today.

Day Seven: Over breakfast we will say our farewells, and course certificates, commemorative hand-painted ceramic platters and recipe booklets will be distributed. Then it’s off to the famous Abbey in Farfa where we will have a tour and a delicious Sabine lunch near the abbey. Farfa Abbey was founded in the 5th century and rebuilt in 680. Around the monastery you will see hemp-weavers and houses still decorated with wrought-iron signs. A delightful way to say goodbye to “Le Sabine.”

* Note: Course participants must have private car available.

Details, details.

2017 dates coming up. We also do custom dates — please ask!

  • 6 nights double room accommodation & breakfast
  • 5 cooking classes
  • 4 lunches, 2 dinners
  • Course certificate, recipe booklet & commemorative hand-painted Vietri ceramic plate

PRICES START AT €2700 PER PERSON, PER WEEK.

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