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On the last Sunday of October our friends invited us to accompany them on a trip to the annual Chestnut Festival in the small mountain town of Norma. We travelled along the SS7, the ancient Roman Via Appia towards Rome, until we took a right turn signposted to Ninfa and Norma. Eventually we negotiated the abrupt ascent to Norma and route to the Lepini Mountains following numerous vertiginous hairpin twists and turns. The surrounding hillsides are covered with the greenery of chestnut and olive trees.
The town of Norma, at a height of 435 metres is precariously perched on a sheer wall of rock overlooking the botanical oasis of the Giardini di Ninfa with a panoramic view of the expanse of the Pontine Plain.
Norma is a popular haunt of enthusiasts of paragliding and hang gliding who take full advantage of the rising warm thermal currents.
Norma’s Sagra delle Castagne is held annually over the last weekend of October, to record and celebrate the chestnut harvest and other ancient traditions, culture and folklore.
We strolled along the long central street to absorb the festive atmosphere. Various wooden shacks and booths been set up decorated with leaves and woodland greenery, as well as small rustic pens made of chestnut poles, containing sheep and goats.
Everywhere there was the appetising aroma of chestnuts roasting on glowing hot braziers, while other food stalls tempted us with an array of traditional dishes, both savoury and sweet, all based on the humble chestnut.
At one time this produce had been regarded as merely a food for the poor peasant, however due to its nutritional properties and delicate, sweet nutty flavour it became a valued ingredient in many traditional Italian recipes.
Other stalls offered diverse local delicacies such as olive oil, wild mushrooms, honey, cheeses and sausages.
As the weather sadly turned against us, with spells of cold showery rain, we headed for the large “camp kitchen” which was doling out plates of traditional hearty warming fare such as homemade pasta with a mushroom sauce, polenta and sausages cooked in a flavoursome tomato sugo, washed down with some excellent local wine. Then, of course, more bags of hot roasted chestnuts.
After lunch we leisurely made our way down the twisting road to Lower Norma in search of the Museo del Cioccolato, the Chocolate Museum and factory where Cioccolato di Antica Norba is produced. It is housed in a rather uninspiring industrial building, however once inside we were invited to sample a small cup of molten chocolate from “the Chocolate Fountain”, which I found rather too sweet, but would be just perfect for the typically sweet -toothed Italians.
The museum houses exhibits portraying the history of chocolate making, the processing and machinery, advertising posters and packaging.
Once having made our way through the museum we entered the Cioccolato di Antica Norba Factory Shop where you can choose to buy from an array of chocolate products of all shapes and sizes.
An interesting visit especially if you are a chocoholic !!!
Back at the beginning of April we were invited by our English friends, Clive and Marilyn from Gaeta, to accompany them on a visit to the Gardens of Ninfa. This was a place that I had longed to visit for some time, so we didn’t hesitate to accept their kind offer.
We arrived at Ninfa, at the foot of the Lepini Mountains, at around 10 am and to my surprise there were a number of people already there, queuing to purchase entrance tickets, and for the first guided tour of the day. Our Guide was very knowledgeable about the history of Ninfa but only spoke in Italian.
It seems that during the Medieval era, Ninfa was a thriving town, sited along the Via Pedemontana which linked Rome with Naples. Over the years the main route, the Roman road the Via Appia, had become impassable through the marshy Pontine wetlands. At Ninfa a toll gate was instigated which brought the town significant prosperity.
At the end of the 1200’s Pope Boniface VIII purchased the town, and made a gift of it to his nephew. Under the rule of the Caetani family the town prospered and expanded, with the construction of a castle, several churches, a town hall, bridges and numerous dwellings, which were all fortified by a double town wall.
However turbulent times were to follow with the rise to power of the French King Philip IV, who sought to raise money to finance his wars by taxing the clergy. Pope Boniface issued a decree claiming total papal supremacy, indicating that kings were subordinate to the power of the Church. A long political battle ensued, however Philip was eventually the victor, Pope Boniface was arrested and a new French Pope was installed in his place. This consequently lead to a huge split within the Catholic church and even within the members of the Caetani family itself. In 1382 two Caetani heirs began a feudal war against each other. Thus Ninfa came under repeated attacked until it was finally overrun and razed to the ground. The few remaining survivors were eventually to be driven out by the plague and by malaria which in those times infested the nearby Marshes.
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that a descendant of the Caetani family rediscovered Ninfa and began to drain the site, and subsequently over three generations, it was transformed into a beautiful romantic English style garden.
When the last descendant of the Caetani’s passed away, the garden was bequeathed to the Roffredo Caetani Foundation which now runs the site in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund. http://www.fondazionecaetani.org/index.php
Ninfa is an oasis of peace where a profusion of fragrant climbing roses, jasmine and honeysuckle scramble over the Medieval architectural remains.
Through the 21 acre estate runs the Ninfa River which at one point has been dammed to form a beautiful lake. A series of little cascades and watercourses have also been created to help maintain the lush greenery of this delicate eco-system. There are numerous varieties of flowering trees, shrubs and flowers, indeed the garden contains botanical specimens gathered from all over the world including: magnolias; wisterias; camellias; bamboo; hydrangeas; irises and lilies to name but a few.
The protected reserve provides a habitat rich in fauna as well as flora.
Near to the ancient castle is a wonderful long established grove of citrus fruit trees.
Countless picturesque vistas open up around each and every twist and turn of the meandering path which leads you through the garden. Through the course of the year the colours of the landscape gradually change as one season passes to another.
Note – The opening times are extremely limited and it closes for a couple of hours at lunchtime.
From April to October it is generally open on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, and the third Sunday of April, May and June.
Times of opening are 0900 -1200 and 14.30 – 1800
except for July and August when the afternoon openings are from 1500 to 18.30.
After our tour of Ninfa we headed for the nearby Medieval hill-top town of Sermoneta.
Here Clive and Marilyn have a favourite little restaurant near the castle, curiously named “Ghost”.
Paul and I resolved to soon return to Sermoneta
to further explore this picturesque historic town.
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I (Louie) have been beavering away on the old computer.
Using my own photos I have now put together 2 Video / Slideshows.
Please do take a look ………..
One is dedicated to :
The second is about this interesting region of South Lazio
that we are so lucky to now live in :
I hope this will give you an idea
of what beauty surrounds us here at
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