For the next several weeks we were kept incredibly busy with the succession of guests staying here at “Tre Cancelle”, and at our other holiday rental properties in the Itri area. We had two families who, during their holidays, were hoping to trace their Italian family roots in the province of Frosinone.
Gina’s ancestors had come from the Sora vicinity, so we took time-out to travel with her and her family to try and assist with their research and further acquaint ourselves with this area.
We drove inland from Itri winding our way through the beautiful mountain countryside, passing Campodimele, towards Pico and onwards to Ceprano and the Ciociaria area. This name is derived from an ancient, rudimentary type of sandals, Le Ciocie that was typically worn by the shepherds of the area. The people of Ciociaria are very proud of their culture, traditionals and crafts. They specialise in wrought iron and copper work, rustic pottery containers, wood work and basket-making, these skills having been passed down over the generations from father to son. I too feel proud to be able to call myself a Ciociara.
First we decided to visit Isola del Liri, a quaint little place. Here the River Liri divides into two branches, forming an island and there is an impressive waterfall, “Cascata Grande” right in the centre of the town.
We drove on to the nearby village of Carnello and checked out surnames on the War Memorials and took a look around the sweet little church dedicated to San Antonio and Santa Restituta.
In Carnello we stopped for a delicious lunch at a restaurant named Mingone. It had a rustic setting with an stunning mural depicting life back in time in Ciociaria. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and the menu was based on typical products of this region, specialising in freshwater fish from the nearby River Fibreno.
It serves dishes “with a twist”, for example we sampled Ravioli with a trout filling. We would highly recommend it to anyone.
Feeling full to bursting we drove on to Sora, a bustling market town which also lies on a plain on the banks of the River Liri, historically associated with agriculture and the manufacturing of paper. A rocky spur provides a scenic backdrop to the town and Sora is sometimes referred to as the gateway to the Abruzzi National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a place we wish to further investigate. We took a relaxed stroll around the town, and explored the impressive Church dedicated to Santa Restituta and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
Then another set of guests, a couple from Germany, arrived for a fortnight’s stay with us. It turned out that Mike’s family had emigrated to Dundee in Scotland from Atina and Alvito, all within the Ciociaria region. We soon learned that Mike worked in Bremmen as a Stress Engineer, on the Airbus Project, which was an incredible co-incidence, as before moving to Italy Paul had also been a (decidedly stressed) Stress Engineer also working on Airbus !!!
We accompanied Mike and his wife to Atina and met up with Cousin Mario, who greeted us warmly and affectionately as always. We explained that Mike was trying to discover more about his Italian family roots and Mario volunteered to help and do some research at the Comune. Mario also treated us to a personal guided tour of Atina and its museum, and we learned a great deal about Atina’s fascinating history, once ruled by the Samnites and a prosperous town even in Roman times.
We left Mario to his lunch and decided to drive a little way and find somewhere to have a bite to eat. We headed down the valley, in the direction of Cassino, and followed the old winding road which existed long before the new super-strada had been carved through the mountains. This lead us to the picturesque Belmonte Castello, a fortified hill town perched high on a rocky promontory, overlooking the valley below. Like “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (or even Scotsmen !!!) we took a little stroll around the ancient tower and the higher reaches of the town and admired the stunning panoramic views, in the full heat of the day.
Parched, wilting, and with tummies rumbling we began to pootle back down the hill, when we stumbled across a curiously named establishment – “Gabby’s Fish and Chips”. The owner and his brother were lazily sitting outside, so Paul went to enquire as to whether there was any chance that they could provide us with a little light lunch. At first they mistook Paul for a German – apparently Paul speaks Italian with a Geman accent !!!
It soon transpired that these guys were Scottish ….. and also from Dundee …. and that in fact Mike knew their families and their Fish and Chip and Ice Cream establishments !!! Yet another uncanny co-incidence. The owner produced a delicious platter of mozzarella, salamis and local cheeses which we washed down with some refreshingly cold beer. We asked what on earth was a Fish and Chip shop doing in a sleepy Italian backwater such as Belmonte Castello. They explained that having become totally disillusioned with life back in the UK, they had decided to return to the homeland of their grandparents to set up a little restaurant and bar. Occasionally they had tried putting Fish and Chips on the menu, and the local Italians being somewhat curious had tried this out for themselves. Apparently it had gone down so well that the Scots decided to make it into a Fish and Chip restaurant. They were now experimenting with some other new dishes, such a good hot curry or two, which also seemed to tickle the palates of the locals. Well I never !!!