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 !!!
All other photos by me © Louise Shapcott