93 – The Gardens of Ninfa

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.

Click here for more information about the Giardini di Ninfa

The Gardens can only be seen on a guided tour.

Opening Times:

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.

* photo by pensierolaterale

Here Clive and Marilyn have a favourite little restaurant near the castle, curiously named “Ghost”.

Clive, Marilyn and Paul

Paul and I resolved to soon return to Sermoneta

to further explore this picturesque historic town.

For more information about this beautiful area of South Lazio

please take a look at our



* photo by pensierolaterale (wikipedia)

All other photos by me © Louise Shapcott

Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy




14 – Exploring Ciociaria

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. 

Ciociara Mural, Mignone Restaurant, Carnello

Ciociara Mural, Mignone Restaurant, Carnello

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.

Isola del Liri Waterfall

Isola del Liri Waterfall

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.

View from Belmonte Castello

View from Belmonte Castello

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 !!!