First on our itinerary is the best kept secret in Lazio – Soriano nel Cimino – second largest city (8,500 population) in the province of Viterbo. Occupying a good part of Monte Cimino at 500 metres high, it boasts a fantastic view of the Tiber valley, as well as lovely surrounding beech and chestnut woods. Capped by the Orsini Castle (one of many in the area), it is a great example of Etruscan and medieval survival techniques where your very survival depended on the view. Nowadays, we only have to worry how to manage the steep climb on foot!
Soriano’s relative location is one of its greatest assets. Not only are the natural surroundings unequalled, located just about in the middle of the Italian “boot”, it lies one hour north of Rome and its airport, and easy driving distances north and east from Sienna, Florence and Ravenna. Some of these trips can be done in a day, as the autostrada and its connecting roads are close at hand. There are also train connections through Viterbo. Tuscany, here we come!
Moreover, its natural surroundings provide a beautiful and challenging backdrop to your outdoor plans. Because of the altitude and setting, the climate can be bracing in all seasons. The wind whistles down the mountain sides so it is easy to see why many try to escape Rome’s hot summers here. That same wind becomes frigid in winter as it clears the air. Bring a sweater for summer evenings and a parka for winter. Now that the tiresome climate and travel details are out of the way, let’s organize some fun!
Among the outdoor activities available are cycling, trekking, horseback riding, woods-walking, and touring local geological areas such as waterfalls and lakes. Obviously the climate is great for this.
For the history buffs out there, Monte Cimino’s inhabited history pre-dates Rome, as it was an integral part of the Etruscan empire. You will find plenty to keep you busy studying this fascinating civilization which had one of its important residential areas right here on the mountain. They have left us a tradition of wine-making, pottery–making, great local food, as well as strong artistic roots. Local wines and dishes have a well-deserved reputation. Try the cinghiali (wild boar) with papardelle (egg pasta) with a crisp, local white wine. Unforgettable!
In addition, Soriano boasts a rich artistic landscape, ranging from art showings by local resident artists to a full schedule of musical performances including a rocking, open-air jazz festival to opera concerts and full productions. Now sliding along Soriano’s historical timeline, we skip the Romans (I told you we weren’t going to do the usual stuff!) and fast forward to medieval times.
Soriano’s medieval history is rich with noble families, alongside popes and various Vatican hangers-on retreating to and living in the area for safety. As a result there are plenty of great houses and castles to tour right in town, and even an abandoned tower once owned by Italian movie director Pasolini. B U T…….for medieval pageantry the Chestnut Festival must be experienced. Two October weekends of jousting, horse racing, costumes, medieval music, roasted chestnuts, heraldry, parades, and, of course, dining in underground cellars at trestle tables. Sound good? Believe me, it is.
In its modern form, Soriano shows old and new. There is an extensive historic center featuring churches, piazzas and gates, with housing in this area having two “faces” – historic exteriors but well-restored interiors featuring the latest conveniences. However, there are large sections of the city with modern housing as well, so something for all tastes. There is local shopping, and the many restaurants offer typical local dishes as well as more general Italian favorites. You have to try the local produce here – totally different from the supermarket. The eggs are especially wonderful; you can make a different omelet everyday. Of course the bars surround the piazzas, and there is a lively “bar culture” especially on the weekends.
So, why not? Do yourself a favor and come see this Lazio jewel.