Rome like a local

Eating, drinking, and living in the Eternal City


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The Lovely Medieval Borgo of Farnese

Almost like clock-work, I meet our neighbor Giorgio every morning while he is walking his dog and I am on my way to the bar for a cappuccino. One day we were talking and he was telling me about a small town north of Rome where he and his wife spent their summer vacation last year. The town of Farnese is less than 2 hours by car north of Rome.  Giorgio’s enthusiasm for Farnese, the people who live and work there, and the surrounding area, sparked my interest and I was excited to see it with my own eyes.  Since Giorgio and his wife Lorenza were heading north to pick up some olive oil from a producer in the region, he invited us to join them so that we could see the area ourselves and meet some of the wonderful people of Farnese.

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Giorgio & Brick in Testaccio

Farnese is a small medieval town built on tufo (a volcanic rock), in the province of Viterbo, on the border of Tuscany and Lazio.  The name of this little borgo, is from the influential Farnese family. The town itself is wonderfully preserved and represents perfectly the characteristics of these “tufo towns”.

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A view of Farnese, just steps from the historical center

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Laundry Day

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A tribute to Pinocchio! An Italian TV show about the famous wooden boy was filmed here.

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In a weekend we were able to explore many of the treasures this area has to offer, from the wine and food (particularly cheese, lamb, wild boar and olive oil!) to the natural beauty of La Selva del Lamone Natural Reserve, which is a protected area with natural, historical, geological and archeological attributes that characterize the landscape.

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Where to Eat

We ate at two of Farnese’s most well known restaurants. We had dinner at La Piazzetta del Sole, which is a lovely place serving modern twist on classic dishes of this area. Our second dining out experience was at La Taverna dei Briganti, a home-style trattoria with traditional local dishes. Both of these places use fresh, local ingredients.  These two locales are not to be missed when visiting Farnese.  We were also lucky enough to be guests for meals in the homes of two different, and equally lovely families.  You will certainly not go hungry in Farnese!

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La Piazzetta del Sole – no pictures of the food, unfortunately!

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La Taverna dei Briganti

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Delicious, tender cinghiale (wild boar) and bruschetta

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The lovely and talented chefs – Loredana and Federica!

Where to Sleep

We were fortunate enough to stay at the lovely Residenza Farnese. A beautiful building from the 15th century, completely renovated, but keeping the unique characteristics of the structure. The breakfast consisted of home-made cakes and breads, cheese and cold cuts, yogurt and fruit. There is also a lovely balcony off of the main common room, and a spectacular original fireplace in the kitchen.

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Other options for sleeping, for those interested in an original experience of the hospitality in a peaceful oasis, in Farnese there is the Monastery of the Clarisse Santa Maria delle Grazie, which, surrounded by nature, has a cloister and a great view of the valley and town. The rooms are simple and spotless. Another budget-friendly option is the Convent of San Rocco (no website, but for more information, please contact me).

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View of Farnese from a terrace in the Monastery of the Clarisse Santa Maria delle Grazie

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The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie

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Another beautiful view from the Monastery

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San Rocco

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The courtyard of San Rocco

If you are thinking of staying for a week or more, and you need a bit more room, you may want to consider renting a house (see website). Just steps from the historical center of Farnese, you have all the comforts of a home, including a garden, full kitchen, and plenty of living space. We were lucky enough to be guests at lunch in this villa – one of many memorable experiences in our short time in Farnese. Miriam and her mother Annamaria made us feel right at home, and put on a serious feast for us!

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The entrance to the villa, just minutes from the historical center

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One of the bedrooms at the villa

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A view of the kitchen (complete with all of the necessities and modern appliances)

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Lorenza, Annamaria and Miriam – before the feeding frenzy began!

What to Do

Well the options here are truly endless. Farnese itself is a small town, where you can get a true feel of what real life is like here. If you are interested in a bit of history, there is a well organized, very interesting Etruscan Museum, which is definitely worth a visit. During the summer there are also sagre (festivals), both cultural and musical, which of course involve eating – and in Farnese, this is a very good thing!

If you are looking to see more of the area, whether you want to see other tufo towns, or visit the beautiful Lake Bolsena (click here for more information), Farnese is a great base to explore this region of Italy which is often over-looked.  We explored a few of the nearby towns including Ischia di Castro, Pitigliano, and Sovana. In addition to the ones I have mentioned, other options in the area that shouldn’t be missed include: Acquapendente, Bomarzo (The Park of Monsters), Civita di Bagnoregio, Montefiascone, Saturnia, Sorano, Tarquinia, Tuscania, and Viterbo.

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Ischia di Castro

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Always be sure to look up! – Ischia di Castro

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A beautiful home in Sovana

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Out for a walk before the rain comes in Sovana

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Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul – Sovana

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Beautiful brick work – Streets of Sovana

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Pitigliano

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A street in Pitigliano

Another point of interest is Vulci, an ancient Etruscan town, and the National Archeological Park of Vulci. Within the park there is a museum that displays numerous Etruscan artifacts (dating back to the 8th Century B.C.) that were excavated on this site, as well as a bridge dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

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The Castle in Vulci

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The courtyard of the Etruscan Museum – we had it all to ourselves!

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Looking across the 8th Centruy B.C. bridge in Vulci

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Another view of the Bridge in Vulci

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The Castel – Vulci

Although we did not have time during this trip, for those interested, there are several natural hot springs as well in this area, such as Saturnia and Sorano, to name a couple.  There is truly something for everyone in this region, and the options for day trips are endless.

I was impressed not only by the beauty of the town, the surrounding area, the quality of the food, but also by the genuine kindness and generosity of the people of Farnese. If you are looking for a place off the much beaten tourist path, consider a visit to Farnese. You will make memories and friends that will last a lifetime.

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The type of traffic jam you might find around here


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Weekend Market in Rome – Steps from the Circus Maximus

Sunday is a day to slow down, relax, and enjoy your surroundings, and of course, eat some good food.  Sunday is a perfect day to take a walk on Via dei Fori Imperiali (it is closed to traffic on Sunday), around the Colosseum, over to the Palatine, to the Circus Maximus.  By now you will have surely have worked up an appetite, am I right?

If you are looking for a unique market experience on a Saturday or Sunday, in the center of Rome, ditch Campo de’ Fiori, head to the Mercato di Campagna Amica del Circo Massimo.  Just steps from the Circus Maximus, you will find a bustling market where you can buy various goods directly from the people who produce them.

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It is a nice place to have lunch, and even buy some souvenirs.  Forget a t-shirt with a hulked-out gladiator on it – try some locally produced olive oil, or hazelnut chocolate spread (much better than mass-produced Nutella that you can buy at home).

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You can make a picnic with some porchetta, prosciutto, cheese, bread, and wine – you can find it all here.  If you are feeling less ambitious, there is also a place where you can order your lunch.  The menu changes, but usually you can choose from pasta, meat and vegetables.

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If you are in the area on a weekend, it is definitely worth a stop.  You will get a true market experience, with real products, directly from the people who create them.


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Pranzo Sociale at La Casetta Rossa

Pranzo Sociale – prezzo popolare.  These four words are music to my ears.  It is loosely translated as a cheap & delicious lunch.  Popolare derives from the word popolo, which means people, in the sense of a community.  Un pranzo sociale ad un prezzo popolare is not only a lunch, but an opportunity for members of the community to get together to eat well at a good price.

 When I saw the notice from La Casetta Rossa for a  Sunday pranzo sociale, I knew that it was something not to be missed.

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La Casetta Rossa is located in the Garbatella neighborhood of Rome.   The little red house, was formerly an abandoned building that has been morphed into a restaurant, pub, and a sort of community center.  It is a kilometer-zero kitchen, meaning all of the products are local and of course, seasonal.  In addition to serving delicious food and wine and reasonable prices, there are also language exchange happy hours, pizza/bread making lessons, as well as the possibility to bake your own bread in the Casetta’s wood burning forno popolare (seen below with the black and white designs),to name only a few of the additional services offered.

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We arrived early knowing that it would be a standing room only situation on a beautiful, warm, sunny Sunday.  There were tables set up out in the garden and we were lucky to snag two seats at a long communal table.   The menu was fixed with two choices – vegetarian or meat based plates.  I opted for meat when I saw rigatoni all’amatriciana on the menu.

The starter was a bruschettina al pomodoro, made with bread baked in the forno popolare , and delicious, sweet cherry tomatoes and locally produced olive oil.

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The primo piatto was the rigatoni all’amatriciana  I previously mentioned.  The secondo consisted of 2 grilled pork sausages, salad, and fagioli all’uccelletto (white beans in a sage & tomato sauce).

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All of these goodies – just 12 euro!

Drinks were extra, but still reasonably priced.  We added a liter of red wine for 5 euro.

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The day was beautiful and the garden was filled with people of all ages.

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La Casetta Rossa  is a friendly environment with good quality food in a unique setting. It is a great place for lunch, dinner, or even an aperitivo.  I always feel at home here.


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Road trip to Bolsena

Over the summer (yes, this is a long over-due post!), thanks to an offer that we could not refuse from Groupon, we headed to Lake Bolsena for a quick weekend out of Rome.   Instead of the autostrada, we decided to take the slower, but more scenic Cassia out of Rome.  Luckily we did not run into much traffic, and we arrived to the town of Bolsena in just about an hour and a half.

Bolsena is a volcanic lake, and the biggest one of its kind in Europe.  There are many agriturismi in the area as well as camping grounds.   Driving around the lake you will find restaurants that are right on water – perfect places to sit, relax, and enjoy the view.

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We stopped for lunch at a nice spot on the lake called il Purgatorio. The people were friendly,  the setting was beautiful, and the price was right.   Around Lake Bolsena you will find coregone on every menu.   Coregone is a white fish, and it is usually prepared grilled, with wild fennel or rosemary.

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Driving around the lake, we also stopped to take a look at the Commonwealth War Cemetery, which is nestled between the towns of Bolsena and Montefiascone.  There are nearly 600 soldiers buried here.  It is certainly worth a look if you are in the area.

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bolsena cemetery

The medieval town of Bolsena is perfectly kept, and thankfully it has not yet been overrun with shops selling plastic, junky souvenirs.   In fact, I had a hard time finding a place to buy a magnet.   Most of the “souvenir” shops sell local products such as olive oil, lavender products, and wine.  Now, those are my kinds of souvenirs!

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After a nice dinner in the garden at Trattoria Picchietto,  we took a walk up to the Castello dei Monaldeschi della Cervara in the old town, where we stumbled upon Enoteca Aenos.  It has a great selection of wine and grappa.  There is also a wine tasting room that dates back to the etruscan times.  The owners were friendly and hospitable – and the location wasn’t too bad either!

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Arrivederci Bolsena

If you are looking for a vibrant night-life, you certainly will not find it here.  However, if you want to relax, take walks, and enjoy the nature of the area, you will not be disappointed.


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Linguine con lupini e zucchine

A couple of weeks ago we headed to the sea to escape one of the first of many hot weekends to come.  We stopped in a well known pescheria in Fregene called Paparella.  The shop is one big open refrigerator, and with this nice warm weather, the choice of delicious fish is abundant.

We took a couple bistecche di pesce spada for dinner.   They opened the fish right in front of us (with the help of a sledge hammer!) and sliced off the steaks.

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For lunch, we wanted something that would be quick and light,so we ended up choosing some lupini, which are small, very tasty clams.

The first thing to do is to put the lupini in a bowl with some water (just barely covering them) and a pinch of salt.  They should stay here for about 30 minutes – which is enough time for them to spit out any sand that might be inside.  While you wait, you can start preparing the other ingredients.

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Start boiling some water for the pasta. We had a few left over zucchine romanesche so we sliced them up very thinly and sauteed them in a pan with a bit of garlic and olive oil.

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Once the zucchine  are nicely browned, remove them from the pan and you can cook the lupini there.  Rinse the lupini well before putting them into the pan with a bit of olive oil and garlic.  If you would like to add a little heat, you can add some peperoncino.

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Once the water boils, add the pasta.  We chose to use linguine.

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Once all of the lupini open up, add the zucchine.

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About 2 minutes before the pasta is ready, drain it and add it to the pan, saving some of the liquid in case your zucchine/lupini mixture is a little dry.  You may also add a drizzle of olive oil, if necessary.

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Mix it up for a minute, and not much longer, otherwise it will get too dry.  Pour yourself a glass of white wine (a nice Vermentino maybe?) and you are ready to eat!  You just need a little patience taking all of the lupini out of their shells, but it is worth it.

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Buon appetito! 


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What to eat when in Rome

Below are a few suggestions of different foods that you should try while in Rome. This is just the tip of the iceberg in a city with a deep and delicious food culture, but it is a start!

1. Pasta all’amatriciana – Typically served with bucatini (shown in photo below), a tomato sauce with guanciale (pig cheek) and pecorino cheese.

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2. Pizza – This is a no brainer, of course!  Roman style pizza is thin and toppings are simple and classic.  N.B. Most traditional pizzerie  are open only for dinner.

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3. Involtini al Sugo – This is horribly translated as boiled rolled meat in many trattorie, but it is so much better than how it sounds!  This is a dish of tender beef, filled with prosciutto, carrot, celery – slowly cooked in a tomato sauce.  The sugo left over can also be used for a pasta dish.

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4.  Supplì – These tasty little fried treats are great for a starter in a pizzeria  or also can be a nice snack to hold you over before dinner.  Supplì are fried balls of rice,  filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and ground beef.

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5. Le Zucchine Romanesche – When in season, these veggies are not only beautiful to look at, but they are sweet and full of flavor.  The flowers of these lovelies are also eaten – Fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers, deep fried, stuffed with mozzarella, and anchovies)and can be found  in classic pizzerie  or trattorie.

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