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.
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”.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.