Walking along cobblestone alleys that twist and turn down the hillside from Subiaco’s old town to the commercial center, Alan looks at me and says, “This is the real Italy.” Ochre-colored buildings with stone accents line the narrow streets. The delicious smells of lunch preparations waft through an open window. Is this how you picture an off-the-beaten-path trip in Italy?
We visited Subiaco on the first day of a Southern Italy road trip with Claudio Fontana of A La Carte Italy Tours, our favorite Italian guide. After picking us up at the Rome Airport Hilton, Claudio drove 40 miles west to the head of the Aniene Valley. At Subiaco, a medieval-era hill town known as the birthplace of the Benedictine Order, we planned to walk, explore and enjoy our first Italian meal of the trip before reaching Castel di Sangro, the night’s destination.
We asked Claudio to show us authentic Italy, and he delivered.
After driving through town, Claudio pointed the van up the hill to Rocca di Borgia, home to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI) and his infamous daughter Lucrezia Borgia. Unfortunately the villa is in disrepair (even though funds have been allotted for renovations according to a snarkily humorous sign on the building) so we could only walk the grounds and enjoy the panoramic view.
Then our real adventure began as we wound our way down the hillside through narrow alleys where cats roamed and profusely blooming plants gave one last gasp of summer before being claimed by autumn’s first frost. Shopkeepers watched us from doorways while a resident or two peeked from behind a curtained window. We were definitely off the touristic path.
In town, Claudio suggested that we visit the Basilica of Sant’Andrea. The barrel ceilings and frescos of the baroque-era cathedral are simple yet beautiful. Partially destroyed in 1944 by Allied bombings, the cathedral was rebuilt between 1945 and 1952.
The walk back up the hill to where the van was parked near Rocca di Borgia proved to be steeper than it appeared when we made our trek down the hill. Claudio led the way, searching out pathways, often arriving at dead ends which forced us to climb even more stairs. But we didn’t mind. The journey felt adventurous and it provided a glimpse of local life.
At the top of the hill where Rocca di Borgia presides, we stopped at La Cantina de Borgia for a well-earned lunch before continuing the drive to Castel di Sangro. We chose to sit outside on the terrace, where a group of men played cards, drank beer and joked with each other. After sampling an antipasti of salami, bacon, bread, truffle spread and olive spread, we drank our own Italian beer while enjoying ravioli made with ricotta, spinach and truffle sauce plus a divine porcini pasta. Dear Italy, why do you taste so good?
We’d like to return for a longer stay in Subiaco to take in more of the local scene.
Next time we’ll:
- Visit the Sacro Speco to see the outstanding frescoes and the medieval Monastery of St. Benedict
- Explore the ruins of Roman Emperor Nero’s villa.
- Go hiking or biking in Regional Natural Park Simbruinis
- Raft down the River Aniene
- Explore nearby caves with a guide
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Have you visited Subiaco? Or do you have a favorite small town for us to explore the next time we’re in Italy? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your experience.