Aaah, Italia! The land of lazy summer afternoons looking over the rolling hills. Chirping chicadas accompany the rustling leaves from the nearby lemon groves, swayed in to motion by the Mediterranean breeze, which waft their citric perfume mixed with that of the tomatoes drying in the sun and fresh ochre-colored pastures. Sun-kissed hands clasp a chalice of a full-bodied red wine complemented by green olives and freshly baked ciabatta bread. A veritable feast of senses engulfed in a land that practically overflows with historical significance, religious importance and great hospitality.

Well, that is just one of the many impressions that Italy can give. There are also breathtaking mountains, beautiful coastal scenery and cosmopolitan cities – but Ciociaria is the epitome of that first scenario.

Traditional costumes from Ciociaria

Traditional Costumes from Ciociaria – complete with Cioce

Ciociaria (pronounced cho-cha-ree-ya, shu-sha-ree-ya if you say it with the local accent) is a relatively undefined area geographically that consists of the green valleys between Rome and Naples. A region whose name comes from the preferred footwear of the farmers (cioce) that worked the fertile lands irrigated by rivers born in the nearby Apennine Mountains on their way to the Pontine marshes and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Maybe it’s very location is one of the reasons for which it has fallen under the radar in terms of fame or as a desired tourist destination. Less than 100km away lies the nation’s capital, the Eternal City, the home not only of the most vast and enduring ancient civilization in Europe, but also the roots of the Catholic Church, the Italian Renaissance and still today a globally renowned culture capital. Just the same distance in the opposite direction you will find Naples – the largest historic center in Europe and one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Its very favorable climate, enigmatic mysticism and its proximity to the marvelous Amalfi coastline, Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, make it one of the most desirable destinations in Europe. If you then take the Mediterranean coastline with Sperlonga and Gaeta, together with the mountains of the National Park of Abruzzo, the frame constructed around Ciociaria explains why it does get overlooked.

Ceprano - the heart of Ciociaria

Ceprano – the heart of Ciociaria

Maybe this is something that contributes to its desirability – an undisturbed jewel just waiting to be discovered. An untouched land brimming with authenticity and opportunity.

In fact over the years Ciociaria has changed little, largely due to the philosophy of the locals. A population proud of their agricultural heritage that gives great importance to locally produced ingredients, prepared using traditional recipes and served at what is still considered the family’s heart and soul – the dining table.

Cooking and eating is very much the lifeline of Ciociaria. Families still have plots of land where they produce their own wine, olive oil, even vegetables and the occasional pig or sheep for authentic sausages and cheese. For this reason they have always embraced ecological sustainability, something that is becoming more and more popular throughout the developed world. Things such as farm-to-table and reduction of the food supply chain in terms of both players and the physical distance that products travel, have always been of great importance to the people of Ciociaria.

This philosophy has led to a level of excellence in local produce that has gained enormous respect throughout the world. Ciociaria is actually the northern part of the zone which has gained Controlled Origin Denomination (Denominazione Origine Controllata – DOC) for Mozzarella di Bufala. It also boasts two types of wine that have gained this accolade (Cesanese del Piglio and Cabernet di Atina) – not to mention the bell peppers from Pontecorvo, the cannellini beans from the Val di Comino, olive oil and truffles – all authentic and traditional!

Even the hunt for wild asparagus, porcini mushrooms and wild chicory is a common pastime among locals, done more as a recreational activity nowadays during a walk in the countryside.

Authentic cooking with local ingredientsAnd with this lifestyle, you can only expect that the regional dishes follow the same path – authenticity and tradition. Pasta with beans, fried chicken and peppers with wild chicory, cheeses of all types, even almond-based sweets (amaretti) and biscuits made with wine (ciambellette) make their cuisine rich, varied and incredibly good! In fact, the rest of the Italian population regards Ciociaria as a place to visit chiefly because “you really do eat well there”[1].

But don’t just take my word for it – take a look for yourselves and see an authentic and unspoilt diamond in the rocks sandwiched between some of the most desirable tourist attractions in Europe!

 

[1] The actual phrase is “Si magna bene lì”, which literally translates as “one eats well there”.