Food & Travel Guide to Tuscia, Italy – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

It can be hard to describe Tuscia. “It is a short distance from Rome,” A man attired in a sharp business suit says, leaning against a stone-coloured building along Via del Corso in Rome. Tuscia has been his usual city escape. To others, it is like “the other Rome”. And like Rome, Tuscia is in Lazio. It is less than two hours away. The flavour of the province also brings to mind the typical Roman cuisine of the pecorino, guanciale, artichoke, porchetta, to name a few.

Now, Tuscia is emerging from the shadow of the Eternal City, surprising travellers with its historically fascinating network of Etruscan cities. Narrow roads journey through the deep emerald forest, leading to palazzos and castellos shrouded by stories of battles, of conquests. These palatial houses, some still owned by the aristocrats, breathe memories of their illustrious past. 

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VITERBO

Viterbo is very much like an attic trove of notable gems disguised as forgotten knickknacks. Monuments and artefacts are scattered all over the historical centre. Start at the piazza where you can see the Palazzo dei Papi and the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. This area was once the military fortress of the Etruscan civilisation. Some of the remnants of the civilisation had been left engraved into the street building walls, still. So perfectly engraved they are almost missable. Look for the accompanying inscriptions on the walls not to miss them.

For Roman cuisine, Osteria Tanta Robba does family-style dishes. The menu is simple but classics like the carbonara, cacio e pepe and gricia are more than satisfying. Just 20 minutes away, there is the Tutto N’artro Magnà in Bomarzo. The trattoria also serves as a butchery, so you know the meat will be delicious. Within minutes of ordering, plates of chicory, porchetta, meatballs, chickpeas are served. Then comes the finale – a fillet sizzling on a plate. 

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VILLA LANTE

In Bagnaia, Villa Lante is a remarkable piece of renaissance garden design. It was originally designed for Cardinal Gambara who relishes the outdoor lifestyle. Perfectly-manicured hedges form a unified harmony, akin to a Renaissance painting. From a bird’s view, the balance and unity of the garden is undeniable. 

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SORIANO NEL CIMINO

Less than an hour away from the main sights, Soriano nel Cimino lies at the heart of Tuscia. Castello Orsini stands at the peak of the town, fortified by layers of sepia-roofed houses. Along the way on Via Montecavallo, Palazzo Catalani is a gem of a hotel stay. The 17th century building was once the residence of a nobleman. The rooms have been converted and some of the walls painted with elegant frescoes. Doubles start from €70. 

Every morning, Caffè Roma is buzzing with early risers. Locals stand at the bar for a quick espresso and brioche. Others are yelling orders for the generously-priced pastries – cannoli, sfogliatelle, cannoncini… For casual lunches, Pizzeria da Gigi does pizza romana, chicory, artichokes and potato frittata. The owners are welcoming and the food, down-to-earth.

As Friday announces its arrival, locals amass just in front of Macelleria Porchetta in quiet anticipation. Excitement ripples when the butcher comes out with the prize – a whole porchetta roasted with fennel. Everyone moves in. Slabs of pork fall onto the wax paper as his knife carefully treads the crackling. It’s a must to have a porchetta with its crispy skin. An indulgence worthy of a Friday night

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CASTELLO RUSPOLI

Entering the Ruspoli estate from the garden feels like a daydream. A man in a cashmere coat and tortoise-shell glasses guides you through long stretches of dense thickets. Out of the undergrowth emerges the Castello Ruspoli from afar. Its entrance stands at the end of a long narrow walkway lined by tall hedges.

Roaming the gilded halls clad in faded floral-patterned wallpaper, you can still catch a whiff of the stories that once enveloped the Castello. The residence has been passed down from generation to generation but Ottavia Orsini, wife of Marcantonio Marescotti, is the one whose presence and design taste still deeply perfume the garden of the Castello. Starting from the entrance, head to the right of the estate and you will see the secret garden which Orsini had personally designed for Marescotti – his very own sanctuary.

The Castello is still owned by the Ruspoli family today – Claudia and Giada Ruspoli, and their cousin, Francesco Maria Ruspoli. They keep the first and second floors open for visitors over the weekends, while the rest remain their private residence. Stays at the Castello are by invitation only

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Food & Travel Guide to Emilia Romagna, Italy – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

Trace the origin of any Italian ingredient and you will somehow end up in Emilia Romagna. Mention the name to any well-deserving Italian chef and they would talk for ages, about the “sensational Parmigiano Reggiano”, the “noble Culatello”, the “Balsamico Vinegar, smooth as velvet”. The list just goes on. It is where the most Italian of all Italian food comes from, and the most quintessential. In Emilia Romagna, there is no festival. There is only the feast. And so, the gastronomic adventure in Italy’s eating table begins. 

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PARMA

In Parma, the practice of ham-making practice is a tale as old as time. It is here, near the Po Valley, where the luxurious Culatello di Zibello is made. The Bergonzi family at Podere Cadassa has been crafting culatello for decades. In a natural cellar frozen in time, the culatello ages until its flavour is at its fullest. The precious meat is salted and refrigerated, before being placed in the cellar where humidity takes full reign. A walk through the cellar always ends at the family’s restaurant, Al Vèdel. In the kitchen, Chef Enrico arranges thin slices of culatello, from 16 months to 26 months to 38 months, on a perfectly polished porcelain plate. In the evenings, loud chatters emanate from the linen dining tables and red leather booths. Waiters rush to and fro tables to shave black truffles on ox tartare as a cheese cart trails them. Ravioli is served Colorno style, as Al Vèdel calls it, with pears, grape seeds and pumpkin. 

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MODENA

In Modena, the making of balsamic vinegar is a tradition still preserved at Acetaia Pedroni. Cooked fermented grape must sit in the battery, or barrels, to age for at least 12 years.

The tasting menu gives a small but complete offering of dishes that compliments the balsamic vinegar, but it’s the a la carte menu the locals order from. Vegetable flan with Parmigiano Reggiano cream, ricotta tortelloni and custard cream gelato are dished out before the owner comes over with their treasure – a bottle of balsamic vinegar. Slowly, he dabs the smooth, thick vinegar over the food in carefully measured drops as he smiles with pride. It could be the pride of owning a centuries-old tradition, or the pride of owning the barrels that produce the best balsamic vinegar in the world. Nobody knows. But everyone leaves the osteria in silent agreement that it was a dining experience unlike any other. 

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BOLOGNA

When in Bologna, a few slices of mortadella are in order. Mo Mortadella Lab gives a generous serving of Bologna’s favourite slice in a panini. Go before lunch to avoid the queue of hungry Bolognese. In Bologna, the wining and dining hour eases past the reasonable Italian lunch hour. Armed with a few plates from the local macelleria, you can grab a seat and a mandatory drink at Osteria del Sole where this longtime establishment has a strict bring-your-own-food rule. At one table, a class of students from the nearby university are having a toast with their teachers. At another, an old man sits perched over a notebook as he pens some sentences on the parched paper. Everyone has a glass of something on their table. For dinners, Hostaria San Carlino and Osteria dell’Orsa are perfect for Bolognese classics like tagliatelle al ragù and tortellini in brodo.

On any day in Bologna, chefs clamber to Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo located on Via Drapperie. Hundreds of kitchen tools hang on wooden displays from ceiling to floor in this historical shop, any kind you can ever imagine. As a customer rattles off a list, the shop assistant bustles about, grabbing two ravioli stamps, an anolini stamp, a truffle slicer, a gnocchi cutting board and a dozen or so ravioli moulds. It’s a busy day at the Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo. 

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BRISIGHELLA

It’s a whole new world further south in the region. Brisighella is nearer to Ravenna, and so nearer to the coast. There is a very serious seafood scene with restaurants like La Lanterna, where plates heaping with pasta and shellfish are paraded to the tables. Others include La Cavallina and Osteria Pontenono, or Il Portolano and Osteria Il Paiolo in Ravenna.

A few minutes on an unpaved road across a bridge from Brisighella will take you to Azienda Agricola Baccagnano, an agriturismo with a handful of rooms. The owner of the winery, Marco, furnished the modern rooms with vintage finds. In a restored church, guests have a breakfast of croissants, local cheeses and fruits on beautifully-mismatched place settings. Doubles start from €90. 

For views of Brisighella, take a walk from the town center to La Rocca Manfrediana and on to Torre dell’Orologio. The town truly comes alive when celebrating the autumn harvest. People come in droves from the neighbouring houses to gather around the white-top tents where the food – salumi, cheeses, pears, truffles, porcini mushrooms – are proudly boasted by their farmers. There is a band making uproarious music. White-haired Italian men are indulging in a guitar riff on a makeshift stage, crooning the tunes of 80s rock music. Even as night falls and the stalls close, the crowds disappear into the bars. The night is still young. 

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Rome Travel Tips from Katie Parla, Journalist

Conversations with Locals

Rome-based journalist Katie Parla is a food writer and cookbook author. She wrote about the sumptuous Roman dining scenes and expounded on its ancient food culture in publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appètit and The New York Times. Her book Tasting Rome reads like a treasure trove of old world Italian recipes, straight from the tables of Rome’s renowned kitchens. Katie reveals where to go for an aperitif, the restaurants to avoid and the unlikely Roman classics to order.

Photo: Reva Keller

What do you feel defines Roman cuisine? 

Roman cuisine can be defined in a number of ways. We can think of it as the natural evolution of cuisine passed down from the Popes, peasants, and shepherds of the past with the important addition that a lot of what we eat in Rome is influenced by the food of the Jewish community, which was confined to a Ghetto by the Pope for centuries. We can characterise it by its main ingredients and techniques: Pecorino Romano, lamb, pasta, tomato-based sauces, offal, and seasonal produce; frying, braising, roasting.

What is the one local dish you feel travellers can’t leave Rome without trying? 

I’ll give one vegan dish and one that is the opposite of that. Cicoria ripassata in padella, a classic side dish of blanched, ideally wild, bitter greens that have been sauteed with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and peperoncino is a must try because it is nearly impossible to recreate elsewhere. I have tried. Roman cicoria is special. The other is rigatoni alla pajata. Everyone associates cacio e pepe and carbonara with the city. They are great. But ordering them is a no-brainer. Rigatoni con la pajata, pasta with the intestines of milk fed veal cooked in tomato sauce, is so profoundly and soulfully Roman. You would be hard pressed to find it anywhere else and it speaks to the Roman affection for offal, which I share.

What about your favourite restaurants?

I have so many! In the trattoria category I love Cesare al Casaletto, Santo Palato, Armando al Pantheon. All do classics with a few of their own spins on things. For coffee and pastries, I love Regoli. For coffee, I go to Sciascia for a classic experience and Faro for third wave.

Photo: Reva Keller

Where would you go for an aperitif?

I have a ton of go-to spots if I’m grabbing wine for aperitivo – Mosto’ in Flaminio, Litro in Monteverde Vecchio, Il Goccetto in Centro, La Mescita in Garbatella, Sorso in San Paolo, Il Vigneto in Pigneto. For cocktails, Mezzo in Pigneto or Fischio in Trionfale. I love Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’ and Artisan for beer.

Photo: Reva Keller

You talked about the quinto quarto on Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy. It was born out of poverty, but it seems like a no-waste approach when it comes to Italian cooking. Do you think it is more relevant today in light of the emphasis on environmental sustainability?

In reality, the quinto quarto (offal and poor cuts) isn’t just born out of poverty. If you look at Bartolomeo Scappi’s work, he documents plenty of offal cuts for Papal consumption. Organ meats taste good so the Roman nobility wanted to eat them, too. Certainly some of the quinto quarto classics derive from a culture of poverty, but not exclusively. Absolutely a no waste approach is typical of Italian regional cuisines, but it was typical of every cuisine I know of before the mid 20th century when the world began producing way more food than its population could reasonably consume.

The sustainability question is an interesting one. In Rome, there is more food waste than ever and while offal cuts remain a feature of the cuisine today, they aren’t as popular as they once were and the hunger for prime beef cuts is out of control. The number of Italian owned steakhouses and burger joints in town has absolutely exploded.

As you were originally from New Jersey, what’s the difference between coffee in America and coffee in Italy?

In Italy, coffee is pretty much exclusively related to two production methods – espresso machines and moka pots, both inventions of the early 20th century. Espresso is consumed on its own or with milk (cappuccino being the most popular example of this), quickly as the name suggests. Moka, which is not espresso by definition due to the lack of pressure in the pot, is consumed at home also on its own or with milk. Neither tradition calls for large quantities of lingering over a cup, whereas in New Jersey we have a little bit of everything, from gas station coffee to Starbucks to more thoughtful third wave coffee shops. I suppose we can also add the Swiss-born Nespresso machine to both Italian and New Jersian coffee practices!

Name some tourist traps travellers should avoid in Rome

Any place with a table out front overflowing with pasta dishes, pizza, pre-made cocktails and withering produce! All the places in Piazza del Colosseo. There are many others, of course, mainly situated near tourist attractions, but there are exceptions and you can eat really well at Armando al Pantheon even though it’s 150 feet from the Pantheon.

Name one best kept secret of Rome

If you have €100 cash and “know a guy”, you can visit the Jewish Catacombs off the Appia Antica. There’s no lighting system so you go in with flashlights and walk through these underground burial chambers and it’s amazing.

Where would you go in Rome if you’re longing for the countryside?

The Caffarella Park. It’s incredible. There are grazing sheep, ancient ruins, rolling hills and it feels totally rural even though it is trimmed by a densely populated residential neighbourhood.


WHERE TO EAT IN ROME


Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto
Where: Via del Casaletto, 45, 00151 Roma RM, Italy
For: Roman classics

Santo Palato
Where: Piazza Tarquinia, 4 a/b, 00183 Roma RM, Italy
For: Carbonara and daily specials

Armando al Pantheon
Where: Salita de’ Crescenzi, 31, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
For: Offal specialties

Pasticceria Regoli
Where: Via dello Statuto, 60, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
For: Coffee and pastries

Sciascia Caffè 1919
Where: Via Fabio Massimo, n.80/a, 00192 Roma RM, Italy
For: Coffee

Faro
Where: Via Piave, 55, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
For: Third wave coffee

Enoteca Mosto’
Where: Viale Pinturicchio, 32, 00196 Roma RM, Italy
For: Aperitivo

Litro
Where: Via Fratelli Bonnet, 5, 00152 Roma RM, Italy
For: An extensive wine list

Il Goccetto
Where: Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
For: Small bites

La Mescita
Where: Via Luigi Fincati, 44, 00154 Roma RM, Italy
For: Italian wine bar

Sorso
Where: Via Ostiense, 187, 00154 Roma RM, Italy
For: Aperitivo

Il Vigneto
Where: Piazza dei Condottieri 26/27 00176 Rome, Lazio, Italy
For: Aperitivo

Mezzo
Where: Via del Pigneto, 19, 00176 Rome
For: Cocktails

Fischio
Where: Piazzale degli Eroi, 00136 Roma RM, Italy
For: Cocktails

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’
Where: Via Benedetta, 25, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
For: Beer

Artisan
Where: Via degli Aurunci, 7/9, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
For: Beer
 

WHERE TO GO IN ROME

Appia Antica
Where: Via Appia Antica, 42, 00178 Roma RM, Italy
For: Jewish catacombs

Caffarella Park
Where: Via della Caffarella, 00179 Rome Italy
For: Rome’s countryside