Archive for the ‘Lazio’ Category

February, 2009

A friend was visiting on a sunny, frigidly cold winter’s day when most people would have preferred to stay indoors and keep warm. Not us. We hopped on a bus that dropped us in Bagnoregio, then hiked up to the footbridge to the top of Civita’.

CivitaCivita’ di Bagnoregio (“the dying town”) is located 145km north of Rome in the region of Lazio, overlooking the Tiber Valley. The village seems to float above the earth in a cloud, but has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the world’s most endangered places; the town is slowly crumbling and sliding down its cliffs.

This little borgo has always had a strange allure for me (as it has, I’m sure, for millions of others who have experienced visited). The atmosphere that day was a little eerie because there didn’t appear to be any other souls in town (except  two ambling cats in the main square). It’s a favorite stop of tourists in the spring and summer, but on this February afternoon, the streets were quiet and deserted; underscoring the heartbreaking reality of the city’s inevitability. I’ve visited Civita’ three times in my life. The first was as a tourist. The second was as a dinner guest at the home of a friend (which was pretty amazing considering there are only a dozen residents remaining in this little hamlet). My last visit was by far the most memorable.

A small sign hanging in a courtyard is the only indication that there’s a thriving business inside a grotta at the end of the enchanting patio. Bruschetteria L’Antico Frantoio is too tiny to be called a cafe’, and the menu is too limited to be a restaurant – so it’s simply called a “bruschetteria”. I imagine it’s like no other bruschetteria in Italy. The Rocchi family has been operating this iconic destination of travelers for decades with its 1500 year-old olive oil mill (frantoio) in the back. The mill, which still functions (although it’s retired) has been in the family since 1520. Today, the family’s Agriturismo “Le Corone” in a valley nearby produces all of its oil.

On this day, Felice Rocchi was our host and chef. A remarkably efficient use of space, there is only a fireplace to grill the bread, a counter to assemble and serve the bruschetta and wine, and a few tables covered in tablecloths. I think we were Felice’s only customers that day and since we were in no hurry to return into the freezing wind, the three of us passed a very pleasant afternoon talking and eating the most amazing olive oil-soaked bruschetta and drinking the freshest house red wine. We chatted about Felice’s family, got a private tour of the Etruscan well in the cantina, and together devised a kooky plan to help bewildered Jtourists how and what to order. He promised us a cut of the projected profits from our little scheme, but I think when I return, I’ll ask for my share to be paid in bruschetta.

by Toni DeBella


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