Subiaco: an oasis of natural beauty, peace, history & art

If you’re looking for a day trip out of Rome where you can find an oasis of peace immersed in spectacular natural beauty, yet rich with Italian history, art and culture then Subiaco is a perfect choice.

Saint Benedict Monastery Subiaco

Subiaco is located about an hour and a half southeast of Rome in the upper Aniene Valley and is easily reachable by car or bus. The oldest part of the town is medieval with homes built around a huge impressive rocca, and full of small, winding streets. The lower part of Subiaco was built towards the end of the 18th century.

Entrance to the town of Subiaco

Entrance to the town of Subiaco

The economy of Subiaco is based on agriculture activities, primarily the cultivation of olives and grapes for wine making. There are also a number of artisans with woodworking and iron working shops. The area attracts a large tourist trade mainly due to the extraordinary monasteries located just above Subiaco. The two monasteries are dedicated to St. Scholastica and her twin brother St. Benedict.
Towards the end of the fifth century Benedict, a young man from Norcia in Umbria who was disillusioned with his studies, chose instead to live as a hermit in a cave (the Sacro Speco) in the upper Aniene Valley. This holy cave was the beginning of what would become an impressive Benedictine monastery.
During his three years living as a hermit St. Benedict’s reputation spread throughout the area. Local shepherds would lower food down to Benedict into the Sacro Speco. Eventually Benedict was invited to become the abbot of a local monastery in Vicovaro. It was at this time that Benedict developed and transcribed his ideas on how a true Christian should live. These ideas became known as the Rule of St. Benedict, and governed the way Benedictine monks should live their lives. In 529, after 20 years in Subiaco, St. Benedict moved on to head south towards Cassino where he established the renowned Monte Cassino monastery. St. Benedict died on March 21, 547.
St. Benedict lived his life in a number of spiritual locations, along with his sister Scholastica, and monasteries were established in each of these areas. For this reason Benedict was named the patron saint of Europe by Pope Paul the sixth in 1964.
St. Benedict’s monastery in Subiaco is embedded into the rocky mountainside of Mount Taleo, with a spectacular view of the Aniene Valley.

Saint Benedict Monastery in Subiaco

The monastery is composed of two churches, one above the other. There are also numerous small chapels that follow along the windy passageways of the rocky wall into which the monastery is embedded.


When you visit the monastery a good starting point is the small, delightful rose garden.

Saint Benedict Monastery Rose Garden Subiaco

Supposedly during the time of St. Benedict there were thorns instead of roses in the garden and Benedict would punish himself with the thorns when he had unholy thoughts. When St. Francis of Assisi visited the monastery in 1223 he transformed the garden into a rose garden.

Rose from the Saint Benedict Monastery Rose Garden in Subiaco
The lower church houses the spiritual core of the monastery: the Sacro Speco, or Holy Cave, where Benedetto lived his three years as a hermit in the V century.

Among the numerous splendid frescoes that decorate the monastery walls is the oldest portrait in existence of Saint Francis of Assisi. His pilgrimage brought him to Subiaco in 1223. In this painting he’s portrayed without the halo that you see in future portraits, similar to the one to the left of the painting that the monk is holding up for comparison. St. Francis is holding a document with the words “Peace to this house”. The fresco portrait was painted by a local, unknown Subiaco painter. He signed the painting using the method of the day: a tiny self-portrait located in the bottom left corner of the painting.

Portrait of Saint Francis Monastery Saint Benedict Subiaco
In the ancient refectory there’s another spectacular fresco: a recently restored Last Supper, dating back to the 1300’s.

Saint Benedict Monastery Subiaco Last Supper painting
The monastery was built up over many centuries and finally completed in 1243. Its bell tower dates back to 1053. The entire monastery is full of splendid medieval paintings and frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries.

Saint Benedict Monastery fresco Subiaco: Upper Church: Martyrdom of St. Placidus; XVth century fresco attributed to Ottaviano Nelli

Saint Benedict Monastery fresco Subiaco, Upper Church: Martyrdom of St. Placidus; XVth century fresco attributed to Ottaviano Nelli

The most sacred part of the monastery is located in a chapel on the left side of the lower church, where the Sacro Speco is located. Here you’ll find a marble sculpture of St. Benedict, by Antonio Raji, a disciple of Bernini.

Saint Benedict Monastery Subiaco Sacro Speco sculpture of Saint Benedict by Bernini disciple Antonio Raji

The statue was carved in white Carrara marble but one foot is gold. The gold metal covering was placed on the marble foot to protect it as over the years the constant touch of each pilgrim who passed by was wearing away the marble.

The St. Scholastica monastery is a two-mile walk downhill from St. Benedict’s monastery. As you descend the hill following a number of winding turns you’ll encounter interesting antiquities, including several chapels and the ruins of one of Nero’s villas. After you pass Nero’s villa you see the St. Scholastica monastery to your left. This is one of the 12 monasteries St. Benedict built for his disciples.

Saint Scholastica Monastery Subiaco
The oldest part of the St. Scholastica monastery is near the bell-tower and the elongated part of the building was added in the 17th century. The monastery also has a hostel and restaurant for pilgrims,

Saint Scholastica Monastery Hostel Subiaco

and three cloisters and the church.
This monastery is notable because it contains a library with originals of the very first books ever printed in Italy. The printing press was set up in the 1400’s by two German ecclesiastics. At the time many spiritual works were printed, along with a grammar book for children. After some years the printing press was moved to the Palazzo Massimo in Rome.
The St. Scholastica monastery is a mixture of different architectural styles: an 11th century Romanesque belltower, a 10th-century church that was redesigned in Gothic style in the 14th century. The inside of the church was completely renovated by Giacomo Quarenghi. The church interior has a stark and unusual look because of the unique style used to paint the frescoes. Normally one expects to see bright and colorful frescoes but, apart from the ceiling fresco, these are black and white and use what was known as a grissaio style.

Saint Scholastica Monastery Subiaco grissaio style fresco
The restaurant within the St. Scholastica complex prepares casareccio, country-style meals for visitors. Francesca, the delightful woman who works in the restaurant, bakes dozens upon dozens of delicious cakes and cookies daily which you’ll find for sale. She spends about fifteen hours a day baking and packaging these goodies. She also makes a variety of jams which you can also purchase.

Saint Scholastica Monastery pastries Subiaco
Here, and at the St. Benedict monastery, you can also purchase wonderful items including delicious liqueurs using the monks’ centuries old recipes.

Saint Benedict Monastery Liqueurs Subiaco made with wild fennel blossoms
Both monasteries are easily reachable by car and if you prefer to make a day trip using public transportation that’s possible too. Take the Rome metro line B to the Ponte Mammolo stop. From here you can get a bus to Piazza Falcone in Subiaco. Buses run all day long, (every 15 – 30 minutes depending on the time of day) beginning at 4:30 am until 8:30 pm. You can purchase a ticket at the Ponte Mammolo station (€4.30) or on board the bus (€7.00). It’s a good idea to purchase a round trip ticket at Ponte Mammolo so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re ready to leave Subiaco.
Getting to the monasteries is another story. To reach the upper monastery (St. Benedict) it’s about a 4 kilometer steep walk uphill that will take just under an hour. It’s a gorgeous walk but strenuous.
One option is to take a taxi up to the monasteries. Otherwise there are a few buses daily that leave from Piazza Falcone going up to the monasteries. This schedule was effective May 27, 2018 but be sure to verify the schedule online. The Cotral bus route is Subiaco-Vallepietra: Monday – Saturday: 6am, 10am, 2:15pm* and 6:30pm. Sundays 8:50am and 3:20pm. (*Saturday 2pm)
The return schedule from the monasteries to Piazza Falcone, Subiaco: Monday – Saturday: 7am, 11am, 3:15pm and 7:30pm. Sundays 9:40am and 4:10pm.

Would you like to read more about Saint Benedict? Check out this book

Or try this book for an in depth history of Subiaco.

One of my favorite gifts for friends and family are prints of places I’ve visited in Italy. This is a lovely print of Subiaco.

 

Red Wine Cookies (Ciambelline al Vino Rosso)

Red Wine Cookies (Ciambelline al Vino Rosso) 

They make a nice gift, along with other biscotti, for almost any occasion:

Red Wine Cookies (Biscotti al Vino Rosso) are a delicious way to use up that extra red wine you have on hand!

Red Wine Cookies (Ciambelline al Vino Rosso) are the best way to use up leftover red wine. How many times have you had a party or dinner guests and you find a few bottles with just a bit of red wine left over? Lots of ways to use that wine up…including drinking it…but you’ll find these ciambelline al vino rosso are a fast and delicious alternative.

Almost every Italian bakery sells these delicious red wine cookies so if you’d rather buy them than make them they’re easy to locate! One of my favorites is Cipriani Biscottificio.

Biscotti al vino rosso, red wine cookies, ciambelline

Red Wine Cookies (Ciambelline al Vino Rosso)

Ingredients:

Flour, 5 cups
Sugar, 1 cup
Salt, 1/4 teaspoon
Baking powder, 1/8 teaspoon
Dry red wine, 1 cup
Olive Oil, light, 1 cup
Additional sugar for dusting the ciambelline, about 2 cups.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F
Stir the first four dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Stir in the oil and wine until well combined.
Roll the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
Take a golf ball-sized piece of dough and roll it out until it’s about 3/8 inch (1 centimeter) thick. Cut off into 4 inch (10 centimeter) lengths.
Shape each length into a circle, overlapping the ends. Usually the circles are slightly oblong. No need to dust the rolling surface: the oil keeps the dough from sticking to your hands or work surface.

Red Wine Cookies (Biscotti al Vino Rosso) are a delicious way to use up that extra red wine you have on hand!

Dust the ciambelline abundantly in granulated sugar on both sides and place on a cookie sheet.
Bake the ciambelline for 20 minutes, or until they are a rich golden color and the sugar on the bottom of the ciambelline is just beginning to caramelize.
Cool the ciambelline thoroughly, then store in an airtight container.

You might also enjoy making biscotti. I love them with dried cranberries and hazelnuts and love this recipe for Cranberry Hazelnut Biscotti!

Why not try a cooking class while you’re in Rome? You can learn how to make cookies, biscotti, pasta and much more. Check out some of the options in the sidebar to your right.

Please note that the below printable recipe can be viewed in metric or U.S. conventional measurements; just click on your preference within the recipe.

Biscotti al vino rosso, red wine cookies, ciambelline

Red Wine Cookies (Ciambelline al Vino Rosso)

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Resting Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Calories: 6798 kcal
Print

Ingredients

  • 600 grams Flour
  • 200 grams Sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon Baking powder
  • 237 milliliters Dry red wine
  • 237 milliliters Olive Oil
  • 400 grams Additional sugar for dusting the ciambelline Use as needed

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Stir the first four dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in the oil and wine until well combined.
  4. Roll the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
  5. Take a golf ball-sized piece of dough and roll it out until it's about 3/8 inch (1 centimeter) thick. Cut off into 4 inch (10 centimeter) lengths.
  6. Shape each length into a circle, overlapping the ends. Usually the circles are slightly oblong. No need to dust the rolling surface: the oil keeps the dough from sticking to your hands or work surface.
  7. Dust the ciambelline abundantly in granulated sugar on both sides and place on a cookie sheet.
  8. Bake the ciambelline for 20 minutes, or until they are a rich golden color and the sugar on the bottom of the ciambelline is just beginning to caramelize.
  9. Cool the ciambelline thoroughly, then store in an airtight container.
Nutrition Facts
Red Wine Cookies (Ciambelline al Vino Rosso)
Amount Per Serving (50 g)
Calories 6798 Calories from Fat 2178
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 242g 372%
Saturated Fat 33g 165%
Sodium 604mg 25%
Potassium 692mg 20%
Total Carbohydrates 1064g 355%
Dietary Fiber 16g 64%
Sugars 600g
Protein 62g 124%
Calcium 11.2%
Iron 163.2%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Full disclosure: I make a small commission on purchases made through links on my blog. Prices are identical to those on the website, but purchasing through my link helps support my work in bringing you great recipes and culinary information!

 

Day trip to Ariccia in the Colli Albani southeast of Rome

Day trip to Ariccia in the Colli Albani Hills southeast of Rome

Sometimes doing exactly what every tourist does when they visit Rome just isn’t what you have in mind and you’d like to experience something different, and perhaps out of Rome’s city center. As it turns out, it’s easy; there are many day trips from Rome that are easily accessible by train, and one of these places is Ariccia in the Colli Alban just 26 kilometers southeast of Rome.

Ariccia's town center
The town is brimming with activity, with a daily outdoor market and lots of small shops and vendors.

Ariccia's town center

As you walk through the town you can feel the influence of Bernini around you. The hand of the great architect, designer and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini is found on the most important monuments found in the lovely town of Ariccia. The design of the Piazza della Repubblica and its two fountains, the restoration of the ancient castle and its transformation into the magnificent Palazzo Chigi, along with the original design of the Ariccia city center are all attributable to Bernini. He also designed the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Assunzione where you can see the beautiful 17th century fresco by Borgognone. Another place where you see Bernini’s touch is the gorgeous façade of the Santa Maria di Galloro church.

Santa Maria Assunta church, designed by Bernini, in the center of Ariccia

Santa Maria Assunta church, designed by Bernini

It was Pope Alessandro VII who commissioned Bernini to design the Palazzo Chigi, one of the most notable architectural complexes of the Roman Baroque period. If you’ve seen the Luchino Visconti film The Leopard you’ll remember the gorgeous palazzo where it was filmed: the Palazzo Chigi.

Courtyard area behind the Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia

Courtyard area, Palazzo Chigi

The Palazzo is now a center for cultural activities from conferences to art shows and concerts. It’s also the location where Auburn University holds its annual courses in art and cultural history.

The Palazzo is full of outstanding works of art and furnishings from the 16th century.

There are a few gorgeous tables in the Palazzo Chigi that were designed by Bernini so make sure you have a look at them when you visit the Palazzo.

Table designed by Bernini, Palazzo Chigi Ariccia

Table designed by Bernini, Palazzo Chigi
 

Table designed by Bernini, Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia

Table designed by Bernini, Palazzo Chigi

Within the Palazzo is a centuries old pharmacy, still with all the medicine jars and some of the original medicines. The medicine jars are lovely hand-painted ceramics, kept on a beautiful wooden period piece of furniture. The pharmacy was designed by Carlo Fontana, and two gorgeous tables against the wall were designed by Bernini.

Centuries old pharmacy within the Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia

Within the Palazzo is a Baroque Museum filled with privately donated works including paintings by Pietro da Cortona, Sebastiano Conca, Pierleone Ghezzi and others.

Piano nobile, Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia

You can visit the piano nobile with its private living quarters and lovely rooms.

Piano nobile, Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia

Pope Alessandro VII’s private study is filled with dozens upon dozens of portraits of women. Pope Alessandro VII was fascinated with women and liked to surround himself with the portraits. It’s unclear whether the women who posed for the portraits knew they would be hanging in Pope Alessandro VII’s private study area. Given his quasi fetish for beautiful women perhaps they might not have consented to having their portrait painted.

Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia

The ceilings throughout the Palazzo are magnificent, often hand-painted in exquisite designs.

Ceilings within the Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Palazzo are the walls in many rooms. They are covered with exquisite hand painted leather. This form of wall covering and design is unique to the Palazzo Chigi and it’s unlikely that you will see it in any of Italy’s other magnificent palazzi.

Hand-painted leather wall coverings in the Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia

Here’s a closer view of this room’s hand-painted leather wall coverings.

Hand-painted leather wall coverings in the Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia

There are other lesser-known villas to visit in Ariccia. Just across the Ariccia bridge heading away from the town center you’ll see the entrance to the Villino Volterra on your right. If you walk up the Via Vito Volterra, just as you crest the hill and curve off to your left you’ll find the main entrance to the Villino on your left at #1. Visits must be prearranged which you can do through the website. The owner of the Villino Volterra, Virginia Volterra, offers tours of the grounds and inside of the villa. Although the villa is relatively new by Italian standards, dating back to 1907, it has a rich history to impart.

The views from the Villino looking out over the countryside and also towards the Ariccia city center are spectacular. From the gardens you can peek through the trees and see the Ariccia bridge and the center of Ariccia.

Ariccia city center

From Virginia Volterra’s terrace in her private living area you can look out upon the panoramic countryside.

Villino Volterra terrace overlooking the panoramic countryside near Ariccia

Back in the 19th century many visitors to Italy, and especially to the Rome area, followed what was known as the Museum Grand Tour. This was a way to see another side of Italy and Rome’s outlying areas, to admire the exquisite landscape of the area, and to experience Italian art and culture.

Many authors and artists including Byron, Gogol and Andersen spent time in Ariccia seeking peace and tranquility and artistic inspiration. These illustrious visitors stayed in the Locanda Martorelli, right in the very center of Ariccia. The Locanda can be visited by prior appointment: archeoclubaricia@alice.it.

Ariccia has its own culinary culture. Of particular note is porchetta, a wonderful slow-roasted rolled pork filled with delectable herbs and wild fennel grown in the area. It’s covered in delicious crackling. Although you will find porchetta throughout the Rome area and the Lazio region it’s origin is attributed to Ariccia. Throughout the town you’ll find small stands and eateries ready to sell you porchetta; try it on its own or served in a panino. Porchetta is usually served at room temperature.

Scrumptious porchetta from Ariccia

Wines in the area surrounding Ariccia are also wonderful. One such producer is Fontana di Papi. Winery visits can be arranged by contacting the winery. They produce delicious reds and whites. Fontana di Papi is a major exporter of wine to Canada; about two million bottles annually. They also export to the United States, Europe and Asia.

Photo courtesy of www.fontanadipapi.it

 

Sautéed Purple Cabbage with Fresh Coriander

Delicious sautéed purple cabbage and fresh coriander

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Tulips from the 2018 Tulip Park in Prima Porta, Rome

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Beet and Ricotta Gnocchi with Wilted Arugula & Toasted Walnuts

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Pecorino Cheese: what is it anyway? And a local Lazio cheesemaker

Pecorino cheese producer in the Cesanese wine producing area near Anagni

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Green onion and tomato fettuccine

The recipe for green onion and tomato fettuccine came about on a whim at the last minute. We went for our morning walk much later than expected, just before lunchtime. On the way home we stopped by our garden to see what, if anything, was left of last summer’s produce. Oddly enough the long red…