The Sunday Times (UK) – January 22, 2006

Guidebooks pass over Sabina with a line or two, and tourist itineraries leave it almost untouched…. Yet this is one of the loveliest areas of Italy. Back roads wind through olive groves and pastures of sheep, beneath medieval hilltop towns and old abbeys and vine-draped farmhouses. Famous for the quality of its oil, Sabina is famous, too, for the greenness of its hills in months when the rest of Italy is often dry and brown. Sabina is as beautiful as Umbria, which it borders, without the drone of tour buses or the shrill ring of English voices. But most remarkable of all is its location. We expect our hidden gems to be remote, difficult of access, off the beaten track. Sabina is just over half an hour from Rome, just off the autostrada. On a clear day, from some of its hill towns, you can see the dome of St Peter’s.

Among those who know and love Sabina, there is considerable debate about why it has been so overlooked. For foreigners, it lacks famous sights. Sabina has no cities, and thus no great museums, no cathedrals. This is a region of villages and secondary roads. This is slumbering rural Italy. There is nothing to see in Sabina, in the way that there is nothing to see in the Cotswolds.

From Poggio Mirteto, you can catch a train into the city in the morning, spend the day exploring the sights, have dinner in Trastevere and be back in the hills in time to watch the moonlight sidle through the olive groves while sipping a digestivo on the terrace.It is also an ideal base for touring much of central Italy. It is less than an hour to Viterbo and Orvieto. The Umbrian towns of Todi and Spoleto are a similar distance, while Perugia and Assisi are only 90 minutes away. The only problem with Sabina is that, once there, you don’t want to leave.

I took to exploring the many hill towns. One of the best is Casperia, a town of snakes and ladders. Narrow pedestrian lanes climb upwards between geranium-framed doorways and grilled windows, then tumble down again past an old palazzo and the severely plain facade of the church. Such is the domestic intimacy of the town, such is the uniformity of its ochre-coloured walls and its red-tiled roofs, that it feels, at moments, like one great rambling house. Its streets, joined by shallow stairways, are labyrinthine hallways, its piazzas are courtyards and balconies…

The Guardian (UK) - January 8, 2005

I came across the medieval hilltop town of Casperia quite by chance only a few months ago, having lived not far away in Rome for nine years. For somewhere as beautiful and unspoilt, it is surprisingly easy to get to. A 1-hour train journey from Rome's Fiumicino airport or a 35-minute train journey from Rome itself takes you directly to the peaceful town of Poggio Mirteto in the Sabine Hills just north of the capital. From here, it is a 20-minute drive to Casperia, past one ancient hilltop town after another, and through untouched countryside that becomes more dramatic at every turn... until you round the last bend and there it is, perched timelessly on its mountain…If the views on the way here were stunning enough, what you now see takes your breath away. Range upon range of hills, one behind the other, stretch away majestically into the distance towards Rome. Come here at sunset when the mist is rising and the swallows are flitting around searching for their evening meal, and the magic is complete. Since the twisting streets consist mainly of shallow steps paved with cobblestones, there is not a single car to be seen or heard. You can feel the stress oozing out of your system. This, surely, is the secret of Casperia: it is a slow town, an oasis of peace that the modern world has passed by.

It would be a pity, too, not to hire a car and drive round this area which, although outstandingly beautiful, is almost unknown to foreigners. Outside Canneto, you will find the largest olive tree in Europe: 2,000 years old and well signposted but quite undisturbed; above Cottanello is an abandoned village whose nearby quarry, also abandoned, used to provide marble for Bernini and where even today semi-finished columns are lying on the ground. Nor should you miss the abbey of Farfa, one of the major religious institutions of the middle ages. And then the treasures of Spoleto, Viterbo, Orvieto and southern Tuscany are an easy drive away.

The only wonder is that Casperia has escaped discovery for so long...

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