If you are a lover of the Italian way of life, do not miss a visit to San Martino al Cimino, a small architectural jewel, and best-kept secret, just a few kilometers from Rome.
Wandering through the streets of this small village, you might have the sensation of coming across Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj, sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X. A powerful woman who lived in the 17th century and who redesigned the architecture of this town entrusting the work to the most renowned sculptors of the time.
The majestic Cistercian abbey (13th century), the sumptuous Doria Pamphilj palace (17th century) with its baroque architecture, the precious town layout that reminds one of Piazza Navona in Roma, the thick woods of chestnut, oak, and birch trees, and the natural reserve of the volcanic Lake Vico, are just some of the main attractions of San Martino al Cimimo. Overall, this small town is a real pearl set in the Cimini Mountains.
A Bit of History
At the beginning of the 13th century, Pope Innocent III conceded this area of the Cimini Mountains to the Cistercian monks of Pontigny, in order to build an abbey. These monk farmers of Saint Bernard build the abbey in a relatively brief period of time but, in the next centuries, it was almost abandoned. The place began to thrive again in the 17th century with the arrival of the Pamphilj family. In 1645, Pope Innocent X made the abbey independent of episcopal authority and donated the lands of San Martino to his sister-in-law Olimpia Maidalchini. This powerful woman, with the help of several famous architects, such as Francesco Borromini, proceeded with a radical restoration of the abbey, and construction of the village with its majestic palace.
Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, better known as the Lady Pope, must also be credited with many important public works in Rome, such as the redesigning of Piazza Navona, the building of St. Agnes in Agony, and the Fountain of the Four Rivers. She died in 1657 due to the plague and is buried in the apse of the abbey church of San Martino al Cimino, the village that she so deeply loved, especially in the last years of her life.
Discover the Italian Way of Life
Spending a few days in San Martino al Cimino means diving deeply into the Italian lifestyle where the elderly meet in bars or sit on the benches in the squares to enjoy their ice cream. Children often play in the streets, while nonne (grandmothers) cook delicious dishes for the whole family.
Every 15 minutes the bells of the great abbey recall the passage of time and their sound merges with that of the gushing fountains scattered throughout the town.
Artisans and ancient crafts make ancient traditions timeless, such as the art of weaving sticks to make wicker baskets, or the craftsmanship of wood to build furniture.
However, what will make you appreciate the Italian way of life the most is shopping at the local groceries, run by the same families for generations. Here you will always find fresh products, organic vegetables and fruits, but also ready meals cooked by the owners of these grocery stores. You might be fascinated to see the grocer slicing the ham by hand. Or you may be overwhelmed by the smell of the cheeses and mozzarella on display.
Saturday is the porchetta day, a typical delicacy of central Italy obtained by roasting an entire pig on a large spit. Many locals like to eat a porchetta sandwich for breakfast on Saturdays, sometimes accompanied with a glass of wine.
The local haberdashery and clothing store is a great bazaar where you can find everything. But what makes this shop even more quaint is the lady who runs it and who knows the style, size and preferences of each inhabitant of the town. In fact, San Martino al Cimino is like a large community, where everyone knows each other and identifies with the same origins and traditions.
The local cuisine, with its variety of choices, will not disappoint. All restaurants offer bruschette or toasted bread with a wide choice of toppings, soups made of mushrooms, various forms of homemade pasta, such as lombrichelli (local pasta made with water and flour) with hot pepper sauce, pappardelle (pasta made with eggs and flour, thicker than fettuccine) with wild boar sauce, fettuccine with porcino mushrooms, and so on. Often the owners of the restaurants will offer to you tozzetti, local hazelnut biscuits to eat dipped in red wine.
But what makes each dish and recipe unique is the use of extra virgin olive oil, a very precious and world-renowned local product.
Most historical festivals are linked to religious rites, with processions of saints and floral mosaics that decorate the streets of the town on the occasion of the feast of the Madonna. But there are also popular festivals such as the chestnut festival, the craft beer festival, and local fairs. And for theater lovers, it is best not to miss the theatrical show in period costumes which is held periodically in the sumptuous halls of the Palazzo di Donna Olimpia.
Where to Eat and Stay
Even though San Martino al Cimino has only 3000 inhabitants, it boasts 6 restaurants, o trattorie, of the best qualities.
There are also many accommodations, such as B&Bs, hotels, and guest houses. Balletti Park Hotel, a four-star Hotel & Resort is the perfect place to stay for a long vacation. Immersed in a centuries-old park, in a panoramic position, this Hotel & Resort is equipped with soccer fields, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a pond. The resort’s restaurant, called the Tavernetta, is very welcoming and serves local cuisine, excellent wine, and wood-fired pizza.
What else could you wish for? Actually, there is much more to experience and enjoy in San Martino al Cimino, but come and discover it for yourself.
In an around San Martino al Cimino
· San Martino al Cimino is surrounded by wooden chestnut, beech, and oak. Enchanting trails are ideal for trekking, nordic walking, and mountain biking.
· The nature reserve of Lake Vico, with its beaches and typical restaurants, is an oasis of well-being.
· Thermal baths are a paradise for those who want to relax and regenerate.
Note: San Martino al Cimino is about 70 kilometers from Rome and 5 kilometers from Viterbo.
Photos by Giulia Marchetti of Italian Human Connections