Just an hour from Rome, Stephanie Smith finds tranquillity among the olive trees of Lazio.
It’s harvest time at Casale San Pietro and the olive groves are busy with pickers. Some are old hands, friends and locals, but for others, the experience is new, because they are here on holiday, especially to take part in the Casale’s olive party weekend breaks.
Casale San Pietro sits above its eight acres of olive groves, in the hills of Lazio, about an hour’s drive south-east of Rome. It opened this summer as a luxury bed and breakfast, although B&B hardly captures the beauty, atmosphere and ethos of the casale.
Its owners and hosts are Alana and Joe Mazza, who last year left their careers (Joe had his own hairdressing business and Alana was retail director of fashion chain Hobbs), sold their Holmfirth home and set to work on their Italian dream.
Back to the olives, which have been picked by hand and collected into nets. A picnic lunch is laid out on long trestle tables among the trees with cold meats, cheeses, breads, pizza, fruit and local wine. Once gathered, the olives are taken to Frantoio to watch the pressing, after which comes that very first taste. Alana makes a lovely lemon and rosemary olive oil cake with it, which guests can have at breakfast, if they wish, with cured meats, home-laid eggs, gorgeous breads, cheeses, fruits and more.
Last year, before the Casale opened, Joe and Alana’s first harvest gave them 800 litres of olive oil, which they sold within a week. They enjoyed the whole process so much that they decided to turn it into party weekends for guests to enjoy too.
The Casale had been a restaurant that the Mazzas knew well and often dined at while holidaying at the apartment they owned in the area. They have renovated and extended the former farmhouse, which now has six luxurious bedrooms (two are suites and can sleep four), each with ensuite marble bathrooms and a huge terrace overlooking the olive groves and the hillside. There is also a new swimming pool, with enough day beds for all guests. As well as the olive party weekend, Joe, Alana and the Casale team will be offering Italian cookery course breaks and yoga breaks next year.
The local area is an attraction in itself. Lazio is remarkably unspoiled and undeniably rural, yet the motorway is within easy reach and the Casale has all mod cons, including wi-fi, flat-screen TVs, fridges, state-of-the-art hair-dryers (of course) and air conditioning.
Within a short drive, there are several enchanting historic towns for exploring and dining. The medieval town of Fiuggi perches on a hilltop. Originally called Anticoli di Campagna, it became known as a spa in the 14th century, when Pope Boniface VIII claimed his kidney stones had been healed by the mineral waters of the Fiuggi spring. Joe reckons it’s a lot like Harrogate, and certainly the stately hotels and boulevards do have an air of old-school grandeur.
Anagni is another gem of the Lazio region, in the area of Ciociaria, part of Latium. It is encircled by Roman boundary walls, with the old town within them and the new town at the foot below. It is also known as the “Città dei Papi” (Town of the Popes), as it is the birthplace of four pontiffs. A jousting festival, the Palio of San Magno, is held in Anagni each summer. On a much quieter day, we parked outside the walls and walked up into the old town, first to a grand old square, and had lunch in one of the two rather swish restaurants there. The pasta was incredible. Then we walked up to the famous Duomo and tower and tried (in vain) to spot the Casale San Pietro across the valley.
Fumone, a tiny but unbelievably beautiful medieval town, is home to just 55 families. Primed by Joe and Alana, we visited the biscuit shop and took a look inside La Taverna Del Barone, an amazing restaurant that looks like a set from a Hammer horror movie (albeit in the best possible way) with stone walls and cobbled floor, wooden trestle tables, iron candelabras and farming implements hanging on the wall. We didn’t try it then because we were dining at the Casale that night, a culinary experience in itself. Guests can have an excellent traditional Italian dinner cooked by talented local signoras at the Casale for an extra 25 euros a person. Local wine costs 12 euros a litre and there is an honesty bar in the snug/library, just off the Long Room, an elegant lounge that’s a wonderfully cool escape from the sun.
We did dine at a wonderful local restaurant called Chalet 80 in Torre Cajetani, not far from Fuiggi (by the way, Joe runs a personal taxi service for guests who want to freely enjoy the local vino, and also picks up from the airport and gives tours of Rome). We spoke no Italian and the waitress spoke no English, and yet we managed to order, although, as course after course of intriguing dishes arrived, from meats to bean salads and breads and pasta and chicken, we did think wires might have got a little crossed. But it was a wonderful authentic experience.
We will return to the Casale San Pietro and to Lazio, which has been such a revelation. The tranquillity, the pool, the fascinating towns and, of course, the olive groves. Maybe next time, we’ll get to pick some.
HOW TO STAY
The Casale San Pietro is open March to November at: Vic. Le Loiso, Santa Giusta 03012, Anagni Località San Phillippo (FR). Phone: 07748 770140, email: email@example.com, website casalespietro.com
Prices start at €125 per room per night, based on two people sharing. he three-day cookery master classes start at 350 euros per person based on two people sharing. Next year’s special breaks also include: Easter weekend, April 14-17, 2017 and a Yoga Retreat break which is for 4 nights from the 12th May 2017.