July 25, 2017 3:30 pm
After more than a year of planning I stepped foot in a new country with the sole intention to explore for two weeks. Italia! I was here! Originally this was a trip for the three girls: my mom, sister and me. But with my nephew being just six months old my sister chose to hang back.
A planner by nature, I’m someone who wants to see everything under the shining sun. So this time I challenged myself to go with the flow. I wanted the experience more than anything. And the food. Oh, and wine. I didn’t want to be guarded by gates of all-inclusive resorts or have a tailored trip with 30 other tourists on a bus. No, that wasn’t good enough. I wanted something that was mine and my mom’s. A reality that was ours and ours alone. So I set out to loosely plan Point A to Point Z.
After asking a few friends (I’m fortunate to work with many Europeans who have many suggestions!) we decided to explore Southern Italy. We would arrive into Roma and start our journey in Fiano Romano, a small town about 40 kilometers from Roma. It was funny. When picking up our rental after flying from Detroit, our agent asked us, “Perché Fiano Romano? Chiaramente Roma è più adatto per i tuoi viaggi.” (Why Fiano Romano? Clearly Roma is better suited for your travels.)
It turns out, we picked a random, little town that didn’t have anything comparable to the ruins of the ancient Roman city. Nor did it have mountains, nearby wineries, or even a hustling restaurant to bring city folk out to the country. It was isolated and old, and absolutely perfect.
Let me tell you, driving in ancient Italian cities is quite the adventure. We had a compact car but even that was too big. Of course I knew of the Vespa preference before we arrived. But I wasn’t about to drive into the mountains for the first time with nothing between me and the cliff’s edge (we’ll get into that story later). My mom drove and although our GPS was doing its best, we still somehow ended up nearly ruining some pretty flowerpots. Many of the streets were marked eccetto residenti autorizzati. Or authorized resident’s only. This really meant “You’re a fool if you attempt to drive up here because the width of this path is the size of a small bathtub.”
After a close call with a corner of a building, we parked in the Piazza Giacomo Matteotti. We caught our breath, laughed, and decided to grab a coffee because jet lag was beginning to hit. We called our Airbnb host to meet us and he took us to the flat for check-in. It was stunning, with the most beautiful courtyard and 200-year-old double doors. The building was a 17th-century hamlet right in the historic center of Fiano Romano. It has iconic 360-views of the surrounding Tiber valley and the S. Stefano Protomartire parish. The single Catholic church in the area.
We settled in, taking what felt like the best showers to ever exist. Then we set out to experience what this quaint village had to offer. We walked from one end to the other, taking in the sights and breathing in the fresh, crisp air. The temperature in April couldn’t have been more perfect—and with no humidity to boot, we could’ve stayed out all day.
It wasn’t long before our appetites were rumbling and we were set out to find some delicious Italian food. But we were stuck in a time warp: Italy is on a very different schedule than America. Dinner doesn’t start until seven at the earliest. And it’s usually after the locals have had aperitivo, their version of a happy hour (that is so much better than ours). It was only six and we were ravished. As we were walking back we spotted a restaurant, Ristorante da Edoardo. It had opened the doors to begin prepping for the night’s meals. From the entrance we could see deep into the kitchen. Pasta was being pulled and fresh fish was being laid on ice. The solitary chef, a young father, was closely watching his son run around, keeping the staff on their toes.
It was by luck we were invited in to sit to rest our feet and offered our first glass of vino. Being on the cusp of wine country, we had our first taste of Brunello. It’s difficult to describe how delightful Brunello is. It’s so full-bodied and well-rounded, smooth with a knick of attitude. It pairs well with almost anything. But this round it was recommended with the freshest seafood I’ve ever had—caught hours before.
We dined for four hours that night. It was impossible to understand how the time had flown. We had become best friends with the waitress, my mom is great striking up conversation with perfect strangers. And we had a long list of recommendations for the rest of our stay in hand.
The next morning we took a short trip to the city of Viterbo. It was here we learned the concept of riposa was alive and well. Riposa is the practice of midday rest. It is the time of day when shops close for a few hours to go home, eat with family, and take a nap! We had arrived in Viterbo in the middle of riposa and it was an incredible sight. Inside city centers cars are usually not allowed. There is no room for vehicles, and cell service is spotty at best because of all the stone. So we had no choice but to roam and take in the scenery. We explored a local parish, threw coins into a fountain for good luck, and had our first taste of Italian gelato. I don’t have words for how delicious it was, but I do have a picture.
Around 4 o’clock the doors started to open. We spent our remaining time tasting fresh honey touching at knitted textiles, and buying our first souvenirs.
We stayed another day in Fiano Romano, and of course dined at Ristorante da Edoardo again. Partly because it was the only restaurant open at the time of our stay. But mostly because of the delicious food and wonderful service. Though our time was short there it quickly set the bar high for the rest of the country. We were only just getting started and I could already feel myself changing. I was beginning to pick up fragmented pieces of Italian. I was far better with real life learning than anything from practicing months before. The next morning we were on our way into Tuscany.
Our waitress found us quickly to say goodbye and once again asked if the food and wine was to our satisfaction. It was an absolute dream. I couldn’t stop raving about it. What she said next is what I’ll remember most about Fiano Romano. As we walked out the door she said, “Si! Il cibo ha un sapore migliore con la famiglia.” (Food just tastes better when you’re with family.) She’s right. It does.