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When in Rome… you can’t do better than to escape the crowds and head for Sermoneta, 37 miles outside the capital. Set on a hilltop, the walled medieval village commands some of the most stunning views of the Latina countryside you’ll ever see, especially from the ramparts of its iconic centerpiece, the Castello Caetani.
But be prepared to climb a few stairs.
I recommend the Casal Dei Papi. The old-style feel, enhanced by the large wrought iron beds, is tempered by the all mod-cons you need. One does have to share bathrooms, but that’s fairly typical of these establishments.
If you'd like to experience Italian-style country living, with private bathrooms, then just outside of Sermonetta is Casale Cavatella. The homestead is immersed in nature and a warm county welcome by owners Antonio and Laura is guaranteed.
Sermoneta is one of those gorgeously compact architectural gems that quite simply encloses you in antiquity. Weathered stone walls tower up on either side of the narrow lanes that wind this way and that, leading to one revelation after another.
A modern-day signpost, for example, can look rather misplaced. Then again, a line of washing hung up in a patch of sunshine can look… just so: in perfect harmony with bursts of red bougainvillea, green creepers on grey walls, and flowers blossoming from boxes and balconies.
It is, typically, a magical place.
In Sermoneta one forgets about time. And I’m not just talking about the hour of the day or night. A walk around the village is a journey back through history. Its colorful and sometimes painful military past pervades every brick and stone. But here, the urgency of battle has long vanished. Sermoneta, as you may gather, is decidedly unhurried.
This is one town that I highly recommend.
If you’re planning something longer than a day trip, hiring a car is a fine idea. The surrounds are as rewarding as the village itself, particularly, the neighboring Ninfa Gardens. But that is a story by itself, which you can discover here.
Car or no car, you’re going to do a fair amount of walking, and if you’re anything like me, and particularly my son, you’re bound to build up a hefty appetite. Our port of call was the superb, family-owned Antico Emporio Stivali Fraschetta.
On par pricewise, it is cozy, comfortable, and serves up the kind of rustic and rewarding fare that keeps the Sermoneta experience authentic. Vegetarians will be delighted by the fresh, seasonal dishes; and being a pasta-mad traveller, like myself, you’ll be well satisfied. Place a tick in the value column.
I’d say the Cattedrale de Santa Maria is a must see, but I don’t need to. You can’t miss it. Its multi-story tower is as unique a piece of architecture as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Inside the church itself are magnificent arches, statues and a jaw-dropping fresco that, seen first hand, is unforgettable.
You'll want to visit the Castle of Caetani. It's one of the best preserved medieval castles in all of Italy. You'll find all the detail on opening hours etc. on the official website.
The old Jewish ghetto is also fascinating. There's still the Synagogue (no longer a place of worship), which was once at the heart of this community's life but the once thriving Jewish community is no more - they were forced to leave in the 16th century.
Well, Sermoneta won’t make our list of top 10 party spots (depending on your idea of a ‘party’) but, apart from the history, the culture and the aesthetic, it seems to be a place of some adventure.
You won’t find me hanging from a paraglider, but I did see one or two, making the most of the hilly topography. The neighboring commune of Norma is an ever popular paragliding center. Make it to the top of the castle and you’ll see the aerial appeal. The view is something special: rural Italy at its best.
But, if you ask me, Sermoneta is for the romantics. It’s a place to fall in love. But then, of course, this is Italy we’re talking about. Falling in love comes standard. Jokes aside, the real reason I say that is the Ninfa Gardens. Take my word for it: no journey to Sermoneta is complete without a stroll through paradise.
As I said, hiring a car is first prize. But as everything in Sermoneta is walkable, arriving by train from Rome is a workable option. You get off at Latina station and then get the bus (weekdays only) to Sermoneta.
If you haven't much time then you can take a tour from Rome that encompasses both Sermoneta and the Ninfa Gardens. Here are the details.