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Not far from Rome, you can step into another world when you visit the beautiful and ancient Sabine hills. Known for its abundant natural produce, historic hilltop towns, and artisan traditions, it’s an easy day trip from Rome. Or you may want to stay longer and soak up the peaceful rural atmosphere of the countryside.
This is a place where mint and asparagus grows wild in the fields, where olive trees have thrived for centuries and where strangers provoke a curious response in the locals. Our guests Sally and Guido from Convivio Rome live and work in the Sabine hills. They run cooking classes, wine and olive oil tours and cooking vacations that draw inspiration from the countryside around them.
Discover the Sabine hills throughout the seasons. From springtime when the area bursts into color, to summertime festivals and the olive and grape harvests in October and November. Despite being less than 40 minutes by train from Rome, this area retains its ancient and agricultural roots. And it’s here that you will find the peaceful piece of Italy you’ve been dreaming of.
Thanks to Guido and Sally you can also access a free Italian cooking package including tips, videos, and five delicious recipes from Rome that only take a few minutes to learn.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- An introduction to the Sabine hills to the north of Rome
- How to get to this beautiful region from the center of Rome
- What makes olive oil from the Sabine hills so special and why it is protected
- Why the hills explode in a colorful burst of dark pink in April
- The story behind how pecorino wine got its name
- Which regions Guido and Sally recommend visiting (outside of the Sabine Hills!)
About our guests – Guido Santi and Sally Ransom from Convivio Rome
Having traveled the world together, Guido and Sally eventually settled in the Sabine hills just outside Rome. Drawing on their backgrounds in food editing and tourism, as well as passion for Italian produce, foraging and local recipes, they founded Convivio Rome to share their passions with visitors to Italy.
Through Convivio Rome they share the Slow Food movement philosophy on local farming, quality food and bio-diversity. They support their local farmers and food producers by sourcing the freshest, highest quality seasonal ingredients and olive oil for our Italian cookery classes.
You can also find Convivio Rome, Guido and Sally on these social media channels:
Places mentioned in the show
- Sabine Hills / Sabina – area 40 minutes by train from Rome famous for olive oil and local produce
- Toffia – medieval town famous in the area with a jazz festival in summer
- Fara Sabina – town with a train station that connects to Rom
- Farfa ( Abbazia di Farfa) – beautiful old abbey dating back to 500 A.D.
- Castelnuovo di Farfa – medieval walled town
Food and wine mentioned in the show
- Mentuccia – Roman mint that grows wild in the area
- Sabina DOP olive oil – the first DOP Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin) olive oil in Italy
- White wines – Pecorino, Malvasia
- Red wines – Colli della Sabina Rosso DOC (60%Sangiovese and 40% Montepulciano grapes)
Resources from Untold Italy
- Discover more in our guide to Rome
- Listen: to other food podcasts in Rome and the surrounding areas Episode 029 Rome’s best dishes and Episode #070 Cooking pasta with nonna
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian and American accents however!
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips, and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes, and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show. Now let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia.
[00:01:00.410] – Katy
Benvenuti, welcome to the Untold Italy podcast. This is Katy and grazie, thanks as always for listening. In this episode, we are taking you to an area that I haven’t been to yet, to the Sabine Hills or the Sabina region, which is to the north of Rome. This region has ancient roots to the Sabina or Sabine tribes who inhabited the hills up to two thousand years B.C. And they were important in the founding of Rome.
[00:01:27.050] – Katy
And there’s a lot of interesting stories around that. Now, the influence of the people of this region continued over the Middle Ages when important fortifications and smaller towns were built on the hilltops around to protect Rome. In more recent times, the people of this area moved to Rome and brought with them some of our favorite Roman dishes that I discussed a few weeks ago on the podcast here. But today I’m talking to Guido and Sally from Convivio Rome. They run tours and cooking classes in the Sabina Hills, as well as online cooking classes and a cooking club.
[00:02:01.790] – Katy
They have a wealth of knowledge about this area and will share some of their secrets with us today. As I said, I’ve never been there before, so I’m excited to hear all about this area myself. So let’s welcome them to the show. Benvenuti, welcome to Untold Italy podcast Guido and Sally, I am so happy to have you on the show today and to learn about the Sabina hills.
[00:02:24.340] – Guido Santi
Thank you very much for having us.
[00:02:26.450] – Sally Ransom
Yeah, thanks, Katy.
[00:02:27.830] – Katy
Wonderful. OK, so Guido and Sally, before we uncover all your delicious stories and I hope recipes from the Sabina hills, would you be able to tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves and your connection to this area?
[00:02:42.070] – Guido Santi
Yeah, well, I’m from originally from Rome and I’m an eighth generation Roman. As a child, we were very often going out of the city for for food excursions. My parents were foodies at the time and we were living on the north side of Rome. And the Sabina area, also known as Sabine hills, is really just a little over half an hour’s drive from the north side of Rome. So it was very easy for us to get to an area that’s very, very famous for its olive oil. And it’s got beautiful, fantastic, beautiful landscape everywhere. And it’s really, really close to the city, relatively close to the city.
[00:03:24.910] – Guido Santi
But you really step into a completely different world. And so that was a chance for my parents to get the favorite food or the olive oil for the year, of course. And wheels of cheese. And ricotta just being made by the shepherds out of sheep’s milk. You name it, salami. And so we’d come back to Rome with a cart full of goodies that would last for a while. So always since I was a child, I always connected with this area for the food and also for good wine as well.
[00:04:05.620] – Guido Santi
So this is my first contact with Sabine Hills. And after a number of years that when Sally and I were actually in other countries, we came back to Italy. And 15 years ago we decided to not to be in the middle of Rome, but to be in this beautiful area. We already knew about the fantastic food products.
[00:04:29.590] – Sally Ransom
And I’m originally from Australia, from Sydney, Australia. And I transferred over to Italy now over 20 years ago. And almost as soon as I came over to Italy, I met Guido.
[00:04:44.620] – Sally Ransom
So I’m here because of Guido. And of course, we fell in love and he’s the reason why I stayed in Italy. And when Guido and I were first going out actually he took me up to the Sabine Hills as many sort of day trips that we used to have. So it was a great way for me to discover the area. And little did I know a few years later we’d actually be moving up here. And it’s a spectacular place
[00:05:17.550] – Katy
Wow. You guys have really got the love story going on. I know our listeners love to know about that!
[00:05:23.350] – Sally Ransom
But I wanted to tell you, too, is that people say, did I throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain? Because you know that that story of three coins and you come back and marry an Italian? Well, I did that. That’s what I did. I threw three coins into the Trevi Fountain and I met Guido.
[00:05:39.960] – Katy
I think, wow, that you beat Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. I love it. It’s so delicious. It’s a great story. And so now you live in the hills and you started a business up there. And can you tell us a little bit about what you do up in the hills?
[00:06:00.400] – Guido Santi
Yeah, well, I was formerly a food editor for many years. I’ve always been passionate about food and especially the origin of the ingredients and the traditional recipes of Italy. We decided to start a cooking school in English and mostly in English, running cooking classes up in the hills, plus olive tours and wine tours for our guests coming up to the hills and also programs a little longer programs of three and four nights. So up to four days, actually, the short holidays in the area.
[00:06:45.760] – Guido Santi
People can stay and really absorb the atmosphere that’s around here, and have a truly Italian experience. Plus the cooking and everything else. We have been running this for about fifteen years, right in this location in and around the village of Toffia, which I’ll tell you a little bit more about. It’s the oldest village in the area. It dates back to nine hundred and thirty eight.
[00:07:12.850] – Katy
Is there any particular stories about the village that that are interesting?
[00:07:18.210] – Guido Santi
Yeah, it’s an interesting story, actually. It’s a unique case in the whole of Italy as far as I know. There were two aristocratic families back in the early Middle Ages who took over the village. That was at the beginning. They were fighting over the village. So this was the Orsinis and the Colonnas. The Orsinis tried to take over the village from the Colonnas. Then the Colonnas took it over again and went on and on and on for many decades.
[00:07:46.030] – Guido Santi
In the end, they actually decided to split the village into two sides. And you won’t find this anywhere else in Italy. None of the two fighting families were prevailing essentially. And so they split the village into two. And so still today you have the Colonna castle and you have the Orsini castle and an evident border between the two. We’re talking about a small village, but still it was split into two sides, each one with the castle doors and gates and all that. So this is quite interesting.
[00:08:24.310] – Katy
I think Mr Shakespeare might have been there because it sounds a bit like Romeo and Juliet.
[00:08:30.070] – Guido Santi
Exactly. Exactly. It was really strategic position as well as the village is nearby to what used to be a very powerful monastery which dates back to the 5th century A.D. Actually very, very ancient. And by that stage, by the year 1000, it grew in power and land ownership was very powerful. A center of power really quite unbelievable because they land stretched all the way to the other side to the east coast of Italy. So it was a mini empire and it was kind of within the influence of this monastery, which is nearby. About a 15 minute drive. And so that meant that, again, there was a lot of fighting over this hilltop village built on a cliff really still today. It’s very dramatic to look at.
[00:09:29.630] – Katy
Oh, wow, I think we all love a bit of a hilltop village. Is that something that we would find? A few scattered around the Sabine hills?
[00:09:37.610] – Guido Santi
Yeah, yes, absolutely. The Sabine Hills have a very strong medieval or early medieval heritage. And there’s a lot of villages on the hilltops. From our window, I can see maybe 20 old dating back to around the same time. So it’s typical of the area and that’s the landscape of the hills. They are covered with olive groves and some vineyards. And these beautiful villages on top of the hills are very picturesque, a landscape that I don’t believe changed much since a thousand years ago. Really very unspoiled.
[00:10:17.730] – Katy
Hmm. That sounds amazing. And in these ancient hilltop villages I’m sure they all have their own specialties and recipes that have grown up over the years. And usually in Italy, you have particular dishes that are stemming from the seasonal and local ingredients. Are there particular local vegetables or things that are local to the area here?
[00:10:41.580] – Guido Santi
Well, there are some very, very local traditions also like to say that a lot of recipes from Rome, in fact, originate in the Sabine Hills, mainly because of the ingredients and the sources of ingredients. So a lot of a lot of the very famous Roman pastas like amatriciana, carbonara and all the others – alla gricia, they come from Sabina. And probably people from Sabina that maybe one hundred and fifty years ago or over went to Rome and opened up restaurants taking their own ingredients because pecorino Romano is produced here. Also the famous guanciale, which is cured pork cheek is produced here.
[00:11:30.570] – Guido Santi
Sometimes even families produce it for their own use for the year. And so all those fantastic ingredients
[00:11:39.420] – Sally Ransom
and of course, the olive oil, the sabina extra virgin olive oil.
[00:11:42.180] – Guido Santi
Yeah. And of course, most of all the Sabina DOP olive oil – the first olive oil in Italy to receive the DOP kind of stamp which means protected designation of origin. It was the first ever in Italy back in the 70s. So that’s a stamp of quality for olive oil and all different types of food like wine and say DOC for wine. DOP is the same thing for the olive oil.
[00:12:11.340] – Guido Santi
So that’s really an excellent ingredient in terms of very local recipes. There’s a couple of things that I really like. And one is a sauce that’s very, very simple. It is a pasta sauce, I call it La Sabinese. And it’s very simply made of the excellent olive oil here, fresh tomatoes and garlic and marjoram. They use a lot of marjoram around here. So that’s the herb of Sabina, you know, for some reason they use it a lot.
[00:12:45.060] – Guido Santi
So we have it growing in our garden, of course. And it’s used in many different recipes. Also, there’s quite a bit of barbecuing around here as well. And as it’s kind of ancient Shepherd’s tradition where there’s quite a lot of sheep and sheep are mainly used for the milk. So there’s a lot of, once again, cheese making out of the sheep’s milk, lots of ricotta, delicious ricotta, which is then used in a lot of recipes. The classic ricotta ravioli and all that.
[00:13:19.710] – Guido Santi
And also another interesting thing is that they use olive oil for everything, even for baking. Very often in baking, you would use butter in many cases but in Sabina, they use olive oil because they have it. So a lot of most people here have a small olive grove or at least 50 or 100 olive trees so they can make their own olive oil for the family for the whole year. So their way of thinking is that why buy butter to make my cake? I can use my own oil. And it’s absolutely delicious. Yeah, it’s very, very nice.
[00:13:57.840] – Katy
Oh, and the olive oil, what is the style of the olive oil. Because I think you can get some really peppery ones and lighter ones. What’s the style of the Sabina olive oil.
[00:14:08.220] – Guido Santi
Yeah, Sabina olive oil is quite different from any other olive oil from Italy because it begins very light. First of all, I’d like to start with the smell of the olive oil, which is the smell of freshly cut grass. You just think of that smell. That’s exactly how Sabina olive oil smells like – it’s a very, very fresh herbaceous smell. That smell also translates into flavor. Once you once you taste it, the flavor is equally herbaceous and you have a tiny hint of bitter greens that would have hints of rocket, for instance – which is of wild, wild greens that actually grow around the olive trees and actually participate and influence the flavor of the olive oil.
[00:15:11.790] – Sally Ransom
Also there is mentuccia
[00:15:12.210] – Guido Santi
Yes the Roman mint, which is a very pungent, wild mint that grows everywhere in this area and only in the Roman countryside. So you have this very adventurous taste, but the consistency is very light and it’s never oily. So you have an olive oil that’s not oily. So that seems impossible, but that’s exactly what it is. So it doesn’t make you feel oily. And then you get to the end and you can feel pepper.
[00:15:41.570] – Guido Santi
This peppery taste, especially the back of your throat, which is quite strong and stronger, closer to the harvest, obviously. Closer to the actual pressing of the olives, and then it melts down through the year. It’s a very, very complex, very complex olive oil. Light, but full of flavor, at the same time.
[00:16:01.640] – Katy
Mmm sounds delicious. Now, tell me a little bit more about this mentuccia, because I’ve been wanting to know more about this Roman mint and how it’s different to a standard mint that you would get sort all around the world. How is it different?
[00:16:14.030] – Guido Santi
Yeah, OK. I would love you to be able to actually smell it right now, but maybe next time you’re in Italy. But Roman mentuccia is a wild type of mint, it grows wild. So it’s actually not easy to grow it in a pot. It seems to prefer very sunny patches in your garden. And it’s, I describe it as very pungent, really pungent, a lot more stronger than normal, mint like peppermint, for instance. We also grow that.
[00:16:55.070] – Guido Santi
But this one just just grows wild. And it’s very often paired with certain specialties. In Rome, the artichokes alla romana, or Roman style artichokes, are braised with olive oil, garlic, and this particular mint and a little lemon juice. So it’s one of the many wild herbs that are used around here.
[00:17:24.650] – Sally Ransom
In fact, the Roman artichokes with the mentuccia, there’s a distinctive taste that the mint actually infuses all the way through the artichoke. So it’s something it’s got a very strong sort of taste to it. And the smell is very pungent, as Guido was saying. And if you compare it, because there’s a lot of other mints that grow here, but you often find the mentuccia in olive groves and on the drier sort of soil. So it’s it’s a perfect complement to many things. It not only infuses the olives in the olive oil that we have in this region, but it also is a great complement to salads as well.
[00:18:07.190] – Sally Ransom
If you just had a plain green lettuce salad and you put in a little bit of that, it just picks up the taste completely. It’s got very, very small leafs. That’s the other thing. It’s quite a surprise when you smell the mentuccia because the Roman mint is so strong for the sort of size of the leaf.
[00:18:26.540] – Sally Ransom
So it almost looks like oregano. If anyone comes back in the garden and it’s from a distance, you could mistake it for fresh oregano and then you get closer, you can smell it. And also, the other thing I wanted to add was that it’s one of the smells of the Roman countryside. So when you go for a walk in the summer or when the mint is around, often you don’t even know you’re walking across it.
[00:18:50.270] – Sally Ransom
And so it’s that sort of smell that hits you when you when you walk over the over the ground. And for me, that reminds me of the Roman countryside. Wonderful, beautiful.
[00:19:08.200] – Katy
Oh, wow. That does sound amazing. Yeah. I think when you get all those different senses going, that’s when you really know that you’re somewhere different. And it’s ancient. It’s been around forever, hasn’t it. So it’s kind of, almost infused the land there and obviously the dishes, which is amazing.
[00:19:26.150] – Guido Santi
I’m also into very much into foraging and obviously since we moved to the countryside. 15 years ago, I always wanted to learn and I took lessons, so to speak, from the local ladies here that were doing it for a long time. People were doing it for generations. So I found out that there are a lot of wild herbs that you can pick and eat. So you’ll find a lot of them in the winter. In the summer, we have fantastic wild asparagus.
[00:19:58.490] – Guido Santi
In the spring, for instance, the wild asparagus is just to die for. It’s unbelievable. It’s so much nicer than cultivated asparagus. And we have hops, the same types that are used for beer. The new shoot, the green at the top. And it’s delicious and it grows near creeks. So I have a few spots where I can go and get them. In the winter I get a lot of wild broccoli or broccolini.
[00:20:30.950] – Guido Santi
There’s no need to buy them no need even to grow them because I just go in the garden and just come back with a huge bag full of wild broccoli. So that there’s a lot that nature provides just spontaneously, and that includes all those wonderful herbs as well.
[00:20:50.110] – Sally Ransom
Also there’s a wild mustard that really surprises me. When you press the petals a little bit, or the leaf ,actually has a really strong mustard smell. And there’s one yellow and one white. It’s a flower. So it’s amazing what you can find here once you start to know about the area. And, you know, as Guido was saying, the way that we both learned about it was sort of following a couple of little old ladies around the countryside because we were curious about it.
[00:21:27.490] – Sally Ransom
And they’re really quite proud of what they can take from the land. And so we would go with them and they would point out certain herbs and plants, wild plants or wild versions of even wild mustard or asparagus. And they would point out where you would look. But this was quite a treat for us, because once I remember when we were living in Tuffio and I was looking for mentuccia, and I said to my next door neighbor, who is eighty four years old, Senora Lina, I said to her, oh, I’m looking for mentuccia because we’re going to make some artichokes.
[00:22:11.470] – Sally Ransom
Can you tell me where where we’d find it? And she was very, very vague about it. Like she wouldn’t tell me exactly where that special patch of mentuccia was. And so she just vaguely pointed me up the road, but not specifically to anything. And when I came back with a handful of mint, she said, Oh, Brava, Brava.
[00:22:33.640] – Sally Ransom
And she asked me, where did I find it? And I said, well, actually I found it in the park at the back, just underneath sort of one of the bushes. And she says, “yes, that’s it. I wasn’t going to tell you.” I found her patch. I was really proud.
[00:22:53.510] – Katy
Oh. You probably got a gold star that day. Has she shared some other secrets with you since?
[00:23:00.710] – Sally Ransom
Yes, of course. She’s been my source of knowledge – Senora Lina. She had a cantina close to ours as well.
[00:23:13.310] – Guido Santi
So a cantina is a cellar
[00:23:15.070] – Sally Ransom
Yes like a cellar where they would mature meats and cheeses. Because in the historic centres you’ve got all the underground cellars that everybody keeps their meats and cheeses. They mature their cheeses and they mature meats and they ferment their wines and and they keep their olive oil.
[00:23:33.340] – Sally Ransom
And one thing I remember she was telling me when we were getting olive oil from her when we were living there. I know that when I would go and get some olive oil from her, I would bring the containers. But I know that I had to allow at least an hour of my time to be with her, because not only was she very slow in moving, but she wanted to tell me all the stories that were involved with olive oil.
[00:23:58.120] – Sally Ransom
And one time I remember she was telling me how to clean the stainless steel container with bicarbonate soda and that I needed to wash it out. And she gave me a step by step demonstration of how I should be cleaning out the olive oil containers before we put the new oil in. An ancient sort of Italian tutorial. It is fantastic. It’s those sort of stories that are, you know, they’re precious and you just allow the time because they’re so proud of what they do.
[00:24:27.970] – Sally Ransom
And she also told me how she didn’t waste a thing because going through the war and everything and really hard times. So even in the bottom of the olive oil container, there was a lot of sediment which always happens. And so she would say, I would use this sediment to make soap. So therefore, she then went through the process of how she made soap. And it was soap that she would sort of like peel off to put into the washing like that when she was doing the washing.
[00:24:56.200] – Sally Ransom
And at that stage, there were no washing machines in the 50s and the 60s in the sixties, I think it was. But all of that was so fantastic.
[00:25:06.610] – Guido Santi
So let’s say something actually. One of the nicest things about the area here is that it’s very unspoiled by mass tourism. And so there’s no mass tourism here. And you go to a cafe or a coffee shop – they call it a bar, which is a coffee shop. Mostly there isn’t any menu in English, so to speak. And that really means that you don’t get many tourists. Yes, it’s very much, people just go about their daily life. It’s very unspoiled. It’s just the way it is. Nothing is really set up for mass tourism. And so, yes, we were discussing this this word authentic. But it is you know
[00:26:02.540] – Katy
It’s where people live, right?
[00:26:04.290] – Guido Santi
Yes. When you’re around here, you really do as Italians do? You just immerse yourself in the local lifestyle. So that’s a really nice thing, I think, about this area. There are other areas of Italy that have been having a lot of mass tourism and, you know, the soul of the place is different.
[00:26:33.890] – Sally Ransom
Yeah, I think that to demonstrate, you know, for instance, in Toffia in the medieval village. If someone came through the village just to walk and have a look around, all the people at the Bar or Cafe that is right at the entrance of the village would stop and stare at that person. Because, they want to know, who is that person? Where are they from? I mean, that’s what I love about living in this area. It’s unspoiled, but it’s just Italy as it was, as it has been. And and, you know, as I said, if a busload of tourists turned up. We would, all of our jaws would drop down to the ground.
[00:27:23.890] – Katy
So clearly, buses aren’t getting there. So how long do you need a car to get there? Is there another way to get to your beautiful piece of Italy?
[00:27:34.350] – Guido Santi
No, there are buses coming up, but public buses, not tour buses. There is public transport. And first of all, from Rome, there’s an excellent train which comes every 15 minutes. Very, very good. In thirty seven minutes from the Main Station in Rome would reach Fara in Sabina, which is nearby. It’s a short 15 minute drive. And from the station of Fara in Sabina you can drive or you can catch buses coming up to all the different villages. So that’s not a huge problem. So it’s quite a nice, good network. It’s a combination of train and public buses as well.
[00:28:18.950] – Katy
Well, it’s really interesting because I think we were mentioning the other day when I was talking to you that a popular day trip or a little increasingly popular day trip is Frascati, which is on the other side, but it’s obviously as easy to get to the Sabine Hills from Rome.
[00:28:37.740] – Guido Santi
So, yeah. And if I may say that I mean, I’m from Rome, so I obviously know Frascati and the area south of Rome. Over here it’s a lot less spoiled in terms of development. So here there’s very little development in terms of buildings and it’s mainly agriculture. It’s very, very agricultural. And it’s, I would say, it’s an area that’s protected. It’s listed as an area. It’s like a cultural hub. And there are some laws that have to do with protecting the landscape to keep it as it is. So say, if you if you want to build a house, you need to have quite a big amount of land.
[00:29:28.210] – Guido Santi
So you don’t have these, you know, all these houses and little villas built next to each other. It’s really different. So in my opinion, it’s a lot more unspoiled than the south side of Rome from that point of view.
[00:29:45.410] – Sally Ransom
And I think also the importance of the Sabina olive oil has made it stay mainly agricultural. And so you’ve got all the space between the medieval villages and farmhouses dotted around. But there’s not a modern side here.It’s really quite ancient
[00:30:04.060] – Guido Santi
Absolutely. Very, very true. And it’s quite easy to come up here. All the activities we’ve been actually doing is also thanks to this excellent train connection, which we use as well to go into the city. It’s very, very good and open.
[00:30:23.710] – Katy
And so like it sounds like a beautiful area to visit at any time of the year. But is there a particular season that’s very lovely?
[00:30:33.820] – Guido Santi
Obviously, that, in my opinion, the best time is the mid seasons in the spring and the autumn. In the spring you obviously you have flowers and wildflowers everywhere and this little tree called Judas Tree. And it’s a wild little tree. And for 11 months of the year, it looks like nothing.
[00:31:01.340] – Guido Santi
You come in April and produces beautiful dark pink flowers and when it’s in full bloom, it’s absolutely spectacular. And there are millions of these little trees around the countryside. So in April, you have the whole area essentially painted in dark pink.
[00:31:24.830] – Guido Santi
And the color green. So, yes, the pink between the olive trees, the silver green of the olive trees is really spectacular at that time of the year.
[00:31:38.300] – Sally Ransom
April, May or May as well, because it’s not too hot and, you know, activities are happening.
[00:31:45.470] – Guido Santi
But in the summer, there are a lot of festivals. The summer is a lot of fun around here. There are music festivals all over the towns. There’s a festival in Toffia the town I was talking about before, which lasts for five days, four nights, and attracts thousands of people from all over Italy. And it’s about music, food, of course, and art and also lots of artisans from the area.
[00:32:13.280] – Guido Santi
It’s a lot of fun. There’s a couple of jazz festivals – one traditional jazz festival nearby, and another one is more contemporary jazz as well. You know, so pretty much the whole summer is usually covered with with different cultural festivals. So it’s it’s a lot of fun to be here in the summertime. Just a little hotter, of course, because you get a lot of the activities happen. The festivals happen during the day, but also during the nighttime. So it cools down. And it’s a really nice time to enjoy the countryside and the music. And it’s very social. And most of these festivals that we’ve been talking about happen from around June, June to September. You start with the traditional jazz festival in Bocchignano nearby in mid-June usually, and it just keeps keeps going.
[00:33:06.200] – Guido Santi
And as Sally said, it’s really nice to walk around at night because it gets very breezy. So even if you had a hot day at night, it really cools down and it’s very, very pleasant. So it’s yeah, it’s a lot of fun. And in the autumn, you have beautiful colors too.
[00:33:25.490] – Sally Ransom
You know, autumn has the olive harvest and the wine with the wines in September and olives in October, November.
[00:33:37.010] – Guido Santi
The olive harvest is very spectacular to look at these different methods of harvest and some more manual, so to speak. More recently, there’s also there’s also a machine that they use, which is very gentle on the tree. So it doesn’t shake the tree at all. Just simply just caresses it. I say caresses the branches, letting the olives down. So it’s quite spectacular to look at, actually. So everyone is harvesting in late October, early November, everyone is out in the fields. So that’s quite an experience. And I have actually done it a few times too, with our own olive trees. And it’s hard work to work here.
[00:34:20.810] – Katy
So only come if you want to do some hard work. But anyway, even if you do work hard, there’s always good food and wine at the end of the day, right?
[00:34:30.230] – Guido Santi
At the end of it and also in between. And there’s always a lunch break because of the wine and being a little liquid lunch like the long lunch, followed by a little little bit of siesta. And then you start again after that. But yes, but the experience is also to taste the olive oil as soon as it’s being pressed. It’s just such a burst of flavor. It’s just unbelievable. First 24 hours. It’s just incredible. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:35:05.310] – Katy
So tell us a little bit more about the wines, because I’m not familiar with the wine of the area, and I’d love to know a little bit more. What are the main varieties and what what should we try?
[00:35:16.070] – Guido Santi
OK, so I’ll tell you a little bit about the the main winery that’s in the area. There’s about three or four larger ones that produce wine commercially. The one we go to, we also run tours there. But we also drink their wine all the time. It’s just nearby. And what they produce is a range of white wines and red wines. For the whites they mostly produce native Italian grapes. So wines made out of native grapes, including falanghina which is originally from the south of Italy. But it’s very suitable for the for the soil around here. Also Pecorino, which is a wine. I know you think of pecorino as the name of a cheese or Italian cheese. But this grape name is actually called Pecorino.
[00:36:13.810] – Guido Santi
Pecorino comes from pecora and pecora means sheep. And the reason why it’s called pecorino is that the sheep apparently love to eat the grapes. So if they go through your vineyards, see you later. So that’s the reason why this particular grape is called pecorino. It’s quite an ancient grape. So they produce those two for white. And also what what do they what else?
[00:36:43.630] – Sally Ransom
[00:36:44.920] – Guido Santi
Malvasia, which is another central Italian white grape and four red wines, the classic ones. So there’s the Sabine Hills. Sabena DOC denomination has to be 60 percent Sangiovese and 40 percent Montepulciano grapes. So that’s the red wine of Sabina, 60:40. And it’s those two that are grown everywhere and also a little bit of shiraz as well. So it’s grown in the area. Certainly our friends of the winery also grow some shiraz and it comes out really well. Yeah, so these are the main grape types
[00:37:29.650] – Katy
You could spend quite a few days tasting those, and I’d be quite happy to do that.
[00:37:34.770] – Guido Santi
[00:37:36.760] – Katy
Well, I’ve tried the pecorino wine, actually last time I was in Rome. I hadn’t heard about it before and I really enjoyed that wine actually. And I didn’t know the story about the sheep eating the grapes.
[00:37:54.120] – Guido Santi
Speak to the winemakers. They’ll tell you because they need to be very careful.
[00:38:00.700] – Katy
Exactly. I think it’s really nice to talk to the wine makers and hear all these different stories. So as I’ve been recording podcasts with different people, there’s so many amazing stories that come out about each of the different regions and their winemaking processes and the history behind them. It’s really fascinating and I feel very honored to be able to speak to people like you to understand the history. And I’m looking forward, as I know many people are, to going back.
[00:38:28.290] – Katy
So when we do come back and if we were to come and visit you, can you tell us a bit more about what you offer in terms of your cooking classes and your and your online club that you’re doing while we can?
[00:38:44.250] – Guido Santi
Absolutely. You’re doing this time, actually, since March, we started going online as well, and we started running, cooking virtual cooking classes and cooking parties, which has been a lot of a lot of fun and covering all different recipes for people. And also we started a membership club as well called Guido’s Cook Club. And in that, within the membership, there’s a live element, of course. We have a a live, cooking class via Zoom. It’s very it’s very, very interactive. I really feel like, to me, there’s almost no difference from the cooking classes I give here in person. After a while, I just forget ,during the class, I forget that my guests are not actually here. When I say goodbye to them, I always tell them and just slips out of my mind. Always tell them. Thanks, thanks for coming along because I forget that it’s virtual. It’s a lot of fun.
[00:40:04.840] – Guido Santi
So that’s that’s very interactive. And also there’s a lot of time for questions and support. And there’s another session where we do a question and answer session within the club as well. Just on one last night there was a very, very interesting on sourdough actually. There’s a cultural video that we pre-record. Food and culture, so to speak, is supposed be food, but also just general culture of Italy and around here.
[00:40:37.660] – Guido Santi
And also there’s another for the local recipes. And also we created a small community on Facebook for those people exclusively, for those that join the club. A Facebook group where we can interact and people can ask questions. They can post whatever they’ve been cooking and discuss how the recipe came out and all that. So we also support them again, once again. And anything any doubts they might have. I was saying just yesterday we did this.
[00:41:15.260] – Guido Santi
So it’s interesting to talk about sourdough because one of the videos that I put in the club a couple of weeks ago was on starting your own sourdough culture. So that was a lot of fun to do. So we just cover different different things and people have a lot of fun.
[00:41:39.490] – Katy
Sounds like that’s a perfect thing to be doing. If you can’t be in Italy you might as well have it zoomed into your kitchen.
[00:41:47.230] – Guido Santi
Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, that’s exactly the point of this club.
[00:41:52.240] – Sally Ransom
And also, we put it together, of course, for the situation now, but also when people are planning to come to Italy, it’s a great way of getting extra insider knowledge.
[00:42:03.570] – Guido Santi
[00:42:04.070] – Sally Ransom
So you can ask Guido because he’s an eighth generation Roman living here, etc. You can ask him things that you wouldn’t be able to ask somebody else who wasn’t born in Italy. They didn’t grow up here etc. So it’s a great opportunity for people to get to know Italy before they arrive as well.
[00:42:26.800] – Sally Ransom
And then afterwards too, because they want to continue their passion for Italian food and Italian culture, you know, we can cover any subject. So it’s quite a versatile club
[00:42:37.580] – Guido Santi
And probably that’s the main difference with many other programs is that I’m actually Italian. I’m an Italian, born in Italy and living in Italy and lived in Italy most of my life. So so I love answering questions a lot. A lot of people, when people are curious and ask a question, something that I really love and I love to give them lots of stories, that’s what I like to do.
[00:43:04.900] – Katy
It sounds like so much fun.
[00:43:06.530] – Sally Ransom
So we’ve got one day cooking classes where we prepare very much. Everything is hands on and Guido will be taking the class
[00:43:16.840] – Guido Santi
taking the class to a small group of people. Usually we have for the cooking classes we have a maximum of maybe eight people. And we’re here in our home kitchen, it’s a home kitchen. The other thing is that it’s actually a home situation. So we’re not in a restaurant type thing. It’s our home here in the kitchen. And we prepare all the food and we eat it outside on a beautiful patio overlooking maybe, what have we got here, 100 hundred about 100 miles of unspoilt view – olive groves and and hills and and of course, we have wine.So it’s all that. Wine is always there.
[00:44:05.410] – Sally Ransom
We take people around to visit some of the medieval villages. Yes. So they actually come and I will pick them up from the train station, of course, and I’ll take them straight up to a little village close to us called Castelnuovo di Farfa. And that’s one of the medieval villages that dates back to twelve hundred. So it’s a great way to have a look around a village that otherwise people would not feel probably be confident going inside the medieval walls by themselves.
[00:44:33.400] – Sally Ransom
But here I can point out some of the features and what makes that town or any of the towns really special. And and then also in the afternoon, we go to another village called Farfa, that’s the monastic village that’s Abbazia di Farfa. And that village, it’s got a monastery there, the Benedictine order. And we take them around the little village. And the village is a market town, so there’s a lot of artisans and artists and the church is beautiful.
[00:45:06.800] – Sally Ransom
So we try and combine in all of our tours. We try and combine them actually having an experience that they wouldn’t find otherwise, whether it’s taking into our family home or whether it’s going to visit a medieval village or
[00:45:21.280] – Guido Santi
that no one knows about
[00:45:23.180] – Sally Ransom
So it’s totally off the beaten track.
[00:45:25.810] – Guido Santi
And I know these villages since I was a child, so I know a lot about them. But even just going into Farfa, which is one thousand five hundred years old, beautifully restored as well, just walking through the streets there. Andthere’s finding out about these tiny ancient fabric workshops. So they have a workshop that produces fabrics the traditional way with looms that are at least one hundred and twenty years old – cotton and linen. And it’s the only textile workshop like that left in the whole of Italy. And, you know, when sometimes you go to Tuscany, to the little souvenir shops and they have they have these these cloths with the with the roosters on. And everything seems to be very Tuscan. And it’s actually made here, in fact, which is something you can do. It’s a short walk from here.
[00:46:27.110] – Katy
I love these kind of secrets. They are amazing. That’s what I think people are looking for, I think even more now, you know.
[00:46:36.990] – Guido Santi
And so we try to sort of make it into cooking, but also touring experience.
[00:46:41.980] – Sally Ransom
And the same with our olive tours. And they come along on our olive oil tour and we visit the the largest olive tree in Europe, which is two thousand years old. Plus we take them through an olive grove which has olive trees that are over six hundred years old. And then they come to our home for tasting local produce and of course, olive oil. And there’s an olive oil tasting that Guido guides people through
[00:47:08.840] – Guido Santi
comparison tasting as well, which is quite interesting between kind of a highly commercial supermarket variety, olive oil and organic olive oil from our next door neighbor producer. So that’s very interesting to taste the difference between the two
[00:47:27.340] – Sally Ransom
And then, of course, but our wine to a half day wine tour. So we take them to the winery. It’s a very in-depth tour of how they make the wine in that winery and then we take them around the whole process and from from sort of picking to bottling. So they’ve got everything there in the winery. And then we have a wine tasting there. And it’s one where people have a chance to, of course, to buy the wines if they wish. And then later, of course, they come back to our home.
[00:47:58.430] – Sally Ransom
So the second part of that tour is that they come into our home and we give them a taste of more local Sabina wines from another winery. And they have a very light lunch of local produce. I mean, all of the tours, I think they end up in their home. So it’s really it’s kind of a very personal experience.
[00:48:21.950] – Guido Santi
Let’s say just one thing about this. This winery, we actually go there and it’s not the winery is not set up for big tours, obviously. So we just go there with our group and meet up with Massimo, who’s the winemaker. And he’s not just the winemaker, he does everything. They should pay him five times what he gets paid because he does a job of 10 different people and looks after the winery and he takes us around and he doesn’t speak much English. But I do all the translation, all the interpreting for our groups and shows really all the process of winemaking from start to finish. All the little secrets. It is very, very interesting whenever I go there
[00:49:05.950] – Sally Ransom
And we have other longer cooking holidays that we run – four and five day cooking holidays. And then we have cooking lessons. The the thing I think that’s different from our cooking holidays to others is that people stay in different apartments and homes around the medieval village of Toffia. And so they have the experience of actually living in this little hilltop medieval village and what it’s like to live there. So they can pretend to like to be Italian.
[00:49:47.360] – Sally Ransom
The the longer cooking holidays involve cooking lessons, tours of the local medieval villages, olive tours, and even in the evening we will go visit local sort of tavernas or family run home restaurants and people get that experience as well and then come into our home for the cooking lessons.
[00:50:10.820] – Sally Ransom
That sounds absolutely wonderful. I would love to come. I’m just going to move. And I think you’ve got a spare apartment there for me.
[00:50:21.620] – Guido Santi
We’ll find you one.
[00:50:23.780] – Sally Ransom
Whenever whenever you’re available, come on over.
[00:50:27.100] – Katy
Oh, I would love to. You know that I’m stuck here at the moment. So I do have one last question before we wrap up. And it’s it’s not about the Sabina hills, so I just wanted to know because you are very well traveled throughout Italy as well. So this is a like you have shared a few secrets with us today. But I was wondering if you there was a part of Italy that you absolutely love, that you would recommend that people look at apart from the Sabine Hills, because we’ve heard all about that. And I think we all definitely want to go to these hills. But is there another place that you absolutely love that you recommend? Yeah, unfortunately.
[00:51:09.320] – Guido Santi
Fortunately, unfortunately or fortunately, I love many, many other areas of Italy. I own a very old motor home. It’s a nineteen eighty three model and we’ve been traveling throughout Italy as well. So we whenever we had a chance, we went out to other regions and I would say Sicily – Sicily for the food, because it’s for the food and many other things, of course. Because it’s different, Sicily, and food has a lot of influences that which come from the very complex history of Sicily, where they had different denominations. They had the Arabs, they had the Normans thousand years ago. So you’ll find a cuisine that’s very, very interesting from the point of view. Sometimes even could even think it’s almost Middle Eastern in certain parts of Sicily. Italy is very diverse. So, you know, it’s hard to choose another one as well. Puglia has lovely, beautiful places to go and lovely food and spectacular seas. The oceans and Sardinia on the island of Sardinia as well. It’s to die for as well. It’s our own Caribbean holiday in Italy.
[00:52:43.290] – Katy
They all sound absolutely amazing. Well, I can’t wait, we all can’t wait to get back. But I wanted to say grazie to Guido and Sally for joining us on Untold Italy. I have absolutely loved learning about the Sabena Hills and its food culture and all about the mentuccia and the nonna who helped you find it. I’ll definitely be stopping by to pay you a visit next time I’m in Rome. Thanks again for joining us.
[00:53:12.510] – Guido Santi
Thank you very much so much.
[00:53:14.340] – Sally Ransom
Thank you for your time. Thank you. It’s been wonderful talking to you.
[00:53:18.550] – Katy
What lovely people, I’m sure that if you want to experience this beautiful region, you’ll find incredible hospitality with Convivio Rome. Now, if you want to learn more about Guido and Sally’s food, cooking and wine experiences in the Sabina region near Rome, then head on over to our website at UntoldItaly.com/33 where we put all their details.
[00:53:41.740] – Katy
They’ve also very kindly shared access to a special free cooking package that they’ve prepared. It’s available to all our listeners and includes tips, videos and five delicious recipes from Rome that only take a few minutes to learn. You can also click on the link in your podcast app and it will take you straight to that page where you can find all the details of the cooking package and how to stay in touch with Guido and Sally online. While you’re in the app, make sure to hit the subscribe button so you are notified about all our new episodes. Join us next week for more adventures in Italy. Ciao for now.