The Area

Montasola developed in the early Middle Ages after monks arrived and began farming in the area. As is common in the region, the village is built on the top of a hill, and it still retains its medieval walls and character. The many ancient buildings in the town include the Parish Church founded in 1191, an old hospital and pharmacy, and the town bakery where people still go to bake bread for their families.

The commune of Montasola incorporates the village, a thriving community of some 400 inhabitants, and the surrounding countryside. It is a predominantly rural area where sheep and goats graze beneath the olive trees, and wild boar roam the woods.

Montasola is in the provincia (or county) of Rieti, which is in Lazio, the central region of the state of Italy. The historic name of the district is Sabina, named after the Sabine tribe who were established in the area from around a thousand years before the birth of Christ.

Sabina and Rome were linked from the beginning. According to legend, the mother of Romulus and Remus came from Sabina, and put her twin sons in a wicker basket that she placed on the river Tevere. The basket floated down the river until drifting ashore at a place where the twins were found and suckled by a she-wolf before being rescued by a shepherd. Romulus later founded Rome at that spot. Early in Roman history the men of Rome solved the problem of a shortage of the female sex in their city by kidnapping the Sabine women. Rome took over Sabina in 270 BC, and some historians claim that subsequent Roman prosperity owed much to their gaining access to the renowned high quality Sabinian olive oil.

The hills and woods of the area are criss-crossed with paths, so it is a great area for walking. Some of the mountain paths can be traversed on horseback or mountain bike as well as by foot. The local councils have produced some suggested walks and tourist itineraries for those travelling by foot, bicycle or car. These include the long distance St Francis Walk that goes from Assisi to Rome, via Rieti, and is promoted as a way of rediscovering the experience of pilgrimage by following in the footsteps of the saint.

For centuries Lazio has been regarded as the larder of Rome, and the local cuisine is based upon the produce of the region. Lamb and pork are favourite meats, but there are also plenty of beef and veal dishes. There are many local hams and bacon, as well as wild boar from the forests of the area. Pecorino Romano, made from ewe's milk, is the main local cheese. Freshwater fish dishes are popular around the large lakes of the region. The local soil produces large and flavoursome vegetables including globe artichokes. Spaghetti Carbonara is associated with Rome, but one of the best known pasta sauces of the region comes from the town of Amatrice in the north east corner of the Rieti province, and is normally served as bucatini all'amatriciana.

The town of Rieti (30km) is the capital of Rieti province and is a fair-sized retail and commercial conurbation with an older walled centre. Closer to Montasola is Poggio Mirteto, which is a good shopping centre for normal daily needs. Most of the other towns and villages in the district are small, but all have interesting buildings and things to see. Hilltop villages are everywhere, usually dominated by a church spire or ancient tower. The valleys are green, traversed by streams and rivers most of which eventually flow into the Tevere. There are a number of lakes across the district, and rivers and lakes can be fished for trout and other freshwater fish.

The larger lakes to the west of the region provide opportunities for boating and other water-based recreation. Alternatively a trip to Viterbo (60km) brings you to the hot water spas, the ideal recuperation after any journey. Assisi, Perugia and the other towns of Umbria are also close enough for a day's outing. In winter, Tempranillo, just north of Rieti, is an established ski centre, with slopes for all levels of skiing experience.

Finally there is Rome, the dominant city of the region, once the centre of a mighty empire, now the capital of Italy, and incorporating the independent state of the Vatican City, spiritual home to a major section of the Christian church. It is easy to drive to Rome via the autostrada, but preferable to go by train and not worry about parking. There are many things to see and do in Rome, but it is good to know that at the end of a busy day you can catch the train back to Sabina, and relax in the quiet of the countryside.