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November 1, 2009

IMG_4245Thanks to my Roman friend Gioia, I got to spend a Sunday in Calcata a few weeks ago.  She’s an adventurous gal, helped me out with advice for my book, and thought it would be a great idea to go there on a Sunday for lunch–it’s a 45-minute drive from Rome.

I’d been hankering to go to Calcata since 2007–ever since I read travel writer David Farley’s story from the Sunday New York Times’ Travel Section about it. He began with: WHETHER you arrive in Calcata by car or by one of the buses from Rome, it is impossible to remain unfazed when the village first comes into sight. Perched high atop a cake-shaped stump of tan volcanic rock — studded with a diminutive chess-piece castle and fringed by a dense forest — the fortified village plays on the travelers’ collective myth of the quintessential Italian hill town.

What’s especially intriguing about this place (that you could circle in five minutes), is that it had been practically abandoned by the 1960’s, and was about to go under the government wrecking ball. Then artists moved in, dug in their heels and saved it, so today it’s full of creative types from all over the world. They’ve opened art galleries, craft shops, and one of the most amazing-looking restaurants I’ve ever seen has been created by Pancho Garrison, a Texas native (in photo above with Gioia). The restaurant is La Grotta dei Germogli (, a mosaic lined cave that sits cliffside, where nouvelle Italian cuisine is served.

It was a thrill to meet Pancho, because I’d read about him in Farley’s book, An Irreverent Curiosity. CALCATTABLOG

It’s a fascinating and hilarious story about Farley’s quest to solve the mystery that surrounds the disappearance of Calcata’s prized relic: the foreskin of Jesus.

Farley had fired up my imaginings about the town, and on the Sunday visit, Calcata surpassed my expectations in the best way. There was a crafts fair going on, so it was especially lively, with a jazz band blasting tunes in the tiny square. Enthusiastic Romans milled about, filling every table at all the restaurants (there are about five of them) by 1:00.

For the best eats, Farley recommends La Grotta dei Germogli, Il Gato Nero (0761 588 015), and Tugurio (0761 587 388).

IMG_4257We wound up  at La Piazzetta–enjoying my favorite Roman pastas: cacio e pepe and amatriciana, with some vegetables and wine–lunch came to 15 euros each–pretty nice. It all felt very traditional–except Patti Smith’s “Gloria” was blaring in the background. Rock on, Calcata!

We poked around the village, into the church, graced with dusty crystal chandeliers, where the Holy Foreskin was once kept on the altar. We wandered through town discovering breathtaking cliffside views tucked behind jumbled stone buildings, then headed out of the village for a pleasant stroll on a lovely shaded path, serenaded by birdsongs.

A perfect Sunday.

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