Italy: Monte Soratte and Sant'Oreste, a slice of 'real' Italy.

What?
Sant’Oreste, a small town perched on an ancient limestone ridge commanding spectacular views over the Tiber valley and northern Lazio.

Why visit?
To wander the medieval streets, to partake in a local festival, or to test yourself with a gentle climb up Monte Soratte to views over Lazio, a monastery, and if you’re lucky a wild boar or two.

Where?
40km north of Rome. Map.


A NARROW, ISOLATED limestone ridge, peaking at 691m high, with a length of 5.5 km and six peaks, Monte Soratte towers over the Tiber river valley.

Visible for miles around, this very photogenic mountain has appeared in literature throughout the ages. Most of Monte Soratte is now a nature reserve, home to wild boar, badgers, eagles and buzzards.
Cloaked in deciduous trees and steep ravines, the mountain is also is home to Meri, which are sinkholes or pits, up to 115 metres deep. It pays to keep to the designated paths as these pits can be buried under fallen vegetation. 

There are a number of walks one can do on Monte Soratte (I think the official number is 11, although there are many more), which is great as it suits all abilities and moods. Many of the locals opt for jogging along the main route, a gravelled road tracking around the mountain like a contour line, dotted with various outdoor gym equipment and seats. A more strenuous route (good for giving the kids a good workout) is up the mountain itself, revealing great views and the ruins of a few ancient churches, including the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and another to Sant'Edistio. 

Crowning the mountain, there is a monastery, the Hermitage of St. Sylvester, built over an ancient pagan temple to Apollo. Founded by Pope Sylvester around 340AD, and mentioned by Dante, this hermitage has provided refuge throughout the ages. Indeed, Pope Sylvester himself is believed to have come here during the persecutions by the Emperor Constantine (who, upon conversion to Christianity, was baptised by the same Pope Sylvester). Later, Charlemagne is believed to have visited the monastery on his way to Rome to be crowned Emperor.

Nowadays, Monte Soratte is famous for more than Apollo, Dante, and Charlemagne. Between 1937 and 1944, Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, ordered the excavation of over 4km of tunnels into Monte Soratte as an ammunition store. 

German troops under the command of General Field-Marshall Kesselring used the tunnels and bunkers as a hiding place for around 10 months, between 1943 and 1944, as the allies subjected the whole area to heavy bombing. After falling into disuse, the tunnels were re-employed in 1967 as, at the height of the Cold War, they were transformed into an anti-atomic bunker for the Italian Prime Minister, in the advent of a nuclear war. Some of these tunnels are now open to the public, and provide a rare glimpse into the recent past. More information on visiting these tunnels can be found here.

Perched on the shoulder of mighty Monte Soratte, Sant'Oreste is an ancient, picturesque Italian hilltop town.
For a small town of around 3800 souls, there's a lot to do and a lot going on. Throughout the summer, there are sagre (festivals) and feste (parties), celebrating much of the local produce and culture. For example, there's the hunter's festival in late June, where the car park is adorned with marquees and long wooden tables and benches laid out, ready for revellers feasting on lamb, wild boar, rabbit and more, all cooked on site and to order. Washed down with cheap local wine, chased by grappa, the feast is ample preparation for an evening's passiegiata, or for the more adventurous, joining the locals for a dance. 

Another festa, this time in October, celebrates the patron of the town, Sant'Edistio, with a giant birthday cake and cantine aperte, where locals turn over their cellars and shops to pop-up restaurants and parties.
 

















In between the sagre and feste, Sant'Oreste is a working Laziali town, buzzing with api and old men, playing cards and absorbing everything going on. There are a number of authentic Italian bars, 2 pubs, and a few restaurants and 'pizza taglio' joints.

Once you've had your fill of medieval lanes and nature reserve, you might fancy a bit of shopping. Well, the Sant'Orestasi have had the same idea and all head down from Monte Soratte to Soratte Outlet, a shopping mall containing over 60 shops, including many designer outlets, coffee bars, children play areas and restaurants. Everything you need for a great day out!

So… only 40km from Rome, there’s real Italy. A nature reserve, a mountain steeped in ancient and modern history, a buzzing hilltop town, a modern shopping mall with designer outlets. The old, with ancient traditions and culture, and the new, with free wifi and designer clothes. Italy. Real Italy, in all its glory.


Getting there:
A train to Sant'Oreste runs more or less every hour from Piazzale Flaminio (next to Piazza del Popolo, four metro stops from Stazione Termini on metro A) in Rome and costs approximately € 2.50 for a single ticket. Tickets can be bought from the station and must be validated using a machine on the platform before getting on the train. The journey takes approximately 1hr 15mins. Further information on train times etc. can be found (in Italian) here. A bus can be taken from the station up to the town itself. 

Alternatively, you can also travel on a faster train (50mins) from Tiburtina station in Rome to Stimigliano, a village near Sant'Oreste. Tiburtina can be reached on metro B from Stazione Termini.

If you want to drive, it couldn't be easier. Just follow the SS3 (Via flaminia) up towards Terni. Sant'Oreste is visible on Monte Soratte on the right-hand side of the road, with the turn-off from SS3 coming after Rignano Flaminio and the Sant'Oreste train station.

Useful links:
For more on Lazio and Sant'Oreste, check Lazioexplorer.com

About the author:
Through a chance meeting with a Roman, his future wife, Pete McQuilton, @LazioExplorer, discovered the secret world of Northern Lazio. His website, lazioexplorer.com details his journey into Lazio, along with hints and travel/culture tips on how to survive off the tourist trail in ‘real’ Italy.

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