The Comino Valley: between sport and nature

The Val di Comino is a charming valley in the Ciociaria, an Italian province located in the region of Frosinone. This area boasts a privileged location, being in close proximity to Italy's oldest national park, the Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise. This park is renowned for its rich biodiversity, making it an unmissable destination for nature lovers.

For skiing enthusiasts, the region offers access to three ski resorts: Pescasseroli, Forca D’acero and Opi, all within a 30-minute drive. At the same distance, you can also reach the artificial lake of Barrea, located in the Abruzzo Park and offering spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.

For those wishing to explore the natural wonders of the region, the artificial lake of Cardito, also known as Lake Selva, is only a 30-minute drive away. This lake, located in the Abruzzo Park, is 1000 metres above sea level, near the characteristic village of San Biagio Saracinisco. The serene environment and captivating landscape of this lake make it a popular destination among tourists.

Moreover, for those who love sun, sand and sea, the beaches of Formia and Gaeta are about an hour’s drive away. These beaches are ideal for those who wish to relax and bask in the warm Mediterranean sun while admiring the azure waters of the sea.

In summary, Val di Comino is a fascinating destination that offers something for everyone, whether you are an avid skier, nature enthusiast or beach lover. With its convenient location and wide range of attractions, this region is definitely worth exploring.

Vicalvi

After departing from the splendid Nature Reserve of Lake Posta Fibreno, a breathtaking oasis that springs from a complex system of karst resurgences fed by the basin of the upper Val di Sangro, visitors will find themselves on a route steeped in history. Along the way, they will be delighted by the sight of cool, crystal-clear waters, dotted with periwinkle and emerald spots, and a floating island known as Rota, which seems to float gracefully like a grand dame in a dance.

This ancient route is part of the ancient Via Francigena and is perfect for lovers of rural tourism or travellers seeking a slower pace of life. The route winds through perched, lonely and watchful villages that offer a glimpse into a simpler way of life. One such village is the charming town of Vicalvi, which lies about 600 metres above sea level and boasts a famous castle founded in the early Middle Ages (11th century).

The castle dominates the enchanting scenery of the Comino Valley and is an exemplary defensive fortress with three walls, presumably of Lombard origin. Visitors can easily reach the castle by walking through the quiet cobbled alleys of the centre. The large Red Cross painted on one of the fortress façades, still visible today, is a relic from World War II. During this time, the Germans used the castle as a field hospital.

From the top of the castle, visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Fibreno Valley. This breathtaking view is the perfect way to end a day of visiting the picturesque villages and natural wonders of the region.

Vista su Vicalvi

Alvito

Alvito, located in the beautiful Comino Valley, is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Ciociaria. The town’s rich cultural heritage, breathtaking views and charming alleys make it a must-see destination for tourists.

The heart of the town is located on Monte Morrone, which is about 500 metres high and is one of the minor peaks of Monte Albeto. During the panoramic uphill walk, you can admire stately palaces such as the Ducal Palace, Palazzo Sipari, Palazzo Castrucci, the Peschio, Palazzo Rosati and the 16th century Palazzo Elvino-Panicali, churches and Baroque corners. The uphill walk through the town will offer numerous stops where you can taste local delicacies such as Torrone Ducato and enjoy spectacular views of the Piana d’Alvito.

At the top of Monte Morrone, the remains of the ancient Cantelmo Castle, an 11th century defensive manor, are still visible. The castle features a series of perimeter walls, Guelph battlements and 14-metre-high cylindrical towers, surrounded by fragrant scrub and olive trees. Exploring the entire village takes a minimum of two hours, including a chat with the friendly locals.

After exploring the village, visit one of the local restaurants to try the legendary royal torroncini, L’Pan’a moll (a dish of stale bread, pulses and vegetables) or a plate of Sagne e fagioli. Be sure to set aside plenty of time to discover the wonders of Alvito, a truly enchanting destination in the Comino Valley.

San Donato Val di Comino

San Donato Val di Comino is indisputably one of the most beautiful villages in Ciociaria, included in the Touring Club’s network of Italy’s ‘Orange Villages’. This charming village is a treasure trove of narrow alleyways, winding around churches, squares and flower-filled courtyards, where time seems to stand still and life flows peacefully, like a refreshing sip of water (although, don’t be fooled, they know their oil and wine here too!). The village sits atop a medieval settlement with an altitude of about 728 metres, nestled in the green arms of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park, with the Abruzzo side of the mountain pass accessible through Forca d’Acero.

Of Samnite origin, the ancient Castrum (Castrum Sancti Donati) was once travelled by saints and pilgrims, as well as storytellers and notorious brigands. For those wondering what to see in San Donato Val di Comino, set aside the guidebooks and well-trodden paths and lose yourself in the uphill roads leading to the top of the village, crowned by its square tower. A series of ancient gates (including the 15th-century Porta dell’Orologio), arches (such as the Arco di San Donato or the Porta Orientale, and the Arco dei Francesi) and spuort, traditional rock passages, alternate with panoramic views to catch your breath and enjoy the view of the valley from above. Don’t miss the Sanctuary of San Donato, founded as a small abbey directly dependent on Montecassino and already known in the 8th century, the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria and San Marcello Papa, and a visit to the craft workshops (San Donato is known for its stonemasons) before enjoying an aperitif in Piazza Carlo Coletti. San Donato Val di Comino is one of the most picturesque villages in Lazio and an unforgettable destination for tourists wishing to immerse themselves in history, culture and scenic beauty.

Picinisco

Discover the hidden gems of Lazio in the charming village of Picinisco, a historic town nestled in the Comino Valley and the perfect base for exploring the surrounding region. With a plethora of opportunities for wine tours and nature treks, the area boasts breathtaking landscapes of rocky ridges, expansive meadows and beech forests. This picturesque environment was loved by David Herbert Lawrence, who resided in Picinisco for a time while he completed his famous novel, ‘The Lost Girl’. The English writer found solace in the former residence of Orazio Cervi, now known as Casa Lawrence in honour of the author, a charming Victorian farmhouse surrounded by countryside. Stop to visit the library, which houses editions of The Lost Girl, and indulge in a tasting of typical cheeses at the Caciosteria (Pecorino di Picinisco DOP is a renowned delicacy, along with Marzolina, Ricotta secca, Conciato di San Vittore, Caso-peruto and Blu Valcomino), or sample the delicious lamb kebabs.

In addition to gastronomic delights, Picinisco is a land of pastures and alpine trails that offer the opportunity to appreciate the serenity and simple beauty of the region. From the centre of the village, one can engage in a variety of outdoor activities, including mountain biking, horse riding, canyoning, orienteering or trekking at Prati di Mezzo. For more experienced mountain enthusiasts, certified guides can take you to the top of Mount Meta, at 2241 metres, in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park (PNALM), where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes. During the winter, you can ski or snowshoe, with the possibility of spotting deer, Apennine chamois and golden eagles during the hike. Don’t forget to take a leisurely stroll through the medieval village, starting from Piazza Ernesto Capocci and ending with a fiery sunset over the valley, admired from the large panoramic terrace with sweeping views of the region’s rolling hills.

Atina

Situated between the Mainarde mountain range, a part of the Abruzzi-Lazio Apennines and a continuation of the Meta Mountains on the border between Lazio and Molise, lies the charming municipality of Atina. With just under 5,000 inhabitants, this town is a real gem, with a historic centre boasting the ancient Roman castrum, which has developed over the centuries, from the late Middle Ages to the present day. Atina is divided into three parts: the historical centre, the Colle and Atina Inferiore (also known as Ponte Melfa).

Legend has it that Atina was founded by Saturn, who fled from Greece and sought refuge in Lazio together with the other ‘saturnian’ cities of Arpino, Anagni, Alatri and Aquino. Atina was first under the control of the Samnites and then Rome. Many vestiges of Roman rule remain in the area, including the polygonal walls, which testify to the city’s rich history. For those interested in learning more, the Giuseppe Visocchi Archaeological Museum of Atina and the Comino Valley is a must-see destination.

Highlights of the city centre include the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Convent of San Francesco and the medieval Ducal Palace, which is now a national monument. The palace is remarkable for its towers, pointed portal and mullioned windows. It stands tall on Piazza Saturno and houses a beautiful black and white mosaic depicting armed warriors. Other notable buildings in the centre include Palazzo Visocchi, Palazzo Marrazza and Palazzo Prepositurale in Piazza Marconi.

If you plan to visit Atina during the summer season, don’t miss the AtinaJazz festival and the International Folklore Festival, which feature folk groups from all over the world. These events offer evenings of feasting, dancing and singing, culminating in a special toast. Atina is also known for its fine wine. It is a must-visit destination for food and wine enthusiasts visiting the Comino Valley. Visitors can indulge in a tasting of Fagiolo Cannellino PDO beans and wine. In the mid-19th century, agronomist Pasquale Visocchi introduced renowned French grape varieties, including Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Today, Atina Cabernet DOC wine is a fine nectar with a ruby colour and fruity aroma, which is worth the trip to Valcomino alone.

Campoli Appennino

In the beautiful Comino Valley lies the medieval village of Campoli, also known as the Land of Bear and Truffle. This charming village is perched on the edge of a 130-metre deep karst sinkhole, called Tomolo, at an altitude of 650 metres. The village dominates the Lacerno Valley and offers a breathtaking view of the large canyon, surrounded by bright green macchia, stony paths, limestone walls and small waterfalls.

For nature lovers, Campoli is a destination not to be missed, with many attractions to explore. It is an ideal place for families with children who enjoy being outdoors. Moreover, it is a paradise for gourmets of truffles, salami and cheese from Ciociaria.

Since 2010, Campoli dolina has been home to the Marsican Bear Fauna Area, where three European bears reside safely in a 15-hectare forest. Visitors can explore the park and catch a glimpse of the beautiful brown bears. They can visit the dedicated Infopoint in Via Marconi and book tours with expert guides.

Campoli has many other interesting attractions to offer. Visitors can admire the 25-metre-high medieval tower with its terrace, which offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the contours of the valley. They can also visit the churches of Sant’Andrea Apostolo and San Pancrazio, the ancient water mill along the course of the Carpello springs and the remains of a late Roman villa.

From Campoli, visitors can easily venture to other beautiful mountain locations, including hiking along the Capo d’Acqua and Bauxite Mines trails. They can also explore the Vallone Lacerno with its waterfall, located at the deepest point of the gorge, known in dialect as Cuccitt’ gl’nfiern.

For truffle lovers, we recommend visiting Campoli towards the end of November, during the famous and important White and Black Precious Truffle Festivals. This is an opportunity to experience a weekend of authentic flavours in the Comino Valley. Local products to try include the Campoli Appennino White and Black Precious Truffle, the summer truffle (with its more delicate aroma), Marzolina, fresh and mature goat cheese, and organic honey.

In conclusion, a visit to Campoli is an excellent opportunity to explore the beauty of the Comino Valley and immerse oneself in the local culture and traditions.

Settefrati

If you are looking for an unusual nature experience full of surprises in the Comino Valley, consider visiting Settefrati. This enchanting village is located 780 metres above sea level in the Meta Mountains and is an ideal place to discover the history of the area, rich in legendary charm and an important religious centre.

Settefrati was originally an ancient pre-Roman settlement known as Vicus, dating back to 293 BC. However, it was only in the 5th century A.D. that the Benedictine monks of the region renamed the village to Settefrati, meaning ‘Seven Brothers’, in memory of the seven martyred sons of Saint Felicita, who were killed by the Romans in the 2nd century A.D.

The original pagan cult of the Goddess Mephitis, once professed in the Sanctuary-Oracle of Settefrati, was replaced by the Christian cult of the Madonna of Canneto during this period. The Canneto Valley, located near the source of the Melfa River, remains an important reference point for the faithful of the Comino Valley and its surroundings. The Sanctuary of the Madonna di Canneto is an essential destination for pilgrimages, culminating in the feast of the ‘Vergine Bruna’ from 14 to 22 August. This elm-wood statue of the Madonna di Canneto dates back to the 12th-14th century and is a remarkable sight to behold. The night procession during this festival ends with spectacular fireworks that light up the entire Comino Valley.

Settefrati is a place of peace and prayer, nestled between dense beech forests and the placid course of the Melfa River, which gushes its icy-clear waters from Mount Petroso.

During your visit to Settefrati, be sure to explore the town centre and its many historical and religious landmarks. The Church of the Madonna delle Grazie, which dates back to the 10th century, is a must-see. This church features a fresco depicting the Last Judgement and its unique architecture is a testament to the rich history of the area. Also worth a visit is the Church of Santo Stefano Protomartire, which houses a 12th-century medieval tower.

All in all, Settefrati is a hidden gem in the Comino Valley, offering a unique blend of natural beauty, religious significance and historical charm.

Gallinaro

Gallinaro, one of the municipalities of the Comino Valley, is a legendary ‘Terra del Vino’ in the Frusinate region that is worth a visit. This medieval village is perched on a hill about 558 metres above sea level, offering a strategic view of the valley. It is crossed by a tributary of the Melfa river, the Rio Mollo.

If you plan to visit Gallinaro in the summer months, you should not miss the legendary Wine Festival, the ‘Sagra del Cabernet e dei Vini Locali’, which has been a lively event for 30 years. This festival, held on 13 and 14 August, is an opportunity to taste typical local products and indulge in Cabernet tastings at the open cellars and wine bars scattered around the town.

Belmonte Castello

Located in the Clia valley, which connects the Comino Valley with the territories of the Cassino province, is another gem of the Lazio region embraced by the wooded peaks of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park. Perched on a rocky spur dominating the vegetation of Mount Cairo and protected by the profile of Mount Morrone, which towers to the north-east of the town at a height of 1,059 metres, Belmonte Castello (Bellus Mons) is another of the towns of Samnite origin in the Comino Valley that I highly recommend you visit.

Despite being damaged by earthquakes and bombings during World War II, some of Belmonte Castello’s oldest glories are still visible today, such as the original town walls and the medieval tower, as well as the remains of the Roman aqueduct (1st century B.C.) in the Costa Campopiano area.

Belmonte Castello is a true testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of the Lazio region, and its beautiful natural setting in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park makes it a must-see destination for any tourist interested in exploring the area’s unique blend of ancient history and breathtaking natural beauty.

With its fascinating history, extraordinary architecture and picturesque surroundings, Belmonte Castello is a truly captivating destination not to be missed.

Vallerotonda

The region where Vallerotonda stands, characterized by its mountainous terrain, has a rich history dating back to antiquity. Despite being abandoned by its inhabitants in the past, the area is home to archaeological remains that attest to its former use. The mountain community is comprised of four settlements, with the main one dating back to the Middle Ages when the population was concentrated in fortified castles by order of the Cassinese abbots, who were the lords of the area.

During the 13th century, Abbot Bernardo Ayglerio played a significant role in reorganizing the community by defining the benefits and obligations of the villagers. Historical records indicate that Vallerotonda was a small and tranquil community primarily dedicated to sheep farming and agriculture that was limited due to the area’s scarce resources. As a result of being located on high hills and off the primary routes, Vallerotonda and its neighboring villages have historically had a limited existence.

Emigration was a common occurrence from the time of Italian unification until after World War II as a result of the community’s meager resources. However, the definitive or seasonal return of a significant portion of the population has led to the end of the area’s isolation. Today, Vallerotonda is an attractive tourist destination with a unique history, offering visitors the opportunity to experience the beauty of its mountainous terrain and explore its rich cultural heritage.