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Beautiful, Peaceful (and Delicious!) Fossanova

Posted on April 13, 2008 by Holly Hayes
Part of: The Great European Road Trip

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Our stay in Fossanova was short but absolutely fantastic. We were there to see its Cistercian abbey (above), but the little village that surrounds it was an unexpected highlight as well. It was so charming, peaceful and beautiful.

Amazingly, the Abbey of Fossanova is not nearly as popular with visitors as nearby (45 minutes) Casamari Abbey. Having now visited both, we think Fossanova wins hands down. It deserves far more visitors than it gets, but at the same time I'd hate to see it filled with tour buses.

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The little village surrounding the abbey has wide, cobblestone lanes lined with faded red buildings overgrown with fragrant purple flowers. That's the abbey's tower in the background.

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Along the main street facing the abbey was a long red building (bottom picture above) filled with wonderful little shops. At one end was a cafe with outdoor tables; the others housed a terracotta craft shop, a biscotteria (entirely dedicated to bags of homemade cookies) and a fresh meat and cheese shop (with the local specialty mozzarella di bufula). Magnificent.

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Interior of the biscotteria. We bought a couple varieties and our favorite was the one made with cornmeal.

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This doggy and his shaggy little friend seems to be the town dog. We saw him many times running around, looking happy and hoping to be petted. Here he was getting some much-needed rest from his busy day.

After a slow wander around, we visited the inside of the abbey. Like the village itself it was better than we expected, with interesting things to see around every corner.

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Inside the abbey church. Fossanova is a Cistercian abbey (a strict, austere order) so the architecture is plain but beautiful in its simplicity.

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The altar area, beautifully decorated for a wedding later that afternoon. The guests began to gather outside shortly after we arrived, and we were sitting out front when the bride and her father pulled up in an Alfa Romeo! It's so fun when our church visits coincide with a wedding.

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A pretty capital in the nave. The Cistercians didn't reject art altogether, just distracting figurative carvings and the like.

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Mural of a monk in a side chapel

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The cloisters were beautiful, with a nice green garden in the center.

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The cloisters included a chapter house and refectory and a passageway out the east side led to another surprise, the Chapel of St. Thomas.

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As you can see from the orange fencing, the lower level is undergoing restoration, but signs pointed up some wonderful stone stairs in the corner to an interesting little room overlooking the abbey and a small upstairs chapel.

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View of the rooftop from the little room

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On the wall of the chapel is this old painted inscription, which unfortunately had been thoroughly graffitied before it was protected under glass.

After the abbey we visited the Medieval Museum on the corner between the abbey and our hotel, which was another nice surprise. It wasn't super exciting, but displayed some nice finds from the abbey area, including Roman inscriptions and ancient pottery.

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Medieval Museum

Then we hopped in the car and drove out to the nearest town, of which Fossanova is technically part. It's called Priverno and we'd never heard of it, but a sign posted near the abbey listing all its old churches made it seem like a good place to spend the evening. And indeed, it was a nice hill town with the requisite narrow cobblestone streets and picturesquely decaying buildings.

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We were underwhelmed by Priverno's cathedral, but further up the hill we discovered the 12th-century Church of San Giovanni with medieval murals covering all the walls. Sadly for photography purposes, it was in use for group praying and chanting. That was interesting in itself, though, and we sat in for a little while. A lady who arrived late was very friendly, wishing us a buona sera in the courtyard and smiling at us inside.

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I managed to snap two pictures when the church bells rang loudly, including this one.

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Old house with laundry, across the street from the church.

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When we got back we headed back to the abbey for some photos in the evening sun, then had coffee and tea at the corner cafe while we waited for the restaurant to open at 8:00.

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We had dinner at this restaurant next to the abbey, which is also a small hotel. It's a beautiful place and the food was unique and delicious.

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Restaurant interior

Both our meals featured buffalo, the local specialty mentioned above. What's interesting is that despite having seen many signs for mozzarella di bufala and other buffalo products during our entire tour of the southwest coast, we have never once seen a buffalo!

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My main dish - spaghetti with zucchini and buffalo bacon.

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David's choice - perfectly-cooked al dente pasta with buffalo meat and orange zest.

Both our dinners were great, but David's was seriously spectacular. Despite its unusual ingredients, it was a lot like good old comfort food. It must have been a long day because we really cracked each other up with jokes about Buffalo Helper.

We also had some nice salads, which interestingly arrived after our main dish, and for dessert I ordered ricotta di bufula with strawberries topped with a chewy chocolate cookie. Holy cow (or rather holy buffalo), that was good. So creamy. We ate it too fast to take a picture.

Our Fossanova hotel was beautiful, too. It's called the Albergo Antico Borgo and is actually part of the abbey complex. It has been recently renovated in a very appealing and stylish design.

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Entrance

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Dining room and reception area. Like the rest of the abbey, it has glass panels in the floor displaying excavated foundations beneath. I wanted to take that beautiful wine cabinet home with me.

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View from our room

One downside to our hotel was the receptionist, a girl in her 20s. She was really nice and very helpful but we just had one miscommunication after another. She spoke no English, which is not unexpected, but the language barrier was compounded by strange assumptions and all kinds of confusion.

I had the hardest time explaining that we had a reservation and then she somehow got the impression that we had to have two beds (maybe because we said two people?) instead of one. So we waited in the reception area for about 10 minutes while she rushed around and put an extra bed with new sheets in our room. We assumed the delay was because the room wasn't ready and were pretty surprised when we saw what she'd been doing! But oh well, she was trying to please, and the bed made a good suitcase stand.

Other downsides included the bathroom light blowing out, the lack of hot water our entire stay, and probably the second-worst breakfast we've had in Italy. But we made do and were still happy there. The bed was quite comfy and the location was incredible. We seemed to be the only guests there; I hope they get more in the high season.

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The street our hotel was on, with a view to the hills.

On the way north this morning we visited the Abbey of Casamari, the other Cistercian abbey mentioned above. It was very nice but didn't blow my hair back.

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Nave of Casamari Abbey church

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Side view from cloister

We are now in Anagni, called the "City of Popes" because four popes in the 1200s were born here and lived here much of the time. The cathedral is fantastic, very castle-like with a crypt filled with frescoes that knocked our socks off. More soon.