For those of you who have never heard of Nerola – it is a small Medieval hamlet in the Lazio Region of central Italy… and I’d like to tell you all about it.
Driving through the hushed village of Nerola and up into the enchanting mountains was like travelling back in time; back to a century where the Roman empire had fallen and all that separated the landscape were rows and rows of olive trees.
At the top of the hill sat Castello Orsini, our home for the next three days. The castle was nestled in amongst the houses overseeing all that stood below.
Upon approaching the castle a sense of awe came over me; the dry stone walls and iron gates replicated grandeur that I imagine only existing in Medieval times.
This place was like no other I had visited and was definitely an interesting experience. Although the castle was beautiful and the mountainous views nothing short of wonder, there seemed to be something missing.
As I walked from room to room across old tiled floors and past suits of armour there felt an air of un-homeliness; as if no one had ever loved there. To think that people with such interesting lives inhibited the castle for so long, no stories unfolded as I journeyed through the bare, disused, ever so clinical and functional looking rooms. The walls fashioned ancient looking crests and tapestries, the furnishings were not pieces to make a statement and each room seemed to have no particular purpose.
Not to say it wasn’t fascinating to stumble upon new, unknown rooms or to circle the exterior battlements and overlook the land beyond. The vast green space was never-ending and the majestic mountains towered over the valley as far as the eye could see.
But something was not quite right. The whole place was lacking character, as if it had no soul.
I’m not one to return from a trip disappointed and over the last few days I’ve struggled to find the right words to describe this experience. The thought of staying in a medieval castle seemed magical; wandering through an old hamlet filled me with curiosity. But Nerola was a ghost town with one restaurant which I only saw open once, a shop which served customers for one hour a day, a pharmacy which could not treat my pterodactyl sized mosquito bite and a café with no food.
We decided to venture out of Nerola and into the Sabina hills on the second day, visiting a small village called Fara in Sabina. This place was a fraction bigger than Nerola and still tourist free. It had an archaeological museum,
and a cathedral.
The cathedral was a golden emporium and for me, was the highlight of the village. Upon leaving we drove 40 minutes to Sabina’s capital; Rieti. This was a large city with an old Roman bridge, a walkway along the river and rows upon rows of shops; none of which were open due to it being a Sunday!
At 4pm the cathedral opened and as I walked inside I was met with grand marble pillars and multiple alters portraying the death of Christ or the life of Mary.
Why do Italian cathedrals hold such a sense of awe?
On our third and final day we decided to have a lazy day in the castle; after all there were an endless number of empty rooms fit for lounging. There was the main hall, which I can only imagine held banquets and balls hosted by the Orsini family. Each door off the hall lead to another stone-walled, barely furnished sitting room. The doors were covered in luxurious red velvet and opened into yet another room.
Downstairs there was a centrally located courtyard and beyond that a pathway out of the castle which lead down into the garden area.
After a few hours of lounging I found myself lacking the enthusiasm to write, lacking the attention to read and somewhat frustrated with my own disappointment.
Doesn’t it all sound doom and gloom?
But when evening came the sky filled with diamonds and the cicadas silenced their screams. The castle walls had finally cooled to welcome the glow of the moon and the mountains rumbled with echoing thunder. At night the terrace was empty and we were left alone with our thoughts on worldly matters.
As strange a place as this was, upon reflection, I see it as a destination for someone who wants to escape the chaos that this world brings; a place where you can travel back in time and get away from the hustle and bustle of society. It is not somewhere to buy a fridge magnet or find a street artist and it is not a place to speak English very often, but more somewhere to find solitude and peace. If you are planning a trip to a medieval castle in a small medieval hamlet, be sure to learn how to switch off your mind and be one with the mountains.
Thanks for reading!