The Val Comino is the shape of a lozenge aligned east-west with two entrances, one to the west and one to the south. It lies some eighty miles to the south east of Rome, forming a near equilateral triangle with Naples. Its sides are the Apennines, snow capped for half the year, and through it flows the Melfa river, which eventually irrigates the plains of Roccasecca. Eleven towns hug the valley sides, circling the town of Gallinaro, which saddles a hill almost in the centre.
Of the twelve towns, Atina has the longest recorded history. One of the five legendary cities of Mercury, it pre-dates Rome by several centuries. It owes its historical power to its position, dominating the southern entrance to the valley which leads to the Cassino plains. As mountain valleys go, Val Comino is large and fertile, supporting some 25,000 inhabitants. This fertility and its defensibility have led to a long list of invaders over the years: Greeks, Samnites, Romans, Saracens, Normans, Lombards, French, Austrian, Spanish and Popes have all stayed and left their mark.
A man could spend much of a lifetime discovering what is worth knowing about its dozen towns. It is big enough to be a world in itself; a simple man could find all he needs within it or nearby (of history and architecture, of literature and music; of craft and effort; of musems and churches; of nature and nature’s bounty in food and wine; and most of all in life – the lives of the people he would meet.)
A month is not enough time to explore Val Comino and to begin to understand what it has to offer. Speak to the Concierge and find out what excursions he can suggest to meet your interests or which Feast Days or Sagre are being celebrated in each of the Comune.
It lies against the part of the Abruzzi mountains called the Maianarde. It corresponds generally to the River Melfa's upper Valley, which runs through it before joining the Liri River.
It lies at the crossroads between the ancient and the modern worlds – the Benedictine Monasteries of Monte Cassino and of San Vincenzo al Volturno near Figliniano being the repositories of ancient texts rescued from the Sack of Rome and were the torchbearers of that knowledge to the new Europe. It is part of the Ciociaria - that area known for its ancient footwear - celebrated in 19th century art as italian and still celebrated today in local festivals.
The resources of the Valle in near modern times provided trade in the obvious wine and olive oil, cheese and wool and the not so obvious ice, stone, timber and paper. Its population, now much reduced, were for centuries “rondini” – swallows who left to work in towns and cities throughout Europe and America and then returned year after year – for holidays, weddings, baptisms, birthdays, deaths – a tradition which continues to this day.
From the summit of Monte Meta lying behind Picinisco one can see the Adriatic and the Mediterranean Seas and from Rome to Naples. These views and the local feasts attracted travellers from all over Europe on their way to Naples as part of The Grand Tour. New ideas and new places were a common subject in the piazza of the Comuni, who sent their people, it seems, to different countries – Atina to France, Settefrati and San Donato to Canada and America, Casalattico and Casalvieri to Ireland, Picinisco to Scotland.
The tragedies of the Second World War with the sinking of the Arandora Star (when over 100 civilians from the Valley and nearby were lost - 21 from Picinisco alone) and Internment not to mention the struggle for Monte Cassino and its destruction left the rondini uncertain and fragile - frequently losing the desire to return to the their native land. More left.
Historically, this was not a rich world; predominantly agricultural, its wealth has always been wine, oil and wool. Unlike Tuscany, the Valley contains no large reservoirs of art or culture (although much exists), it has no beaches, no important cathedrals and no tourists. Until recently, large numbers of its inhabitants emigrated to Europe, the Americas and the Antipodes.” No one ever came here, they just left" is a recent and now an incorrect observation the tide has turned - our emigrees are returning home.
"Lurking within this undisturbed territory is, of course, the real Italy. People from all over the peninsula lay claim to living in the real Italy, but they are wrong. The real Italy lies here, in Val Comino, north of Naples, south of Rome, high in the mountains, surrounded by the Apennine peaks." (Paulo Tullio - "North of Naples, South of Rome")
Families in Italy are large, not just because there are lots of children, but because they also include, cousins, second cousins, in-laws, godparents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. Third cousins are aware of one another's presence and, though not strictly obliged to accept one another as family, often do."
"Italians, despite their apparently carefree life-style, are conservative by nature. They value the past and its lessons, they value order, saving money, education and self-advancement. The family unit makes much of this possible. Family members have the right to call on each other when they need help, but to obtain this right they are also subject to the responsibilities of being a member. Each favour demands a favour in return, each action is considered before a reaction. If a friend or relation gives you a plate of freshly made gnocchi, you do not return the plate empty. This tradition is no more than the recognition of the need to keep a balance."
"The family unit also explains why whole villages find themselves displaced to another part of the world. This is simply because the first to arrive would have sent for his brother or wife, then her cousin, his cousins, their wives and so on. Anyone thinking of emigrating would always think of going to where family and friends already were."
And then the internet was invented, cellular phones became available and airlines introduced cheap flights. Leisure time and a thirst for knowledge not to mention the fresh air and naturalness of the Vallee brought back the children and grandchildren of emigres, keen to learn about the land and life and traditions and customs of their parents and their Nonni.
This part of our website is dedicated to them and to their children in the hope that one again Val Comino and its piazze can become the places to meet family and distant relations and to make new friends.