Come to Sabina and Ride
From issue 86 • Words by Brad Roe with images from Massimo Nardi
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If you mention the Sabina region to most Americans, or many Italians for that matter, most have not heard of or visited this beautiful area of central Italy. Sabina is named after the Sabine Hills of Latium and the ancient tribe in the province of Rieti northeast of Rome. This unforgettable area is only 45 kilometers from Rome and adjacent to the Tiber river and littered with ancient Roman villas, with magnificent olive oil and food that will ensure your return.
“The whole glory of virtue resides in activity.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
Most travelers pass right through Sabina on the A1 autostrada on their way to Umbria (30 minutes away) or farther up the road to Tuscany and completely miss one of the most unique areas of Lazio. You can visit a villa built on the remains of Cicero’s home or see ancient locations outside of Rieti where St. Francis wrote his poem, “The Canticle of the Creatures.” The Abbey of Farfa is close by as is Bagnoregio, Orvieto and Spello. The food is sublime and, starting in the spring, the festivals are held in every town—so you will never be far from a party celebrating the food, history and culture of the area’s hill towns.
Bordered by the Apennine mountains, the Sabina region is undiscovered, with medieval hill towns and roads and rides unknown to most tourists and cyclists. We fell in love with Sabina after our first visit four years ago and have been going back ever since. Our guides to the area are good friends Luciana and Luigi, owners of an 18th century renovated villa in Selci, called Villa Vallerosa. After riding and wandering around the area, it’s clear there is a significant amount of undiscovered gravel trails and routes, including a trail from Rieti to Rome that we are determined to find and ride this coming summer. Stay tuned.
On our first visit to the area we met cyclist Paolo Donati, who has been showing us around by bike for the past three years and this spring we decided to partner with him on the Gran Fondo Velodromo di Forano. (When you visit Sabina, make sure to have lunch at his restaurant, Trattoria Bernabucci, in Forano). The gran fondo began in the velodrome and made a 90-kilometer loop around Sabina, passing through towns such as Poggio Mirteto, Roccantica, Casperia, Montesola and Montebuono—where the event actually crosses the border into Umbria before looping back into Lazio and Sabina. The ride attracted 800 cyclists from all over Italy and is an annual event held on the first Saturday of April, and this year it served as the national championship.
One of the most inspiring aspects of this event is the organizers’ dedication to teaching young people about cycling. There is a school, run by Paolo and his team, where the local kids learn how cycling can be a healthy after-school activity, along with the support of a velodrome and local families in the area. Proceeds from the Gran Fondo Velodromo di Forano help fund this school and will hopefully help raise the next Giro d’Italia winner!
Many visitors to Sabina comment that it looks like Tuscany used to look 30 years ago—before all the crowds and the popularity. For us, the landscape of hill towns, all with steep and punchy climbs into the center of small, medieval communities, make this undiscovered region a great option for cyclists visiting Italy. The Forano gran fondo is an event we will support for many years to come and hope that cyclists with a sense of adventure and the desire to see a new region of Italy that is off the beaten path, will give Sabina a try.