Lazio – by the waterfalls in Isola del Liri

Isola del Liri is a small town of eleven thousand people in the Frosinone province of Lazio (also known as Ciociaria). The town is located on, and takes its name from, an island that divides the River Liri into two branches.

Each branch has a waterfall; to the east the Cascata Grande (pictured above) and to the west the Cascata del Valcatoio (below). Both are about about 30 metres high and were at one time an important source of energy for local industry.

At the top, between the two waterfalls, is the Castello Boncompagni-Viscogliosi, a fortified palace with origins in the twelfth century (at the top of the first picture, the gate is below). Unfortunately the castle is only open to the public on special occasions.

The town is quite pretty, but other than these sights, there is very little to see or do. I spent four soggy nights here in May 2018 staying at the Hotel Scala which is recommended by the Michelin Guide, although I’m not sure why. Probably because it’s the only one in town. The hotel is run by the same people who have the Scala alla Cascata restaurant (see later review), so go there to get your room key as there’s no reception desk.

You’ll find everything on this map.

My only source of entertainment was checking out the local restaurants but I’d start or finish my evening at Uhmano, a hipster bar at 10 Via Cascata, a pleasant spot near the main waterfall which I’m sure will be buzzing on summer evenings. Video here.

There’s a good place to eat right next door. Made In Italo (Intermediate B+) at 6 Via Cascata is a modern restaurant with a contemporary menu that has little mention of local staples. I loved their Risotto con Fiori di Zucca e Salsiccia Luganega, risotto with courgette flowers and local rustic sausage (A)…

… but the Filetto di Miale con Crema di Asiago, Profumato al Tartufo Nero, fillet of pork with a sauce of Asiago cheese scented with black truffle, didn’t have much flavour despite the truffles (B-).

The local Cesanese Comune wine failed to impress (C) but a glass of Montepucliano d’Abruzzo helped save things (B-).

There is a big choice of other wines by the glass too. I tried two new amari here. I loved the Dente de Lione (A) similar to Amaro di Capo, a commercial favourite of mine.

The Braulio, was okay too (B). Good Wi-Fi, pleasant service. Two courses, two glasses of wine, water and two amari came to €35 which isn’t too bad.

For more traditional, rustic food there are two competing neigbours:

A Tale of Two Tavernas…

Osteria Da Mauretto (Intermediate B+) at 4 Via S. Lorenzo Colle has great traditional food but a miserable owner. A pleasant waiter showed me to a seat facing the big, blaring TV. Then Mauro came in scowling, changed channels and walked out without even saying hello, until I made him say it next time he came in the room. No wonder I was the only customer that evening.

To start, an excellent Tagliere Misto di Salumi, Formaggio e Bruscheta (A). I especially liked the Mozzarella di Buffala (A) and the pungent Pecorino (B+).

I adored the Sagne e Fagioli con Guanciale (A); strips of local durum wheat pasta with white beans and cured pork jowl.

A half-litre jug of local house red is just €3 (B). To finish I had an Amaro Genziana (B+), an alpine liqueur made from the roots of the Gentian plant, which was a new one on me. It’s also an ingredient in Fernet Branca and Aperol.

The following night I went next door…

La Taverna at 6 Via largo Berardo was TripAdvisor #1 when I was in town in May 2018, as opposed to Mauretto which was #7. I arrived at 8pm and waited for a while but no one answered my calls so I went for an aperitivo and came back just before 9. I was still the first to arrive but within half an hour every table was taken, unlike next door. The owner of La Taverna is tactile and personable and took the time to engage with all his customers. The contrast with Mauro couldn’t be more different.

Unfortunately however the food and drink is better at Mauro’s, in my opinion. The Antipasti Tagliere is good here too. I went for the Piccolo as opposed to the Medio or the Max, and it was still enough for two. But while there was more of it I found the Mozzarella di Bufala to be fresher and the Bruschetta more flavoursome next door. In both places the other cheeses weren’t particularly tasty although in La Taverna I got two kinds of Pecorino (one with herbs) as well as the plain.

That said, all the local customers (mountain Italians) seemed to be going for the seafood options, so maybe I should have done the same. My tagliatelle with tomato sauce and saugsage didn’t really cut it (C). The bill was rounded down to €30 though, which was great value.

So which would you prefer? Both trattorias have blaring TVs and similar interiors and terraces. One has a friendly owner serving passable food and iffy drinks and the other one is a grumpy sod with a good chef and better beverages. Personally I’d go with the best food and put up with the grump, but that’s me.

On my last night I ate at the hotel’s restaurant, Scala alla Cascata at 8 Piazza Papa Gregorio VII. It seems to have been owned by the same family (generally friendly people but some more than others) since 1860 and they seem a bit bored after all that time. Historically their restaurant was considered ‘the best place in town’ but it isn’t anymore.

I tried the local classic Fini Fini con Panceta e Asparagi, extra thin noodles (a speciality of Ciociaria) with cured bacon and asparagus, which should have been better than it was (C).

The Filetto Pepe Verde was fine (B) but so it should be with all that cream.

The fries with it failed to impress (C-) as did the local wine Cesanese del Piglio (C). However the Fantasia di Formaggi (three cheeses) was okay (B)…

…and I enjoyed the two glasses of the delicious Amaro L’Abruzzese (B+). The label spurred some research and it seems bagpipes are a thing in this part of Italy. With cover and water, I paid €52.

Going on the bagpipes, and the pasta types and the amari, Ciociaria seems to have more cultural ties with Abruzzo, the region just to the east, than with the rest of Lazio.

For lunch Miro at 29 Corso Roma is a favourite amongst teachers at the nearby school. It’s just an ordinary pizzeria so the decor isn’t up to much but the service is friendly and the food is good and cheap. I had a very nice mixed tuna salad with foccaccia (both B+) which came to only €6.60 with a coffee.

On the sweet front, happily one of the teachers at the school was an excellent baker. So lots of choux pastries and slices of marmelade tart for lunch!

Off to the big smoke next…

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