If you take Via Salaria out of the capital and turn left after Monterotondo onto the SP313 towards the heart of Sabina, the green and hilly countryside becomes more and more alluring. Up into Poggio Mirteto and towards Poggio Catino with its fairytale stone tower, your heart expands. Then past Rocca Antica, round the last corner... and there it is: Casperia, an untouched mediaeval town perched 400 m above sea level, surrounded by huge expanses of virgin oak forest.

What makes the place so special is not just its outstanding position, or its timeless quality, or the fact that it retains the circular layout of the original 11th-century castrum, but something else that you cant quite put your finger on ... until you realise that Casperia is utterly silent. Since the only way into this small fortified town is up broad flights of shallow steps, there is not a car or scooter in sight.

Come here in the early evening in summer when the swallows are flitting about and look south towards Rome over range upon range of hills stretching into the distance as the mist rises around them, and you can only shake your head in disbelief.

Although it offers a welcome respite from the bustle of Rome in any season, Casperia is also in the heart of olive oil country, and the best time of year to go there is now, during the olive harvest, which ends in mid-January.

A couple of minutes walk up the cobbled street that winds its way up from the 13th-century Porta Romana is a wine and olive oil enoteca where you can sample the finest oils in Sabina, pressed and bottled perhaps only a few days before and selected by someone who not only knows his stuff, but who must surely be the best-loved Englishman in the region.

Wherever he goes in his adopted town, the expat sculptor and olive oil guru Johnny Madge a youthful 40-something and quintessentially British with his fair hair and baggy trousers is greeted with rapture. Children run up to him screaming with delight; toothless crones grin at him adoringly from the doorway of their houses; and when he walks into the local supermarket, the face of the bored girl behind the cash till lights up with joy and she quite literally jumps up and down with excitement.

So here he is, behind the marble counter at Geco 107, the bar in Piazza Municipio that he runs with his wife Maria Angela, whom he married 20 years ago, not long after he graduated from Cambridge and moved to Rome.

In front of him is a row of saucers containing various local oils, many of them made by prize-winning producers. We make some of the best oil in the world here and yet its almost unknown, says Madge, who contributes to Guida agli Extravergini, a guide compiled by Slow Food, a movement established in 1989 to counteract fast food, a fast life and the disappearence of local food traditions and quality. Dip a piece of bread into the Carboncella Assoluta (9 for 50 cls), made entirely out of the local carboncella olive, very low in acidity and, as Madge puts it, nutty, olivey, and gentle. It is indeed delicious. Next its La Mola, elegant and subtle (10.50 for 50 cls). And then the strong, peppery and deep green Colle Magrini (8.20 for 50 cls). This is our punk oil, explains the host. You might need to sit down before you taste it.

After which, its time for a glass of wine the Soave du Lot with its rich honey flavours (3.50 per glass); or the Marina Cvetic, a big wine, this (4.50 per glass); or the Otio, a local product that Madge stocks largely because of its name, which derives from the Latin otium, meaning laziness (3.30 per glass).

By now the tiny bar is overflowing with an eclectic mix of customers. Hippies and artists, says Madge, Intellectuals and musicians, too... as well as expat toffs and local builders.

The mood, already warm, is improved by some well-chosen CDs: Afro-Cuban chants by Africando; Irish accordion music by Sharon Shannon; Cape Verdian songs by Simentera; accordion quartets by Accordion Tribe; Greek folk music by Haris Alexiou; and Vivaldis Nisi Dominus sung by the counter-tenor Andreas Scholl.

As you slurp down your wine and make friends with strangers, children run around freely outside, playing hide-and-seek in what is effectively a huge mediaeval playground where no car threatens.

Later, you might drive the 60 km or so back to Rome; or you might make the short walk to La Torretta, an upmarket B&B in a 16th-century townhouse where you will be well looked after by Maureen Scheda, the undisputed matriarch of the local expat community.

Here, you will be woken the next day not by the tooting of cars, but by the sound of a cock crowing or the angelus ringing. If this is not the good life, what is?

Casperia is about 57.8 km from Rome and it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes to get there by car.

To get there by public transport: Rome to Poggio Mirteto on the Fiumicino-Orte line (FM1), journey time 55 mins, trains every hour, 5.80 return; then bus to Casperia, leaves from train station 36 mins past the hour from 12.36- 20.36.

Geco 107, Piazza del Municipio 3, Casperia; www.geco107.com; no tel; open 18.00-21.00 on Fridays; Saturday and Sunday 11.00-13.00 and 18.00-21.00.

La Torretta B&B, Via Mazzini 7, tel. 076563202; www.latorrettabandb.com; 80 for double room, breakfast included.

Casale della Nonna, recommended restaurant on Via Ternana just outside nearby Cantalupo, tel. 0765514666; cucina tipica, excellent steaks, a meal costs approx. 20 a head.

Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome is a monthly magazine in English for expatriates in Rome established in 1985. The magazine covers Rome news stories that may be of interest to English and Italian speaking residents, and tourists as well. The publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
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