Rossella di Bidino is back with another guest post in our travel series focussing on Rome and its surrounding areas. This time, its off to an old, once-crumbling city, now bohemian, artisan community, set high above an ancient valley…
In a the province of Viterbo, less than an hour away from Rome, lies a quaint, medieval village called Calcata. With 924 inhabitants, Calcata is not your typical tourist attraction. It can feel like a ghost city at times, a sort of secret world where one would arrive and lose touch with time outside.
In the 1930s, Old Calcata, Calcata Vecchia, was abandoned on fears of the city crags crumbling. A new village, Calcata Nuova, was built on a higher plateau, not far away. In the 1970s, however, Calcata Vecchia was rediscovered: creative people from all over the world arrived, almost by chance, and began to to restore the village. Unlike touristic Rome, which is bustling and alive, in Calcata you find silence, a certain sleepy stillness, and glimpses of artisans amongst the ancient architecture.
In the middle of that dreaming village, Gemma, owner of tea house, La Sala, decided to make her home, 32 years ago. “My story began in Paris – I was visiting a friend of mine. Walking around Paris I saw Mariage Freres and decided to spend all my money in tea. I came back to Calcata and almost immediately opened a tea room.” That was 23 years ago.
La Sala offers 101 different types of teas. After many years of existence, La Sala’s tea list is rather elaborate; it still has Gemma’s first blend, however: the 101 Tea with its scents of vanilla, jasmine, rose, bergamot and tangerine. Other teas on offer include African Sunset (mango, hibiscus and spices), and Indian Dream (cinnamon, orange, cardamom). There are also classic teas and oriental teas (Oolong tea, for example).
“People told me I was crazy. Tea in Italy. Italians drink only coffee,” Gemma says. Sometimes, it still happens that someone asks for a coffee in the tea house. It is possible to get a coffee in La Sala, although, to be honest, the magic word really is “tea”.
“Every day I’m happy to wake up and come here. I love my job”.
La Sala has small, cozy rooms, but on a hot day, the place to be is on the upstairs terrace with a stunning view of the Treja Valley dropping away from Calcata.
“Alas, my favorite tea room doesn’t exist anymore. It was Patisserie Alsacienne chez Bloch in Ghent. I was in my world there with porcelain and silver teapots, great patisserie and special guests.” Despite that, Gemma should be pretty aware of the importance of her tea room for people like me.
– By Rossella di Bidino
For more, visit La Sala’s Facebook page here.
For information on Calcata, see here.
Images: Rossella di Bidino (except first image, from An American in Rome)