If Ascoli Piceno is considered the diamond of Italy’s Marche region, you need to check out their neighbor, Offida – which outshines other ancient hilltop towns. Offida (pop. around 5,000) is deemed one of Italy’s most beautiful towns. It overflows with tradition, and history just oozes from its 13th century walls.
The compact Old Town center is an amiable stroll, with cobbled streets, appealing alleyways, striking architecture, and bursts of color. Top it all off with an old-world vibe, genuinely friendly locals, and great food.
The main triangular-shaped Piazza al Popolo, is fringed by a Renaissance-style town hall, which is adorned with arcades and crenellations; the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta; and the towns lavish 19th century Serpente Aureo Theatre.
Pizza al Popolo is where it all happens. This is where Offida’s big annual Carnevale happens (mid-January). The main event is the Bove Finto which is a ‘running of the bulls’ kind of event, but using a fake bull made of wood and carried on the shoulders of volunteers, who buck and charge with it in a riotous affair of man versus beast, until the bull is finally ‘killed’, and its horns lifted ceremoniously to touch the column of the town hall. The whole event is fuelled with copious amounts of the ‘Rosso Piceno’ – the local red wine.
As for the rest of the year, Offida is a quiet country town, known for its delicate hand-made bobbin lace making. It’s a tradition dating back to the 1400s, which has been passed down the generations. To honor their lace-making heritage, below the castle wall there’s a gorgeous water fountain/monument which embodies the crafts history.
Offida is known the world over for is its vino. Using grapes found only on its hills, vignerons cultivate some of Italy’s most highly prized wines – Pecorino, Passerina, and Rosso Piceno, all nectar of the Gods.
In the beginning
Offida came about in the Bronze Age, when the Pelasgians first arrived in the region, bringing with them civilization.
The history of Offida had a sure start in 578AD, when it became a royal seat, and the construction of a fortified castle began. It was a military fortress, consisting of an important city wall and square towers. The town appears by name in a document of the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Farfa, dating back to about that time. That’s 914 years before Columbus discovered America!
What to see
• The Church of Santa Maria della Rocca (built 1039AD) must be the ‘poster church’ of churches. It dramatically clings to a cliff’s edge and is made of Romanesque-Gothic brick and has trefoil arches. From 1047AD it was occupied by Benedictine monks. The enormous church, considered one of the main architectural features of the whole Marche region, is surrounded on three sides by deep precipices that dominate the surrounding valleys. The upper church has a single nave, according to the order of the beggars, and has a ceiling of wooden beams, two side altars and several frescoes of Giotto influence. There’s also a staircase to the crypt. The central apse has a double row of brick columns in Lombard style, with rounded corners, and round arches.
• The restored Roman-Gothic styled church of San Marco (1359AD), on Piazza Baroncelli, is adjacent to the Franciscan monastery of the same name. The interiors are Baroque in style, with a wooden crucifix with imbedded precious stones. There’s also a painting of the ‘Madonna Addolorata with four Saints’. Benedictine nuns have been living here since 1655.
• A stone’s throw from the church is the 19th century Palazzo De Castellotti-Pagnanelli, home to the Bobbin Lace Museum, the G. Allevi Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Popular Traditions, and the Municipal Art Gallery.
• The little Tombolo Lace Museum is a tribute to humble artisans. Expect to see tools for processing, yarns, drawings, wedding kits, jewels, and photographs. The most surprising piece is the dress worn by Naomi Campbell in London in 1997.
• The intriguing Museum of Popular Traditions illustrates an insight into the lives of Offida’s ancestors – a kitchen from yesteryear, tools for agricultural work, ancient craft shops, furniture, and clothing of the time, spinning machinery, and a loom for fabric production.
• The Municipal Art Gallery has numerous pieces of period furniture and paintings.
• To deepen your understanding of the local wines, head to Spazio Vino, found in the former convent of San Francesco (Via Garibaldi 75). This is currently the seat of the regional Enoteca, focusing on small wine producers, offering a wine-by-the-glass tasting facilities.
Curiosities about Offida
• Ask a local about the legend of the mythical Golden Snake that crossed the city along the main street, now aptly named Corso Serpente Aureo.
• Bobbin lace making is a popular Offida tradition which, thanks to the Benedictine nuns of 1665, flourishes still.
• In the chapel of Sant’Agostino (1338AD) you can admire the remnants of the 1273AD ‘Eucharistic Miracle’, in which the host was converted into living flesh.
• In 2008 Offida was nominated as ‘one the most beautiful villages in Italy’.
• The Aldo Sergiacomi Museum is the former workshop of the famed Offida sculptor. It houses a collection of his drawings, plaster casts, terracotta and bronze objects, and photographs of his works.
• On the outskirts of Offida is the Sanctuary of Beato Bernardo, originally built in 1614AD by Capuchin friars. It has dramatic views of the sea and the mountains. The great musician Joseph Haydn composed the ‘Missa Sancti Bemardi de Offida’ in honor of Brother Bernardo.
• The 14th century Church of the Suffragio has a rectangular structure in travertine limestone, the interiors is breath-taking.
• Next to the church of the Addolorata there is the 14th century rectangular structure of the Church of the Suffragio, complete with Romanesque-styled terracotta friezes; Byzantine friezes; a wooden skeleton; a 15th century art piece showing the ‘Madonna del Soccorso’; and the symbol of God’s name on stone.
• Take a walk through the streets at night. Offida has a different persona in the small hours. You may see shadowy figures that aren’t there during daylight hours.
The town of Offida has gorgeous observation points, interesting places to see, and an excellent artisanal food and wine scene. Here you’ll finds ancient fortresses and benches with soft views across deep valleys and at least a hundred reasons to stay.
• Getting there: Offida is 250km due east of Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport and a mere 20km from the Adriatic Sea.
• Where to stay: Although there is a hotel in Offida, I urge you to go the Air B&B route instead. Find somewhere authentic in Offida’s Old Town www.airbnb.com.
• Getting around: To get a feel for the region hire a Vespa for €70/day. You’re officially urged to partake in a (tailor-made) group tour, taking in off-piste locations, unforgettable experiences, and creating memories that’ll last a lifetime. Tour prices start at €30/pp +39 324 5454279 www.vespatourmarche.it.
Ciù Ciù – A romantic wine story of passion and tradition
In the soft green hills around Offida, you’d be forgiven to think that time has stopped. Here, nothing much changes, other than the occasional slow movement of a tractor in the vineyards. Here, grapes and olive are what it’s all about.
Paolo Agostinelli, wine aficionado, and Export Manager of Ciù Ciù, gives me the backstory.
“On the outskirts of Offida and near the Adriatic, the sea air sweeps between the hills (250 metres above sea level) and blends with the earthy aromas of the soil. This creates the magical terroir for our grapes and the production of some of Italy’s finest wines.
The Ciù Ciù organic winery was born in the heart of Offida’s Picene hills with vineyards extending over 150 hectares. In 1970, before ‘organic’ became a thing, Natalino and Anna Bartolomei, themselves from share-cropping farming stock, found the ideal patch of land to plant the first organic grapes bearing the Ciù Ciù name.
Forbes, one of the America’s most prestigious and influential magazines, included the multi award-winning Ciù Ciù’s Bacchus Rosso Piceno DOP in their list of the best ten European wines priced under $20 dollars a bottle.”
Ciù Ciù wines are an authentic expression of Italian winemaking traditions. This, coupled with research, good terroir, and state-of-art cellars, all go to enhancing their natural viticultural ecosystem.
Paolo escorts me the Ciù Ciù wine showroom in the heart of Offida’s old town. We’re seated in an ancient room used for tasting, savouring the traditional Marche wines. As with most of Offida’s buildings, the one Ciù Ciù Wines is housed in is deceptive large. Inside it’s elegant, and historic, with enormous cellar rooms – ideal for a taste experience in both food and wine as their organic wines are combined with traditional Marche cheeses, cured hams, olives – and wait till you sample their bruschetta dipped in their farm grown extra virgin olive oil! The tasting will set you back € 6.00/pp.
First published at Travel Industry Today