Do you want to know the real Italy, the spirit of this curious country? Go outside the traditional tourist circuits, walk in the squares and streets trod by Italians, and find gems like the Ciociaria district, a beautiful territory south of Rome.

A brief history: this area is so close to Rome that many important people lived here, such as Cicero from Arpino still famous for the Certamen, an annual competition in Latin rhetoric that draws students from all over the world.

Ciociaria is famous for having been the scene of a civil war between Mario and Silla, the beautiful Cistercian abbey of Casamari, for the Way of St. Benedict that connects the Abbey of Subiaco to Montecassino, for the towns with cyclopean walls, the historic villages and the natural beauty of Val Comino.

Amid so much beauty you can get lost, and that’s what happened when an American artist came for the first time came to Piglio, a village perched on a hilltop and known only to locals or by emigrants.

Until then Nancy Campbell knew Ciociaria for the Oscar-winning film starring Sophia Loren and from some stories of her grandparents. Nancy lives in the State of New York not far from the Canadian border and grew up with the stories of her Italian grandparents. She had never been able to understand them fully because although they arrived in America when still young people they had never learned English.

She fantasized about strange kinship and elopement and this is why Nancy had always had the curiosity to know more about their history and roots. Having finished her commitment at the Department of Culture of the town of Saugerties in NY, and having been director of the Woodstock Art School in New York, she traveled to Italy and went to Sora, sited beautifully on the river Liri.

“From there I took the route to Piglio and while looking for my grandfather I found my grandmother’s sisters.”

Photographs, biscuits and noodles, and a second cousin who speaks English.

She started to return to Ciociaria and she remains enchanted by the spirit of Italy and by painting in Italy. Despite its beauty this is an area little known to mass tourism industry and the people retain all the habits that foreigners are accustomed to seeing only in parodies. These include the habitual gestures, love of family, life in the streets and in the historic centers with houses made of white stones and the bishop’s palace in the center. Then there are the historic celebrations such as the Palio di Paliano and the traditional music of Compari delle Cantine – Hernicantus.

All these are extra-special situations for those who love to paint landscapes and have a coffee in the square. As a true pragmatist, Nancy decided to share this joy with friends and set up a website to organise trips to paint the landscapes of Ciociaria.

The initiative was successful and Nancy began to organize these painting tours for a selected number of artists to go painting in Italy, at a time when she can be their personal guide to discover the beauties of the Ciociaria and Italians who live there.

In these years of travel Nancy has collected sketches and paintings of many countrysides and landscapes in this area and to increase cultural exchanges between the two countries, for the next year she plans to organize an exhibition in Paliano of “Landscapes of Ciociaria”.

PS. For those curious, the term Ciociaria comes from “ciocie” a very simple shoe consisting of a leather base and laces that are tied around the calf.