Inside this magical town, a magical house. It was the reason for our trip–to see this storied beauty in person. I’ve been following Patrizio Fradiani’s rehab of his Civita cave house for the last six months, but no amount of architectural explanation or in-progress photos could prepare me for what it would feel like to be here–to look out the windows, flung open to views of clay rooftops, climbing ivy and a beautiful, crooked mess of cobblestones in one direction, and the vast, golden Tibor river valley in the other.
First, there’s the obvious: Every inch of this five-story stone palazetto built into the cliffside reads like an aesthetic dream–a contemporary rendering of good taste and architectural mastery steeped in deep, deep history. Modernist-leaning furniture is well-picked and well-placed (a white tulip-style table surrounded by mix-and-match white Magis and Panton chairs), but the space really sings when it comes to the highly personal, slightly eccentric layer of detail. Objects like twisted horn candleholders, antique trunks and a marionette ensemble are sparely, cleverly placed alongside artwork and installations Patrizio designed himself. In a series of small, arch-shaped cubbies in the circular stairway, he displays four sculptures he pieced together with dismembered porcelain doll parts and found objects. There’s the installation of 47 tiny bowls painted gold on the inside, and my favorite, a bright-green triptych made from dried mosses–as green as any I’ve ever seen alive–rocks and dirt, all arranged inside three wooden display boxes. I will very likely steal this idea someday.
Head downstairs, under stone archways, through cavernous Etruscan labyrinths that tunnel through tufa rock, and emerge in the most breathtaking terrace in Italy. We ate breakfast out here occasionally, under the wrought-iron pergola, but more often opting for early afternoon proseco, while our kiddos swam in the cave pool. The only pool in the entire town is secretly tucked into one of the Etruscan caves. It’s spectacular. There’s also a little lounge area, wine cellar and a secret art installation squirreled away in the depths of the caves.
The charming, ancient town is a magical, inextricable part of the experience. In many ways, the town–population 22 (200-something in the summertime), accessed only by a slender footbridge–is the experience. You don’t come to Domus Civita without wanting to come to Civita itself. One church, one square, a handful of restaurants (although we went to the same one almost every night) and countless stone alleyways, arches and ivy-covered walls. By the end of your stay, neighbors will recognize you at the cafe in the morning and you won’t get charged the tourist price for a cappuccino. You will pass your favorite restaurant owner on the bridge riding her scooter into town in the morning with her pink helmet, and she will wave. The night before she may have tousled your toddler’s hair or fetched a soccer ball for your kids, so they could play in the square while you finished your wine at the table. You will sit on the steps of the church with men who have been sitting on the same steps for the last 70 years. After a week, you will feel more comfortable than a tourist. Settled in. But just as enchanted as the day you arrived.
The three-bedroom house sleeps six, and there’s plenty of room to spread out and find privacy across four floors. Prices range from $2,950 (low season) to $4,950 (high season) for a week. Patrizio is the consummate host, providing amazing the best recommendations (better than most travel guides) and will help you line up in-home dinners and cooking lessons. Rent it at domuscivita.com.