Outside Rome, Rome
Most people head to Florence, Tivoli and Ostia Antica - and rightfully so. However, if you have been there - done that - many hidden gems are at hand right close to Rome - accessible by car or by comfortable, inexpensive tour busses (i.e. Cotral). Here are my top hidden gems - New pages and tips in each:
- ROCCA DI PAPA - ROCCA DI PAPA one of the towns in the Southern Castelli Romani region - close to Lago Albano - here is where you will see a medieval town and interact with locals.
LAGO BRACCIANO - North of Rome - super castle - enchanting, pristine lake (BarryAir favorite)
CASTEL GANDOLFO - no secret as this is the summer residence of the Pope
RIETI - Norther tip of Regione Lazio - the Sacred Valle of St. Francis - This is where St. Francis spent most time and it remains now as it was 800 years ago - here you can walk the steps of St. Francis - or simply hike among the serenity of nature.
Photo 5 The Sacro Speco is a kind of cave or crevice in the rock, and it marks the place in which Francis retreated in solitude and prayer in order to write the Later Rule. This is the cave where Brother Leo spent much time. Beside the cave is the stump of a tree where Jesus is said to have appeared to Francis and where Francis fasted for forty days and completed the Rule.
These destinations are best seen by car but readily accessible by train and tour bus (inexpensive Cotral is best as they offer many stops and good schedules).
Bracciano is a beautiful little town, some 40 km. from Rome, located at a scenic lake and also a location of a magnificent castle.
It can be quite crowded, since many people visit it, but nonetheless it is an excellent destination for a one day trip outside Rome.
There is an amazing pastry shop with the most phenomenal mousses in different flavours.
You could seriously overdose on a daily regime of beautiful buildings and crowds in Rome. With a week in the city at our disposal, we decided we'd take a day out, admittedly for more sightseeing, and one of Italy's major ancient sites at that but in a completely different environment - the Bay of Naples and the extraordinary excavations at Herculaneum - the town that was drowned in an horrific river of hot gas, ash and rock that slowly filled the place from the ground up, entombing it in a completely different manner from Pompeii, where ash and debris rained down on the town from above.
Pompeii is justly famous, it's a fascinating site, and receives a constant flood of visitors but Herculaneum, which is actually better preserved and offers a far more complete picture of a Roman town, attracts a trickle in comparison. Certainly the day we were there, the number of fellow-tourists couldn't have been more than thirty or forty in the whole time we were there.
Naples is an hour and a half from Rome by train. To get to Herculaneum takes another 20 minutes via the Circumvesuviana line, getting off at Ercolano Scavi station. From the station it's a 10 minute walk straight down the hill to the site.
The approach to the entrance brings you high above the site and around two sides of it for a wonderful birds-eye view before you even enter. Once you've made your way into the site itself, you really feel you've have stepped back in time as you walk the streets, enter house after house, baths, shops, the forum, the cisterns and more. The way the town was inundated has left buildings in an amazing state - some two stories high, roofs intact, door and structural timbers carbonised, metal window grills still in place.
I'm not even going to try to give more information here - the web-site below will give you a fantastic overview of the site. Hopefully, it, and the bit I've written here, will give you both an idea of the site and the desire to go and see it for yourself.
The excavations are not as extensive as those at Pompeii, you can easily see the whole site in the time at your disposal on a trip from Rome such as ours. Check the Trenitalia timetable here for train times. It's a good idea to buy your train tickets a day or two in advance. You can do this from self-service ticket machines at Termini station.
Fortunately there are several cafes between the station and the scavi - that downhill walk to the site might be a pleasant stroll - uphill on the way back definitely calls for a refreshment stop along the way.
Oasi di Porto - it's a park where Traiano Lake is located. Most of tourists pass nearby while going to Rome from Fiumicino airport or visiting Ostia Antica.
This place is really nearby Rome, but it's not well-known, even by Romans. We decided to visit it because it's close to our house and it was funny how difficult it was to find the entrance. Everybody we asked for info gave us different directions. Finally we managed to find it :)
Oasi di Porto - is a very nice private park and an artificial lake. The lake was built by Imperatore Traiano (98-117d.c.) It has hexagonal shape and was used as port in the time of Imperial Rome. Unfortunately in medieval times it was destructed by water which created here wetland.
After 1856 when this territory was bought by Prince Alessandro Torlonia the lake, park and some archaeological sites were renovated.
Today it's a private property, often visited by school trips. It's especially interesting to visit it with children because there is a guided tour on a horse-drawn carriage and botanical mini tour. Unfortunately, it's forbidden to take a walk around the lake alone (only guided tours).
It's open on Thursday and Sundays, from 10 AM till sunset
(closed during major holidays) Call to ask if it's opened.
Ticket: 8 Euro
Location: Fiumicino, entrance: 100m pass the cemetery.
When in Rome you may need a break from the city. Why not spend some time in the beautiful mountains of Sabina? The International Brigettine Centre in Farfa may be what you need. Me and a friend spent two nights in this renovated, early medeival Benedictine monastery. We walked the flowering meadows and hillsides with springs, wineyards and all! We also took some time to visit the small villages around Farfa.
General Abess Mother Tekla Famigletti and her Brigettine sisters have created a little gem with full-board lodging of 50-60 guests. Comfortable beds, calm, starry mountain nights. Food and wine were of good, local Italian stock. One of my fondest memories of the stay are the friendly sisters from all over the world.
The key principle of the International Bridgettine Centre of Farfa Sabina is the eucumenical idea. In order to realise this ideal the Centre arranges frequent conferences, symposia, meetings and discussions. The academic studies and the allowing programme makes the centre open and allowing also for agnostic visitors or people of other religions.
Here, you get the opportunity to think and feel and breathe and smell, the air is so clear and full of herbal and flowery scents. Everything is calm and quiet and very beautiful. History is near, as always in Italy, the medieval parts of the centre have fascinating stories to tell. Sometimes there is possibility to get a Farfa tour and see the hidden treasures of the old monastery. Works of art and archeological pieces, 45.000 antique volumes and engravings are gathered at the monumental abbey complex.
Visit also the Church of Santa Maria, with its crypt and cloisters. On the interior wall of the façade is an oil fresco, the Last Judgement, from 1571 by the Flemish painter Henrik van der Broek. There are other artworks as well, interesting frescos, fine grotesque decorations and mosaic floor.
Remember to always investigate your shopping opportunities :-) In Farfa there are fantastic workshops of the village fairs, famous already in Renaissance, now brought back by artisans and merchants. I bought beautiful home-woven, embroidered curtains/sunscreens and delicious honey from the local, busy bees.
The cost for the stay is € 50 a day (VISA and other credit cards are accepted), including breakfast, lunch and supper of which the latter two includes four-dinner courses.
To get to Farfa we took a bus from Rome, it stopped right outside the Centre. The journey took about 1 hour and went through beautiful surroundings.
International Centre of Farfa
IT-02030 Farfa Sabina
Take the time to go to Ostia Antica, the harbour city of ancient Rome, said to be originating as far back as 7th century BC. It is a nice day-tour with so much beautiful to experience!
Be sure not to be in a hurry, we were strolling the area for hours, bringing a picnic. There are so many fascinating details, remarkable frescoes and individual decorations, mosaics and old inscriptions and inspiring messages from the past such as "As long as ye are thirsty, drink from the bowl." We brought our own bowls but were not late to follow the instructions.
The city has gone through a lot and it is fascinating to follow the everyday life through the remnants: visit old shops , temples and and baths with wonderful mosaics in black and white.
Being a harbour, Ostia used to be situatied by the sea, at the mouth of the Tiber, about 30 km west from Rome. Today, the sea has withdrawn three kilometres. Rome´s closest beach, Ostia-Lido lies there today (continue furter on the train-line to get to the ocean-breeze). The sea may be gone somewhere else, but Ostia stays.
Take the Metro to station Piramide. Go up the escalator, turn left and take the stairs down to the Roma-Lido station. Exit at Ostia-Antica. A normal metro ticket should take you all the way.
Entrance fee about 7 €
Ostia Antica Scavi (= the excavations, because there is also a medieval village and the "new" Traian harbour to see) is a surprise: it is quite a good and rich ancient site, less famous than Pompei or Ercolano, but you can easily "read" its roads, its houses, its blocks, its shops... You can nearly feel like living in Roman age...
Just walk along a 2400 years old road....
To go there (about 20 km, near the sea) you can just take metro B to Piramide, and than jump on a train of the Ostiense line: all with the same metro ticket. Stop at Ostia Scavi and cross the walking bridge.
The pictures were taken in december (ok, not exactly high season) but the place was really empty in the morning... To stroll around nearly alone is a big plus
Update: If you are a Google Earth user (if not consider, it... it's a real useful toy for travellers) you may find here some
Google earth landmarks on Ostia Antica: click on the file after having installed the google earth software, and you will be macigally walking across the ancient Ostia!
Here's another small village on the outskirts of Rome that I reccomend visiting. it is famous because it's where the Pope spends his summer vacations, but it's worth visitng because of its enchanting little streets and astonishing lake! It's a very relaxing place, ideal for those who want to escape the city rush.
For more info and pics, take a look at my Castel Gandolfo page.
When you're in Rome, and if you go to a 'paninaro' for a quick sandwich, you'll probably meet, sooner or later, one of the most typical 'dishes' of Lazio region: la porchetta. And if you want to go to a place known for making the best one, and eat for hours in a very relaxed environment, then I would suggest making this little trip to this wonderful little town.
More pics at my Ariccia page
Tivoli is a wonderful medieval town with two main attractions: Villa Adriana and Villa d'Este. Villa Adriana is for those who like ruins; Villa d'Este is for those who like fountains and gardens. I love both! So I had a great time there.
Just be sure to go early if you want to visit both of them, because there's so much to see that you will need a lot of time. It's really worth it!
More info and pics at my Tivoli page.
This beautiful little medieval village, with its castle and its lake, it's definetely worth a visit! There are trains departing from Rome to go there, even though I don't know exactly how it works because I always went there by car.
For more info and pics please take a look at my Lago di Bracciano page :-)
Imagine a quiet Italian hilltop village about an hour from Rome that's been taken over by hippies. This town may not be the most visited or well-known excursion out of Rome (such as Ostia Antica, Viterbo, Assisi) but maybe it should be. I found out about this place after havng read in article in NY Times. So when we went to Rome a few months later, I mentioned that I'd like to see the town to the guy we rented our flat from. He was so amazed we even knew about the place he actually drove us up there one night. During the week, it's an enchanting ghost town, where you'll see maybe a cat or the occasional local (likely barefooted in a sarong). On the weekends, the arts and craft shops come alive as Romans head to the hills to buy some funky Calcatan art. The views are really nice, as the town itself is perched on a cliff. All of the village houses have caves underneath of them so it makes for an interesting experience when visiting the local restaurant, butiques. The town square is also interesting....the Church Clock no longer functions...so it's as if time stands still here. Also, there are signs of modern art, placed amongst the oldness of the village (a Jimi Hendrix painting on a building, concrete modern chairs in the square). It's a really nice, relaxed deviation from the noise and vastness of Rome. The history of the place and how the hippies arrived is also very interesting.
Take Metro to Piazzale Flaminio. Outside the square is a train station (Ferrovia Roma Nord) for urban/extra-urban trains. Take train to Saxa Rubra (direction Prima Porta). Tickets can be purchased from the machines or the tabaccaio inside the station. After you get off at Saxa Rubra, you go to bus terminal (COTRAL Pullman), buy ticket in office and go to platform #2 (ask to be sure). Bus goes in direction Civita Castellana (ask to make sure it stops in Calcata).
Leaving Rome on the way to Pisa, just outside of Rome, we visited the abandoned city of Ostia Antica, which used to be considered a part of Rome. It was flooded by the Tiber River and mud covered the city, which was built 2000 years ago. It was about half uncovered when we were there in 2004. The history of the city is intriguing. It is all outdoor, of course and hot there, so dress in cool clothing and comfortable shoes. We saw Fortunato's Wine Cavern, their theatre, their homes, their temple, their kitchen, their public bathroom, and their public swimming/bathing pools, which consited of a cold, warm, and hot pool. The theatre could seat 4000 in their day, but today, it will only seat 15,000 because we have increased that much in size. Their lifespan was only 42-43 years.
The virtual castle tour continues!
The beautiful Castello Odescalchi di Bracciano overlooks Lake Bracciano, a lake with volcanic origins. I guess that explains it's kewl circular shape! The Castle is surrounded by forests, olive groves and gardens.
Another noteworthy Room in this castle is that of the Orsinis. The Hall of Arms with its vast and impressive collection of medieval arms is another must-see. The 3rd Room, too, takes its name from an illustrious guest who stayed here in 1900: King Umberto I.
Clamber up to the top of the (6) towers of the Castle for a magnificent view of the Secret Garden.
La pasta è semplicemente il miglior alimento inventato dall'uomo. Punto. ;-)
Translated into English, the above sentence literally means: Pasta is simply the best food ever invented by man. Period. And that's exactly how I feel. We feasted on delicious pasta, fish... and vino... and took home lots of happy memories with us.
And now, back to the walking virtual tour of the Castle......
Walking from the Eastern Tower base of this medieval castle to the castle entrance, you'd soon reach the Entry Hall - a wide circular staircase - leading to the Study and Library which is also known as the Pope's Hall. Apparently (based on the notes taken from the official brochure), Pope Sixtus IV was a guest here in 1481.