When in Rome do as the Romans do. They leave the city on weekends to relax, breath fresh air and eat well. So, one of the best things to do in Rome, after you have done sightseeing and shopping, is follow the locals and go on a day trip to Castelli Romani.
Castelli Romani is a group of thirteen towns scattered on the slopes of the Alban Hills, south-east of the capital. Ancient Romans started the tradition and for centuries the area has been known as a rural retreat for the rich and powerful: emperors, senators, nobles and popes had sumptuous summer villas here. Today Castelli Romani is famous for wine, artichokes, strawberries, peaches, fish and excellent restaurants.
The town of Frascati is one of the prettiest in the area with its numerous elegant Renaissance and Baroque villas. One of the biggest, 16th century Villa Aldobrandini, dominates the town. Its magnificent facade was decorated by Carlo Maderno who also worked on St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The villa itself is private and is not accessible but the beautiful Italian gardens with their grottoes, sculpture and lovely fountains are open to the public. Frascati is famous for its refreshing DOC white wine that was one the emperors’ favorite in ancient Rome.
Castel Gandolfo is a picturesque hilltop town overlooking Lake Albano. The Papal Palace of Castel Gondolfo has been for centuries the pope’s summer residence. It is closed to the public but many curious tourists come to see the palace from outside. It is lovely to wander around the town and admire its pretty squares, old churches, a fountains built by Bernini and spectacular views of the lake below.
Nemi, perched high above Lake Nemi, is another little gem of Castelli Romani. It used to be the fafavoriteummer retreat of the emperor Caligula, who loved sailing on the lake in impressive luxury boats that were sunk after his fall. The boats were salvaged from the lake by Mussolini in 1930s and their hulls can be viewed at the town’s Museo delle Navi Romane. Nemi is also renowned for its delicious wild strawberries said to be Europe’s finest. An annual festival is held in town in June where visitors can gorge on strawberries distributed by locals dressed in traditional costumes.
Photos by: Leonardo Sagnotti, Allan Doyle, Greg Whitescarver.