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Castles in name only

18
January
2013
 

Visitors to Rome have a treasure trove of activities to fill their time whether they are lovers of history, art, fashion or food. There comes a time however when you may want to emulate the Romans themselves and take a day trip to Castelli Romani. By doing so you will not only be following the example of contemporary Romans but of Popes from centuries past and, before  them, the Emperors and distinguished citizens of Imperial Rome.

 While the literal translation is “Castles of Rome” the term actually applies to a series of hill towns to the Southeast of Rome and stretching to the Alban hills. There are over 15 of these towns built around two lakes formed by a volcanic eruption. The fact that the towns needed to be within reasonable travel distance of ancient Rome means that in today’s modern world you can see the highlights of the area in a day. You can book a group tour or do it yourself either by train or rental car but our recommendation is to visit the area with your own guide and driver. You will learn more about the area, see more and have the ability to sample some of the local wine.

In traveling to the area you will also be traveling on part of the famed Appian Way. As a matter of fact one of the first towns you come to is Marino and it was one the first to be developed as the Appian Way made access easier. Since the towns are four to five hundred feet higher than Rome they offer cooler temperatures and, around the lakes, cool breezes and spectacular views.

The first lake you come to is Lake Albano which is also the larger of the two. This is the location of Castel Gandolfo, the summer palace of the Pope and though it is not open to the public, the town around it is interesting and worth a visit. On the other side of the lake is Rocca di Papa with its winding old streets, charming churches and views of the Pope’s Palace on the other side of the lake. In addition to being one the most beautiful of the hill towns it is also known for its roast chestnuts.

Your next visit should be to Nemi which overlooks its namesake lake. Nemi is the fruit capital of the area and its strawberries are considered to be the best in Europe. Try some strawberries with Cannelino a dessert wine derived from Frascati. In addition to food, Lake Nemi was known for two large boats built by Caligula which sailed on the lake complete with marble and other amenities. They sank under the reign of Claudius, his successor, but were rediscovered when Mussolini drained the lake only to be destroyed by the Germans as they fled Rome in 1944.

Nearby is the town of Aricchia, renowned for Porchetta, slowly roasted Pork. You should certainly make time for a visit to the attractive town of Frascati with its many villas including Villa Aldobrandini and offering many places to sample its eponymous wine. While not world class by any means, the wine, imbibed in the town of its creation and paired with cuisine of the region, makes an excuse to linger, a memory to stay with you and a reason to be grateful for the driver waiting to take you back to Rome