It’s hot. Is it going to be the swimming pool, sea, lake or countryside? No, Castelli Romani, cool in summer and ideal for a wholesome feast on one of the famous “fraschette”.
Beautiful churches and great monasteries, historic buildings, archaeological remains and beautiful villas, this territory is popularly known as the Castelli romani. In the 14th century, many inhabitants of Rome, to escape the economic difficulties brought on by being captured by the Avignon, took refuge in the Roman feudal family castles of the Savelli, Annibaldi, Orsini and Colonna. Not much remains of the old ancient manors… but it’s all worth exploring!
But this trip is not for everyone. There can’t be any heptakaidekaphobia! Our trip has 17 stops at 17 villages among the Castelli Romani, so if anyone in the group is superstitious about the number 17, they should step aside!
We start our tour from Grottaferrata. The symbol par excellence of this village is the very ancient Abbey of San Nilo, founded in 1004. Today, thanks to the careful conservation of the structures and a restoration workshop dedicated to the ancient volumes, the Abbey of San Nilo is one of the most visited monuments in the province of Rome. Also worth seeing is the Abbey of Santa Maria, originally built in medieval style, but restored with Baroque features, probably due to the work carried out by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. For nightlife lovers, Grottaferrata is full of venues that stay open even late into the night. For shopping fans, Corso del Popolo is ideal.
Frascati, with the nearby Monte Tuscolo, has great opportunities for sports and outdoor activities. But what makes this place really fascinating are the 12 splendid Tuscolan Villas that characterize its surroundings. They were built by papal nobility in the 16th century, becoming the symbol of the Roman aristocracy of that time. These include Villa Aldobrandini, with the baroque and Mannerist frescoes on its walls, and Villa Falconieri with its Italian gardens and the small lake built in the 18th century.
It is the highest of the Castelli Romani towns. How can you resist visiting it? We are at Rocca Priora, where you can admire the evocative Sanctuary of the Madonna della Neve. A festival is dedicated to her between July and August. Rocca Priora is also the best starting point for visiting the park, Parco dei Castelli Romani, a protected area with native species such as badgers, peregrine falcons and wolves. The perfect place for those traveling with children and nature lovers who want a few hours in the wilderness.
Annibaldi Fortress or, in local dialect, a’ Fortezza, the Geophysical Museum on the premises of the ancient Geodynamic Observatory, the splendid tufa fountains, the path with murals and artistic sculptures, the Via Sacra, an ancient Roman route that led to the summit of Mount Cavo, site of the Temple of Jupiter Laziale which overlooks the Lake of Nemi and Albano from the “Occhiolone”, a strategic lookout, and the beautiful valley of the Vivaro meadows, are all part of Rocca di Papa.
Velletri provides the opportunity to visit numerous palaces and military architectures. Velletri has been inhabited since ancient times. In fact, many of the artefacts found there can be admired today at the Archaeological Civic Museum and the Diocesan Museum. One of the symbols of Velletri is the Torre del Trivio, the bell tower of the Church of Santa Maria del Trivio, built in the Baroque style at the turn of the 18th century.
Lariano is a very picturesque village. Its historic centre perches on the slopes of Mount Artemisio, in the Alban Hills. From the Roman period there are visible remains of the tower, Maschio del Lariano, of the ancient fortress dating back to 328 BC which stood in an excellent strategic position for surveillance of the surrounding area. Worth seeing are the Church of Santa Maria Intemerata and the Madonna del Buonconsiglio.
Let’s steep ourselves in the civil and religious monuments of Marino, admire the Nymphaeum, the Cathedral of San Barnaba, the historical fountain, Fontana dei Mori, from which, as the old song says, “wine flows” during the festival dedicated to it. The historic centre of Marino is full of stores and shops selling local products such as must doughnuts and quality artisan products. Don’t miss a visit to the Umberto Mastroianni Civic Museum, located inside the former Church of Santa Lucia. In the village of Marino, you can also visit the underground grottos of Palazzo Colonna, one of the most representative historic buildings in the city.
We then arrive at Ariccia, climb over the very highly arched bridge that dominates the valley and follow the architecture of the ancient Roman aqueducts, silently admiring the view. Undoubtedly, one of the most famous monuments in Ariccia is Palazzo Chigi, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century. This splendid palace, which today houses the Roman Baroque Collection and numerous art exhibitions, was the location of the interiors of the film, The Leopard, directed by Luchino Visconti. Absolutely not to be missed is the Sanctuary of Maria Santissima di Galloro, built in the 17th century by Bernini. But what no visitor will forget is the “Downhill Ascent”, a natural trompe-l’oeil, a very simple optical illusion, but fascinating!
Characterized by medieval elements, such as the Underwater Tower, but also Roman elements, such as the remains of the villa attributed to Marco Valerio Messalla Corvino, Ciampino it is a pleasant destination not only for those passing through to the airport! Its architecture is balanced with both religious and civil buildings: among these is the fountain on Via IV Novembre, called The Flight of the Caryatid, while in Piazza della Pace you can admire the War Memorial. For sacred places, instead, there are the Church of the Sacro Cuore di Gesù, the Church of San Giovanni Battista, and not to forget the Church of the Beata Vergine Maria del Rosario. Also not to be missed is the villa of Tor Messer Paoli which, according to the findings of numerous excavations, was built in the years following the birth of Christ.
Albano Laziale can be defined as the “cradle of Christianity”, where sermons were given by Peter and Paul, the apostles and main architects of the spread of Christian worship outside Palestine. The city has three museums, along with several beautiful churches, an Amphitheatre, the gate Porta Pretoria, the gigantic cisterns, Cisternoni, which were the city’s water reserve, the baths, Terme di Caracalla, the Imperial Villa, the Orazi and Curiazi tombs, and catacombs of San Senatore, with many wall paintings. The city streets are lined with lively clubs and pubs open until late at night.
Castel Gandolfo, besides being the Pope’s summer residence and, currently, the residence of the Pope Emeritus, is also officially one of The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. In the historic centre you can admire Piazza della Libertà with the splendid Bernini fountain and Church of San Tommaso.
Known for grapes – Uva Italia -, kiwi and peaches, but also for the wine “Monte Compatri-Colonna DOP” and for pincinelle, a long pasta made only with water and flour, Colonna is the smallest of the Castelli Romani towns. Worth visiting is the Church of San Nicola di Bari and the Station Museum, with numerous Lazio railway vehicles in concession, memorabilia and photographic exhibitions.
From the end of the 18th century, on the Sunday of Corpus Christi, the infiorata, a floral display, takes place. We are in Genzano which is also the town of rustic homemade bread! Only a memory remains here of the medieval village in the part housing the Church of Santa Maria della Cima and the tower of the ancient fortress in the Palazzo Sforza-Cesarini, built in the 17th century. The true centre of Genzano today is Piazza Frasconi, where you can admire the beautiful fountain adorned with grapevines and leaves, celebrating the town’s winemaking tradition and recalling the rule of the Colonna family.
Lanuvio, halfway between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the heights of the Lazio Volcano, surrounded by lush vineyards, has a rich archaeological heritage, consisting mainly of the remains of the Sanctuary of Giunone Sospita. The town’s history is well told by its Widespread Civic Museum. Lanuvio offers tourists a full programme of popular and religious festivals, including the noteworthy Music Festival in June. In the historic centre, we find Palazzo Colonna, built at the end of the 15th century and transformed into a private residence in the last century, and the fountain, Fontana degli Scogli, built by Carlo Fontana at the end of the 17th century and clearly inspired by the Fountain of the Rivers in Piazza Navona in Rome. Another point of pride in this town is the Colli Lanuvini DOP wine, already used in Roman times for rituals in honour of Dionysus.
Mount Compatri can be explored on a walk that goes from Mount Salomone, an interesting route both from a nature and geological point of view, to the Collina degli Asinelli, where there are many activities for adults and children, passing through the panoramic path that leads from Rocca Priora to Frascati going through Tuscolo.
Mount Porzio Catone rises on the northern slopes of Tuscolo. From a distance the town can be recognized by the massive shape of its Cathedral. Walking through the streets of the historic centre, you come to the City Museum and the Wine Museum. From various points of the village you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views of Rome and the surrounding chestnut woods. Don’t miss a visit to the Observatory.
With a Touring Club orange flag, Nemi has an ancient charm with its tower and houses reflected in the azure waters of the lake, surrounded by reeds and strawberry greenhouses. It has captivated poets and painters for years, as it now fascinates the many tourists who constantly visit. Today Nemi is known for its tasty strawberries, which every year in June are celebrated with the homonymous festival, and for the numerous food and wine events.