Ask any Roman, and they’ll all tell you the same: the best day-trip destination within an hour’s drive beyond Italy’s bustling capital, is the Castelli.
The Castelli Romani–which is Italian for, “Roman Castles”–is a group of communes in the province of Rome, located at short distance from the Eternal City, at the foot of the Alban Hills.
These lush rolling hills became known as the Roman ‘castles,’ after Popes and royalty began building fortresses and summer escape villas in the hamlet towns along the shores of the two volcanic lakes of Nemi and Albano.
Exquisite castle examples are the Savelli Citadel in Rocca Priora, the Baronal Sforza Cesarini Palace in Genzano, or the stunning Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati, to mention a few.
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Here you’ll find the town of Ariccia, with its Bernini-designed Palazzo Chigi, is a perfect day-trip destination for Rome. It offers wonderful sightseeing opportunities, and the chance to eat the best roast pork you ever had in your life. Here’s your detailed itinerary.
- Take the subway Metro A to Anagnina and exit the subway station. Outside on the parking lot is where the CoTral bus terminal.
- Tickets to Ariccia cost €2,50 each way and are good for any bus time. They can be purchased at a ticket window, from any ticket machine, and even from the newspaper stands or tobacconists around town or within the Metro station. I suggest you get them for both directions, since you never know if vendors in Ariccia may be closed when you decide to leave. You don’t want to be riding the bus without a ticket.
- There’s a bus every 30-40 minutes or so, I suggest you plan to take the 11:00 am one. This will leave you enough leisure time before lunch. The 40-minute journey to Ariccia is a pretty one. Get off at Largo Savelli, just after crossing the monumental Ariccia bridge, and across from the beautiful Palazzo Chigi, designed by Bernini.
- Take the time to visit the Palazzo Chigi, which houses a large collection of paintings, sculptures and Baroque exhibitions. Climb up to the Piano Nobile on the second floor, and visit the private rooms of the Cardinal Flavio Chigi on the main floor on your way out. The Piano Nobile is open every day, except Monday, and can be visited with guided tours. The private apartments of Cardinal Flavio Chigi are open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm, and from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm. In winter, the afternoon visit is shifted back 1 hour, from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm. The ticket costs €7,00 per each visit.
- Take a stroll around town. Ariccia became one of the most important Roman communities because of its geographical position between the two volcanic lakes, Albano and Nemi. The people of Ariccia were devout worshippers of the goddess Diana, her temple–located in the “Nemus Aricinum,” atop the modern town of Nemi–was one of the main sanctuaries in the Latin territory dedicated to the goddess. During the Middle Ages, Ariccia was sacked and pillaged by barbarians during the Roman campaign. In 1473 the town passed into the hands of the Savelli Family, which started a massive reconstruction, and began work on the noble palace. Acquired in the 17th Century from the Chigi Family, Ariccia and the palazzo were completely re-designed by the architectural genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He collaborated with many artists, among which Carlo Fontana. In the beginning of the 1700s, Ariccia became a haven for important artists and writers of the time. Creativity flourished between the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, during which time amazing artists, architects, writers and poets worked in Ariccia during the Grand Tour era.
- You may have worked up quite an appetite by now. So just take the sloping alley that runs just to the right of the Palazzo Chigi, and that winds down below the city walls. Here on the road, you’ll encounter a line of small, informal deli-type osterie called Fraschette, that sell the town’s hallmark food specialty, a whole roasted pork delicacy known as Ariccia Porchetta.
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This is a Lazio institution. Fraschette are informal osteria-type dining establishments whose name is linked to the ancient habit of nailing a fresh vine twig on the cellar’s main entrance, to advertise the new vintage.
Frasca–and its diminutive, fraschetta–means slender twig. Historically, this is the place where for centuries patrons have been enjoying a crusty bread sandwich carved from a generous loaf, a “mezzo litro” of unpretentious Frascati wine sold on tap, and a sweeping view of the Alban Hills’ countryside from their al fresco position.
No tablecloths. No reservations. You may even be assigned at a table along with strangers, if the seating is bench-like.
- Have the fraschetta salesperson behind the counter slice off some fresh roasted pork, while you pick out some pecorino cheese as well. Be sure to get some bread, rolls would be better. I’ll tell you why in a moment. Don’t forget to purchase some sun dried tomatoes, tiny button mushrooms and artichoke hearts with plenty of extra oil. This should cost you no more than €10,00 per person. Be sure to pick up knives and napkins on your way out. Lots of napkins.
- Sit at the establishment’s outdoor tables and order some wine. It’s the house white, usually amber-colored and sweet. This should be about €2,00 euro per person.
- Make yourself a porchetta sandwich. Use the oil from the tomatoes and artichokes as a condiment for the bread. Wash it down with homemade wine. Eat slowly, breathe in the clean country air, and as yuor gaze spans the valley below, count your blessings.
- You can even take a post-lunch digestive espresso during a leisurely stroll and still make the 2:50 pm bus back to Rome with no hassle.
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- *photos courtesy of wikipedia and flickr