Recommended daytrip from Rome: Albano & Castel Gandolfo
Places like Castel Gandolfo or Albano Laziale, immediately south-east of Rome, are the perfect destination for a day trip when you visit the capital of Italy, and yet they are virtually unknown by the large majority of tourists.
What’s more, the whole Lake Albano area doesn’t get much love, and unfairly so – past the busy consular roads and malls, some of central Italy’s most beautiful areas are just around the corner – sometimes literally.
Up to 50 years ago the whole area was considered only interesting if you were a wine lover (the volcanic soil in this part of the region had a particularly good impact on its vineyards: some of them are open to visitors throughout the year) and if you were after a traditional fraschetta place (a very down to earth kind of tavern with cheap prices and only a few dishes available).
The lake and its surrounding towns were so out of the way from Rome that they had been long chosen as the location for the Pope’s summer residence. Roman countryside at its finest. But that was then.
Everything has changed now. The lake (and its smaller “brother”, Lake Nemi) has long been incorporated into the Roman suburban area thanks to its cheaper costs: it provides an alternative to those commuting to Rome but still wanting to retreat to a smaller place after work. The result is lots of traffic, which can put off most visitors.
However, if you look past the amount of cars and more modern buildings, you will be able to find one of Rome’s best kept secrets, with great food, a fascinating history going back millennia, art and dreamy landscapes.
Albano Laziale: vanquished by the Romans
Remember the story of Romulus and Remo? They hailed from Albano Laziale (familiarly shortened as simply Albano), which was at the time known as Alba Longa. So was the gens Julia, the family Julius Caesar belonged to. Alba Longa was conquered by the Romans themselves in the 7th century BC, one of the first “foreign” civilizations to be obliterated by its neighbors.
Therefore, the presence of all things Rome there is heavy.
Albano boasts a fantastic archeological museum as well as Roman remains embedded in its urban fabric. Among them the Cisternone, what remains of a massive cistern which collected waters from different aqueducts; the Baths of Caracalla (not to be confused with their Roman namesake: these are locally known as “Baths of Cellomaio“), the house of Pompey, the remains of a villa belonging to the famous politician; the amphitheater, a place of martyrdom for many christians; the Catacombs of San Senatore.
Castel Gandolfo: loved by the popes
Close to Albano, Castel Gandolfo is an unassuming small town perched on Lake Albano itself, with much part of its buildings completely overhauled after massive bombings during WWII. It owes its reputation to the majestic Apostolic Palace, a onetime property of the noble Savelli family, who were unable to repay a debt to the Vatican and therefore sold it to the Pope of their time. Starting in 1596, the mansion has gone on to be known as one of the Papal summer residences. Another famous one is the Quirinale palace in Rome, now the seat of the President.
Part of the palace can be visited as a museum (a portion of it is still used to this day, and it’s here that Pope Benedict XVI retreated after stepping down as the head of the Catholic Church in 2013). The decision by the former Pope is a testament to Castel Gandolfo’s peaceful atmosphere, which is one of the main reasons to stay here: relaxing!
This small town is also known for the beautiful Church of St. Thomas of Villanova, designed by none other than Bernini.
It doesn’t end there…
If you do decide to visit the “Alban Hills”, as the general area is called, don’t overlook the surrounding towns:
- Nemi, world-famous for its Strawberry festival (yes, a festival just for the red fruit!) is on a smaller lake, Lake Nemi, which was emperor Caligula’s water playground – the remains of his personal ships can be seen at Nemi’s Naval Museum.
- Rocca di Papa, a center for wine production, hosts yearly the Roast Chestnut Festival and is the home to a popular astronomic observatory in the area called Vivaro.
- Ariccia is the world capital of “porchetta“, a heavenly treat for all meat-lovers: a spit-roasted whole pig that’s been deboned and slow-cooked with various spices.
- Marino is the unofficial capital of the wine country around these parts, while…
- Genzano’s bread is a delicacy sought in the whole of the region.
How to reach the Lake Albano area and Castel Gandolfo
The most convenient, cheap way is by train, with departures from Roma Termini. The train line is marked FL4 and will make a stop at both Albano Laziale and Castel Gandolfo.
Be aware that this is a train line that mainly moves commuters in and out of Rome, so it’s not recommended to use it at peak times, when it works as a subway would do and (incidentally) there is no chance of finding seats.
If you’d like to explore the localities not served by a train, you can also consider renting a car, even though the traffic around the ring road in Rome can be an issue.
As an alternative, our trusted partners at Gianni Conti Car Service can help you with a private transfer: decide the stops, decide the times and leave it all to the locals – you can email us for the firm’s best quote, mentioning in which From Home to Rome’s managed apartment you’re staying and the desired dates for your day trip!