Relax in Lazio
If you feel like escaping the pace and noise of city life, Rome’s surrounding district of Lazio has plenty of beauty and serenity on offer in its Castelli Romani. The Castelli are small towns on volcanic sites which originated as feudal estates for wealthy Italian families, and boast exceptional scenic countryside. Visitors to these towns today can enjoy extraordinary views of Lazio’s vineyards, olive groves and crystalline lakes.
Castel Gandolfo, a hillside settlement of around 9,000 people just 16 miles southeast of Rome, is arguably the most picturesque of all the Castelli Romani. Its fame derives not only from its beauty but also from the summer palace residence which popes have kept here for centuries. The early Baroque papal palace was built by Carlo Maderno in the 17th century and was declared an inalienable dominion of the Holy See in 1608 - they clearly did not want to give up their summer home.
The Apostolic Palace sits on an dramatic volcanic ridge overlooking Lake Albano, with sprawling gardens leading down to the lake. It is closed to the public, although Pope Francis has recently opened the gardens for guided tours, which must be booked in advance. This idyllic place is much more pleasant in the hot Italian summer months than the stifling Vatican City, and Popes are typically here from July to September - Pope Francis, however, does not seem keen on the retreat and is yet to spend a night here.
From the small piazza in front of the palace you can catch a glimpse of the glistening lake and the bountiful mountain gardens behind. The best views are probably from the Lake Albano road, which leads down to a public beach where you can take a dip in the fresh water, windsurf or rent a sailboat. Buses go every hour from the town to the beach; interestingly, the papal residence has its own petrol station, which is much cheaper than others in Italy as the Vatican is not taxed.
There is also delicious and simple local cuisine on offer. Antico Ristorante Agnanelli has a fantastic view of Lake Albano, and even serves fish straight from the lake; there is also a food market every Friday. Castel Gandolfo is a great way to escape the chaos of the city.