Tivoli is a place that has been unfairly overlooked by tourists. Most people, including myself, don’t plan a visit there on their first trip to Rome – big mistake! When I first went to Rome fifteen years ago, I was obsessed with history and followed the beaten track along the city’s innumerable sights. I bought a photo book to use as a guide during my vacation – a habit that has stayed with me since then. In that book, I first saw photos of Tivoli, but back then I didn’t have the time to visit the town. I used my second chance during my holiday a few weeks ago, and I can say it was quite astonishing. You can find more information on the city itself in my other article here.
Rome: the suburbs
There is a lot to see in the city itself, true. But there is a lot to see around the city as well. The easiest way to do it is to hire a car for a day. My plane landed early in the morning and 10 hours were more than enough to explore several towns around, for a total of less than a 100-kilometer drive.
Just about 30 kilometers to the south of Rome are the four volcanic lakes: Bracciano, Martignano, Albano and Di Nemi. We visited the last two, for they hide some attractions besides the beautiful nature. Castel Gandolfo – the summer residence of the Pope – is situated by the Albano Lake. This huge property of the Vatican is situated in a small town with a central square on which the cafés are lined up in a typical Mediterranean style. If you have the time and the energy, you can also enter the museum. The ticket for the Vatican Museums gives you the chance to enter Castel Gandolfo for free, given that you make the tour on the same date (which is practically impossible, or rather extremely tiring). In any case, walking around the town and along the lakes is much more pleasant than spending the time in yet another museum. So, enjoy the views and breathe deeply – you will miss the fresh air when you get back to Rome.
From the Albano Lake, we set for the town of Nemi. The road passed through the forests of Diana – the Roman goddess of hunting. The town is pretty small – a decent parking lot and one main street overlooking Lake Di Nemi. The place provides a peaceful getaway and a traditional Italian atmosphere. There are three stops you have to make on the way down the street: the wild boar meat delicacies shop, the pastry shop, and the souvenir shop. You can taste a wide variety of home-made products in these places. Also, a huge part of the shops is carved into the rock, which the town is built on. It is an extraordinary experience to have your coffee with strawberry jam in the tunnels deep into the rock or to buy your jewelry literally underground. Prepare to be welcomed and hugged and kissed by the 92-year-old owner of the pastry shop, a real Italian gentleman, who is an attraction on his own! Once you are done, you can proceed to the final destination.
The whole region around the city of Tivoli has an amazing history dating back to the time before Romulus and Remus founded Rome. Our guide was telling us stories about the different tribes populating the adjacent areas – stories I don’t have the space nor the time to relate to you here, but if you ever decide to tour the region, do some reading in advance.
The town nowadays attracts tourists for one main reason – Villa D’este. To be more specific, the garden of Villa D’este. To get there, you go through the city center – you will know it by the large medieval fortress, which is, unfortunately, closed to the public. Navigating through the narrow streets from there on, you will eventually arrive at a small square with a neglectful entrance and a sign with the name on it. At first sight, you wonder why you have to pay a fee of 8 Euro, but once you enter the garden, you will realize the ticket is actually cheap for what it has to offer.
Built by one of the richest cardinals of the Renaissance, the villa is known for its water cascades, fountains, grottos, and terraces. The apartments house a vast collection of artwork, but the true pleasure is walking along the garden alleys. Dozens of photo spots all over the place, panoramic views toward the plain, echoing caves ensuring secrecy of meetings, century-old trees and cooling walks under the sparkling fountains are what create D’este’s specific atmosphere. Halfway through I’ve already felt like a part of the nobility.
For the fans of the Antiquity, Tivoli provides a vast archaeological complex, which is the home of Hadrian’s Villa, dating back to the 2nd century. Building luxurious residences in the area seems to be a millenary tradition. Although some of the sculptures were moved to popular museums, such as the Louvre, history-lovers will be thrilled by the scale and the level of sophistication of the complex. Separate entrance fee, but needless to say – it’s worth the price.
In case you are still wondering whether to pay a visit, have a look at my photos below and make a decision – one you will not regret later on!