“A day at the Castelli Romani” aims at offering a relaxing full day excursion away from the hustle and bustle of the eternal city.
Actually the vaste land around Rome has always been held in high regard over the centuries by enlightened Emperors.
This lush countryside was furrowed by deep valleys, run by fertile soil, natural harbors, navigable maritime waterways and an amazing network of roads meant for global communication purposes.
Originally colonized by the Latins, then the Romans, the name derives from the Medieval Age when the descendants of the major noble families had big Villas erected -called Castelli– in the Colli Albani area, as a stronghold of their landed properties.
The distinguished members of the Savelli, Orsini, Annibaldi, Chigi, and Colonna could boast country estates as imposing as the ones in Rome, able to provide a safe ground control for the agricultural activities held in the family’s holdings.
Despite the troubled events succeeded over the centuries, the Castelli Romani were never abandoned and the natives slowly developed a sense of community that originated a vibrant peasant culture with their traditional costumes, rituals, music, gastronomy, and wines.
Such a rich legacy was officially recognized in 1984 by the local Administration, which established the Regional Park of the Castelli Romani, covering an area of 37.000 acres and encompassing 15 communes.
Our professional guide meets you in the morning at the hotel based in Rome and accompanies you on “A day at the Castelli Romani” tour by private car, through charming towns and spectacular landscapes, wineries and typical bistros for homemade delis.
Your first destination is Frascati, located at an altitude of 1100 feet, run first by the Colonna and then by the Farnese family as a gift donated by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century for the services provided to the ecclesiastical power.
About 30 years later Frascati returned to the Apostolic authority.
This political and social dualism profoundly marked the urban development, characterized by the construction of twelve imposing villas in the surroundings, owned by high-ranking members both of the Roman nobility and the Papal Court as a symbol of social status.
One of the most outstanding examples is Villa Aldobrandini, where you will enjoy a stunning view with your guide from the hilltop gardens.
There, four hundred years ago, the Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini used to treat himself with a pleasant walk in the orchard and admire the stunning scenery of the whole town and the suburban area.
Frascati is also known for its dry and sweet wines produced over time since the Roman Age.
In 2011 the Frascati Superiore was raised to the highest status of Cannellino di Frascati Docg, a white sweet wine made from a blend of six different grapes, enchanting to the nose, aromatic and rich in acidity to the palate.
Best served with aged cheeses, soft tarts, pastry biscuits, and mini cupcakes.
Your “A day at the Castelli Romani” continues
east bound on the way to Lake Nemi in the Colli Albani area.
With the help of your guide you learn about the geological peculiarity of this small commune, standing on the highest rim of a crater, 1700 feet above sea level.
In fact the Colli Albani district results from the activity of a massive volcanic apparatus back in the prehistoric age, followed by massive floods that filled inactive volcano, like in the case of Nemi.
On its shore a huge Temple of Diana was built in the pre-roman age, widely attended in subsequent times, at the point that Emperor Caligola commissioned two big celebrative vessels, used for entertainment purposes, including a theatre and luxury interiors…… don’t forget to ask your guide for more fascinating details concerning this subject during your lakeside walk, a good chance to enjoy such a unique scenery.
After your relaxing promenade, it is worth tasting a strawberry deli in one of the many pastry shops in town.
Sweet wild strawberries have been a source of pride for the natives since the early days, but it became a major attraction when the first Sagra delle Fragole –Strawberry Festival– was arranged in 1922.
If you happen to be there in early June you will see the parade of the “Fragolare” –fruit pickers– wearing the traditional costume and displaying all different sorts of lovely strawberry based specialties, like the liquor, a fizzy soft drink, and the amazing array of confectionary products flavored with this red, tiny and irresistible fruit of nature.
Then it will be time to move onwards to a winery near Genzano di Roma, on the other side of the lake, and taste a selection of the most renowned Colli Albani wines, that encompass seven Doc areas and testify the wealth of the local oenological heritage.
Genzano is famous worldwide for the Infiorata, held during the weekend of Corpus Domini feast in mid-June. The long street leading to the Cathedral is carpeted with millions of flower petals, set in different patterns according to the inspiration of local designers. It takes almost one year and the help of most of the population to organize the festival which lasts just a few days.
Your guide of Rome will be pleased to give you a tailored advice about a Trattoria for lunch at Castel Gandolfo, 15 minutes drive from Genzano.
You may opt for a for family run tavern too, known as fraschette which derives from the leafy branches used as a protection against the hot sun for customers seated at the outdoor tables.
In both cases, don’t expect a menu with international dishes, but trust your guide and the waiter for the list of specials.
Castel Gandolfo is close to Ariccia, celebrated for the baked porchetta, a round spicy spit-roasted pork, best enjoyed in a sandwich accompanied by a glass of Frascati red wine.
Artisanal bread at the Castelli Romani is no ordinary food, the one produced in Genzano di Roma was agreed the IGP brand from the European Community in 1997.
According to the official guidelines, it comes in four pound loaves, with a thick crust covering a light alveolate crumb that smells of the freshly baked bread, warm, soft and ideal for the bruschetta seasoned with fresh tomato or premium mushrooms.
Actually the porcini ones grow wild in the surrounding woods of Lariano, one of the Castelli’s communes, especially in late Summer- early Fall when this product of the undergrowth is at its peak.
Porcini also flavor the handmade cellitti pasta, a traditional first course, drizzled with Pecorino Romano Dop, a specialty hard to be missed.
For the sweet tooth lovers, it would be a shame not to quote the curious Pupazza di Frascati, a shortbread cookie in the shape of a female dancer, wearing a short skirt on crossed legs, hands on hips, and a naked chest that proudly displays three breasts….. normally this pastry doll is eight feet tall, and used to be made by confectioners at Christmas time, as a symbol of abundance and fertility. For this reason it brings good luck, all year round!
Like Nemi, Castel Gandolfo is situated at the summit of an ancient crater which was flooded millions of years ago, forming the Albano Lake.
The historic residential hamlet is regarded as one of the most delightful villages in Italy, and has garnered its reputation for the Apostolic Palace built in the 17th century by the architect Carlo Maderno as a summer resort and vacation retreat of the Pope Urban VIII.
Despite the location within the town boundaries, the building benefits from extra-territorial status as a property of the Vatican, exempted from the jurisdiction of the Italian State.
Still in use, part of the interior is open to the public as a museum that you visit in company of your guide.
You will walk through impressive halls, commemorative rooms dedicated to members of the Papal Courts over the centuries, memories of great events which marked the history of the past and the present.
Your private “A day at the Castelli Romani” excursion will be over as your car takes you back to your accommodation in Rome.
Find more inspiring full day tours in Tuscany or in the Veneto region at www.walksinsidevenice.com