The Italian countryside is replete with incredible landscapes, jaw-dropping beauty and time-honoured traditions – and Castel Gandolfo is no different.
Located in the Castelli Romani region a short 37kms away from Rome, Castel Gandolfo is one of the prettiest medieval, hilltop towns in the peninsula. Overlooking lush greenery and glistening waters of the Lake Albano, no wonder this was the summertime residence of emperors, popes and aristocrats! Here’s a nifty guide on how to explore this beautiful papal village teeming with oodles of history and natural beauty:
Things to See/Do:
Take a Quick Stroll across the Piazza della Liberta
Castel Gandolfo is small but charming with pretty piazzas and narrow, cobbled streets that offer quick glimpses of the volcanic lake and its surrounding rustic landscape. Check out Piazza della Liberta; the main square is dotted with kitschy cafes, souvenir shops and restaurants that come with panoramic balconies boasting picturesque views.
Otherwise, you can also visit San Tommaso di Villanova, a parish church constructed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini under the supervision of Pope Alexander the VII. It contains exquisite stucco artworks and a famed painting of the crucifixion contributed by Pietro da Cortona, which is worth admiring.
Head to the Pontifical Palace
The key highlight of Castel Gandolfo is the Papal Palace, alias the Summer Residence of Pope Urban VIII. It was constructed in the 17th century and served as a cool vacation retreat for the Italian nobility for centuries.
The property belonged to the affluent Barberini family. The interiors speak volumes of Italian aristocracy and finesse even today. Once inside, don’t forget to admire the golden-gilded ceilings, the ornate banquet table that was used for Pope’s dignitary guests and the sweeping views overlooking the lake, gardens and the Mediterranean Sea. They will surely take you back in time. Also, the grand Barberini Gardens need a special mention. Filled with arrays of pine trees, sculpted fountains, parterres and terraces, the garden is spectacular. A guided tour is highly recommended.
A couple of years back, Pope Francis made the Barberini Gardens and the Pontifical Palace open to the public. Tours and tickets are now available on the official Vatican website.
Spend Some Quiet Moments along the Shores of Lake Albano
Instead of spending hours wandering around the town, tread down to the paved lakeside promenade and soak in the tranquil atmosphere. The calm, sapphire-blue waters of the lake add to the beauty. Temporary stalls and restaurants line the steep road. However, if you are into adventurous sports, there are numerous places along the lake that offer kayak, boat and pedalo rentals. Even bicycle rentals are available for exploring the surrounding regions.
Dine at Ristorante Pagnanelli
People flock to Castel Gandolfo for three reasons: fresh air, panoramic views of gorgeous Lake Albano and sumptuous meals prepared with locally-sourced ingredients. Plus, it’s just 40 minutes away from Rome’s Termini Station!
Blessed with insane views and a delicious menu, Pagnanelli is our go-to restaurant in the district. The lunch scene here is DIVINE: an amazing terrace complete with an unbeatable view of the pristine lake. The food served is an eclectic mix of fresh fish and time-honoured meat dishes – accompanied by lots of wine. Their extensive cellar houses some of the finest wines in Italy.
Looking for more in-depth travel guides on Rome? Browse through our blog archives at Vatican Tours. Hope they will help you!
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