Five Reasons to Love Spring in Rome

There’s nothing quite like spring in Rome. And coming from someone in love with this city no matter the season, that should mean something.

In Rome, spring brings that sliver of time (seriously, just a handful of weeks) when it’s no longer cold and rainy… but not yet boiling hot. You have to duck tour groups around the Colosseum and Vatican, but it’s not quite the human bumper-car game it becomes by June. And as people take to terraces and piazzas—whether kids kicking a soccer ball or friends meeting for a glass of wine—the atmosphere gets cheerier (and the people-watching better!).

Rome in spring
In the springtime, you don’t even have to go to a park to find flowers in Rome!

Here are 5 reasons I love the spring in Rome, in pictures.

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My Favorite Agriturismo in Italy: An Ode, in Photos

The best Umbria agriturismo, Fontanaro

When I need a break from Rome’s hustle and bustle, I head to the countryside. And when I’m there, I always stay at an agriturismo, or “farm-stay”—or Italy’s best-kept accommodation secret.

Over the course of my travels in Italy, I’ve probably stayed in more than 50 different agriturismi. Not once have I been disappointed. Each one has had its own character, but they’ve all been comfortable, in beautiful settings, and a better value than any hotel. And no, you don’t have to milk a cow or collect eggs to stay at one.

When I’m asked about my favorite agriturismo in Italy, though, there’s always one that comes to mind: Fontanaro.

Fontanaro and its sister property, Tartagli, are located on the border of Umbria and Tuscany, a 2-hour drive from Rome (or a 1.5-hour drive from Florence). They’re a stone’s throw away from the tiny, medieval village of Paciano.

Village of Paciano near Fontanaro

Made up of rolling hills and vineyards, the Fontanaro properties produce a huge variety of Tuscan-Umbrian staples, from olive oil to honey. Better yet, everything is grown organically. And the estate, run by mother-daughter team Lucia and Alina Pinelli, uses sustainable energy whenever possible; the farm was one of the first in Umbria, in fact, to use solar panels.

Fontanaro agriturismo on border of Umbria and Tuscany

Tuscan agriturismo in Italy

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The Most Romantic Places in Rome

The most romantic places in Rome

Looking for romance in Rome—whether you’re traveling here for Valentine’s Day, a honeymoon, or maybe even (!) to propose? You’re in luck.

No, I can’t promise you’ll meet the dark-eyed love of your life here. But if you’re already traveling with your sweetheart, you’re golden: Rome has to be one of the most romantic cities around.

Of course, lots of people tend to think that the most romantic spots are also the most famous (the Trevi Fountain, say, or the Spanish Steps). Call me jaded, but I think the 24/7 crowds and pushy rose-sellers kind of suck the romance out of them.

The most romantic places to propose or honeymoon in Rome

Want to find a spot that’s a little more tranquil… where you can actually grab a moment to yourself? Here are a few of my favorite, off-the-beaten-path romantic places in Rome. 

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The Best Lakes Near Rome

Lago di Bracciano, one of the loveliest lakes near Rome

Lago Bracciano, one of the loveliest lakes near Rome

When it comes to day trips from Rome, the area's lakes provide some of the best places for peace, quiet, and gorgeous scenery. 

Yes, most visitors to Rome head to the seaside when they're craving some water. But especially this time of year, when the beaches are getting downright chilly, the lakes can be a better option. That's particularly true as the trees start to change color. As any autumn-lover knows, the only thing more beautiful than a brightly-colored forest is a brightly-colored forest… that's reflected in a lake's still water.

In the summer, too, the lakes make a great escape from the city—and one that's less crowded, as most Italians tend to head to the seaside instead. (That said? If you're going on a summer weekend, consider taking the train instead of driving. Parking at the lakes' most popular stops is limited, and the traffic going into, and out of, Rome can add an hour or more to your commute).

Year-round, here are my three favorite lakes near Rome!

Lake Bracciano

Lago di bracciano

Lake Bracciano in autumn

The second-largest lake in Lazio, Bracciano's also one of the area's cleanest: It's a water reservoir for Rome, so no motorboats are allowed, while runoff from the lake's towns is strictly controlled. That means that you can both swim in, and eat seafood from, the lake without having to worry about nasty bacteria or chemicals. (Sadly, this isn't the norm for many of Italy's lakes; Lake Lugano, Como, and Garda are all polluted to the degree that swimming isn't recommended).

Partly thanks to the motorboat ban, watersports like windsurfing and sailing are especially popular. And several of the lake's towns are well worth exploring; Bracciano, the (unsurprisingly) most famous, is especially adorable, with medieval, cobblestoned streets and a gorgeous view of the lake.

Oh, and a castle.

Lake Bracciano

Odescalchi Castle, at Lake Bracciano

If the castle sounds, or looks, familiar, by the way, it might just be because this is where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were first linked, legally if not eternally, as TomKat. Although, honestly, I really hope that's not why you recognize it.

Getting there: By car, Bracciano is about a 45-minute drive (without traffice) north of Rome. By train, you can leave from the Roma-Ostiense station (a 5-minute walk from the Piramide stop on metro line B); the train takes about an hour to Bracciano and costs about 3 euros.

Lake Martignano

Lake Martignano, near Bracciano

Lago di Martignano

Nestled next to Lake Bracciano, Martignano looks like a runt on the map. But what comes with the tiny size is complete tranquility. Partly because it's tougher to get to: Even though it's right next to Lake Bracciano, there's no train station here, so you need a car.

If you can make the trip, though, it's worth it. Just make sure you head to Agriturismo il Castoro, where, for a small fee, you can enjoy use of the grass beach and (here's the real seller) the hammocks. On especially nice days, get there before noon so you can stake one out!

The "green beach" at Lake Martignano

The "green beach" at Lake Martignano

Another plus: The agriturismo has a cheap-and-simple restaurant (think grilled meats, vegetables, and beer), and you can eat overlooking the lake. Don't want to leave? You can camp overnight.

Getting there: Your only option is by car; it's about a 45-minute drive from Rome (depending on traffic). Agriturismo il Castoro is located at Via di Polline, 343, Anguillara Sabazia.

Lake Albano 

Lake Albano

Water sports abound on Lake Albano

In the opposite direction of Rome from Bracciano and Martignano, Lake Albano is located in the Castelli Romani. Motorboats aren't allowed here, either, making the lake especially amenable to windsurfing and sailing—and to renting a pedalo, one of those funny little boats that you can pedal around the lake in yourself.

Be warned that there's not much beach to speak of; there's a little slice of grass next to the lake, but getting into the water itself involves a balancing act of avoiding falling into the mud. Renting a pedalo, taking it out to the middle of the lake, and jumping in from there is always a better option.

When you get your fill of the lake, walk the 15 or so minutes uphill to Castel Gandolfo. The Pope's residence in the summer, this medieval village, while tiny, has some perks, like gorgeous views of the lake and a couple of good restaurants. A friend of mine spent every weekend this summer at the lake taking windsurfing lessons introduced me to Arte e Vino, a cute, cozy cantina with the best lunch deal in town: plate after plate of antipasti for (if my memory serves me correctly… both times I've been there, I walked out in a serious food daze) 12 euros. 

Arte e Vino at Castel Gandolfo at Lake Albano

Just one of the many plates of antipasti at Arte e Vino…

Getting there: Without traffic, it's about a 35-minute drive south of Rome. By train from Rome's Termini station, it takes 45 minutes and costs just €2.10.

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Rome by Vespa: Three Clips That Take You There

Forget the Colosseum: When it comes to a symbol of Rome and la dolce vita, the Vespa's where it's at.

Like most Rome fantasies, this one doesn't always have a ton of bearing in reality. Yes, almost everyone here has a scooter. But no, it's not usually an adorable, sparkling, vintage Vespa. Those are expensive… and (haven't you heard?), there's an economic crisi here!

Still. I've had Vespas on my mind lately, thanks to a travel story I've been working on (more on that later!). And, whether the vehicles used by most of my friends could come out of a scene from Roman Holiday or not, whipping around Rome on a scooter—even a banged-up, anything-but-beautiful one—remains one of my favorite ways to get from Point A to Point B in the city. It's hands-down the most convenient. And, yes, it can be romantic.

In homage to seeing Rome by scooter, here are three movie clips to transport you.

Forgive me for the last one. 

Ah, the face that launched a thousand dreams of Rome: Audrey Hepburn. In particular, Audrey Hepburn taking Gregory Peck's Vespa for a near-death experience adventure-filled spin. Although I'm hard-pressed to pick a favorite scene from this movie—which is, of course, the 1953 Roman Holiday—this might just have to be it.

And if you're wondering, yes, Rome's traffic is every bit as crazy today as it looks like it was then.

 

What Roman Holiday did for tourists' imaginings of Vespas and Rome, Nanni Moretti's Caro Diario did for locals. The first 10 minutes of the movie follows the protagonist on his sojourn through Rome's streets—not its main, all-too-famous piazzas and avenues, but the places known to locals, like the pretty neighborhood of Garbatella. And, because it's ferragosto in Rome, the streets are completely deserted.

When I looked up movie clips showing Vespas in Rome on YouTube, this came up. And while I'm kind of really embarrassed to include it (I promise, not being a 12-year-old girl, this is not a movie I have ever seen), I thought that the scene, while clearly sickly-sweet (and inaccurate: what Roman would ever say "This is Rome. Nobody knows how to drive"?), does a cute job of showing the sights in Rome's centro storico. They start at Piazza Farnese (and no, in real life you can't drive a scooter there), then move on to Via Nazionale (0:15), Piazza del Popolo (0:19), Via Nazionale again at Trajan's markets (0:28), the Palace of Justice (0:35), Via Giulia (I think) (0:40), Piazza della Repubblica (1:02), Pantheon (also not allowed) (1:11), Spanish Steps (1:18, and they must have filmed this at sunrise for it to be so empty).

And no, that route makes no sense whatsoever. But pretty sights, right? 

Also, I really hope Hilary Duff doesn't wind up with this Italian boy at the end of the film. Because picking-up-a-straniera-via-scooter, in more ways than one, would be the oldest trick in the book. (Oh Audrey, if you only knew what you'd started back in '53).

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Rain in Rome? Five Reasons Not to Mind, in Pictures

Rain in Rome

There are a lot of wonderful reasons to visit Rome in autumn. And while most people might not think of rain as one of them… well, I do.

Sure, it's never pleasant to suddenly get dumped on while you're, say, walking through the already-muddy ancient forum without an umbrella. But Rome's rain doesn't usually last for long. And the moment it slows down, the moody clouds and sudden glimpses of sunlight mean that the city might just be at its most beautiful. 

Here's proof.

Palatine hill, Rome, in the rain

Palatine Hill, even prettier in the rain. Note the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, peeking through the clouds in the background…

 

Imperial forums in the rain in Rome

Ancient Trajan's Column—and modern traffic. The rain doesn't slow Rome's drivers down, but it does make the streets just a little glossier and prettier!

Rain at trajan's markets

You know what else rain means? Rainbows!

 

Teatro Marcello in autumn

The Teatro di Marcello, just after a storm

 

The Roman forum in the rain

A little rain makes the light in the Roman forum softer and prettier—and keeps the crowds away, too

See? I told you rain in Rome wasn't all bad. Just don't forget your galoshes!

Want more tips about what to do in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!


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Why You Should Stroll Rome’s Appian Way This Spring

What better way to celebrate spring than with a stroll on the ancient Appian Way?

The Appian Way (or, to Italians, Via Appia) was built all the way back in 312 B.C. And it was crucial. The first road linking farther-flung parts of the Roman empire with the capital, it first ran to Capua, just north of Naples; since it allowed Romans to transport soldiers and supplies, the Via Appia proved integral to the Romans conquering the Samnites of southern Italy. In 191 B.C., the Romans extended the road all the way to Brindisi, in modern-day Puglia.

That’s the context. The really cool part?

You can still walk on the Via Appia Antica today. On stones ancient Romans would have walked on.

Via Appia Antica in Rome

Or even take a bike ride. Check out my video of bicycling down the Via Appia Antica (and hold onto your handlebars—those paving stones make for a rocky ride!).

Not to mention that the Appian Way boasts ancient catacombs, tombs, mausoleums, and even fragments of villas that once would have lined this all-important entrance to the city—a way for Romans to flaunt their wealth and status.

On the Appian Way in Rome

But let’s put the Appian Way today aside for a moment. Even if this were just a dirt road—no ruins, no ancient stone paving—it would give you shivers to walk on this path. Let’s just think about what’s happened here:

  • Spartacus, the famous leader of Rome’s largest slave revolt, was crucified on the Via Appia along with 6,000 of his followers in 71 B.C. Just imagine the bodies lining the 125 miles between Rome and Capua. Shudder.
  • St. Peter took this road out of Rome, fleeing Nero’s persecutions, in 64 A.D. According to legend, he saw Christ—crucified years earlier—coming into the city as he left, provoking his famous phrase “Domine, quo vadis?” (Lord, where are you going?), a question immortalized in the name of the church built on the spot.
  • In the villas along the road, early Christian converts allowed their fellow Christians to worship and, ultimately, to be buried beneath their gardens; catacombs sprung up along (and beneath) the Appian Way.

That’s all, of course, aside from the fact that this was a busy thoroughfare that would have been used by soldiers and plebeians, patricians and consuls, throughout the Roman empire’s existence. In other words: Yes, Caesar walked here.

And in a lot of ways, the Appian Way hasn’t changed much. As it would have been in earlier times, the Via Appia remains a chic address, one that shows wealth and breeding; villas are still set off from the main road, gated, just as they would have been 2,000 years ago.

Villa on Rome's Appian Way
Of course, there are also lots of sights to see along the Appian Way, too.

Like the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella (below). The best-preserved tomb along the Via Appia, this was built for the daughter-in-law of Marcus Licinius Crassus—a guy who suppressed Spartacus’ slave revolt, entered the First Triumvirate with Pompey, and who was the richest man in Roman history. In the early 14th century, Pope Boniface VIII acquired the tomb for his family, and it was turned into the fortress you see today.

Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Appian Way
Or the Villa dei Quintili, a huge villa built by the wealthy Quintilii brothers in the 2nd century… so huge that, when it was first excavated, locals thought it must have been a town. In fact, the villa was so incredible that Emperor Commodus put its owners to death—just so he could get his own hands on it.

Or the Circus of Maxentius (below). Erected in the early 4th century, its fragments still give an idea of the grandeur of what was once the second-largest circus in Rome, after only the Circus Maximus.

Circus of Maxentius along the Appian Way in Rome

Or the Capo di Bove, an archaeological site that’s just a sliver of an enormous property; the villa was built in the 2nd century by Herodes Atticus, the tutor to future emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, and Aspasia Annia Regilla, his aristocratic (and 25-years-younger) wife. The excavations today reveal what would have been the villa’s thermal baths, complete with original flooring and mosaics. A murder mystery is hidden here, too: Annia was kicked to death at eight months pregnant… and it’s thought her husband may have been responsible for her murder.

Capo di Bove on the Appian Way
Or the Basilica of San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, the church of the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, most fascinating—at least to me—for having a Bernini sculpture no one seems to know about: the “Salvator Mundi,” a bust of Christ that art historians think was Bernini’s very last work. (It’s on the right as you enter the church, beside the Relics Chapel).

That’s not to mention the catacombs themselves, including the Catacomb of Callixtus and the Catacomb of St. Sebastian.

Still not convinced? Just check out how peaceful the Appia Antica is right now. And how beautiful. (After the first part of the Via Appia, the road becomes closed to most traffic, so it’s perfect for pedestrians).

The best way to get to the start of the Via Appia is to take a bus: the #660, which leaves from the Colli Albani metro stop, or the #118, which leaves from the Piramide metro stop. Both also stop close to the bike rental at Via Appia Antica 42, if you’d rather bike than stroll.

Just remember not to take your stroll on a Sunday if you want to enter the sites, as that’s when the catacombs are closed.

Also: two facts about ancient Rome you probably didn’t know, why you should visit Rome’s only pyramid and why you might want to visit Naples.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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The Five Best Ways to Beat the Heat in Rome

Pool at the Colosseum, a way to beat the heat in Rome

In case you haven’t heard, it is really, very, ridiculously warm in Rome right now; this week, temperatures are hitting 95°F. And even if you’re coming in the “fall,” don’t kid yourself: The heat traditionally continues into September.

Visiting the Eternal City during the hottest months? Here, five top tips for beating the heat in Rome. 

Head underground. It’s always much cooler in the subterranean world—sometimes so much cooler, you’ll wish you brought another layer. The best part? Since 60 percent of the ancient city of Rome remains buried underground, some of the best sites in the city are down there! Consider the catacombs, ancient underground cemeteries where thousands of Christians were buried; booking a (super-cheap) visit to the Columbarium of Pomponio Hylas; or the underground of the Basilica of San Clemente (bonus: the church itself is naturally cool, too), among many other sites.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome Start going to church. Rome’s churches aren’t just religious sites: They’re treasure troves of art, history, and architecture. Thanks to their thick stone walls and shaded spaces, they’re also naturally air-conditioned (yay!). Find cooler temperatures and get away from the crowd by heading to the ancient Basilica of Santa Sabina (complete with 5th-century door); the Gothic gem of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, right near the Pantheon (above); or the Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati, with its 13th-century frescoes. And that’s just for starters.

Sightsee at night. The hottest hours in Rome tend to be from about noon to 5pm — prime time for sightseeing. So instead of trudging around in the heat, check for any “extraordinary openings” of sites at night:

Park of Monte Mario, RomeHead to the hills. The famed “seven hils of Rome” are just a start. Rome has even more hills than that, and many boast leafy parks and lovely views of the city, making them the perfect escape spots for summer. Some of my favorites: the Janiculum hill, famed for its views; the Villa Borghese, Rome’s answer to Central Park; the Villa Celimontana, next to the Colosseum; and the nature reserve of Monte Mario (above).

Take a dip. The heat really getting to you? Take a break and go to the pool. Although outdoor pools are few and far between in Rome’s center, one of the most convenient is the swimming pool in the Celimontana, just a stone’s throw from the Colosseum. It’s not cheap, costing €16 on weekdays (€10 for kids under 10) and more on weekends. 

My advice? Since Rome gets hottest in the early afternoon, do your sightseeing (maybe even of the forum, Palatine and Colosseum) in the morning, break for lunch, and then reward your family by heading to the pool at 2pm, when prices drop to €10 per adult and €6 per child. The pool stays open till 7:30pm, so you still have plenty of time to relax… and cool down. Here’s more info on the OS Pool at the Colosseum.

[Update, 7/3/2012: It’s now €20 on weekdays,€25 on weekends, without mention of a child’s discount. It’s also €15 for a half-day on weekdays and €20 for a half-day on weekends].

Want more tips about what to do in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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