Rome is a city that will always be in my heart. It is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful city in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to travel there a few times in my life. However, when we docked in Civitavecchia, the nearest port to Rome, with the option to spend the day in Rome or to travel to Castel Gandolfo, the vacation town of the Pope, I took the opportunity to see somewhere new.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to go inside the Pope’s vacation home itself, but it was still interesting to see the hilltop village which has been the Pope’s retreat for many centuries.
To get to the village, you walk up a long road to the top of the hill. There you find a grand gated entrance to the ancient village.
Of course, like all of the tourist destinations in Italy, you’ll find a plethora of street vendors, Gelato shops, coffee shops and wine and oil shops. The wine and oil shops are my favourite to look around. They are dark and earthy places which hold a certain romanticism. There are hundreds of bottles and vials of locally pressed olive oil, specially made from an ancient manufacturing method. The archaeologist in me can’t help but be intrigued. Vinegars, dried spices and specialist souvenirs can also be found. It is a true foodie’s dream. I leave with a few quaintly packaged wine vinegars as souvenirs (and one for myself). Our tour guide gives us his family name, so that we can buy fresh pressed olive oil from his longstanding family business. The fact that his family is in the business of specialty olive oil production is of little surprise to us.
There is a religious presence everywhere you turn in Castel Gandolfo. From the hundreds of memorabilia choices to the decadently decorated church. Whether you are a believer or not, it is a beautiful and special place to visit.
My favourite part of the city is probably the giant crater that it overlooks. The clear blue water, visible through the trees, is genuinely magnificent. The religious reverence the hilltop town holds allows this beautiful spot, and those visiting it, to keep its tranquility among the hoards of tourists.
For lunch we travelled to a cosy restaurant where we enjoyed a three course meal, complete with wine and coffee. Considering the country’s love of cheese and milk, they were very accommodating to my milk allergy. When everyone was brought a slice of homemade tiramisu for their dessert (one of my favourites before my allergy was discovered), I was brought fresh pineapple. While I was a little disappointed first looking at it, it was, truly, the most delicious thing I have every tasted.
Following lunch, we were taken to an outdoor area and shown how to make homemade pasta and gnocchi. However, I must admit the beautiful feline friend got most of my attention!
Look at that face!
If you’ve never been to Rome, I would certainly choose Rome over Castel Gandolfo (I’ll be doing a post on Rome shortly). However, if you are looking for something new or a little more rural, Castel Gandolfo shouldn’t be missed.