An essential 7 point roadmap to the re-discovery of Rome and Lazio


I live in Italy, in Rome. My family lives in the north. With the outbreak of the coronavirus, we find ourselves in the eye of the storm. It’s all incredibly calm. Streets are empty. Churches are empty. The cafes and piazzas are empty. There are only people lined up outside the supermarkets. Ten people at a time are allowed, so you have to form a queue. Not something Italians are used to.

Cities are empty. Hospitals, however, are full. The data from the past two days looks slightly encouraging. But the Coronavirus has taken so far more than 5,000 lives. Some etymologists say “OK” comes from the message “0 killed” or “0 K” used during the American civil war. We long for the day when we can write OK on the board. Meanwhile, we sing the national anthem from the balcony.

Also, we think a lot. We think a lot about the things we miss. Get togethers. Hugging and kissing. Going to concerts. Travel. One wonders naturally about the meaning of traveling at the time of social distancing, because traveling is mainly traveling towards the other. Life itself is a journey. One wonders: Can intelligent life even exist on this planet without travels? Is traveling itself going to become luxury?

Walking around Rome these days is a unique experience. I think of a time when Rome was all countryside — flocks of sheep taking over the Roman Forum. The air is cleaner, the boisterous streets are silent, and as I reach the basilica of St John Lateran, it stands grand and lonely in the middle of empty space — as it did maybe 1,700 years ago (roughly) when it was founded. It is like traveling back in time. Famous monuments you are so used to seeing now appear under a new light. They are so new and beautiful that for a moment you have that “feeling of the first time.” With the Coronavirus breakout I thought at first: Why Italy? It’s an instinctive, selfish thought. But, as this pandemic unfolds I had the time again to consider how much I miss my own country. How much I miss the opportunity of traveling — all over the world, yes, but especially to Italy. Because now I know that nothing will be the same again. That I will look at old and new things with the same genuine eyes of an enthusiastic child. I am happy to have been born in Italy.

At the time of social distancing, we crave human contact. At the time of travel bans we accumulate a greater desire to travel and make the most of our time on planet earth. I don’t want to waste this time. I want to be ready for what comes next. So I decided to scribble down an essential roadmap to the places I want to visit or visit again, as soon as the restrictions placed upon us are removed.

I will start from here, Rome and Lazio, with the promise of more to come. So, here it is. An essential roadmap to the rediscovery of Rome and the ancient region of Latium, with carefully selected places far from the mainstream. A roadmap for sophisticated and curious travelers, who aren’t satisfied with the Colosseum and Vatican City.

Caprarola

I add to this list the amazing Palazzo Farnese of Caprarola, a unique place where the Farnese family, one of the most powerful families in sixteenth-century Italy, built one of their stunning retreats, a grand villa with rooms and decorations so beautiful that it’s often used as a movie set. Director Fernando Meirelles has recently chosen it as a location for his movie The Two Popes, now on Netflix.

Tivoli

One of the most fascinating places outside Rome with not one but two UNESCO heritage sites: Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este. Once there, you also might want to look for Ristorante Sibilla for a special luxury treatment and have a romantic dinner under the columns of an ancient pagan temple. With time at your disposal, visit to the Park of Villa Gregoriana will make a perfect day more perfect.

Civita di Bagnoregio

A medieval village built on top of a small and steep mountain that can be reached only through a bridge on foot. Crossing the bridge is like traveling back in time. The mountain is now slowly crumbling, so they call it the dying city. But the place itself is so wild and beautiful that I am in awe every time I go.

Castelli Romani

From antiquity to the Renaissance, the Roman aristocracy has chosen the Castelli Romani to spend the hottest days of the summer. These small villages East of Rome are unique for a number of reasons: amazing food, great weather, stunning viewpoints and famous villas. This is my checklist: Going to Ariccia to eat the famous porchetta; visiting Castel Gandolfo to visit the Papal summer residence (and then eat on the belvedere facing the volcanic lake); visiting Frascati and the magnificent park of Villa Aldobrandini.

Anagni

Spend a nice afternoon visiting the ancient village of Anagni, hometown of the pope Boniface VIII, Dante Alighieri’s great enemy. The Crypta of St Magnus inside the cathedral is so special and beautiful they call it the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages.

Subiaco

A place of beauty and solitude. Subiaco was Nero’s imperial retreat in late antiquity and it still is an amazing place where you can rest your body — and soul. St Benedict founded his first convent here in the VI century, now called Monastery of Santa Scolastica as well as his spiritual retreat called Sacro Speco, a must-see monastery carved into the rocky side of a mountain. The place also contains the only portrait of St Francis painted when the saint was still alive.

Porto Fluviale

I make an exception to my list. After Trastevere, Porto Fluviale near Ostiense is becoming the new fancy neighborhood of Rome, with its street art, music scene, and trendy restaurants. Given the restrictions placed upon us, I would consider a luxury experience getting lost in a neighborhood following the crowd, the instinct, and the narrow streets full of bars and nice restaurants.


Comments (16)

  1. Claire Marston says:

    I think we’ve all been reading on the news just how bad the outbreak has been in some places, particularly Italy. It’s heartbreaking. Given the restrictions in place in many countries now it’s strange to think how many usually well populated areas have been turned into ghost towns, big tourist destinations totally empty. So strange. Just walking down the streets here can feel both ominous and refreshing, it’s an odd thing to get your head around.

    You’re right about seeing things differently now because nothing will be the same again. Maybe this is a second chance, a time to give us all a new appreciation for our world and our lives, particularly our lifestyles that give us the ability to do the things we want to do and to travel. When the options are taken away we seem to want them all the more, and that gives them more meaning, makes us more grateful. Strangely enough Italy was at the top of my list for places I’ve still not been and I’d love to go to Rome one day, so it’s quite inspiring to read about Tivoli and Lazio and all these beautiful destinations that we can hope to one day get the chance to see for ourselves when the worlds starts to right itself. Stay safe Davide.

    • Davide Bolognesi says:

      Hi Claire, yes I agree with you that “this is a second chance” for us. I have the feeling that we all knew that somehow we had to slow down, but we never knew how. And now, all of a sudden, it’s happening, whether we like it or not. And we don’t. The world will be different. How different, it will depend on how we spend our days confined inside our houses. I think we need to slow down and appreciate more what is true and real around us. I hope that in the future we will be able to notice all the things that we have been overlooking in our frantic lives now. I mention some of the things about Lazio and Rome here, but there are so many others at all levels. I am happy you found my list inspiring. Stay well, wherever you are!

    • Jack Williams says:

      Davide: I’ve shown many friends and family the pictures of you and me enjoying a beer outside the small cafe not far from the Colosseum last September waiting for you to drop me off for the tour. In the midst of what I’m sure was a hectic day for you, I could not believe the feeling of relief I experienced when you “rescued” me on my last day in Rome. Now, after reading your “favorite places” article, I plan to share it with all my friends in hopes they will find their way to the “Eternal City”! Thank you for helping me complete my journey on a high note! The Colosseum was on the top of my bucket list and without your help, I would have missed it! Keep well, enjoy the clean air and peace while it lasts! Jack

    • Davide Bolognesi says:

      Jack, I had such a great time with you in Rome last September and now it seems so long ago already! But I am so glad that you have enjoyed your last day in the Eternal City. Come back, there is so much more to see, and beer to drink. I really hope there will be another day like that one day soon after this mess is over. Take care and be safe and well!

  2. Brett says:

    I was in Rome about two years ago, such a fascinating city and the surrounding regions are just as fun to learn about and explore. There was one Lazio wine I tried there that I REALLY enjoyed. Hope to have it again when I get back there. It will be good to walk around there again especially after getting some of these new suggestions.

    • Davide Bolognesi says:

      You are right, compared to Rome itself the Lazio region is relatively little known, unfortunately. Of course, Rome is amazing, with so many layers of history and art styles, but if you look at it from the perspective of great travel experiences, the Lazio region and all the surrounding areas of Rome really have so much to offer.

  3. Jen says:

    The virus has really made me see the world in a new way. I’d never even questioned where OK came from. Really, then when most of us are using keyboards it should be written 0K. Using the zero – 0 – on your keyboard.

  4. Davide Bolognesi says:

    Hi Jen, that’s right, it’s very interesting to know the etymology of the words and this one especially OK, they throw new light on their meaning and make us aware of their use. We really hope that we can all say and write soon on our boards and keyboards that it’s all OK, yes, it’s all OK, or better, as you suggest 0K!

  5. Kirsty Emerson says:

    I love Rome and I’ll go again when this is all over but it is a busy city which can be a bit too much in your face.

    If I feel that I need a time out I’ll head off to the retreat of Subiaco as it looks exactly the right sort of place to chill out for a few hours.

  6. Davide Bolognesi says:

    You are right, Kirsty. Rome can be at times overwhelming. But if you want to rest your soul and body Subiaco is really a great place to go, with great silence and amazing art and history. There is also a restaurant before you get to Sacro Speco which I would recommend because it’s also a historic venue itself (it has been around for a century) where famous poets like Ungaretti and important politicians would just go to rest and write. It is called belvedere, not very original as a name, but the view is really stunning. If you visit Santa Scolastica (VI century), among other things, know that the very first Italian printed book was printed here in 1475!

  7. Earnest P. says:

    Now this is something to look forward to! Even if all of our travel and getaway plans have been put on hold, it is not bad to look forward to something that would give us the feeling that we are in the places we want to be. Planning roadmaps like these gives my imagination a sense of excitement, like planning stops and spots where you would find clues in a treasure hunt. I agree that we all crave human contact and that’s why we are humans in the first place. I mean, the saying goes “No man is an island”, and it is quoted for a reason. We all want to interact and bring essence to our social lives. This is a good example of being and staying positive in the midst of all the chaos that is happening in our world right now.

    • Davide Bolognesi says:

      Hi Earnest, I am so happy that you have found inspiration in my article. We have no choice but to remain positive. I spoke about Italy in my article but we should never forget our planet is such an amazing place and it is for us to enjoy and respect. We are not allowed to travel at the moment, but we are always allowed to dream and plan how to realize our dreams. Thank you!

  8. Johnny says:

    How is the situation in Italy now, Davide?

    It sounded really bad, but hopefully things are starting to look up…?

    • Davide Bolognesi says:

      Hi Johnny, we hope the worst is behind our shoulders now, officially it’s still all closed at the moment, but some businesses will be allowed to start opening on May 4, and even more on May 18. On that date also it looks like museums and archaeological sites will be allowed to open again provided that everyone respects social distancing. You will be allowed to play individual sports on May 18 and team sports starting on June 1, apparently. Hopefully, by the end of June, we will be back to normal, although as many have pointed out, for the future of our planet and our life as human beings, we should rather move forward to something else better than what we had, rather than going back to normality, but I am not sure what that would be. Certainly, I can’t wait to be able to leave the house and take a walk and start traveling again!

  9. Ivan Bell says:

    How are things in Italy now, Davide? Did I hear that things are slowly starting to open up again?

    • Davide Bolognesi says:

      Hi Ivan, thank you for your note. Things are moving slowly towards normality. Social distancing is mandatory, but museums are sites are reopening. Bar and restaurants are opening too but they can only display a small number of tables to guarantee social distancing. Colosseum and Vatican Museums are opening next week, but it is still uncertain what kind of rules they will apply to the re-opening. People go out to take walks but most wear masks at the moment while the weather is not so hot.

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