A short train ride from Rome, Castel Gandolfo is a picturesque town with a population of about 8,000 people, overlooking Lake Albano. It is home to the Pope’s summer residence and is one of the Castelli Romani, historic hill towns located around the Alban Hills and dominated by impressive villas.
In Piazza della Libertà, the main square, visit the Chiesa di San Tomaso di Villanova, a 17th century church designed by Bernini. The square is also home to the Papal palace which has an astronomical observatory attached. This is closed to the public, but get close enough and you can catch a glimpse of Swiss Guards on duty. The secret Papal gardens, even more elaborate than those found in Vatican City, are tucked away out of sight.
In and around the main square grab a gelato or frullato, a smoothie made with Italian ice cream, or browse the shops selling local produce. Enjoy the tranquil, small town atmosphere as the summer crowds tend to gravitate towards the surrounding beaches. It’s the perfect place to sunbathe lakeside, go for a swim, snorkel or rent a paddle boat.
Dine out on the terrace of Taverna dei Caccatori (Via Zecchini, 1), where the views offer a feast of their own. Taste the cucina castellana, the typical cuisine of the Castelli Romani, including char grilled meats, local seafood and pasta dishes.
Castel Gandolfo can be reached by bus from Anagnina Metro station in Rome, or by train from Termini station. The scenic journey takes 45 mins to an hour. There are trains and buses that connect the town with the rest of the Castelli Romani.
By Kathy McCabe
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Photo by Danielle Rovet