At 136 acres, the grounds of the Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s private residence in Lazio, are larger than the entire Vatican City (108 acres). The land includes gardens, woodland, a working farm, beehives, a dairy, and even hay fields—but you don’t need to take our word for it. As of this this year, the public can tour these previously closed areas that are just south of Rome in the Alban Hills.
Visitors must book ahead online through the Vatican Museums’ website for tickets that cost $36 or 26 €; a combination ticket for $58 or 42€ includes a Saturday tour that grants you “no-line” admission to the Vatican Museums the following Monday. Although you have to reach Castel Gandolfo on your own, there are easy bus and train options (the train costs about 2.10 €
There are also some tour restrictions and guidelines to know about, including mandatory modest dress (no shorts, short skirts, tank tops, or midriff-baring garments) and mobility concerns. The tour includes a great deal of walking and is not wheelchair accessible, so visitors with physical differences should take those into account. Each tour lasts about 90 minutes.
While this is the first time Castel Gandolfo has sold tickets for entry, it’s not the first time the grounds and villa have been opened to the public. Pope Pius XII opened the villa to thousands of refugees from the Nazis during World War II, even designating his own bedroom for expectant mothers. Fifty babies were born there during the war.
Many popes have enjoyed time at the retreat, but Pope Francis has visited just three times and never overnight, leading him to decide that others should share in the place’s beauty. Highlights include the Giardino del Belvedere, high above the countryside, and the ancient, cavernous entryway to what was once Roman Emperor Domitian’s holiday villa. However, tours will not visit the farm, dairy or papal villa; if Pope Francis needs to get away, he’ll have plenty of room.
For an inside peek, check out this video of Castel Gandolfo’s gardens. (Note: Ironically, the reporter in it uses a wheelchair).
By Kathy McCabe
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