Day trip to Ariccia in the Colli Albani Hills southeast of Rome
Sometimes doing exactly what every tourist does when they visit Rome just isn’t what you have in mind and you'd like to experience something different, and perhaps out of Rome's city center. As it turns out, it’s easy; there are many day trips from Rome that are easily accessible by train, and one of these places is Ariccia in the Colli Alban just 26 kilometers southeast of Rome.
As you walk through the town you can feel the influence of Bernini around you. The hand of the great architect, designer and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini is found on the most important monuments found in the lovely town of Ariccia. The design of the Piazza della Repubblica and its two fountains, the restoration of the ancient castle and its transformation into the magnificent Palazzo Chigi, along with the original design of the Ariccia city center are all attributable to Bernini. He also designed the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Assunzione where you can see the beautiful 17th century fresco by Borgognone. Another place where you see Bernini's touch is the gorgeous façade of the Santa Maria di Galloro church.
It was Pope Alessandro VII who commissioned Bernini to design the Palazzo Chigi, one of the most notable architectural complexes of the Roman Baroque period. If you’ve seen the Luchino Visconti film The Leopard you’ll remember the gorgeous palazzo where it was filmed: the Palazzo Chigi.
The Palazzo is now a center for cultural activities from conferences to art shows and concerts. It’s also the location where Auburn University holds its annual courses in art and cultural history.
The Palazzo is full of outstanding works of art and furnishings from the 16th century.
There are a few gorgeous tables in the Palazzo Chigi that were designed by Bernini so make sure you have a look at them when you visit the Palazzo.
Within the Palazzo is a centuries old pharmacy, still with all the medicine jars and some of the original medicines. The medicine jars are lovely hand-painted ceramics, kept on a beautiful wooden period piece of furniture. The pharmacy was designed by Carlo Fontana, and two gorgeous tables against the wall were designed by Bernini.
Within the Palazzo is a Baroque Museum filled with privately donated works including paintings by Pietro da Cortona, Sebastiano Conca, Pierleone Ghezzi and others.
You can visit the piano nobile with its private living quarters and lovely rooms.
Pope Alessandro VII’s private study is filled with dozens upon dozens of portraits of women. Pope Alessandro VII was fascinated with women and liked to surround himself with the portraits. It's unclear whether the women who posed for the portraits knew they would be hanging in Pope Alessandro VII’s private study area. Given his quasi fetish for beautiful women perhaps they might not have consented to having their portrait painted.
The ceilings throughout the Palazzo are magnificent, often hand-painted in exquisite designs.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Palazzo are the walls in many rooms. They are covered with exquisite hand painted leather. This form of wall covering and design is unique to the Palazzo Chigi and it’s unlikely that you will see it in any of Italy’s other magnificent palazzi.
Here's a closer view of this room's hand-painted leather wall coverings.
There are other lesser-known villas to visit in Ariccia. Just across the Ariccia bridge heading away from the town center you'll see the entrance to the Villino Volterra on your right. If you walk up the Via Vito Volterra, just as you crest the hill and curve off to your left you'll find the main entrance to the Villino on your left at #1. Visits must be prearranged which you can do through the website. The owner of the Villino Volterra, Virginia Volterra, offers tours of the grounds and inside of the villa. Although the villa is relatively new by Italian standards, dating back to 1907, it has a rich history to impart.
The views from the Villino looking out over the countryside and also towards the Ariccia city center are spectacular. From the gardens you can peek through the trees and see the Ariccia bridge and the center of Ariccia.
From Virginia Volterra’s terrace in her private living area you can look out upon the panoramic countryside.
Back in the 19th century many visitors to Italy, and especially to the Rome area, followed what was known as the Museum Grand Tour. This was a way to see another side of Italy and Rome's outlying areas, to admire the exquisite landscape of the area, and to experience Italian art and culture.
Many authors and artists including Byron, Gogol and Andersen spent time in Ariccia seeking peace and tranquility and artistic inspiration. These illustrious visitors stayed in the Locanda Martorelli, right in the very center of Ariccia. The Locanda can be visited by prior appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ariccia has its own culinary culture. Of particular note is porchetta, a wonderful slow-roasted rolled pork filled with delectable herbs and wild fennel grown in the area. It’s covered in delicious crackling. Although you will find porchetta throughout the Rome area and the Lazio region it’s origin is attributed to Ariccia. Throughout the town you'll find small stands and eateries ready to sell you porchetta; try it on its own or served in a panino. Porchetta is usually served at room temperature.
Wines in the area surrounding Ariccia are also wonderful. One such producer is Fontana di Papi. Winery visits can be arranged by contacting the winery. They produce delicious reds and whites. Fontana di Papi is a major exporter of wine to Canada; about two million bottles annually. They also export to the United States, Europe and Asia.