Ask any Roman, and they’ll tell you that Ariccia, Frascati and the other hilltop towns of the Castelli Romani are the perfect antidote for travel-weary eyes and feet.
Set amongst verdant hills, in a fertile volcanic area with 2 lakes, the Castelli Romani region has a refreshing micro-climate, peaceful streets, and a unique culinary tradition that I found utterly revitalizing. It’s truly an ideal addition to any Italy trip.
In this guide
What is the Castelli Romani?
The Castelli Romani (literally, Roman Castle) is a collection of wine-producing towns sprinkled upon the slopes of the Alban Hills, 20 km southeast of Rome. This is a volcanic landscape that’s incredibly fertile, and the region is known for top-notch wines, fruit, nuts and meats.
Encompassed within a protected area called the Castelli Romani Regional Park, you’ll also find Lake Albano and Lake Nemi (volcanic craters filled with water), the towns, hiking trails and vast woods.
Historically frequented by Roman noblemen, Popes, and the wealthy elite since ancient times, it’s the perfect escape from the heat and humidity of a Roman summer, due to the cooler climate. Until 2016, the summer residence of the Pope could still be found in Castel Gandolfo on the southwestern shores of Lake Albano (it’s now a museum open to the public).
Which towns should I visit in the Castelli Romani?
The Castelli Romani is technically made up of 17 different towns, including the likes of Ciampino, Marino, and Grottaferrata. You definitely don’t need to visit all of them.
Following is a list of the most appealing places to visit as a tourist. I’ve personally spent most of my time in Ariccia and around Lake Albano.
The thing to do when visiting Ariccia is eat at one of the Fraschette that line the Via Borgo S. Rocco. These informal osteria are endemic to the area, and named for the fresh fraschetta or grape branch that was nailed onto the cellar’s entrance in ancient times, to advertise the latest vintage and draw in customers.
Ariccia in the Castelli Romani is the town most visited by Romans on a steamy summer weekend. They’re drawn there to eat the town’s famous porchetta in a fresh environment. Ariccia porchetta is a spit-roasted pig, always female, that’s seasoned with fragrant herbs… and it IS delicious, if I do say so myself.
I’ve eaten at Osteria Aricciarola both times I’ve visited, but you really can’t go wrong walking into any one of these fraschette. They’re all good. You’ll likely be seated at a long picnic table, maybe with strangers, and the atmosphere could get rowdy with an accordian player or two (speaking from personal experience).
What to see in Ariccia
When you’ve eaten more than you thought you could, take a walk around Ariccia’s pretty Centro Historica. Most of it was redesigned by Bernini, including the 16th Century Palazzo Chigi, baroque main piazza, and the church of Santa Maria dell’Assunzione (said to be inspired by the Pantheon).
Castel Gandolfo | Lake Albano
Castel Gandolfo is a popular place for religious pilgrimages in the Castelli Romani. A stop at the Barberini Gardens and magnificent Papal Palace is a must-do for any visitor. Both were opened to the public by the current pope in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
If you walk down the steep hill from Castel Gandalfo, you’ll find yourself on the shores of Lake Albano. In summer, it’s lined with beach clubs, sunbeds, parasols, and Italians working on their tans. You can of course, just skip all of that and enter the lake at any reasonable place (like we did).
Frascati is probably the most well known Castelli Romani town for foreign tourists to Italy. It’s an ideal place to while away a lazy summer evening, sitting at long tables, drinking carafe after carafe of locally produced DOC wine.
Frascati is easily accessible by train from Roma Termini station.
How to get to the Castelli Romani
It takes about an hour to reach the Castelli Romani region by car. Just head straight up Appia Nuova, then make a left at Via dei Laghi. Expect traffic on summer weekends.
If you’re using public transport, you can reach Frascati, Castel Gandolfo, and Albano Laziale, directly from Roma Termini station. It takes 40 minutes – 1 hour and costs around €2. Trains run on the hour from Monday to Saturday, but only every 2 hours on Sundays. You can check Trenitalia for a schedule and full details.
How to get to Ariccia
If you must dine on porchetta (like I did), get off at Albano Laziale, then walk for 20 minutes to reach the town at Ariccia.
For those that want to skip the walk, take subway Metro A to Anagnina Station and head outside to the CoTral bus terminal. Buses to Ariccia leave every 30 minutes or so and tickets cost €2.50 per direction. You might want to buy round-trip tickets to make your life easier on the return. Be sure to check times for the last bus back, or you may be stranded in Ariccia longer than you planned.