Road Trip Adventures 10: Rome
This is the tenth post in our European road trip ideas series, brought to you in conjunction with Avis Car Hire. This time we visit a city of angels, art and architecture. Rome has a global tourist buzz and world class cuisine. And of course it has The Pope. But one of the best kept secrets is the surrounding scenery and attractions….
Let’s begin with Rome-ance
There are few pleasures in life like an open road through the Italian countryside, with the sun on your face, lunch on your mind and anticipating that end of day glass of Italian vino. But that’s for later for first up on this road trip is the historic city of Rome. There’s nowhere in the world like it. But where do you begin in a city that has so many global icons? Well, when in Rome, why not do what the Romans once did and visit The Colosseum. It’s a great spot to get your bearings.
The gladiator ring
The Colosseum is a gigantic space that seated over 50,000 people in its heyday and has been entertaining locals and visitors since AD 72. (Yes even before Dad was born!) While it’s a stunning piece of Roman architecture, it’s not a pretty history; the Colosseum was all about battle and blood letting between man and animal. And man didn’t always win. But if you have the stomach for the gory stories it’s well worth spending some time here. Feel the vertigo in the top rows. Sit in seats where Emperors and Senators put aside their day jobs to relax and cheer on the gladiators, criminals, slaves and wild animals that were brave or unfortunate enough to enter the ring.
The coin thing
If you’re keen on Roman Rome, you should tick off the Pantheon, the best preserved ancient building in the city and a temple of history and architecture. Another ‘must’ is the Trevi Fountain; a magnet for holiday makers. Your kids will enjoy dropping a coin in the fountain to ensure they return. But don’t just view this monument through a lens. Dating back to the 1700’s, it’s a magnificent depiction of Ocean and his chariot, and is thought to be one of the most beautiful baroque fountains in the world. Three roads converging provide the name, in case you were wondering. Which you probably weren’t.
The green wing
Villa Borghese is a huge public park and a great place to absorb the space, the light, the feel of Italy, without worrying about kids, crowds, and costs. It isn’t all about tranquility though; it has a lake, museums, skateboarding, secret and not-so-secret gardens and winter ice skating. It also houses one of the best art galleries for families.
There are too many things to do in Rome to mention here. Find a decent Rome guidebook (there are several that tackle Rome with kids) or just follow your nose and wander the maze of squares and back streets. Watch the Italians as they parade about on their scooters. But make sure you keep an eye on your valuables, especially on public transport, as families with their mass of iTechnology are easy targets for thieves. And then it’s time for the highlight of Rome, your first sight of The Vatican.
The holy city
You may have assumed this was part of the city centre, but in fact The Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world. You can easily lose a couple of days here taking in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica and St Peter’s Square; the massive plaza where people gather to see the head of the Catholic Church on his public appearances. Within the walled enclaves there are various Vatican Museums containing some of the world’s most well known paintings. And the Sistine chapel is a haven from the heat and the tourist bustle; although you won’t exactly get it to yourself.
There are some great shopping opportunities for purchasing religious bling, if that is your thing. Queuing can take up a lot of your time, so it’s worth buying tickets for attractions online in advance where you can. If you are a big family you might want to visit the Vatican museums on the last Sunday in the month as there’s free entry. The downside of this is the amount of people who have the same idea.
But don’t worry, we’re about to grab the car keys and escape the crowds altogether, by heading out into a region filled with gardens, villas, wine and vineyards, archeological sites, caves and clifftops, and even a few beaches.
The cave of tombs
For an atmospheric start, just south of the city you will find the Catacombs of St Callixtus (Catacombe di San Callisto.) This underground complex holds 500,000 bodies including the tombs of nine popes. At 90 acres, it is the largest of the catacombs around Rome and a fascinating glimpse into the life and death of ancient Romans. However a note of caution; if you have granny or very young children on board then it’s probably not for you as the crypts are 20m deep, there is no lift and spaces are narrow. There is also no cafe so bring your own lunch.
The sparkling wine tour
You’ll probably recognise the name of Frascati from your supermarket trolley. Although the town is only half an hours drive from Rome, it’s much quieter than its neighbour and there is ample chance to enjoy a meal, wander around and learn about how to make and drink the white stuff. Several vineyards and operators can sort out a tour for you, which may well include a wine tasting and a driver. Or you could just chat to the owner of a restaurant about the long tradition of production in the town. Children are usually welcome in either although they’ll have to make do with grape juice.
If you can drag yourself away from the white wine, then Tivoli awaits. Founded several centuries before Rome it’s a glorious part of the world with some very special attractions. Check out the Villa D’Esti Gardens, filled with caves, pavilions and fountains, (one of the best of these is the Organ Fountain.) Tivoli also has the UNESCO site of Hadrian’s Villa, (Villa Adriana) built between 121 and 126 AD.
The sweet sounds of Orvieto
28 kilometres east of Rome is Orvieto. If you’ve time in the region and petrol in the tank then it is something a little different. This Umbrian city with its dramatic ‘tuff’ cliff setting has a labyrinth of caves that you can explore with a guide. It also has one of Italy’s most acclaimed churches; The Duomo. But even this is dwarfed by the Torre del Morro, a high tower with a view of Orvieto and the green fields and rolling pastures beyond. Go at midday and stand next to the bells. I guarantee you’ll never hear anything like it. (If you ever hear again!) The notes ring out across the city as one after another the surrounding bell towers join in the chorus.
One last Roman treat
Although this was a road trip, the caves and catacombs, the towers and churches have meant a lot of physical steps. So maybe it’s time for some relaxation. Are you ready for an ice cream and a swim now? Over on the coast, just a 30km hop from Rome, Ostia is the perfect place for a family chill out. But Ostia also has a historical treat up its sleeve. Ostia Antica was the harbour of ancient Rome and the vast ruins still stand today. In fact they are extremely well preserved due to the silt thrown up by the river. You can view amphitheatre, bakery, mosiac floor, bathouse, school and much more. You can touch the ruins and imagine what it was like to be part of this once thriving port. It’s much quieter than the Colosseum and it has cafe, bookshop and sea breeze. And you’ll be happy in the knowledge that you’re ending your journey with the Romans. What did the Romans do for us? Well they provided a stimulating road trip, that’s for sure.
Have you been to Rome? Got an idea or suggestion for a place to eat or visit, something interesting to see or do? Why not share it with us as a comment.
Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to the support of Avis Car Hire. All the research, ideas and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.