The Castelli Romani

Just south of Rome, in the Alban Hills, lies a string of hilltowns, villages, and vineyards called the Castelli Romani

Monte Compatri, Castelli RomaniThe "Roman Castles" of the Alban Hills are like Tuscany in miniature, a baker's dozen of medieval hill towns nestled among the vineyards ringing a pair of teacup lakes that all starts just 13 miles south of downtown Rome.

Start with the largest of them all, Frascati (, just 21km down Via Tuscolana (SS215) from Rome. If you're lucky, the fountains in the fabulous gardens of Frascati's 16th-century Villa Aldobrandini will be running. If not, console yourself with lunch in a typical cantina (cellar), where you bring the food—stalls on Piazza del Mercato sell scrumptious porchetta (herbed pork) sandwiches—and they provide wine by the liter.

Past the 11th-century abbey at Grottaferrata (, the road (SS216) reaches volcanic Lake Albano at Marino, famous for its wines, which flow from the town's fountains on the first Sunday in October.

Castelgandolfo overlooking Lago di Albano
Castelgandolfo overlooking Lake Albano

For centuries popes have summered outside the city, and ever since 1929 it has been on the lake's western shore in the the official summer baroque papal palace of Castelgandolfo, which once Barberini family. (

In summer, you can receive a papal blessing here from the Pope himself. (And, starting in spring 2014, the new Pope Francis I has decided to open the gardens of this amazing villa to the public for tours—daily to groups, and Saturday mornings at 10:30am for individuals; get details in the Museum section of

A few miles south, Albano Laziale ( is laced with the ancient ruins of a bath, amphitheater, and a villa that once belonged to Pompey, Julius Caesar's greatest rival in the dying days of the Republic.

Continue skirting the lake on SS218 to the eastern shore and Rocca di Papa, the highest and prettiest of the Castelli, a terrace of medieval streets amid chestnut groves.

Diana's Mirror
Lake Nemi was called "Diana's Mirror" in ancient times, when only a runaway slave who snapped a branch off a particular tree in the lake's sacred grove and bested the sitting Rex Nemorensis in mortal combat could become the lake's next priest-king. If that sounds cloyingly familiar to any literature majors out there, it's because the ancient rite served as the basis for Sir James' Frazer's The Golden Bough.

Tiny Lake Nemi, surrounded by more timeless vineyards and villages, is famed throughout Italy for its violets and wild strawberries (with their own festival; It is also steeped in myth and history (see the "Diana's Mirror" box to the right.)

On Nemi's southern shore sits quiet little Genzano (, the streets of which come to life each June during L'Infiorata when the locals cover the cobblestones with exquisitely elaborate mosaics made entirely from fresh flower petals, then crush it all underfoot during an ecclesiastical parade.

The wine town of Velletri ( and its baroque cathedral mark the southern end of the Castelli.

Tips & links

Local tourist info
How to get to the Castelli Romani

COTRAL buses ( leave from the Anagnina Metro station to serve the area—or you can drive in an easy loop, or take a tour (see next tip).

Castelli Romani tours

Take a guided tour of Castelli Romani with one of our partners:

Duration: 3.5 hours
Cost: $78 per person 
Book: Reserve it

Frascati Wine Tasting Tour from Rome

Taste the nectar of the gods on a wine-tasting afternoon tour from Rome to beautiful Frascati. On the only wine-tasting tour from Rome available, you'll visit one of the oldest and most beautiful vineyards in the Frascati region. You'll also enjoy a scenic drive through the famed Castelli Romani region surrounding Rome...

Duration: 5 hours
Cost: $245 per person 
Book: Reserve it

Castelli Romani Day Trip Including Santa Benedetta Winery from Rome

Discover the idyllic Castelli Romani region on this 5-hour private wine tour from Rome, and visit Santa Benedetta – one of its oldest wineries! After exploring the villages of Frascati and Grottaferrata, head to Santa Benedetta for a tour and wine-tasting session. Spend your afternoon enjoying three of the estate's finest wines alongside a selection of regional delicacies: extra virgin olive oil from the winery, ‘pane de Lariano,’ cheeses and cured meats...

Duration: 5 hours
Cost: $245 per person 
Book: Reserve it

Castelli Romani Day Trip Including Castel del Paolis Winery from Rome

Discover beautiful Lazio wine and the Castelli Romani region on this 5-hour private tour from Rome! With a local wine-expert guide, you’ll explore the villages of Frascati, Castel Gandolfo and Aricca, and spend time at Castel del Paolis -- one of the region’s up-and-coming wine estates. Sample their best wine and feast on locally produced meats, cheeses and breads, before heading to a volcanic lake for a stroll. Finish your tour by sampling a local pork speciality called ‘porcetta,’ and then return to Rome...

Duration: 10 hours
Cost: From $330 per person 
Book: Reserve it

De-Wine: Wines of the Castelli Romani, summer residence of the Popes

Frascati DOC wine is produced in the green hills around Rome in a picturesque area of castles and lakes known as the Castelli Romani . The territory is at the foot of Mount Tuscolo, where ancient Tusculum once stood, and where the town of Frascati now lies. Departing from and returning to your hotel in Rome, this tour starts with a guided visit to the Azienda Agricola Casale Marchese in Frascati. The estate, first mentioned by Pope Boniface VIII in 1301, is dedicated...

How long does Rome take?

Planning your day: Rome wasn't built in a day, and you'd be hard-pressed to see it in that brief a time as well. Still, you can cram a lot into just a day or three.

To help you get the most out of your limited time in the Eternal City, here are some perfect itineraries, whether you have one, two, three, or four days to spend in Rome.

» Rome itineraries

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