Do You Know the Way to Pompeii?

About a year ago, I posted some information about going to Pompeii from Rome on a day trip. Just a few days ago, I was alerted of a new way to get there. When in Rome Tours has private and semi-private minibus tours to Pompeii. They’ll pick you up in Rome, drive to Pompeii via Cassino (site of the Montecassino Abbey) and Naples, take you to lunch, provide you with a Pompeii guide, and get you back to the Eternal City all within the same day (about 13 hours). They also provide walking tours of Rome and smallish bus tours of the Rome environs (no giant motorcoaches here!). So if you’re trying to put together a little jaunt down to Pompeii while visiting Rome, consider checking out When in Rome Tours. Thanks for the tip, Marie!

Photo by Paul Vlaar

October 2008 Article Round-Up

Sometimes I’m not always sure if anyone is actually reading Italofile. As I’ve said, it is a true labor of love. Still I like to imagine that there are regular readers out there who enjoy discovering with me the destinations, hotels, art, schools, churches, etc., that make traveling in Italy so rewarding.

Lo and behold, this weekend I found that I have at least one reader! Maribel wrote in to tell me that last year I missed a New York Times article on “Tortellini Lessons at the Source” in Bologna. Thanks, Maribel! And, with that, I thought I’d provide another round-up of recent articles, from the NYT and elsewhere:

New York Times
In Turin, the Olympic Glow Hasn’t Yet Faded
Monastic Doors Open For Travelers
Milan: Princi (a must-visit bakery)

The Washington Post
2,000 Years After Vesuvius (Stabiae)
In the Eternal City, Walk in a Roman’s Sandals
Rome On Two Gelatos A Day
Good Libations: Bassano del Grappa, Still the One (Veneto)

Los Angeles Times
Art Springs to Life in Gardens Near Rome
Planning Your Trip to Rome’s Gardens
Planning Your Trip to San Marino
Planning Your Trip to Vatican City

Wall Street Journal
Venice Crossings: A Traghetto Tour
In Italy, A Monastery Getaway (Umbria)

The Independent (UK)
City Slicker: A Guide to Genoa
The Hip Hop Guide to Tuscany’s Treasures

The Guardian (UK)
The Insider’s Guide to Cortina d’Ampezzo
Instant Weekend: Florence
Flying Visit: Le Marche Is Olive-Town
Letting Catania Out of the Bag
Going Solo: Venice
Flying Visit to Lake Garda

Sydney Morning Herald
Dining in the Sky the New Way to See Milan
See Ya Later, Gladiator
Floating Through a Dream (Venice)

The Telegraph (UK)
Rome: Eternal Love
Palladio: 500 Years of Architectural Wonders
Sicily: Golf in the Shadow of Mt. Etna
Michael Howard’s Venice

Yes, this is an exhaustive list. But I’m sure I didn’t find everything. So, I’m depending on all you Maribel’s out there to help me out by sending me links to articles and other tips you think would be worthy of posting on Italofile. Thanks again!

A Snowy Staycation in Rome

You must be thinking: there are two things wrong with this post. First, it’s too early to be talking about snow. And, second, how can you have a “staycation” in Rome if you don’t even live there?

I defer to a recent press release from onthesnow.com. In “The No. 1 Snow Sports Web Site Picks Top 10 Ski Staycations,” onthesnow says:

The newest buzzword in the travel vocabulary is “staycation.” It means staying home and still doing the things one loves to do. That’s difficult for skiers and riders who don’t live in tiny mountain towns and villages.

OnTheSnow.com’s 17 regional editors, based in alpine regions around the world, have selected 10 excellent ski and snowboard options, all within a tank of gas, from a metropolitan area. That’s staying, at least, close to home and still indulging in a favorite sport.

Coming in at number 4 on the list is Rome. The Gran Sasso subregion (listed as the San Grasso region in the release, unfortunately), with its Campo Felice ski area, is within about a tank of gas of the Eternal City and offers, according to onthesnow’s editors, “varied skiing and snowboarding experiences, and there are a surprising number of challenging pistes. The weekends get crowded, but there are 16 lifts. There’s not much nightlife at Campo but, after all, home is Rome.”

And to address the part about it being too early to talk about snow? Well, snow in August is not unheard of in Rome. In fact, legend has it that the papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was built on a hill where a miraculous snow fell on August 5.

On a personal note, this talk about “staycations” gives me the opportunity to plug a colleagues newest book. Backyard Adventures may not be about travel in Italy. But, it just may give you some good ideas for activities to do while you’re planning next year’s trip to Italy.

The Pontines, Perhaps

Unlike Greece, Italy isn’t a land of islands. Sure, there’s Sicily, Capri, and the Tuscan Archipelago, which includes Elba. But there is also a small set of islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea between Rome and Naples that, according to Guy Dinmore of The Financial Times, “offer a safer and saner way to travel” for those who want a “sedate alternative to dashing around packed piazzas.”

In “Escape to ‘Alcatraz’,” Dinmore explores the Pontine Islands, which were once used as prison islands by the likes of Emperor Augustus and Mussolini. You can still take a tour of Santa Stefano, the main prison island, which is today uninhabited, or stay on Ventotene to visit its subterranean dwellings and Roman cisterns or go snorkeling. Dinmore also touches on Ponza, the most popular of the Pontines, and Ischia, which is not exactly a Pontine island but typically grouped with Capri and Procida.

Ponza, apparently, is having its day in the sun lately, as German In Style magazine included it among its round-up of party islands. In Style suggests the following Ponza haunts:

Need more convincing? Check out these spectacular photos from the Pontine Islands on Flickr.

Photo by RonnyBas

Beaches of Lazio

Continuing our series on Italy’s beaches, today we’re highlighting the beaches of Lazio. Most visitors to Lazio, Rome’s region, forget that the Tyrrhenian is as close as half an hour away. In fact, many Roman nightclubs relocate to beaches like Fregene. And, there are also some lovely strands south of Rome in Terracina and Sperlonga.

Province of Viterbo
The area known as the Maremma extends into the northern part of Lazio in the province of Viterbo. The sub-region is called the Maremma Laziale, and it has a couple of beaches worth checking out. The Marina di Montalto near the medieval town of Montalto di Castro is a modern tourist resort with hotels, campgrounds, and plenty of beach chairs to rent for the day. Further south, Tarquinia, which is known for its Archeological Museum of local Etruscan finds, also has a seaside area with similar facilities to Marina di Montalto.

Beaches of Rome
Did you known you can access Rome’s nearest beach by train? It takes about half an hour to ride the train from Piramide (Metro Line B), past Ostia Antica, to the Ostia Lido stop where you want to go. Rome’s local beach, which is also convenient to Fiumicino Airport in case you’ve got a long layover, has several large hotels and, in summer, a vibrant nightlife scene. Another summer favorite for Romans is Fregene, which can also be accessed by public transport (Metro Line A to Lepanto, then blue COTRAL bus to Fregene; travel time: 1 hour). While Fregene is known as the summer address of many big Roman clubs, such as Goa or Gilda, its also a great place to ride a bike and eat tasty seafood, as explained by this New York Times’ article on Fregene.

Elsewhere in the province of Rome are lesser-frequented beaches and extremely busy ports. If you’re taking a cruise that bypasses Rome, then you’ll be disembarking at Civitavecchia. This huge port is not necessarily where you want to plop down a beach towel, but it is here where you can rent a boat or catch a ferry to Sardinia. However, within the Civitavecchia municipality, there are a few stretches of sandy beach. Down the Via Aurelia from Civitavecchia is the seaside resort of Santa Marinella, which is geared more towards families than club-goers. Many other towns and beaches dot the coast of the Province of Rome all the way down to Anzio, a European Blue Flag (i.e., exemplary) beach with ferry connections to the Pontine Islands, and Nettuno, where you can not only catch some rays, but in summer also a little baseball. Of course, Anzio and Nettuno are well-known for being sites of major American offensives during World War II – and, consequently, of American Memorial cemeteries.

Riviera d’Ulisse
The coastline along the Province of Latina is better known as the Riviera d’Ulisse or the Riviera of Ulysses. Ulysses is the Latin for Odysseus, who is said to have landed here during his famous Odyssey. These are the beaches worth going out of the way for if you are staying in Lazio for a while. White sand, dramatic cliffs, and romantic grottoes make up the geography here, from San Felice Circeo to Terracina to Sperlonga. The area of San Felice Circeo is a hub for windsurfing and kayaking and the Parco Nazionale del Circeo is a favorite haunt for birdwatchers.

The Pontine Islands
Finally, the small cluster of islands off the coast of Lazio are known collectively as the Isole Pontine. Part of the Province of Latina, most of the Pontine Islands are uninhabited, save for Ponza and Ventotene. Like the nearby Circeo Park, Ponza and Ventotene are known for their wildlife and nature preserves, which make them a real getaway from the hustle and bustle of Rome (or crowded beaches). To read more about Ponza, check out The Independent’s article Ponza: Italy’s Secret.

Photo by Mortimer

Day Trip to Pompeii from Rome

My friend Tom recently asked me if I knew of any good day trips to Pompeii from Rome. When I last visited Pompeii, I did it myself: taking the morning train to Naples then Pompeii and doing the reverse in the evening. My tour of Pompeii was solo and without a guide; quite frankly, being alone added an extra eerie element to the ruins around me.

Nevertheless, I know that there’s a better way to “do” Pompeii because I am sure that I missed a lot in my quest to be self-sufficient.

Tom’s question put me in research mode. Unfortunately, what I found were fairly expensive tours, the lowest of which started at $173 for a one-day trip or €115 (about $176) for a guided tour of Naples and Pompeii. The In Italy website had trips starting at a ridiculous €728 for a two-person tour. I’m sure that their guide is quite knowledgeable, but their trip still has travelers riding the same train that they could book for themselves.

I took a look to see what it costs today to ride the train from Rome to Pompeii. Currently, a train trip to Pompeii (transferring at Napoli Centrale) on the Ferrovie dello Stato costs €37.90 (or about $58) each way. The earliest trains depart from Rome’s Termini station to Napoli Centrale is 6:45 a.m.; total travel time is about 2 1/2 hours.

Once in Pompeii, travelers will no doubt come upon authorized and non-authorized Pompeii tour guides, whose expertise could cost about €50 for a two-hour tour of the archeological site. Alternatively, once inside the entrance, visitors can purchase an audioguide for €6.50 and pick up free maps of the excavations from the Information Point. To ask about additional services offered by the Pompeii Archeological Site, send an e-mail to infopompei@tin.it.

In sum, a self-guided trip to Pompeii – taking the train, €11 admission, and using an audioguide – will cost a traveler about $142.50 a day, not including breakfast, lunch, and other knick-knacks. Add in those extras, and you may as well book one of the above trips. That, or find a friendly Italian guide who can drive you there and give you a tour for less. Good luck with that one.

So, Tom, I hope that this little bit of research comes in handy for your travel planning. I wish I could have found a better deal for you. Perhaps someone else has a tip? If so, please comment below!

One other idea that I write about in the Unofficial Guide (and that I was reminded of when reading about In Italy’s Pompeii tour) is to consider a daytrip to Ostia Antica. Located about 30 minutes by local train outside of Rome, this ancient ruined city is Pompeii in miniature. Sure, Ostia Antica didn’t die the dramatic death that Pompeii did (the silting up of its outlet to the sea and rampant malaria drove its populace out), it is still a beautiful, awe-inspiring, tour-worthy site.

Photo © Paul Vlaar

Antiques Shopping Outside of Rome

Many readers have gotten in touch with us to find out what there is to do in the Lazio region, and, in particular, in the Province of Rome. It turns out that many provincial Roman towns host flea markets and antique fairs throughout the year. Here is a fairly comprehensive listing of these markets, courtesy of the Province of Rome Tourism Board (www.aptprovroma.it):

ALBANO LAZIALE
Antique Market and Artisan Fair, 2nd Sunday of the month, Quartiere Cellomaio
Information: 06 932 9281; www.prolococecchina.it

ANZIO
Antiques, Art, and Hobby Market, 3rd Sunday of the month
Information: 06 984 991

BRACCIANO
Artisan and Antiques Market, 2nd Sunday of the month (except July and August)
Information: 06 998 40005

CAMPAGNANO DI ROMA
“Le Bancarelle” Antiques Exhibition-Market, last Sunday of the month, Piazza Centrale del Paese
Information: 06 904 4263

CASTEL GANDOLFO
Little Antiques Market, last Sunday of the month
Information: 06 935 9181

CERVETERI
Art and Antiques Market, 3rd Sunday of the month
Information: Comune 06 994 1098 or 06 896 301; Pro Loco 06 995 51971

CIAMPINO
Little Antiques Market, 1st Sunday of the month
Information: 06790971

CIVITAVECCHIA
Little Antiques Market, 4th Saturday and Sunday of the month
Information: Comune 07 665 90561/2; I.A.T. 07 662 5348; www.comunecivitavecchia.it

LADISPOLI
Art and Antiques Market, 2nd Sunday of the month
Information: 06 991 3049; www.prolocoladispoli.it.

LANUVIO
Antiques Market, 1st Sunday of the month
Information: 06 937 891; www.prolocolanuvio.com

MANZIANA
Art and Antiques Market, 1st Sunday of the month
Information: 06 996 2980

MARINO
Little Market of Curiosities, 3rd Sunday of the month
Information: 06 936 7373; www.comune.marino.rm.it

MONTE PORZIO CATONE
Antiques Exhibition-Market, last Sunday of the month, Porta Borghese
Information: 06 943 40043

MONTEROTONDO
“The Island of Time” Little Antiques Market, 2nd Sunday of the month
Information: 06 906 74215

NETTUNO
Art and Antiques Market, 4th Sunday of the month, Lungomare Matteotti
Information: 06 984 6573

SANTA MARINELLA
Little Market at Porto Odescalchi, every Saturday and Sunday of the month
Information: I.A.T. 07 665 13754; Pro Loco S. Severa 07 665 70403

TREVIGNANO ROMANO
Antiques Market, 1st Sunday of the month (except August and December), passegiata in riva al lago
Information: 06 999 19979

VALMONTONE
Market specializing in maps, 4th Saturday and Sunday of the month, near Palazzo Doria Pamphili
Information: 06 959 901

Photo of Bracciano by pietbron