Ariccia (my little secret)

Just a short ride out of Rome lies one of Italy’s rarest gems. Visitors and locals must take time out of their trip or day to visit Ariccia. Ask any Roman, they will all tell you the same thing; this is the best day-time trip destination away from the chaos and bustle of Rome’s city center.

A magical village up in the luscious hilltops, it is hard not to fall in love with Ariccia. One of the best known Castelli Romani towns, which means “Roman Castles”. This charming little town is famous for mouth watering food and bubbly wine.

First and foremost, it is important to take a stroll in and around Ariccia on arrival to get your bearings. The most striking sight in Ariccia is the northern entrance point “Ponte di Ariccia” (Bridge of Ariccia), which leads to Bernini’s Baroque square. If you have the patience to wait for the incredibly late, but totally worth it Italian dinners, pass your time by visiting the two volcanic lakes that the town is positioned between. It is definitely worthwhile to check out these beautiful lakes on the way to Ariccia. These extinct volcanos play a great role in wine production in this area. The soil here is volcanic and naturally healthy. It is very permeable soil with good drainage and high ash content, creating a perfect environment to grow grapes. However, these lakes and sites are hardly the reason myself and the many other “frequent fliers” are incapable of staying away from.

After walking around town, up and down the steep streets, it is most likely that you will have become quite thirsty and hungry. Luckily you are in for a treat. Take the tiny sloping streets down to the little osterias (restaurants), and don’t forget to wear your comfy pants.

VERY IMPORTANT! Make sure you do not skip the speciality antipasti plates. It is common table manners to cover every inch of your table with cured pork, cheese, and the classic local dish known as “Porchetta” (slow roasted pork). The salty appetizers are nicely matched with a sweet sparkling bottle of wine called Romanella. It is much too easy to drink bottle after bottle of this wine. Luckily it is only 2 euros a bottle!

Unfortunately, it is not very easy to get to Ariccia via public transportation, like everywhere else in and around Rome, so sign up for a Castelli Romani Wine Tour with When In Rome Tours and get there in your very own limo. The tours generally explore the center of Frascati, Lake Albano, and Castelgandolfo, but are willing to include additional winery visits to Ariccia.


Rome, Rome tours, and Romanians

They live out in the sticks, betwixt and between the back of beyond. They bus into Rome every day to hammer and drill holes in the walls of apartments owned by middle aged Italian women who either 1. need the company, or 2. want to remind the neighbourhood that they are still Madrone. No neither unfortunately, but aneither serve nay real purpose. Romanian builders are perhaps the most misunderstood immigrant sub-set in Italy; do they really come all the way here from Dacia to build / destroy walls? The more likely reason is lack of work back home, but opportunities here on the peninsula are middling at best. As for the Italian ladies who hire them, why? History tells us that the most accomplished builders the world has ever known were Roman. Well, second generation Roman-born North African slaves. I wonder if our Rome tours retell the lives and times of slaves during the reign of Trajan, or that of Augustus? Yes, I am sure they do. Certain of it.

For the sake of clarity

The world is a busy place, so busy in fact that people use the internet without reading. Really? How is this possible? Does everyone just YouTube, click Facebook ‘Like’ and browse trillions of other people’s polaroids on Flickr? Perhaps I am being paranoid but the number of e-mails we receive along the lines of ‘Hi, what does this tour include, how much is it, where is the meeting point and what time does it start on which day’ is increasing.

It is of the essence to ensure that these bare basic facts are displayed with absolute clarity on our Rome tours and Vatican tour pages. If they are not, please let us know!

E-commerce has regressed into an environment where the masses expect to view, click and pay in under a minute. The days of illustrating web content with creative, descriptive text and images have faded for the sake of the hard sell. It’s a crying shame, and while we are duty bound to market all our Rome sightseeing services, we’ll never lose sight of the importance of presentation for presentation’s sake.

The Restoration of the Black Stone

Our Rome tours with a private guide include an overview of the Lapis Niger (Latin for ‘Black Stone’), a site in the Roman Forum where an ancient shrine surrounded by black slabs of marble sets it apart from ubiquitous travertine flooring. Along with the Vulcanal, a sanctuary to Vulcan, it is the only surviving remnant of the Old Comitium, an assembly which pre-dates the forum. It may also be the location of a 7th or 8th century BC. cult.

The Lapis Niger was unearthed in 1899 by Giacomo Boni and it’s discovery was recorded in the writings of Sextus Pompeius Festus, which alluded to a ‘black stone in the Comice’ (Lapis Niger in Comitio). Described as a fatal place, the tomb of Romulus, or at least where he was killed, the literary tradition according to which the first Roman king was killed beside a sanctuary initiated the misidentification of the site with Romulus’ grave. This hypothesis has been excluded in modern times.

Excavations have uncovered a monumental complex comprising a platform supporting a tuffaceous altar with three antas (shutters) and a circular basement, perhaps used to house a statue, and a trapezoid cippus (low pillar) – possibly the Lapis Niger as described in ancient Latin texts – the sides of which show bustrofedic inscriptions (‘the way of plowing oxen’, i.e. from left to right in reverse) which date back to 570-560 B.C. The inscriptions resemble ancient Greek alphabet, and the stone is chronologically linked to the period when Greek lettering was in use by the people of Italy. As only fragments of each line have survived the ravages of time, it is impossible to decipher the meaning with any degree of accuracy. However, scholars are of the opinion that it may be a warning.

The Lapis Niger, occasionally referred to as ‘Heart of the World’, is being restored to it’s original splendour in situ after centuries of concealment. At the foot of the Campidoglio, between the Curia Julia and Arch of Septimius Severus, a specialized project area is now strictly off limits, as archaeologists dismantle 300 square metres of reinforced concrete floor laid in the 1950’s.  Project leader Pia Petrangeli reports that iron parts inside the paving, severely corroded by humidity, have been stabilized to reduce the possibility of collapse. In order to achieve such a delicate task, an innovative application has been used for the first time on an archaeological dig in Rome. Technicians will cut through the concrete with a sophisticated air-saw and ‘wagon-bridge’. At time of writing, the area is secure and works to uncover the stone are already underway. If you are interested in a tour of the Roman Forum in the company of an expert Rome tour guide, Ancient City, Piazzas & Fountains is a good place to start, as is Rome in a Day, Two Days in Rome and Three Days in Rome.


Organic Rome tours? No!

Not what you think. Panda and our Rome tours rank clashed head on this morning over an impossible organic drop. At time of writing, a modicum of progress throughout the day augurs well for the weekend. It’s better that conflicts of this kind see the light of day in February, rather than June, for example. Without giving the game away, you can’t be best at both. If you’re online and marketing Rome tours, blogging about county boundaries, or trying to tell the world that tarantulas make spectacular pets, never try to understand Google! Just plough ever on and one way or another you’ll keep up 🙂

So, moving swiftly on to what matters most, ergo Rome tours and our new Florence tours, which have come to see the light of day somewhat earlier than expected! Here’s our link for visitors who want to see the best of Florence when in Rome, or rather a few days after time spent here in the Eternal city.

Rome brought to a standstill… again!

Rome is brought to a standstill so often, it stands to reason that those of us who have to go out to work for a living – and use public transport to boot – wake up and expect the worst every day in the working week. In such a corruptible and unpredictable country as the Italy we know and love is and forever shall be, we are still unpleasantly surprised upon being informed that Rome traffic is gridlocked from here to there in every direction because of striking public transport workers.

Even Italians are not entirely sure why the chances of their day grinding to a halt from about 08:00 are at an all time high. Typically no less than eight unions collude, so public transport strikes in Rome hit hard; most if not all suburban bus, metro and regional train services stop running with impunity. Notice is usually posted after the fact on if at all.

So, how to avoid them if you’re a tourist with a busy day of Rome tours ahead? Ask your accommodation provider about ‘sciopero’ (that’s ‘strike’ in Italian to you and me) if you’ve heard on the grapevine that public transport in Rome is about to be suspended, or you can always ask us instead. It’s not unheard of, in fact it’s become a daily occurrence for tourists to use our office as an information point in times of need. Of course we’re happy to oblige, if we have time to help in between taking bookings for our Vatican tours and other Rome excursions.