How’s Pope Benedict XVI’s retreat? Let’s discover Castel Gandolfo!
No Angelus this Sunday in St Peter’s square. Nor any display of Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo, his new retreat. The pope is presumably very tired and will avoid any appearance in public at least until the new pontiff is elected.
But we are sure that he will not get bored during the two months he will have to spend in the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo, the little town overlooking the volcanic lake of Albano, 20 kilometers south of Rome.
The extraterritorial compound, part of the Vatican state, has been used by the popes as their summer residence since 1626. It is closed to the public but anyway, it still worth saying what’s in there, because there is really a lot to know and see!
First of all the size, 70 hectares. The outdoor spaces of the retreat feature huge gardens, woods, fountains, catacombs, an astronomic observatory with a lab, the ancient Roman ruins of an Imperial Villa and a fish pond with a kneeling stool for the pope. The view of Rome is impressive.
There are three palaces. The most important is the Apostolic one, whose left wing has been hosting Benedict XVI since 2005. The Cybo Villa has a modern meeting hall that can host up to 10,000 standing people.
Let’s finish with a curiosity: the papal residence also features a gasoline station, with much lower prices than those applied in Italy as the Vatican doesn’t know any direct or indirect taxes!
THE VILLAGE OF CASTEL GANDOLFO AND THE ALBANO LAKE
What can you see around the Pope’s residence, in this hillside little center of 9,000 inhabitants, considered one of the best Italian villages? Here are some tips.
First of all, it is easy to reach as you can get there by train (from Termini station) in about 40mn for a bit more than 2 euros or by bus from the Anagnina underground stop – Line A terminus.
Second. Don’t miss the lake (10 minute-downhill walk from the village), a very relaxing experience and perfect for sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, swimming and sunbathing. Around the lake, which is formed by two craters, hence the elliptical shape, and is very deep (around 170 meters), you have bike and walking paths.
Third – Food. This area south of Rome, called Castelli, is famous for its good cuisine, very simple and tasty. Our recommendation #1 in Castel Gandolfo is the family-run Antico Ristorante Pagnanelli (established in 1882), whose specialties are innovative regional dishes and sea and lake fish, with a breath-taking view of the lake and a huge wine cellar. If you want something faster and simpler you can go to their wine bar or head for Arte e Vino which offers cold cuts, cheese and vegetables for a moderate price.
Fourth – History. According to the legend, this little town was founded before Rome by the son of Aeneas and it was part of the Latin League which included many of the big centers south of Rome from the 6th to the mid-4th century BC. No archaeological findings can definitively confirm it, yet.
Fifth – Art. Bernini, the master of Baroque art, worked here in the first half of the 17th century, when the papal residence was built. He designed the church of San Tommaso da Villanova with its beautiful dome and crafted the fountain in the main baroque square. But most of this walled village was erected in the late Middle Age.
Sixth – Events. The local weekly food market is on Friday morning.
The second-hand, vintage market takes place the last Sunday of each month.
The last Sunday of July there is a Peach Fair, the best local product.
In June Castel Gandolfo hosts the Lattarino Fair. Lattarino is a very small, silver, lake fish that can be fried in oil or vinegar.
June also features the recently established Dragon boat race in the lake.
The first Sunday of September there is a religious procession for the patron, Saint Sebastian.
Seventh – accommodation. If you want to stay overnight, we have a couple of places that we suggest you to consider.
Castelvecchio, panoramic view of the lake, with a rooftop pool, Art Nouveau building.
Culla del Lago, along the lake shore, has a beautiful park with old trees.