Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Tourists tend to overlook the quaint towns of central Italy's Lazio region for the ever-familiar marquee cities, but what they miss out on is the authenticity of a place
Situated at the foot of the Cimini Hills about 70 km north of Rome (about one hour and a half on train), Viterbo is best known for once housing the Papal Court within its medieval walls for some 20 years. Today more than anything else, Viterbo’s celebrated history has galvanized a bustling town of art and culture, while still maintaining that picturesque feel.
Getting Started In Viterbo
The most popular site in Viterbo is the medieval quarter of San Pellegrino. Enter from the outside through a small door-size passage, considered the “ancient gate” of Viterbo, and there rests debatably the best preservation of 11th and 12th-century architecture in central Italy. Beginning at the historic center—the Papal Palace (Palazzo dei Papi), a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone pathways including the Corso Italia is an appropriate starting point. Along the way, there are charming cloisters and piazzas with elegant fountains carved from peperino.
A Must-Eat Italian Treat
It is important to know that there are two competing gelaterias within the walls—one within the piazza and the other just before it, around the corner along the Corso itself. Many would recommend the latter--what most tourists call “The sticks”—Antico Caffe’ Schenardi. While many would argue against it, gelato con panna (with whipped cream) is a must. The generous dollop of panna and delicious waffle cone chip is a necessity. Note: Gelato has actually been found to be less fattening than ice-cream and possibly nutritious as a meal on-the-run. It is for this reason that one should never feel guilty eating it before and after meals.
Walking further along, with pottery, marble, and wood as its main resources, jewelry shops and fine art vendors line the streets and pry for attention. Locals scream back, “No grazie,” but sometimes it is worth it to strike a bargain.
How To Spend An Afternoon In Viterbo
Italians like to have a leisurely meal and expect foreigners to do the same. Just around the corner from the Palazzo dei Papi lies Ristorante Pizzeria Il Labirinto. The staff are always ready with smiles and ciaos. The menu turistico (tourist menu) offers an excellent deal in three types (A, B or C) and includes unlimited wine and three courses, with the salad always after the pasta and before the gelato. Their creamy mushroom ravioli is mouth-watering and the perfect entrée to wash down with a white wine, preferably a tocai.
Following lunch, the Italians observe an afternoon rest or pausa. In preserving that tradition, Viterbo’s endless shops and ristorantes shut down; the historic center becomes silent. Where do you go when shopping and eating are no longer options? The answer is Terme dei Papi.
Terme, or thermal sulfur baths, are scattered across Viterbo. There are many free terme zones open to the public, but these sites tend to be a bit polluted and not well kept. While the fee to use Terme dei Papi’s sulfur pool is a tad over-price, the bath allows visitors to jump into the clean water and then dry off and sunbathe on a lounge all day long without congestion. It is the perfect afternoon to spend in Viterbo.
Despite the consensus of city-going Italian tourists, the small town of Viterbo is a perfect getaway. Whether it is strolling within the medieval walls and window shopping or spending pausa bathing in a relaxing sulfur sauna with a gelata con panna in hand, Viterbo offers a traveler a genuine experience of Italy’s Lazio region.
Rome's Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo in Italian) is the most romantic spot from which to admire the Eternal City. With spectacular views of the ancient skyline, the Janiculum has a rich history of its own. Because of its commanding position over Rome, the Janiculum has often played center stage in the city's defense, most recently in 1849, when the legendary General Giuseppe Garibaldi and his red-shirted troops made a desperate stand against the French army. Today, Romans set their watches by the cannon that fires from the top of this hill at exactly noon each day.
A walk up the Janiculum from Trastevere is a must; the journey offers unforgettable panoramas of ancient monuments like the Pantheon and Palatine Hill as well as its own important sites. The best time to tour the area is late afternoon or evening, catching the sunset from the lookout at the summit (bus 870 stops here for the return trip down to the Tiber).
From Piazza Trilussa across the Ponte Sisto walking bridge from Campo dei Fiori, the Janiculum already tempts a stroll as the Church of San Pietro in Montorio peeks over Trastevere's roofs. From here, head up the Vicolo de' Cinque, stopping off first at Enoteca Ferrara for an aperitivo at the heart of Trastevere's vibrant street scene. Traversing Via della Scala, walk straight out of the bustle and onto the quieter Vicolo del Cedro, which echoes back to Trastevere's past with its ubiquitous hanging laundry and old mopeds.
San Pietro in Montorio and the Fontana dell' Acqua Paola
At the top of the alley, a steep staircase leads up towards Via Garibaldi and the Janiculum. Crossing this main thoroughfare requires caution, especially since this narrow street lacks sidewalks. A few yards uphill on the right, a wide gated staircase flanked by the stations of the cross lifts pedestrians away from the traffic and towards the medieval Church of San Pietro in Montorio, built on the spot where St. Peter was believed to have been crucified and today a favorite venue for Italian weddings.
Joining up again with Via Garibaldi, on the left-hand side you will pass the memorial to patriots who died fighting for Italian unification. Just beyond this fascist-era monument, the enormous fountain of the Acqua Paola is a good place to rest and enjoy the first good view over Trastevere's rooftops. Built in 1612, the fountain commemorated the re-opening of an ancient aqueduct by Pope Paul V Borghese. The enormous basin was added by Carlo Fontana in 1690.
The still-working aqueduct itself is visible on the north side of the Villa Pamphili park, further up the hill; although its source is no longer considered potable, the Acqua Paola feeds many of Rome's smaller fountains far below. Cool splashing waters make the Acqua Paola a popular spot to relax on hot days, and on summer nights it hosts a trendy (and expensive) outdoor cocktail bar.
Janiculum Park and Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi
Via Garibaldi ends at the neo-classical Porta San Pancrazio; a right turn here leads to the Passeggiata del Gianicolo, which runs along the ridge of the Janiculum Hill towards the Vatican. White busts of Garibaldi's Italian patriots line the shady park drive, and an equestrian statue of the general himself looms above the airy promenade at Piazzale Garibaldi. A traditional puppet theater holds performances here for kids on weekend mornings and evenings.
Another important equestrian statue rises nearby at the tomb of Garibaldi's Brazilian wife Anita, who fought alongside her husband in defense of Rome in 1849 while pregnant before succumbing to illness. Further along the Janiculum ridge, the Manfredi Lighthouse was an early 20th century gift to the city of Rome by Italians in Argentina.
Beyond Porta San Pancrazio
The American Academy, just opposite the Porta San Pancrazio in Via Angelo Masina, was built by Charles McKim, part of the team that designed the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The 6th century Basilica of San Pancrazio stands back from Via di San Pancrazio, near the enormous park of Villa Pamphili, up a charming tree-lined drive.
The Poets' Gulf in Liguria, Northern Italy, has attracted D.H. Lawrence, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron and is a true Mediterranean gem.
To the British poet D.H. Lawrence, the medieval village of Tellaro, located in the Gulf of La Spezia, Northern Italy, was the most beautiful place he ever visited in his life. In a historical letters dating from the years 1913 and 1914, he overflows with enthusiasm as he describes his peaceful garden close to the sea where oranges and lemons grow abundantly: “I'm so happy that I found this place, at last. It is perfect: A lovely bay that is protected, on one side, by sharp rocks, whereas its other side is bordered by gracious olive trees.”
In a rose painted cottage, Lawrence and his lover, the German Frieda von Richthofen, spent the best years of their love. The couple was escaping the scandal that had burst upon making their relation public, since Frieda was still married then. In Liguria, they sought and found shelter. One year later, they married.
Today, the dramatic beauty of the so-called Poets’ Gulf lingers on, and the writer is vividly remembered. You can visit his retreat, and a road that bears his name leads directly to the sea. Here, acacias and pines provide shade while they intensely exude their typical aroma, everyone who has ever visited the Mediterranean will recognize: It’s that almost aphrodisiac aroma of the wild “macchia” that brings with it the sound of cicadas over dusty paths and the promise of salvation, represented by an emerald spot shimmering on the horizon.
Percy Shelley's Tragic Legacy
D.H. Lawrence was not the only poet who fell in love with these climes. Before him, Percy and Mary Shelley and Lord Byron sought and found inspiration in the gentle landscape. You don’t necessarily need a romantic scandal as an excuse to flee rainy English days and head towards the South. Here, even the weak January light enhances the small, yellow or red houses that are so typical for the Ligurian Riviera.
“We drove alongside that enchanting bay, under the light of a summer moon until the earth seemed like a place out of this world.” Percy Shelley, author of these lines, and his wife, Mary, accommodated themselves in San Terenzo, another community adjacent to the Poets’ Gulf, in 1822. However, what first seemed like a dream, eventually turned into a nightmare: Shortly before his 30th birthday, Percy drowned in the waters of the same bay, as his boat, the Don Juan, sank. His tragic death reinforced his mythical and immortal image of an ethereal romantic.
In those days, the gulf was simply called the Gulf of La Spezia, according to the harbor city of the same name that still is the naval and economic hub in the region. The origins of its nickname remain uncertain. Some say it actually derives from Percy Shelley, others claim it was the local writer Sem Benelli, who baptized the Poet’s Gulf in 1919.