All You Need to Know About Visiting Castle Gondolfo in Italy
A Roman holiday is a magical affair but sometimes, pushing your way through the throngs to get to the Colosseum or the Vatican Museums can be a mood dampener. But there’s more to Rome and Vatican than the crowded monuments in the city center. Your saving grace here is a quaint little village by the name of Castel Gandolfo, 12 miles from Rome.
Castel Gandolfo is a Roman town located on the Alban Hills overlooking Lake Albano, in the Lazio region. Considered to be one of the most scenic towns in Italy, it is also home to the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, which used to serve as a summer residence and vacation retreat for the Pope. It is now open to the public as a museum.
Why Visit Castel Gandolfo?
Seated on a rocky perch above the sparkling, turquoise waters of the volcanic Lake Albano, this historic village is home to the Pope’s summer palace or Papal Villas and the famous Barberini Gardens. Here, you can enjoy a quiet picnic by the beautiful lake and enjoy the scenic beauty of the lush countryside.
Apart from the Apostolic Palace, where you can get an insight into how the Pope would spend the summer, there is a lot to see at Castel Gandolfo. Visit the Church of St. Thomas of Villanova on the main square of the village and the Doric Nymphaeym, an archaeological site that was part of Emperor Domitian's Villa residence. Make it a point to visit the world's first postbox while you are here!
Where is Castel Gandolfo?
Located about 18 miles southeast of Rome, Castel Gandolfo's boundaries extend obliquely in a north-northeast turn around the Alban Hills and the plains of Agro Romanus. The territory's maximum elevation is about 425 meters above sea level and the lowest elevation is 101 meters above the sea level. Most of the soil in the region is of volcanic origin. Lake Albano is the main water body in Castel Gandolfo, which has earned the lake the name Lake Castel Gandolfo.
Visiting Hours: Apostolic Palace is open every Saturday from 9 AM to 5:30 PM.
How Far Is Castel Gandolfo From Vatican City?
Castel Gandolfo is located about 29 kilometers away from Vatican City. It would take about 50 minutes to reach Castel Gandolfo from Vatican City by car.
What to See in Castel Gandolfo
Here are the top highlights to see in Castel Gandolfo.
Belvedere means ‘beautiful view’, and the gardens certainly live up to its name. You will find sunken koi ponds and a fountain here. Running along the right-hand side you will find the ancient cryptoporticus of the emperor Domitian decked up with dozens of plants and vines that creep up it. It is believed that this 300-meter long passage was constructed so that Domitian would be protected during his walks. 1,900 years later, during the Second World War, it was used to shelter dozens of families who had fled to Castel Gandolfo escaping persecution from the Nazis
Renaissance master Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s fountains earned Rome the title of ‘open-air museum’. His works, from the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona to the Fontana del Tritone and Fontana delle Api in Piazza Barberini are masterpieces. Fontana delle Api, whose construction was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII, was mainly created to regulate the water flow of the Fontana del Tritone. This fountain, although built out of necessity, maintains a harmonic and consistent layout of the square and the main fountain, thereby showcasing the brilliance of Bernini.
World's first Postbox
Piazza della Liberta, Castel Gandolfo’s main square is a 15-minute walk from the station. It’s going to be a steep walk as the square is situated on a hill, but once you reach, the vibe of the village will invigorate your senses. Piazza della Liberta’s main attraction is the facade of the Papal Palace which overlooks the square. It is also home to the world’s first postbox (yes, how iconic is that!), so uphold the tradition that most tourists follow and post a letter. You can also visit the Church of San Tommaso, the central church of the village.
Head down to the shores of Lake Albano after your coffee at Piazza della Liberta. The road that runs along the lake is lined with restaurants and bars on one side and beach clubs on the other. You can either rent a bike to scout the surrounding area or rent a boat or a kayak and enjoy the fresh air and lake view. A word of caution: Do not dive into the lake as the volcanic waters are extremely chilly and the depth (Lake Albano is the deepest lake in the region of Lazio, reaching 560 ft) could be fatal for swimmers.
- The parish church, Church of St. Thomas of Villanova, was designed by Bernini at the behest of Chigi Pope Alexander VII.
- Church of Our Lady of the Lake is located on the shores of Lake Albano. It was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in 1977.
- Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which was constructed in 1619.
- Church of Santa Maria is situated in the Borgo San Paolo district. The Ugo Bazzi theater adjoins the church.
- Church of San Sebastiano, dedicated to the patron saint of the city.
- Church of Santa Maria Della Cona.
- The Papal Palace was built on the ruins of the former castle. The site partly occupies the foundations of a summer residence of Emperor Domitian. In the palace's inner courtyard you will find a Roman bust depicting Polyphemus, the Cyclops from whose cave Ulysses escaped. You will also find a nymphaeum in the villa's gardens.
- Villa of Publius Clodius Pulcher, located on the Appian Way.
- The Bergantino or bath of Diana nymphaeum, on the western shores of the Lake Albano.
- Emissary of the Lake Albano, a 1,800-meter long artificial conduit of runoff water that runs from the West coast of Lake Albano and leads into Castel Gandolfo territory.
History of Castel Gandolfo
In 1200, Castel Gandolfo, situated on the ancient site of Alba Longa, capital of the Latin League, was put on the map by the Genoese family of the Gandolfo when they built their castle on top of the Alban Hills overlooking the Albano lake.
It was Pope Urban VIII who took on the project of rebuilding the old castle at Castel Gandolfo. Following the construction of the Apostolic or Papal Palace, the summer residence of the Pope, in 1608, this village became the domain of the Holy See.
During the Napoleonic Wars, some 900 anti-French citizens of neighboring Velletri held out in Castel Gandolfo, resisting the siege by Joachim Murat. From 1870 to 1929, the Papal Palace had no pontiffs, attributed to the signing of the Lateran Treaty.
During World War II, Pope Pius XII had the grounds of Castel Gandolfo opened up to the refugees fleeing from Rome.
Plan Your Visit to Castel Gandolfo
It will take you about 45 minutes to get from Roma Termini Station to Castel Gandolfo Station. The journey costs €2.10 one-way.
Tickets can be booked online or at one of the many ticket machines at Termini Station. However, there are no ticket machines at Castel Gandolfo, so we suggest you buy your return ticket at Termini Station. From Castel Gandolfo Station, it’s a 15-minute walk up to Piazza della Liberta.
Cotral runs a daily service from the terminus at Roma Anagnina to Castel Gandolfo. The journey takes less than an hour and costs the same as the train. Since Rome’s rural bus services comprise only Italian speakers, you might face difficulty communicating your concerns to the driver. Hence, it is better you board the train.
The Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo is open every Saturday from 9 AM to 5:30 PM with final entry at 4:30 PM.
Opening hours of shops and restaurants in Castel Gandolfo vary throughout the year.
Generally, shops remain open from 9 AM to 1 PM and 3:30 PM to 7:30 PM (or 4 PM to 8 PM) Monday through Saturday.
Some shops are open on Sunday mornings.
Restaurants are open on all days from noon until 3 PM and then from 7:30 PM to 11 PM.
Springtime, that is March through May is the best time to visit Castel Gandolfo, as the weather is warm and pleasant. It does get colder at night, but since you will mostly be taking a day trip from Rome to Castel Gandolfo.
Tourism also peaks in January and February. As expected, hotel and flight prices will be quite expensive, so make sure you make your reservations in advance.
However, December experiences lesser tourists and hence, is a good time to visit if you are on a budget. You will get ample rain and snow, so pack your essentially accordingly.
- L´Antico Ristorante Pagnanelli 1882: Enjoy great views, good food, and excellent wine. Afterward, you can visit the wine cellars below and view the thousands of vintage wine bottles on display. You could even see some bottles that were signed by Hollywood stars, such as Robert De Niro, Nicolas Cage, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
- La Terza Rima: Enjoy some drinks and food at this small but nice bar and restaurant.