Postcards from Italy

Tivoli: An Idyllic Respite from Rome

Located less than an hour from Rome’s teeming historic center, Tivoli has been a popular summer retreat for the city’s residents since the time of ancient Rome and through the Renaissance, and saw the construction of lavish villas and gardens used as pleasure palaces for the capital’s most powerful and wealthy noble families over the millennia. Today, this hilltop town—home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and an Italian National Heritage Trust gem—is a popular day trip from Rome for those looking for a break from the relentless bustle of the city.

Tivoli(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

You can take just a few hours to tour the town’s main attraction, the 16th-century Villa d'Este famous for its ornate gardens and fountains, or spend an entire day and also visit Villa Adriana, Emperor Hadrian's sprawling estate; and the lush woodlands of Parco Villa Gregoriana. The small town of Tivoli itself is also worth a stroll, and is thick with traditional restaurants and trattorias for a lunch break during your visit. Here are the highlights to take in on a day trip to Tivoli:

Villa d’Este

The crown jewel of Tivoli is by far the UNESCO-listed Villa d’Este, perched on the hilltop and home to one of Italy’s finest examples of a Renaissance garden. The steeply terraced grounds are decorated with spectacular monumental fountains, elegant tree-lined avenues, and romantic grottoes and surround the villa that was converted from a Benedictine convent to a luxurious country retreat by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este—Lucrezia Borgia's son—in the late 16th century.

Tivoli(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Visits include a stroll through the villa's interiors to take in the ornate mannerist frescoes, but the highlight is the vast park with its cypress-tree-lined lanes and extravagant fountains with water-spouting gargoyles that are powered exclusively by gravity. Be sure to take in the Fountain of the Organ, designed by Bernini, which creates musical notes using water pressure via a concealed organ, and the magnificent Avenue of the Hundred Fountains stretching over 400 feet.

Tivoli(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa)

Set three miles outside Tivoli proper, the vast ruins of Emperor Hadrian's vast country estate rival ancient ruins in Rome and is the town’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 2nd century, the villa was one of the largest at the time and covered almost 300 acres. About a third of the original estate is open to the public, and a good place to start is the pavilion housing a scale model of the original villa, much of which was designed by the emperor himself based on architecture he had seen during his travels around the Mediterranean.

Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli(Photo by Carole Mage via Flickr)

Highlights of the complex include the pecile, the large pool near the walls that was modeled on a building in Athens; and the canopo, a copy of a similar structure in ancient Egypt with a narrow pool flanked by sculptures and crowned by the Serapaeum, a nymphaeum that was used to host summer banquets. Don’t miss the Teatro Marittimo, a small circular villa surrounded by an artificial pool that could only be reached via swing bridges where the emperor would retreat from the buzzing social scene of his holiday retreat.

The Canopus, Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli(Photo by Carole Mage via Flickr)

Villa Gregoriana

Parco Villa Gregoriana was commissioned by Pope Gregory XVI in the early 19th century and its ruggedly dramatic landscape is protected as an Italian National Heritage Trust (FAI) site. Set on a wooded gorge along the Aniene River, the park is home to a number of hiking trails that run from one side of the ravine to the other, as well as a towering waterfall and scattering of ancient ruins including a Roman necropolis, villa, and the Temple of Vesta.

Villa Gregoriana(Photo by Giuseppe Trisciuoglio via Flickr)

The pope commissioned the park primarily to rebuild the bed of the Aniene, an important strategic waterway, resulting in the creation of the park's second waterfall. This, along with picturesque cliffs and fluvial caves, can be seen from scenic overlooks along the walking and hiking trails, making the park a haven for both photographers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Villa Gregoriana_0008(Photo by Alessandro Malatesta via Flickr)

The Town of Tivoli

Most visitors to Tivoli stop exclusively to take in its villas, but the town itself is delightfully picturesque, offering sweeping views over the surrounding countryside and a number of monuments to explore. Stroll along Via delle Cascatelle and Via Quintilio Varo for glimpses of the area’s famous waterfalls, and stop to take in the 15th-century Rocca Pia fortress and the Romanesque Duomo.

Tivoli(Photo by RATATATO via Flickr)

In addition to sightseeing, Tivoli is the perfect place to sample traditional regional dishes from Lazio during a day trip. Two popular eateries are Sibilla set next to the 2nd-century BC Temple of Vesta, and the more informal Antica Trattoria del Falcone near Villa d'Este.

Tivoli(Photo by RATATATO via Flickr)

Related posts:
A Papal Retreat: Castel Gandolfo
The Best Beaches for Daytrips from Rome, Florence, and Venice
A Day in Orvieto

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