Day trip from Rome: the Pope’s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo
Castel Gandolfo overlooks the stunning Lake Albano and is known worldwide for being the pope’s summer residence. Its elegant historic center and position immersed in nature make it one of the most beautiful Italian borghi, part of the Castelli Romani area. Located just a 35-minute drive from the center of Rome, Castel Gandolfo makes for the perfect day trip. Come by to experience this beautiful town, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to visit the Papal Palace and Gardens, which were opened to the public in 2014 by Pope Francis. Unlike his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict, Francis rarely visited the site, reportedly finding it too luxurious and grandiose. So, locals and tourists now have the chance to see inside the villa and discover how previous popes kicked back and relaxed.
The Papal Palace
Right on the main square of Castel Gandolfo, you’ll find the Papal Palace where popes spent their summers from 1596 to 2016. Today, the Apostolic Palace is a museum that offers an interesting exhibition itinerary, rich in history and insights, created and managed by the Vatican Museums. Once you go through security and walk up the stairs, you’ll find a big courtyard exhibiting the many cars used by the popes. After you’ve had a look, it’s time to enter the Papal Palace and start your 500-year history journey of the popes.
Among the twenty-something rooms you will visit, you’ll the Papal Portrait Gallery. The exhibition, with fifty canvases of various sizes, presents the portraits of the popes starting from Pope Julius II, elected on November 1st 1503, go as far as Pope Francis. The exhibition itinerary is set up in seven large rooms, the second of which opens onto a large terrace overlooking the lake and the last on the balcony where the popes, up to Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013), recited the Angelus prayer when they were on holiday in Castel Gandolfo.
You will also see the pope’s private bedroom that contains a single bed and is situated next to a private chapel. It’s also where popes Pius XII and Paul VI died. During your visit of the Apostolic Palace you will find many treasures, including a papal throne, liturgical antiques and artworks. One of the most striking rooms is the Gallery of Alexander VII, with frescoes by Pierleone Ghezzi.
The Papal Gardens
Visitors can also walk in the footsteps of the popes around the equally lavish Papal Gardens that extend over an area of about 55 hectares. Far from the frenzy and chaos of the capital, visitors can enjoy the beauty of the gardens and contemplate every detail.
The Renaissance was the period of greatest development of the Papal Gardens, during which buildings, fountains, statues and tree-lined avenues were built. The care and refinement with which the Gardens were created makes them one of the many artistic jewels of the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo and one of the most beautiful places in the Alban Hills.
The Italian style gardens with hedge mazes, sculptures, fountains and ancient ruins make these gardens the perfect escape. Keep in mind that the tour will take place in groups of 15 people and that there will be a staff member that will take you around.
Piazza della Libertà, Castel Gandolfo
Direct trains from Rome’s Termini Station to Castel Gandolfo leave hourly.
Entry fee €11 – €12 (visiting the Papal Palace and Gardens requires two distinct tickets)