A New Way to See the Imperial Forum: A Light Show

Imperial Forum at night
Last year, Rome launched a nighttime light show in the Imperial Forum (Fori Imperiali) at the Forum of Augustus. This year, it’s not only bringing the Forum of Augustus show back — it’s also starting a second one, at the Forum of Caesar. (Both will run from 22 April to 30 October 2016).

I did the Forum of Augustus tour last year. It was excellent. I’m sure the Forum of Caesar tour will be the same.

What makes these light shows/tours so cool? For one thing, both lead visitors through a usually-inaccessible archaeological site: the Imperial Forum, which was built by Caesar and the emperors who followed him and which, unlike the Republican Forum on the other side of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, you can’t buy a ticket to wander through. Instead, usually, all you can do is peer down at the Imperial Forum from the road. (Or from the museum at Trajan’s Market).

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The Most Idyllic Island Escapes from Rome

Island escapes from Rome

I love Rome in summer as much as the next girl. But usually, by the time June rolls around, I’m already dreaming of an island escape.

Luckily, Rome’s seaside location means you don’t need to set aside a whole week to enjoy some idyllic island time: even just a weekend will do. When I’m craving beautiful scenery, super-fresh fish, laid-back hamlets and those sparkling Mediterranean shores, but only have 48 hours to spend (or less!), here are the three islands on the top of my list.

Ponza

Ponza, a great weekend trip from Rome

I can’t believe I’ve gotten into year five of this blog (or my travel-writing career, for that matter) without having published a word about Ponza. For shame! When it comes to Mediterranean islands, it’s easily one of Italy’s best-kept secrets… from international tourists, that is. Romans know Ponza well: in fact, the well-heeled have been visiting the island for more than 2,000 years, drawn by its lush, volcanic greenery, striking cliffs and, of course, bright-blue sea. (Fun fact: the island gets its name from a local legend which holds that Pontius Pilate’s own family had a villa here).

Today, Ponza (also shown at top) is scattered with a handful of small, pastel villages. The main port town crowds with Italians fresh off the ferries in July and August. (It’s much quieter even in June, and when I went once in October, there was hardly anyone there at all—even though the temperature remained balmy enough for a swim).

Circe's cave at the island of Ponza

Although its villages are lovely, Ponza’s main attraction is, of course, the natural scenery. Don’t miss  the Chaia di Luna (above), a crescent of cliffs plunging into the sea where Circe, the sorceress, was said to have seduced Odysseus. In-the-know-Italians also flock to Spiaggia di Frontone, which you take a ferry to from Porto, and stay until the evening, hanging out at the laid-back bars and beach clubs.

Renting a car or scooter is, as with all three of these islands, suggested—but for Ponza, especially, it’s also worth renting a small outboard boat, which you can do right at the harbor, to toodle around. It’s the best way to get to those out-of-the-way coves and beaches that make the island so special. Taking a boat around Ponza

Getting there: Take the train from Rome to Formia-Gaeta (one hour, €16.50 or 1.5 hours, €8.20), or to Anzio (one hour and €3.60). From Formia, Laziomar runs ferries to Ponza (80 minutes, €25.50 or 2.5 hours, €16.70); from Anzio, Vetor offers ferries to Ponza (70 minutes, €25 to €48).

Ischia

Ischia, a weekend trip from Rome
Capri isn’t the only island off Naples and the Amalfi caost. Ischia, its neighbor, is actually the largest island in the bay—plus is cheaper, less touristic and every bit as beautiful.

I’ve written about Ischia at length before, both in this post and in this story last year for the Globe and Mail, so I won’t repeat it all here. But let’s put it this way: Ischia has a ridiculously picturesque castle (that just happens to date back to the time of the ancient Greeks), tons of little villages and coves to explore, and some of the best sfogliatelle around. And it makes not only a fantastic quick trip from Rome, but a great day trip from the Amalfi coast or Naples, too.

Castello Aragonese in Ischia, an island in the Bay of Naples

Getting there: Take the train from Rome to Naples (the fastest is 70 minutes, €43; cheapest is 2 hours, €19). From there, grab a bus or taxi to the port (10 minutes; a taxi costs €11) and one of a number of ferries, run by lines including Medmar, Caremar, Alilauro and Snav, on to Ischia. The fastest from the main port takes 45 minutes and costs about €28 each way.

Procida

Island of Procida

This picturesque little island is another of Capri’s lesser-known neighbors. It also measures just 1.5 square miles—leaving so little room for tourism buildup, both hotels and tourist crowds are pretty nonexistent.

That, of course, is part of Procida’s charm. Old men gather in the piazzas to gossip and smoke, fishermen repair their nets on the docks and centuries-old traditions endure—like the Good Friday procession of the Misteri, which parades life-sized, handmade floats through the town.

Procida, a day trip from RomeAside from the seaside life and spectacular scenery (this is where Il Postino was filmed), the island has a sense of magic to it I haven’t experienced anywhere else, a kind of Neapolitan mysteriousness that’s been transferred (and preserved) offshore.One local legend has it that, when Procida was besieged (hardly for the first time) by pirates on 8 Ma 1535, locals called on St Michael the archangel for help. He showed up, sword in hand, and the pirates fled, another anniversary that’s celebrated with a procession each year.

For more about Procida, and more shots of this stunning  off-the-beaten-path island, check out my slideshow for the BBC. Procida, an island escape from Rome

Procida’s size makes it more walkable than the other islands, so you don’t have to rent a scooter or car. But getting to some of the farther-flung beaches on the island can still be a bit of a hike (it’s a 2-mile walk from the town to the lovely, if crowded on summer weekends, Lido di Procida beach, for example); we found ourselves occasionally taking cabs, which were relatively cheap (but you will have to have some way to call them).

As an aside, the island’s manageable size and proximity to Naples makes it not only a great weekend escape, but a doable day or half-day trip from Naples or the Amalfi coast.

Getting there: For the most part, the ferries that run to Ischia stop, first, at Procida. So it’s the same procedure as above: Take the train from Rome to Naples (the fastest is 70 minutes, €43; cheapest is 2 hours, €19). From there, grab a bus or taxi to the port (10 minutes; a taxi costs €11) and one of a number of ferries, run by lines including Medmar, Caremar, Alilauro and Snav, on to Procida. The hydrofoil takes just 40 minutes and costs about €15 each way.

Also: Rome’s best beaches, the complete Rome summer guide, and lakes near Rome you won’t want to miss.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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Italy in Autumn: My Favorite Shots (and Spots) for Fall Colors Around Italy

Fall in Italy in Umbria
Gorgeous fall colors in the Umbrian countryside

I adore Italy in fall. The weather’s crisp, the produce beautiful (don’t you love it when apples and eggplant and truffles are in season?), and the tourist crowds have started to dissipate. It’s also the only time when somehow, inexplicably, I sometimes get a whiff of that countryside woodsmoke-smell—the kind that makes me want to bundle up and go for a hayride—in the center of Rome.

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New Video: The Coolest Keyhole in Rome

One of my favorite local secrets in Rome is… a keyhole. No, really. Located on up on the Aventine hill, a peek through gives you a view of not one, not two, but three sovereign states—plus, there’s a special surprise (and photo op!)
that you can see through it.

Come with me to explore the coolest keyhole in Rome in my latest video!

And don’t forget, for more great tips and tricks, check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here! (And, yes, the keyhole is where I grabbed the shot for the cover).

Thanks for watching!

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The Best Beaches Near Rome

Looking for the best beaches in Rome? I don’t blame you: Although you always can cool off at a swimming pool in Rome, there’s nothing like dipping your toes into the Mediterranean on a sweltering summer day.

Here’s a roundup of 5 of my favorite Rome beaches, located as little as 45 minutes away.

One tip: When heading to the beach near Rome, remember that most Italian beaches aren’t public. In other words, most swaths of beach are serviced by private establishments, so you’ll have to rent a cabana to claim your spot on the sand. This generally costs about €10 to €15 per day. The good news? You’ll definitely appreciate the shade—and the ability to order food and drinks from the servers who pass through.

The most picturesque beach, and beach town, near Rome: Sperlonga

Sperlonga, a great beach near Rome
The town of Sperlonga

Sperlonga is my top choice for a beach escape from Rome. That’s partly because of its white-washed resort town, lovely stretch of sand, and clean water (it’s been given Blue Flag designation for its environmental initiatives and cleanliness). And the views from the town make it one of the most picturesque seaside spots near Rome.

And, okay. I might also love Sperlonga because of the nearby archaeological museum, on the site of Emperor Tiberius’ ancient grotto, which boasts stunning ancient sculptures by the same guys who did the Laocoön. (Yes, I’m a history nerd). But even if you don’t make it to the museum (although you should!), the beach and town alone make the trip worth it.

By public transport, Sperlonga takes about 1.5 hours to get to from Rome. Find out more about Sperlonga, and getting there, in my previous post on Sperlonga.

The beach with the best nightlife: Fregene

Want to do as the Romans do? Then follow up a day in the sun with aperitivo, drinking, and dancing. Fregene, located 23 miles northwest of Rome, is such a popular nightlife spot, I have friends who have gone there just for the evenings—skipping the whole daytime-sunbathing thing altogether.

Of course, Fregene is also nice during the day. And Maccarese, next door, tends to be a much less crowded option than other beaches near Rome, like Ostia.

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The Best Swimming Pools in Rome

Swimming pools in Rome
Want to take a dip without leaving the city? With Rome’s swimming pools, no problem

Want to go for a swim this summer in Rome? Even if you haven’t picked a hotel with a pool, you’ve still got some options.

One great pool is local favorite Piscina delle Rose. For €16 for the day (cheap for Rome… as you’ll see in a moment), enjoy full access to the Olympic-sized pool, which gets crowded with Romans, and their kids, on hot summer days. As well as being cheap, the siwmming pool has the added benefit of being in the bizarre and off-the-beaten-track, but still convenient, quarter of EUR. To get there, take the metro’s B line to the EUR Palasport stop (just 15 minutes from Termini, less from the Colosseum) and you’re right there.

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Rome’s Best Events in Summer

Tiber festival during summer in Rome
The festival along the Tiber, one of the best summer events in Rome

Great events in Rome happen year-round… but some of my favorites happen to take place during the summer. So when it comes to summer in Rome, don’t worry: It’s not all about figuring out how to skip the lines and survive the heat. It’s also about some great summer events.

Best festivals for nightlife

My favorite: hands-down, the Lungo Il Tevere summer festival. This is when the Tiber River is lined with almost a mile of shops, stalls, bars, and restaurants. And it’s open until 2am. Come mid-June, every in-the-know Roman starts heading there to meet up with friends and have a drink, dance, or even just a stroll.

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