A view of the town of Pacentro, in Abruzzo inside the mountains of Majella National Park

Best Attractions in Pacentro

Pacentro is an ancient hill town, situated in the heart of the Majella National Park in Abruzzo, Italy. In 2001, Pacentro was awarded the title as ‘One of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.’

On one of our two tours to Pacentro, you’ll have the opportunity to discover the town; a storybook village from a different era. Now, we’ll introduce you to all the best attractions in Pacentro.

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Zip Line

Rob soaring above Abruzzo National Park on the Zipline

Fly like an eagle over the Majella National Park and Pacentro itself on the Zipline Majella. Glide down the 1km long cable at 80km per hour, and savor fantastic views of the ancient city and the surrounding mountains.

The first zipline in Central Italy promises an experience both safe, and extreme.

Caldoreschi

‘I Caldorschi’ is a week-long event in August, which recreates the mediaeval atmosphere of 1450, the time Pacentro was ruled by feudal lord, Antonio Calora. Expect parades in medieval costumes, music performances, duels, jousts, and even witches. These period re-enactments finish in a perfect medieval setting; the Caldoresco Castle of Pacentro, an authentic jewel of Abruzzo.

Corsa Degli Zingari

‘Corsa degli Zingari’ is a competition where the young men of the town race each other barefoot, down steep, treacherous paths. This event, wholly unique to Pacentro, has been held on the first Sunday of September for over five centuries.

Once, the Corsa degli Zingari was regarded as an essential right of passage for manhood, a military recruitment test, and a way to win reward or social favor. The final goal is the Church of the Madonna di Loreto in the historic center of Pacentro, where runners attend to their wounds. Afterward, a celebration parade commences.

Pane, Abruzzo e Fantasia

Italy is known for its great food culture. But the pleasure lies in not only eating well, but cooking a fresh, delicious meal.

Find experiential tourism at its best as you learn how to make traditional Abruzzo dishes from scratch. After class, dine in the restaurant with fireplace, or sit outside and enjoy the bird’s eye view of Pacentro and the entire valley, as you enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Settimana Santa (Holy Week)

On Holy Week, actors stage dramatic scenes throughout Pacentro, inspired by the Passion and Death of Christ. Throughout the week, special events are held, with Easter Mass as the grand finale. On Good Friday, a procession with sacred images are carried throughout the town.

Sagra Della Polta & Pecora al Cutturo

Twice each year, Pacentro hosts outdoor cooking festivals that celebrate  their local culinary traditions. ‘Sagra Della Polta’ focuses on celebrates an ancient local farmer’s dish of  local-favorite beans, potatoes and cabbage. Pecora al Cutturo’ is a celebration of the local, traditional, spiced-sheep stew. YUM!

Street Boulder

Once every year, free climbers from around the world converge on Pacentro for this unique international sporting event. The ancient brick, stone, windows, and balconies of this historic town challenge climbers of all levels.

The day ends with a feast in the main Piazza, of course!

Taverna dei Caldora

This restaurant celebrates regional cuisine with specialities such as spaghetti with saffron and truffles in the former wine cellar of a 16th century palace.

Recognise it? George Clooney’s The American was filmed here.

Mercatini di Natale (Christmas Market)

The streets come alive during the Christmas Market Festival of Pacentro. Over 50 stands set up in kiosks and historic houses host local artists and craftsmen. Crafts, food and wine, clothing, Santa’s Grotto, pony rides, marionettes, music, and lots of fun for young and old.

Presepe Vivente (Living Nativity)

Joseph and Mary’s quest for an inn is recreated in the picturesque streets of Pacentro.

Visit to enjoy a holiday event which combines religion, flavors and Pacentro’s picturesque streets.

View of Naples, the Bay and Vesuvius from a Panoramic Viewing Platform

What to See in Naples

What to see in Naples? Absolutely everything! The city is a treasure-trove of wonders, which have delighted travelers, artists, writers and thinkers for centuries.  

Perhaps no one sang in praise of Naples as highly as writer and naturalist Goethe, who enthused about ‘the shore, the creeks, and the bay, Vesuvius, the city, the suburbs, the castles, the atmosphere… I can pardon all who lose their senses in Naples!’ 

Although 300 years have passed since Goethe’s time, Napoli is no less intoxicating. A medley of different periods – from the Ancient, to mediaeval Gothic and Baroque – rub shoulders in a lively modern city, where scooters rush by and the smell of pizza dough is carried on the air from kitchens.  

This list encompasses the best of what to see in Naples. 

National Archaeological Museum of Naples 

Detail from a Statue of Naples Archaeological Museum
Detail of a statue from Naples Archaeological Museum.

Lovers of the Ancient world will be enchanted by the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, which has some of the best artefacts of Ancient Greece and Rome in the world. Many of these were claimed from the bathhouses from Ancient Rome, including the impressive Hercules and Farnese Bull

Others were taken from Pompeii, including the Alexander Mosaic. Keep your eyes peeled for the Secret Cabinet; a collection of classical erotic art owned by the Bourbon Kings!  

Choose our Naples in One Day Tour to discover the National Archaeological Museum, alongside the city center of Naples; we’re the only tour provider which offers both in a one-day experience.

Sansevero Chapel

Veiled Statues in the Sansevero Chaples, Naples
Strange veiled sculptures in the evocative Sansevero Chapel

Italy is a country full of churches, and Naples is a city full of them; but none of them, in country or city, are quite like the Sansevero Chapel.  

The interior design of the Sansevero Chapel is rich in occult symbolism, due to the influence of its eccentric patron Raimondo di Sangro. Raimondo di Sangro was certainly a mason, but may also have practiced black magic – which is why some Neapolitans believe the chapel is cursed. 

Inside you’ll find unique artwork like The Veiled Christ and the eerie Anatomical Machines, which show a full map of the human nervous system; scientists still don’t know how di Sangro did it.  

Piazza del Plebiscito

The Church of San Francesco de Paola, in Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples
The Church of San Francesco de Paola, in Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples.

In a country positively brimming with impressive squares, Piazza del Plebiscito takes it to the next level – it takes epic scale and grandeur to new heights. This is in no small part thanks to the Basilica Royal, which wraps a wide colonnade on either side of the square, in a glorious, excessive pastiche of St Peter’s Basilica. 

Basilica Royal was not intended to be a church, but rather a construction in honor of the Emperor Napoleon. The whole effect is entirely appropriate for a man who wanted to be a God, more than a King. Among what to see in Naples, this sight is the most epic.  

Gesù Nuovo

The richly decorated interior, with gold, marble and vaulted ceilings, in Gesù Nuovo Naples
The richly decorated interior, with gold, marble and vaulted ceilings, in Gesù Nuovo Naples.

Naples’ Gesù Nuovo is perhaps one of the most excessively decorated Baroque churches in Italy. All the drama of Italian Baroque, with its heavy reds, golds and voluptuous’ cherubim, impose themselves on you in the vaulted interior space of this former palace.  

Take note of the intricate inlaid marble – a craft typical of Campania. Make sure to find the room of votive offerings dedicated to Saint Giuseppe Moscati; the walls are covered in silver hearts, lungs, arms, and legs, in hope the saint will heal them. 

Cloister of Santa Chiara

Santa Chiara Cloisters in Naples, Naples in One Day
The beautiful cloister of Santa Chiara, decorated with Majolica tiles

Santa Chiara church is a wonder in itself – an elegant French Gothic church, from the mediaeval period, when Naples was ruled by France. However, the real highlight is the wonderful cloister, decorated richly in Majolica tiles. 

Majolica tiles are a traditional craft of Campania and are hand-painted in rich colors. Those in the cloister of Santa Chiara show scenes of traditional peasant life; men out fishing, men and women drinking and making merry in the towns of Campania. It’s always a pleasure to imagine the somber nuns walking among these playful scenes, done in oranges, blues and greens. 

Castel dell’Ovo

Image of the Castel dell'Ovo atop the Bay of Naples
Discover the Castel dell’Ovo, with an ancient lineage.

Naples is positively brimming with castles (the city has over 7) but none are as old – or shrouded in mystery – as Castel dell’Ovo. The Castle we see today was built by the French rulers of Naples in the 12th century, but was constructed atop a much older Roman Fortress.  

Legend has it that the Roman poet Virgil placed a magic egg in its fortifications; an egg which would protect the city of Naples, as long as it survived. Hence, the name: ‘The Castle of the Egg.’ 

 Visit to enjoy spectacular views of Naples’ harbor and the Bay. 

Catacombs of San Gennaro 

The darkened interior of the Catacombs of San Gennaro
Enter the darkened interior of the Catacombs of San Gennaro.

Head underground and discover the largest network of Catacombs in Southern Italy. This early Christian burial site became a place of worship, as the fervor surrounding early-Christina saints grew. Inside, you’ll find a confessional, a baptismal font and small chapels. 

San Gennaro Catacombs have not only been a city of the dead in their long and illustrious history – they also protected the citizens of Naples from air raids during WWII. Among what to see in Naples, the Catacombs of San Gennaro are among the creepiest. 

Toledo Metro 

The beautiful glimmering escalators, evocative of the sea, in Toledo Station, Napoli.
The beautiful glimmering escalators, evocative of the sea, in Toledo Station, Napoli.

When Naples’ city refurbished their metro, they made the decision to dedicate some stations along the busiest lines as Art Stations. These Art Stations were intended to be especially beautiful and comfortable for commuters, and among them, none is as beautiful as Toledo. 

Toledo Metro advances well below the depth of the Bay; in fact, it is the station with the greatest depth in Naples. So, architect Oscar Tuquets Blanca, designed the station to mirror, the earth, sky and water; of which water is the most impressive.  

The underground of Toledo Metro glimmers in dazzling blues, in curves like the waves of the sea; it’s a real sight to behold.  

San Carlo Theater

The rich red and gold interior of San Carlo theater, Naples
The rich red and gold interior of San Carlo theater, Naples.

A visit to San Carlo Theater is like taking a journey back in time to the peak of Baroque grandeur. San Carlo is the oldest still active opera house in the world; all the Opera houses in Europe are based from its design.  

If you visit from January to May, you’ll be able to see an Opera, the likes of which have been performed here for 300 years. If you miss that window, there are still dance shows and other entertainments on throughout the year, so there’s always a show to entertain. 

However, chances are you’ll be admiring the gilded interior as much as you are the performance! Even if cultural performances aren’t your thing, you should definitely poke your head in for a look around; it’s among the most impressive sights that make what to see in Naples.  

Castel Nuovo 

Exterior view of Castel Nuovo, Naples
The exterior of Castel Nuovo, Naples.

Castel Nuovo’s name may delineate it as the ‘new Castle’, but it’s not so new by our standards. This mediaeval castle was constructed in 1273, and has been an iconic feature of the Neapolitan skyline ever since.  

Visit Castel Nuovo to discover the evocative fragments of frescoes by Great Master Giotto in the chapel. On the upper floors, discover great pieces from the Carravagesque period and the Neaopolitan Baroque.

Gran Caffè Gambrinus 

A barista hard at work, preparing coffee via the traditional methods, in Gran Caffè Gambrinus.
A barista hard at work, preparing coffee via the traditional methods, in Gran Caffè Gambrinus.

All that history got you thirsty? Why not pay a visit to one of the oldest – and most loved – cafés in Naples, Gran Caffè Gambrinus. Enjoy the city’s finest coffee in the incomparable atmosphere of the Gran Caffè, just to the side of the monumental Piazza del Plebisicto.  

Enjoy a perfect coffee in a haunt beloved by artists, writers, poets, thinkers, debonairs and aristocrats from the 18th century up to the present day.  

Now you know what to see in Naples…

And amazing discoveries await, in this beautiful Baroque city, framed by Mount Vesuvius and the Tyrrhenian sea. Discover a wealth of historic treasures in this enchanting town, with influences as diverse as Ancient Greek, French Gothic and Spanish Baroque.

Lose yourself in the incomparable atmosphere of this lively modern city, as you discover Naples’ historic wonders.  

by Annie Beverley

The Roman Forum at Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

A Normal Morning, in Vesuvius’ Shadow: Pompeii’s Eruption

The residents of Pompeii had no idea what would happen on that fateful Fall day in 79 AD. The sun rose on a bright and unremarkable October morning, on a busy merchant town below Mount Vesuvius. Those who lived in Pompeii had no idea the mountain was a volcano; they though the lofty heights of Vesuvius housed the God of wine, Bacchus, because of the abundance of vineyards curling around it.  

Until 1 o’clock in the afternoon, life in Pompeii carried on as normal. Slaves were collecting bread from the bakeries for their masters, legal cases were discussed in the law courts, and Gods were worshipped in the temples. After that first eruption on that early Autumn afternoon, the region would never be the same… 

The Eruption That Changed Everything  

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1944

When Vesuvius erupted at 1pm, it looked like a pine tree made of fire was bursting from the mountain top. Lava, pumice and molten ash shot into the atmosphere and lingered, waiting for its later fall upon the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum – destroying them completely.  

The sky went completely black. People tried to flee the town, but when they reached the beach, boats could not depart because of thick pumice stones floating near the shore. A tsunami followed, making escape by sea impossible.  

Morning turned to afternoon, and no real horror had yet met the town. Those who had initially fled returned, as the quiet mountain tricked them into feeling safe. As afternoon turned to evening, that all changed. First, pumice stones the size of golf balls rained down upon the town. Wooden ceilings collapsed, leaving people trapped inside – but the worse was not over yet. 

The Dead of Pompeii

Plaster cast of one who died in Pompeii
A plaster cast of one of Pompeii’s citizens who died in the eruption

The first pyroclastic surge touched Pompeii at 6 am the following morning. Originally, scientists believed that ash filled the lungs of Pompeii’s citizens, and they suffocated. However, the tranquil repose of the plaster death casts always disrupted this theory. We now know that a pyroclastic surge kills people with a sheer wave of heat. The surge is over in a millisecond – and in that millisecond, everyone who had remained in the town, and survived the earlier trials, was dead; cooked alive at 325°C.  

Over 1,000 bodies were found in the town, and by pouring plaster into the shapes they left behind, life as it faces the moment of death has been preserved in the most evocative casts, on display in the town.  You can see these evocative plaster casts on a private tour of Pompeii – where you’ll learn even more about Ancient Roman life, and the horrific eruption of Vesuvius.

by Annie Beverley

Quartiere Coppedè, architecture, Piazza Mincio, Via Tagliamento, Art Nouveau

Quartiere Coppedè: An Architectural Wonder

Rome has no shortage of enchanting neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct flavour, but Quartiere Coppedè might just be one of its most magical.

Rome has no shortage of enchanting neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct flavour, but Quartiere Coppedè might just take the cake as one of its most magical. Tucked away between Piazza Buenos Aires, Via Tagliamento, and the larger Viale Regina Margherita, the small neighbourhood (in reality, a complex of buildings) looks like the set of a fairy tale movie with its inimitable stylistic flourishes and warm colours: burnt orange, marigold, peach, and rose, all interwoven with dark green climbing vines and heavy, lush boughs. It is truly a hidden gem, one that escapes the notice of most tourists (and even some Romans!), a fact that could account for that matchless feeling of stepping out from the city and into another world–quiet, sequestered, and entirely distinguished from its surroundings. 

If you are expecting to see the usual metropolitan hustle and bustle, you might be disappointed. This is where you come to slow down and step away from the traffic jams and stagnant crowds near better-known sites. Possibly the greatest charm of Quartiere Coppedè lies precisely in the fact that it is unpretentiously marvellous, beautiful on its own without the whistles and bells of tourist attractions, blissfully unconcerned with its rank in the hierarchy of things to see when in Rome. There are no restaurants, no cafés, no shopping centres. The little streets surrounding Piazza Mincio, the main square of the neighbourhood, are for getting lost in at a leisurely pace. Which also means that you do not have to spend a single dime to partake in its splendours. No tickets, no queues, no hassle.

The ornate quarter, situated in the Trieste area of Rome, was designed by Florentine architect Gino Coppedè, from which the eponymous district takes its name. The prolific and successful artist would be commissioned on a series of projects in Genoa, Messina, Naples, and Tuscany. Quartiere Coppedè was built in the early twentieth century, between 1915-1927, and is an eclectic–and eccentric–amalgamation of wildly diverse styles, ranging from classical, medieval, and gothic to Baroque, Art Decò, and Art Nouveau. The bold and imaginative architecture is reminiscent of Spanish architect Gaudí’s famous Barcelona masterpieces, such as the Sagrada Familia and Casa Balló. 

It is advisable to start your journey into the quartiere from the top of Via Tagliamento, turning left onto Via Dora. Approaching it from this angle, you will happen upon a magnificent arch uniting two structures resembling turrets, the so-called Ambassador’s Buildings (“Palazzi degli Ambasciatori”). Even at this early stage, there are so many fantastic details that vie for your attention, like the Madonna and Child in a niche under a green lantern, off to the right side.

Directly above you, once you have walked under the arch, you will see an iron chandelier with pendulous seahorses and tendril motifs. Follow the narrow Via Dora to the vanishing point of this architectural work of genius on Via Brenta, the whimsical “Villino delle Fate”, or Fairy House, located right next to another focal attraction of the quartiere, the “Fontana delle Rane” or Fountain of the Frogs, built in 1924. The decorative fountain, in the middle of Piazza Mincio, around which the neighbourhood spans out, witnessed history. The Beatles jumped into the fountain after performing across the street on Via Tagliamento, at the iconic Piper club, one of Italy’s most famous, founded in 1965. The club hosted some of the most celebrated stars of the Italian beat and rock music scene, such as Equipe 84 and I Delfini, as well as many groups of international renown, including Pink Floyd and Procol Harum.  

To the right of the Fontana delle Rane, and right across from the aforementioned Fairy House, is the “Palazzo del Ragno” or Spider Building, which derives its name from the large decorative spider above the front door.

Details such as this abound in the dreamlike neighbourhood, all summoning the visitor’s attention. Different buildings, residential or otherwise, take inspiration from a wide range of artistic movements and from classic Italian symbols used in the representation of different regions or cities in the country. The winged lions of Piazza San Marco in Venice decorate the lateral, frescoed façade of the Fairy House. A little farther down and you can see Rome’s famous She-Wolf nursing the city’s ancient founders, Remus and Romulus. 

The quartiere is heavily populated with embassies, including that of South Africa on Via Tanaro, Sweden on Via Serchio, and those of Bolivia and Morocco on Via Brenta. Film buffs will be thrilled to know the neighbourhood was also used as a setting in the production of several films, including Inferno by Dario Argento, the giallo-noir Il profumo della signora in nero (“The perfume of the lady in black”) by Francesco Barilli, and the comedy Il cielo in una stanza (“The sky in a room”) by Carlo Vanzina. 

To get to Quartiere Coppedè, you can take bus 92 from Termini to Via Tagliamento, a ride of about fifteen minutes. From Via Tagliamento, it is roughly a two-minute walk to the neighbourhood. If you are not opposed to a journey on foot, you can also take the metro, Line B in the Jonio direction, getting off at Policlinico and walking first to Viale Regina Margherita, then to Piazza Buenos Aires, which is right in the vicinity of our destination.  

Viale Regina Margherita, on the east side of the Tiber River, is a large street that intersects with another main street, Via Nomentana. Both are major places of interest in Rome and offer a host of bars, restaurants, gelaterie, shops, and activities to enjoy. The Chiesa di Santa Maria Addolorata (Our Lady of Sorrows) at Piazza Buenos Aires is also close by. The Neo Byzantine church is the first national church in Rome for a Latin American country, and it is certainly worth visiting for its beautiful interiors. Villa Ada Savoia is home to breath-taking gardens and Roman ruins, and is only a ten-minute bus ride away. Villa Borghese, home also to the Bioparco of Rome, Italy’s oldest zoological gardens, is also only ten minutes away by bus. Villa Torlonia, with its famous “Casina delle Civette,” or House of the Little Owls, is another villa with spectacular surrounding gardens and museums. The Casina delle Civette is a must-see, much in keeping with Coppedè’s theme of unusual and fanciful architecture! The House hosts a series of paintings, mosaics, and stained glass in its twenty rooms.

While there are no places to eat within the neighbourhood itself, there are many to choose from in the surrounding area. Capo Boi, on Via Arno, specialises in seafood. PummaRé Parioli serves excellent pizza and is always packed with locals. If you are craving something other than Italian fare, Sushi Shop, on Via Po, offers fresh sushi. All restaurants are a mere five minutes away on foot from Piazza Mincio, at the centre of Quartiere Coppedé. 

Coppedè, despite being off the beaten path, is not to miss. Whether you are a lover of unique architecture or are simply looking for that perfect Instagram photo-shoot, Quartiere Coppedè will doubtless fascinate you. It especially lends itself to couples and solo travellers in search of tranquillity. It is a delightful area that can be explored in the span of less than a morning, with more than enough time left over to dedicate to other sites in Rome. You can conveniently make the most of your day by supplementing your excursion to the quartiere with a guided tour of Rome’s abundant landmarks, including the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Children playing in the foreground against the background of Ostia beach

Beat the Heat & Visit the Best Beaches Near Rome

Rome’s a wonder, obviously; the Eternal City’s a treasure trove of world history and high-culture. But boy, does she get hot in the summer months. If you’re planning a visit to Rome in June, July or August, don’t discount leaving the city behind for a day to visit one of the best beaches near Rome.

Not only do these beautiful beaches provide some respite from the sweltering city, but they offer stunning waters and immense natural beauty.

Ostia Lido

Although Ostia beach doesn’t have the highest quality sea or sand, it is the closest beach to Rome. Hop on the train at central station Piramide and you’ll be at Ostia Lido in half an hour.

Ostia is the most convenient beach for a quick visit. If you like the idea of a seaside swim in the morning and then return to the city for culture come the afternoon, Ostia Lido is for you. Alternatively, if afterward you fancy a private tour of Ostia Antica’s spectacular ruins, that’s an option too!

Fregene

Fregene is Ostia Lido’s slightly cooler older brother. This beach attracts the young and hip from affluent Northern Rome and has a glamorous, laid back vibe. Bars with loungers like Singita Miracle Beach provide a place to chill during the day, and kick back with a cocktail come nightfall.

Santa Severa

If you’re looking for a beach with a family-friendly vibe against a beautiful backdrop, why not try Santa Severa? This gorgeous beach sits in the shadows of a mediaeval castle! Santa Severa offers better sea and sand than both Ostia and Fregene. If you want to experience traditional Italian charms by gorgeous waters close to Rome, this is the beach for you.

Santa Marinella

In terms of proximity, sea/sand quality and vibe, it’s hard to beat Santa Marinella as one of the best beaches near Rome.

Santa Marinella is tucked inside a cove and boasts miles of brown sand and azure waters. The beach rarely gets very busy and maintains a relaxed vibe, even at the height of August’s heat.

Bring a towel or rent a lounger – it’s up to you. Either way, it makes for an enjoyable day in Santa Marinella.

Saubadia

Saubadia may be a little hard to reach on public transport, but the extra effort is well worth it to discover a beautiful beach. Saubadia has a Bandiera Blu award, which distinguishes it as one of the cleanest beaches in Italy!

Although it’s a little further out of the way, a visit to Saubadia is certainly worthwhile, as its one of the most beautiful beaches, clean and long, you’ll find near Rome.

Anzio

Anzio is an underrated gem. Like Saubadia, this beach has a Bandiera Blu award. However, it is much easier to access from Rome. Simply take the train to Anzio and walk the short fifteen minutes to the sea.

When you’re there, you can relax on one of the best beaches near Rome. You know this beach is good — the ruins of Emperor Nero’s Villa sit behind it!

Sperlonga

Last but not least, there’s the beautiful beach at Sperlonga. Undeniably, Sperlonga is the most beautiful beach near Rome. Sperlonga beach has been recognised as one of the cleanest beaches in Italy for nearly two decades, and its credentials do not disappoint.

The beach and water are of a beautiful quality, and once you’re done with sun and sand, you’re sure to find a quaint place to eat in the charming town.

Ready to Visit the Best Beaches Near Rome?

Why not! All of the above beaches are by towns that are accessible by public transport from Rome’s central stations. One of the great joys of Italy is being so close to the sea wherever you are; the magic of this narrow archipelago.

If you want to see another side of la dolce vita on your Roman holiday, pay a visit to the best beaches nearby. You’ll get to experience the beautiful Italian seaside — a point of national pride — and beat the city’s heat.

by Annie Beverley

3 people stood in front of Michelangelo's Last Judgement

The Best Way to See the Sistine Chapel? Undoubtedly!

by Sandra Robbins

I just went on Roma Experience’s Sistine Chapel Closed-Doors Experience. Not only is it, undeniably, the best way to see the Sistine Chapel – it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  

Nothing compares to standing in the Sistine Chapel with only ten other people. All of Michelangelo’s frescoes appear more beautiful – even the colors are better.  

As a lover of Rome and art history, I’ve visited the Sistine Chapel many times. The Sistine Chapel may always be beautiful – but nothing compares to standing in an empty Sistine Chapel. The experience brought a tear to my eye.  

In this blog, I’ll describe the highlights of this After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour – and you can decide for yourself if the best way to see the Sistine Chapel is for you. 

What I Did on The After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour 

The best part of Roma Experience’s Sistine Chapel tour is that you don’t only visit the Sistine Chapel. You get to see rooms in the Vatican Museums that are normally closed. Our guide knew everything about the secret history of Vatican City; it was a real revelation.  

The artwork in these hidden rooms is of equal (or better quality!) than the works in the Vatican Museums. And the best bit? I was in these astonishing rooms, full of spectacular artwork, with only 10 other people! 

This tour isn’t only the best way to see the Sistine Chapel – but the best way to see the Vatican.  

16th Century Bramante Staircase

The original 16th century Bramante Staircase as seen from above
The original 16th century Bramante Staircase as seen from above

I was really looking forward to the Bramante Staircase, because I admire the work of the architect so much. It was originally built so carriages could drive up to the Pope’s apartment – that’s the life. 

Honestly, it was as good as I hoped. The staircase was strange to walk up, because it was so unusually steep and wide – and a cobbled floor inside feels weird. 

From the top, there was an astonishing view of Rome. I felt like royalty. 

The Cabinet of Masks 

The Vatican Museums Salon of Animals - with a sculpture of a lion attacking goat, front central
The Vatican Museums Salon of Animals – normally closed to the public!

The Cabinet of Masks was a highlight – it was way more special than I’d imagined it could be. We went through three different rooms in the area that’s called the Cabinet of Masks.  

First, we went through the Hall of Animals. It had an amazing collection of ancient sculptures of animals. The room was absolutely full to the brim with boars, bears, bulls… marble animals everywhere.  

Among the sculptures was a preserved lobster and crab, which were quite the weird highlight for me! 

Next, we went through the Gallery of Statues. It was so nice to see this corridor full of ancient statues, without a living soul in it, just me and the group looking down at it.  

After that, we went through to the Cabinet of Masks itself. Honestly, the only way I can describe this room is elegant. The statues in it were so gorgeous, and the Roman mosaics on the floor were so detailed.  

Most of the stuff here was taken from the Villa of Emperor Hadrian – and these artefacts are clearly worthy of an Emperor! 

The Niccoline Chapel  

Frescoes by Fra Angelico in the Vatican's Niccoline Chapel
The frescoes by Fra Angelico in the Niccoline Chapel were spectacular!

The Niccoline Chapel was built as a private chapel for the Pope, and when you walk in you get a sense of it as a really holy place.  

Fra Angelico’s frescoes look a million times better than they ever do on pictures. The colors were so vibrant. The pinks and blues positively sparkled, like it was painted yesterday. My personal favorite was the gold detail – it really shimmered.  

The Raphael Rooms 

An image of Raphael's School of Athens in the Vatican's Raphael Rooms
By the time we got to the Raphael Rooms, they were empty!

We did pass through ‘normal parts’ of the Vatican Museums on this After-Hours Sistine Chapel tour. Lots of it I’d seen before, and although all of it never ceases to impress, something truly special happened at the end of the day. 

The Raphael Rooms were totally empty by the time our group got there. The School of Athens has always been one of my favorite works of art, but I’ve often had trouble seeing it properly with the crowds. Now, I got to take the time to properly look at this gorgeous painting, with no one else around. Seeing The School of Athens like that makes for an experience I’ll never forget. 

The Sistine Chapel 

The Sistine Chapel, with Last Judgement in the altar wall, empty, with our figures in the foreground
Nothing compares to seeing the Sistine Chapel empty

The whole after-hours Sistine Chapel tour lasted half an hour – and I had to pinch myself for the first 10 minutes.  

The majesty of an empty Sistine Chapel is hard to describe. At first, it feels like you’re in a picture in an artbook – like you’re standing in reproduction of Michelangelo’s great works. Slowly, it sinks in that you’re really there – in the Sistine Chapel. An empty Sistine Chapel! 

I had the time to really admire the masterpieces. I noticed details on The Last Judgement like I’d never seen before. Honestly, it was the first time that I’d seen the Botticelli paintings on the side wall. Everything was brighter and more dignified when the chapel was empty of the days crowds. 

It was a sublime experience of one of the world’s greatest masterpieces – and an experience I’ll treasure forever.  

Why I Chose an After-Hours Sistine Chapel Tour 

I am fascinated with the art of the High Renaissance and love all the Great Masters; Raphael, Da Vinci, Michelangelo.  

Because of my passion for Renaissance art, I’ve visited Italy many times, and have been to all the main cities. However, I kept returning to Rome, and in particular, to the Sistine Chapel.  

There’s something about Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes that never fail to inspire me. However, often the Sistine Chapel is so busy. The guards ‘shhh’ you and tell you to move along. Truth be told, it’s not the most relaxing experience of one of the greatest artworks the world has ever produced. Which is why I decided to take this After-Hours Sistine Chapel tour.   

It was the best decision I could have made. I had an incredible time – and it really is the best way to see the Sistine Chapel.  

500 Years of Da Vinci: Leonardo’s Best Works in Italy

May 2nd 2019 marks the 500 year anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. Throughout May 2019, events in celebration of the Renaissance’s greatest Great Master will take place across France (where he spent his later years) and Italy.

Many of Leonardo’s most famous artworks are in Paris’ Louvre, including his iconic Mona Lisa. However, Italy doesn’t lack artworks by the Renaissance’s greatest Great Master. Da Vinci’s masterpieces in Italy include The Last Supper, the Annunication and his only surviving self-portrait. We’ll break down exactly where you’ll find Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpieces in Italy.

Despite only producing 15 complete paintings, Leonardo da Vinci is considered one of the greatest artists of all time. Leonardo introduced subtle, psychological realism to Renaissance art. The quietly sparkling eyes of his subjects, and the mysterious half-smile of Mona Lisa, demonstrate his mastery of human expression.

Roma Experience are proud to offer 15% off all Roma Exprience tours in May with our code ‘DAVINCI’, in celebration of the great artist’s legacy.

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci

In the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, you’ll find what might just be Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work in Italy: The Last Supper.

The last supper was painted between 1495 and 1498, when Leonardo was in his 40s. Today, it’s a highlight of any visit to Milan. However, its quite a miracle The Last Supper survived the ages.

Leonardo used a new painting technique called a secco, which left the work particularly prone to decay. In the 17th century, the monks who lived in the convent tried to raise the floor — and removed the feet of Jesus in the process. In the 19th, over-eager restorers removed a lot of Da Vinci’s original work. Then, in the 20th, Santa Maria delle Grazie was bombed in WWII.

Despite all trials, The Last Supper has survived. Today, it remains an evocative rendering of Jesus’ final evening.

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan

Within Milan’s historic library, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, you’ll find a small but mighty collection of Renaissance art. Alongside Raphael’s sketches for The School of Athens (found in the Vatican’s Raphael Rooms) and Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit, is Da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician.

For many years, people believed the subject of Portrait of a Musician was the musician and composer Franchinus Gaffurius, who worked for Milan Cathedral. However, new Dutch research claims the drawing may be a young portrait of Leonardo da Vinci….

Gallerie dell’Academia, Venice

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s scientific sketch books, known as Codexes, are scattered across the world. One Codex is owned by Bill Gates; another by the British Family.

Perhaps the most iconic remains in Italy. You’ll find the most famous sketch from Leonardo’s notebooks in Venice: his Vitruvian Man.

However, don’t plan a visit to see this work alone. Vitruvian Man is particularly susceptible to age damage because it was made on paper with ink. Because of this, Vitruvian Man is only displayed publicly irregularly.

Biblioteca Reale, Turin

On the ground-floor of Turin’s Royal Palace — a UNESCO World Heritage Sight — is a spectacular historic library which houses many of Leonardo’s most beautiful sketches.

The library houses Da Vinci’s study for The Baptism of Christ and Virgin of the Rocks, which are incredibly impressive in their own right. However, Biblioteca Reale can also claim Leonardo’s only verified self-portrait, sketched when he was 50 years old.

Galleria Nazionale di Parma, Parma

Head of a Woman, Leonardo da Vinci

Visit Parma for the food (proscuitto and parmesan, two Italian favorites, come from the region) and stay for the artwork. Galleria Nazionale di Parma boasts an incredible collection of Renaissance art, and among them is Da Vinci’s Head of a Woman.

Head of a Woman manages to capture internal thought on a painted subject, much like Leonardo did with his Mona Lisa. As well as a triumph of psychological subtlety, Head of a Woman is a triumph of beauty. Her lidded eyes are downward facing and she does not address the viewer; her skin is positively radiant.

Vatican Museums, Rome

There are a million reasons to tour the Vatican Museums in Rome. From Michelangelo’s magnificent Sistine Chapel ceiling to the extensive collection of Classical Statuary, you’d be hard-pressed to find a gallery more spectacular.

Among the reasons to visit the Vatican is Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished St. Jerome in the Wilderness. Although this painting is sparse, the depiction of an emaciated St. Jerome, alone and looking to the cross, is a deeply evocative rendering of faith.

Uffizi, Florence

The Uffizi is Italy’s most popular gallery and why is no secret. Some of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance can be found in the Uffizi, including works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Michelangelo — the list goes on and on.

Three works by Leonardo da Vinci can be found in the Uffizi, which is a special treasure considering only 15 of his paintings survive. Join an Uffizi gallery private tour and see his Annunciation, Baptism of Christ and Adoration of the Magi.

Discover Leonardo da Vinci’s Works in Italy

Italy is where Da Vinci was born, raised and become a great thinker. The fertile atmosphere of the Italian Renaissance set Leonardo da Vinci up for greatness. Now, a visit to Italy promises the chance to see many of the Great Masters most moving works.

by Annie Beverley

testaccio, ostiense, street art, contemporary art, murals

The Dazzling Street Art of the Ostiense District

The Ostiense district of Rome is home to some of Europe’s most impressive street art, the result of initiatives to attract attention to a neglected area.

Unlike Rome’s more distinguishable sites, such as the Coliseum, the Vatican, the Forum, or the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, the Ostiense District is not the first destination to spring to the tourist’s mind when devising an itinerary for a Roman getaway. And yet, the quarter, situated to the south of Rome’s historic centre, holds some of the most dazzling street art in all of Europe. Rome’s street art is so famous, there is even an app–appropriately named “Street Art Roma”–to help you navigate all the labyrinthine paths through the open-air galleries of the city, of which there are plenty. 

Art is necessarily self-expression, whether through the conscious process of the artist inserting him/herself into the work or through interference of the subconscious. But conventionally, street art, contrary to the commissioned, paid or otherwise requested work in curated galleries, is just as its name suggests: of the street. It is marginalised, often spontaneous, subversive, an act of rebellion against the dictates of the larger municipality. Its tradition is deeply rooted in political expression and dissatisfaction, and it is executed in defiance of the law, often seen as defacement of public property or vandalism. But what if it were authorised, given the benefit of legality, encouraged? What significance could that have for the broader landscape of Rome? Art adorns every corner of this ancient city, from the friezes of its grand monuments to the small icons and portraits of the Madonna and Child that grace the quoins of its buildings. So why stop centuries back in time? It seems only a natural progression for modern art to continue the legacy and claim its place among the ancient ruins.

All this was coursing through my mind as I walked down the busy Via Ostiense, from which the surrounding area, between Piramide and San Paolo, takes its name. The industrial neighbourhood was home to the working classes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You can still see relics from that era, like the large gasometer west of Via Ostiense, and the numerous warehouses and old factories. The peripheral area fell into neglect later on as more central zones of Rome were prioritised, but it has since undergone quite the transformation, attracting both tourists and local youth for its vibrant nightlife. 

Perhaps one of the most significant and noteworthy investments to promote the area and direct public interest to it was indeed the street art initiative conceived by contemporary art gallery 999Contemporary. Under the auspices of the Department of Culture of the capital, legitimising and commissioning this form of popular artistic expression, the project saw contemporary artists give life to the walls and buildings of Ostiense with over thirty, vibrant, eye-catching murals. The artists include, to name a few, Brazilian street artist Herbert Baglione; Italian artists Sten&Lex, whose work also features in other major cities, such as London, Paris, and New York; graffiti artist Alejandro Hugo Dorda Mevs, known as Axel Void; Agostino Iacurci, Italian artist of international fame; and JB Rock, one of the most famous artists in Rome’s street art scene.

On the walls of underpass on Via Ostiense are murals of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Romantic poet whose life was inextricably bound to Italy, and Antonio Gramsci, Italian Marxist philosopher and communist politician. Both are buried in Rome’s Cimitero Acattolico, or Non-Catholic Cemetery, also called the Protestant Cemetery. The cemetery is a stone’s throw from Ostiense, in Testaccio. It is one of Europe’s oldest in continual use, and it contains the graves of a number of internationally celebrated figures.

Intersecting Via Ostiense from the west side is Via del Porto Fluviale, another spot to admire the urban art scene. The murals of artist Iena Cruz are especially captivating for the added reason that they are executed with the sustainable and ecologically-friendly ‘Airlite’ paint, which neutralises the effect of pollution on the buildings.

East of Ostiense is the suburb of Tor Marancia. The neighbourhood was originally a sort of ghetto in which those families uprooted from their homes in Rome’s centre to accommodate Mussolini’s project to create Via della Conciliazione, near the Vatican, were relocated. It too has experienced a lively transformation with another public art initiative undertaken by Big City Life, a project of 999, in collaboration with residents of the neighbourhood’s housing project. International artists used the sides of eleven buildings in Tor Marancia as their canvases, painting impressive murals in bold colours, the striking imagery infusing the monotone space with new life.

The combined efforts of the city, the artists, and the activists who worked to bring Rome’s neglected quarters to the world’s attention have succeeded in doing just that. Once you are there, in the Ostiense District, on Via del Gazometro, on Via del Porto Fluviale, in Tor Marancia, it is virtually impossible to miss the massive, monumental works of art gracing the industrial architecture. And the best part of it all is that, in true equalising and philanthropic fashion, this art is accessible to all those who pass through the quartieri.

The Ostiense District has become a trendy part of town, for other reasons in addition to its dynamic art scene. The area is home to part of the University of Rome III (Roma Tre) campus. The Centrale Montemarini, on Via Ostiense, hosts a grand collection of ancient sculptures. Once a public electricity plant, the building now contains a permanent exhibition of classical art. This too is part of the initiative to transform the district into a hub for culture and the arts. The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is likewise located in the vicinity, south of the Roma Tre campus. It is one of Rome’s four major basilicas, along with Santa Maria Maggiore, San Pietro, and San Giovanni in Laterano. The Ostiense railways station is a landmark of twentieth-century history, one to see in and of itself. Opened in 1940, it was designed in classic fascist modernist architectural style, with a relief on the façade depicting mythical figures and mosaics on the pavement representing diverse themes linked to the history of ancient Rome.

Ostiense also boasts the world’s biggest Italian supermarket, Eataly. The gastronomic giant has stores in international locations as well, including in the United States, Japan, Brazil, and Germany. This particular store has four floors, eighteen different restaurants, and a plethora of gourmet food products. From the freshly baked focacceand pastries to the artisanal gelato and the colourful fruits and vegetables of the vast produce section, Eataly is a delightful culinary experience, a taste of authentic Italian fare, on a grand scale.

You can get to Ostiense by taking Line B of the Metro from Termini, in the direction of Laurentina. The ride has four stops to Piramide, at which point you can reach Ostiense on foot in less than ten minutes. You can also take the Pisa Central regional train from Termini, which will take you to the Ostiense station. The ride is about ten minutes. 

You can book walking tours to explore the street art of the district. If you are an art lover interested in Italian art’s more classic masterpieces, you can book a VIP tourthat will take you on an intimate exploration of Caravaggio’s work, with stops at the restoration lab and the churches that host the Baroque master’s most famous pieces. You can also experience the art gallery that is the majestic city of Rome itself, with tours of the Vatican and other famous landmarks, by clicking here. There is no shortage of sights to see in the Eternal City.