Now former Pope Benedict XVI is ensconced in the Papal Summer home at Castel Gandolfo, a small hill town we visited last year - just to check it out - not knowing it would host a living, former Pope. We have a fondness for the Castelli Romani, also known as the Alban Hills (Colli Albani), the cluster of volcanic hill towns about 15 miles (of heavy traffic) from Rome. We've been in Castel Gandolfo several times, but mostly to take hikes or scooter through. We never went close to the Papal grounds until last year.
Picturesque Castel Gandolfo is; lively, well, no. We stopped at a tourist kiosk, unusually (for Rome and environs) open, and the trying-to-be helpful woman inside told us that, frankly, there was not much to see in Castel Gandolfo, except the tiny main drag and the Pope, when he was in town (Castel Gandolfo has historically been the Pope's summer retreat, especially vital in the days before air conditioning).
|A public park outside the Papal walls could use some|
|Ad and funeral notice|
We wandered around a bit, and confirmed her take on the town. We saw - about one block off the Papal walls - a public park with unused (at 11 in the morning) playground equipment and knee-high grass. We also discovered some ads of which no Pope would have approved. We were taking the photo of a personal funeral notice (common in Italian towns) because it featured Padre Pio, the controversial saint, and then realized the Padre was plastered on the same wall as a picture of a scantily clothed woman.
The main drag, about 2 or 3 regular blocks long, ends at the Papal walls and features great side views of Lake Albano, the lake on whose volcanic rim the town sits. Several restaurants have terraces opening to views of the lake. There's also a train stop down the hill a ways. We have often spotted nuns waiting there for the next train to Rome. Although the lake is accessible from the town via paths and roads, the trek up is not the easiest--about 300 vertical feet.
|Swiss Guards in front of the entrance to the Papal palace|
in Castel Gandolfo
|Castel Gandolfo claims to have the first|
mailbox in the world (1820) - this is it
|The town can be sleepy when the Pope is not in residence.|
This shop sign reads "Returning soon; we are at the bar."
|Castel Gandolfo has its share of public|
|The Barberini were here - note the bee symbol. There were several Barberini Popes.|
|Looking out of the Papal walls towards the|
plains; tourist kiosk at bottom of road
|One of the restaurants with a terrazzo|