It was another bright, sunny morning as we made our way to Piazza di Spagna to climb the Spanish Steps. The square was already crowded with tourists around the fountain at the foot of the steps known as the ‘fountain of the old boat’. The fountain resembles a sinking ship and is thought to be based on a folk legend.
We climbed the steps which are a mix of curves, straight flights and terrace viewpoints. The steps connect the lower Piazza di Spagna with the upper Piazza Trinità dei Monti where we found it’s beautiful church dominating the skyline. There were some good views looking down to the square and along the terrace artists had set up their easels and were sketching and painting in the morning sunshine. Church bells were ringing, welcoming worshippers to Sunday morning services and many tourists like us were taking in the views.
Returning down the polished stone steps we crossed the square and strolled along Via dei Condotti which is home to many of Rome’s designer stores. The narrow street was crowded with tourists wandering along glancing in the windows of world famous luxury clothing, jewellery and leather goods stores. On one street corner we paused to listen to an opera singer who was entertaining the Sunday morning crowds.
Our walk continued through the district where we looked inside the beautiful Baroque style San Giacomo church on the nearby Via del Corso.
Walking a little further in a northwards direction we arrived at the vast Piazza del Popolo which lies inside the huge northern gate known as the Porta del Popolo. The square was designed in neo-classical style between 1811-1822.
Dominating the square is the church of Santa Maria del Popolo but, as a service was taking place, we were unable to look inside. In the centre of the square, a large group of keep-fit enthusiasts were following routines from the organisers wearing wireless headphones.
After watching them for a few minutes we clambered up the steps to the Terrazza del Pincio, a balustraded viewpoint which overlooks the square. From there we had some fine views both of the Piazza del Popolo down below and of some of Rome’s landmarks further afield including St. Peter’s Basilica.
From the terrace in Pincio Park we followed a pathway to the Villa Borghese Park. Just as we were approaching the park gates we were overtaken by the keep-fit enthusiasts who seemed to be undertaking a power walking stage of their keep-fit routine through the gardens.
The sun was beating down so we enjoyed the cooler temperatures under the shade of the trees as we strolled through the Villa Borghese Park. Along the main avenues many people were enjoying a little exercise. We came across joggers, in-line skaters and those simply out for a gentle morning stroll, just as we were.
Along one path we came to a picturesque lake so we decided to follow the circular path around it known as the Viale del lago. The centrepiece of the lake is the beautiful Temple of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Rowing boats could be hired and seemed very reasonable at only €3 per person for 20 minutes. We did consider taking one out ourselves but as we’d planned more activities for later in the day we decided against it.
We left the gardens at the exit by the National Museum of Modern Art from where we caught a No.19 tram to Cornelia. Some heritage trams operate on this route and it was one of these that we boarded. The only disadvantage being that there were few seats resulting in us having to stand for the early part of the journey. Feeling hungry, we found a cafe for a light lunch and then caught the metro two stops to Valle Aurelia for a regional train to Bracciano which lies 32 km to the north of Rome.
There were frequent stops along the line and although the train was crowded when we boarded there were few remaining passengers as the train approached Bracciano. Looking out of the train windows we caught our first glimpse of the azure blue volcanic lake nestled below the small town.
Leaving the train, it was just a short uphill walk to the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town which is built on a hill above the volcanic lake from which it takes its name. Dominating the small town is the medieval Orsini-Odescalchi castle which is a popular wedding venue for international celebrities. We walked around the castle ramparts and took in the spectacular lake views from the Belvedere della Sentinella. We didn’t go inside the castle but admission prices and further details can be found on its website here.
A ferry usually connects the small lakeside towns but sadly it was not operating as the lake’s water level had dropped too low. We were aware of this before arriving in Bracciano but it would have been lovely to have taken a trip on the lake and then return to Rome from a station further along the line.
Continuing along the narrow lanes we came to another viewing terrace lower down the hillside with equally stunning views. The lake looked so beautiful and from where we stood and it didn’t appear to be short of water.
Heading back towards the town centre, we admired the church in the main piazza before treating ourselves to ricotta and cinnamon ice creams from a nearby gelateria. Finding a bench we relaxed in the warm sunshine, licking our ice cream cones whilst enjoying the tranquility and natural backdrop of this charming lakeside town.
We returned to Rome on the 4.08 p.m. service which conveniently stopped at Tuscolana station, just a few minutes walk from our hotel. After a short rest we had dinner in the same trattoria that we had eaten in on our first night. My carbonara was one of the best I had tasted and our house wine to accompany the meal was full bodied and excellent value.
Leaving the restaurant we took the metro to Colosseo station so that we could view the Colosseum illuminated after dark. It was much quieter than during the day time without coach loads of tourists annoyingly poking their selfie sticks out constantly.
After taking in the views we wandered on past The Roman Forum as far as the Altar of the Fatherland. We felt completely safe strolling around this part of Rome at night and enjoyed viewing the illuminated sights. Feeling ready to return to the hotel for the night we boarded a tram to Trastevere station from where we changed to a train to Tuscolana after a lovely day of sightseeing in Rome and Bracciano.
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