E&M‘s Marta Montanari takes us on a holiday around the corner. Not being able to travel, Marta has spent the last months exploring the hidden gems in Rome, her own hometown. Away from the main tourist attractions, she discovered beautiful beaches, an old Roman neighborhood and nature right at her doorstep.
I always loved to travel. To discover new places and cultures has always been fascinating to me, and I try to make the most of every opportunity I get to visit a new place. However, as for many others, things have changed lately. When borders closed last year, leaving the country wasn’t really an option anymore, and for a while neither was leaving the city. I don’t think I had ever imagined to be in such a situation and, yet, all of this was suddenly as real as it can get.
At the time, I was an expat living in Belgium and this meant there was no way to go home. The sudden travel restrictions were quite an unsettling feeling; some sort of extra weight on your chest you couldn’t get rid of.
During the first lockdown, I was still working remotely from Brussels, but we were all quite isolated from each other. Even though I truly love my cosy little flat, the limited space and the general restrictions made me think about how those months could had been different, if I had the opportunity to be somewhere else. So, when in October last year, I saw the opportunity to spend the coming lockdown in Rome, I couldn’t say no.
A winter in Rome
In two hours, I had bought a ticket and was all packed to leave for the next day. The idea of simply walking in my garden back home, picking up fruits from my trees or staying under the sun for a few more days was appealing. Autumn doesn’t really hit Rome until mid-October, even November sometimes, which makes being outdoors easier. But more than anything else, the idea of being closer to my family in such a complicated time was something I was really looking forward to.
In two hours, I had bought a ticket and was all packed to leave for the next day
This past winter was particularly good in Rome, and it was easy to enjoy such a lovely weather. Although many people have visited Rome, as a tourist you tend to remain in the city centre. Therefore, most people might not know that a little further away from the usual tourist attractions, Rome offers some hidden gems, that are some of my favorite spots.
La Pineta di Castel Fusano
La Pineta di Castel Fusano is part of the State Natural Reserve of the Roman Coast and one of the first places I remember going when I was little. To give you an idea, in between the city centre and the sea, you can spot on the map a very large green area, part of which belongs to the city of Rome.
La Pineta is a forest covering more than 15.900 hectares, but only a bit more than a half belong to Rome. It’s like having a little forest just before reaching the sandy beaches of the coastline.
The forest, of artificial origin, was planted in 1700 with trees like holm, oaks, and pines, mostly for production purposes. Only later, in 1996, was it established as a protected area. It’s a unique place which includes several different habitats like evergreen woods, dunes, wetlands, and beautiful parts of Mediterranean scrub. It is not that uncommon, while walking deeper in between the trees, to meet families of wild boars, gorgeous birds and see many flowers and plants that typically belong to this climate.
I love coming here by bike and enjoy an afternoon with family and friends. There are wide spaces where you can stop for a picnic, exercise, or take horse-riding lessons.
As much as it’s already a beautiful place, to me the most enchanted part is the archaeological treasures hidden here.
La Via Severiana
Right next to other pathways in the Pineta, you will find the Via Severiana. Built in Roman times, it took its name from emperor Settimo Severo who connected some pre-existing streets into a single street going from the port all the way to the city of Anzio. Several parts of this street still exist along the original path and walking on it while surrounded by nature is quite a magical experience.
There’s no need to pay a ticket or anything like that, this street is still there as it is; anyone can walk on it and enjoy the surroundings. Before the main parts of the street, you can find some more information on its history and fully enjoy the walk around here.
If you keep walking in the Pineta, you will find yourself in front of the sea. Cross a couple of streets and long sandy beaches will appear in front of you. The darker sand is rich in iron ore, and in winter you don’t want to miss the beautiful contrast of colours between the beach, the blue sky and sea water. Also, in wintertime, the beach tends to be emptier offering an extremely peaceful atmosphere, the silence broken only by the waves and a few people walking on the shore.
The whole area near the sea is today a neighbourhood of Rome called Ostia. However, back in the days (and I mean literally all the way back to Roman times) things were a little different.
Ostia was founded by emperor Ancus Marcius at the end of the seventh century BC. Initially, it was considered the first colony of Rome, with around 300 inhabitants. It then became the headquarters of one of the commanders of the Roman fleet and only later was it transformed into the port of Rome. It didn’t take long for Ostia to become a more populated area, with everything you’d expect to find in a city. At the time, there were houses, places to eat, markets and political institutions (which would still respond to Rome) to handle the day-to-day life.
Today, we can still get a pretty good idea of how life was organised back then, thanks to the archaeological site called Ostia Antica (Ancient Ostia). Not only does this open-air museum showcase many incredible discoveries, but it’s also a constant work in progress, with new finds helping to complete the puzzle that is our history. Walking around here you can see beautiful mosaic floors (like the one in the Baths of Neptune) in impressive conditions. The theatre, with its typical Roman structure, is an amazing part of the site to visit as well as many of the other buildings and squares fully visible, so you’ll be able to walk through and enjoy.
Il Borghetto di Ostia Antica
Just on the other side of the road you will spot the Castle of Giulio II and the walls surrounding the Borghetto di Ostia Antica. Once you have passed the main entrance, you will find something a little different than what you might be expecting. The Borghetto was once a fortified city and still today hosts many houses, restaurants, and other activities. At first sight, you’ll feel like you’re walking in a postcard from a different time.
It was Pope Gregorio IV who decided to transform this place into a fortified city and later, around the 1400, Pope Martino V decided to build a proper wall and a moat all around. All the commercial traffic directed towards Rome would have to pass by here, allowing to check anyone getting in and out of the city by boat. Towards the end of the century, works to build the castle started and today it is a fantastic example of the architectural style from that time.
The story of this place is filled with anecdotes, but what I really find fascinating is the magic feeling you get as soon as you are inside. While you are surrounded by ancient buildings that remain intact to this day, there is also a lot of daily modern life going on, all melting together in a very special way. Next to the antiquity, there is the noise of kids playing, or some window curtains moving with the fresh breeze coming from the sea. Colourful flowers are perfectly organised in pretty vases outside many houses and cats stroll around the quiet smaller streets.
To visit the “Borghetto” you can simply come for a walk, whereas for the castle you might need to book in advance. Reaching this area is easy. From the metro station it is only a few minutes on foot, or alternatively you can take a car.
I don’t think I ever appreciated Rome as much as I did this year
From a picnic on the grass, to a bike ride to historical sites, I don’t think I ever appreciated Rome as much as I did this year. If you are in Rome right now and you need a change of scenery without travelling, this could really be the perfect day out without ever leaving the city.
Cover photo by Marta Montanari.