The final stop on our tour around Italy, was a day in the Roman countryside. So after discovering the beautiful abbey of Montecassino, we boarded the bus to do the final leg of our journey. A couple of hours later, we found ourselves in a beautiful hotel about half an hour or so from the city of Rome. Mum and I were lucky enough to get a room on the ground floor of the hotel and our room looked out onto a little garden that had some lemon trees and I think a couple of other fruit trees. The building itself had probably been the villa of some Roman aristocrat in days gone by, but now it served as the last location for us on a holiday that while slow to begin, flew by in its final days.
It was still quite light when we arrived at the hotel, and a group of us ended up sitting in a little gazebo in the grounds of the hotel, chatting about our holiday and feeling generally sad about it being almost over. There was a cute little cat that made us smile though – it was definitely enjoying the attention. But we still had tomorrow, which would be spent driving through the countryside and seeing the sights, finishing up at a winery (yes!!) and then back to the hotel for dinner together for the last time. It was to bed early this night though as we would be on the move early the following day.
GROTTAFERRATA: After a good nights sleep, we had breakfast the next morning then hit the road for our final coach ride. We would be driving through a series of small villages today called Castelli. They are located in the south of Rome and are apparently very popular as a holiday destination for Romans and tourists alike. I guess it would be great to only have to go half an hour out of the city to escape the busyness of it, so I can see why it would be such an attraction for those who live in the city. We would be stopping at three of the main villages along the way. The first was Grottaferratta, where we visited the Abbey of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata, which is an important church in the history of the Greek Orthodox religion. If I remember correctly, this abbey was/is to the Greek Orthodox religion, what St Peters Basilica is to the Catholic faith. My memory is very sketchy here and no amount of googling is helping, so if you would like to correct, please feel free to do so! We also saw where the library of the Abbey of Santa Maria was, which is where they restore many precious books, and even teach people how to restore books – that’s a lesson I’d love to learn! The monks that live there also make and sell wine, but you have to get there early in the day to get it, as it is usually all gone before lunch.
CASTELGANDOLFO: We then continued on to Castelgandolfo – a beautiful little village and also home to the Pope’s summer palace. The Pope before the current one actually resides there permanently now, but there were no glimpses of him. What we saw of the palace though was very beautiful and looks out over a beautiful lake. A great place to be in the summer I think.We wandered the streets of Castelgandolfo for a little while and I’m pretty sure it was here that I purchased a lovely grey knitted shawl. There were lots of cute little shops that had some really unique items of clothing and if I had space in my suitcase, I would have taken away more than a shawl!
NEMI: The last stop for us was Nemi village. Built further up into the hills than Grottaferrata, Nemi has an even more beautiful view down onto the lake which bears the same name. On the advice of our tour guide, when we first arrived in Nemi, we bought a punnet of little wild strawberries that an elderly lady was selling in the street. Apparently she had been there selling these little delicacies since our guide was a boy and it is easy to see why. They were absolutely delicious and were everything that a strawberry should be. The flavour of them was almost concentrated and while they were perhaps not as impressive as the gigantic ones we find in the supermarkets, they made up for that in flavour. So yummy! After devouring our little strawberries, we wandered around Nemi for a little while, poking our heads into the little shops and just enjoying the sunshine. We bought a gelati each and sat on a stone bench looking out over the lake. Looking back now, I realise that our little holiday had come full circle. On our very first day in Italy, mum and I had wandered the streets of Rome, jet lagged and trying to find our way to the Borghese gardens. It had been raining that day but when we finally made it to the gardens, the sun came out and we sat on a (slightly damp) bench in the sun, ate a panini and finally a gelati each. A gelati on our first and last days in Italy. The best.
From Nemi we travelled to a winery who’s name completely escapes me at the moment. I think I have a bottle of wine from there floating around somewhere – or maybe I drank it! In any case, we had a beautiful lunch similar to the one we had at the winery near San Gimignano. There were two long tables completely laden with sliced meats, fresh bread with lots of olive oil for drizzling and dipping, cheeses, olives, bruschetta – everything you can imagine. I can’t find any photos of the lunch unfortunately. I suspect I was too busy stuffing myself I didn’t even think about it. This was accompanied by delicious wines (quite a bit actually) which were made from grapes grown on the property and we were lucky enough to have our first taste of ice wine. This is made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze while still on the wine. The sugars in the grapes do not freeze, but the water does, so when you squeeze the wine you are mostly getting the sweet grape flavour, rather than the grape with water. This results in a sweeter tasting wine which is best taken as a dessert wine. We had ours with some fresh persimmons that had been plucked fresh from a tree in the vineyard. Unfortunately I was unable to buy a bottle of ice wine, but if you ever come across it, make sure you try it. It has a really special flavour that is very different from other dessert wines.
After we had stuffed ourselves with as much food and wine as we could, we spent a few minutes purchasing some products from the lovely people who owned the vineyard. I came away with two bottles of white wine (really hoping I still have a bottle) and some little tins of olive oil which is by far the nicest I’ve ever tasted. Sadly I gave these away as gifts when I got home, so I’ve not been able to sample it again. Then it was back on the bus and on to the hotel where we spent some more time in the grounds and had some more wine. That night was our last together as a group and was quite sad. After spending every day together for two weeks, it’s hard to say goodbye to a nice group of people. But I guess you can’t stay on holiday forever. There was to be no late night partying either, especially for mum and I. We were to be collected at around 5am the next morning to be driven to the airport, where we would then board a plane to Paris to spend a couple of days there. So while we were sad that we would be leaving a group of people who we had really come to like, we were excited to be off somewhere new for a couple of days before we finally flew home to Sydney which I was personally really looking forward to!