If you are in Rome, the capital of Italy, probably the best and easiest day trip you could make is to visit Castelli Romani. Just 20 km southeast of the Eternal City begins the gentle climb through the forests of Coli Albani to the 13 Castelli Romani villages. The mountain is actually the long-extinct Volcano Laziale, which has been transformed into a landscape of hills, farms, vineyards, villas, flowers and strawberries. Castelli Romani is the first place the inhabitants of Rome would think for a day in the countryside or for a Sunday lunch out of the city boundaries. The best-known of the villages are Frascati, Rocca di Papa, Genzano di Roma, Caste Gandolfo and our favourite Nemi, the strawberry village.
Nemi, perched on the crater rim above Lake Nemi, is a picturesque pastel-coloured village, famous for its wild strawberries and flowers, which grow around the lake. The wild strawberries of Nemi are smaller and sweeter than the commercially grown varieties and acclaimed by some gourmets as Europe’s finest. The Romans visit the village to taste its unique strawberries, particularly from April to June. Every June a big festival, Sagra delle Fragole, takes place here, dedicated to this unique fruit (for more information about the festival visit the official site of Commune di Nemi).
The best way to explore the village is to start from the lower square, Piazza Roma, with the goddess Dianna fountain and follow Corso Vittorio Emanuele up to the top of the village, where the 15th century Palazzo Ruspoli, a baronial estate, is located with its imposing medieval tower. From there, head for Belvedere Dante Alighieri in order to admire the magnificent view of Lake Nemi. But, apart from the view and the Palazzo, the village itself invites you to explore it. Get lost in its narrow alleyways and visit the church of Santa Maria del Pozzo, built in the 7th century and one of the largest and most beautiful churches of Castelli Romani.
While walking in the village you will come across ice cream stalls (with strawberry ice cream), grocery stores full of fresh wild strawberries and corbezzoli (tree strawberries), norcinerie (butcher’s shops) with excellent local cured meats and of course the well known “bars”, where you can drink coffee and taste the delicious tortine (strawberry custard tart). At these bars, you would find almost anything that could be produced from strawberries, like jams, liquors, sweets, tarts and candies. The best bars to taste these delicacies are : Bar delle Fragole (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 7) with a few outdoor tables with a wonderful view of the lake and Bar da Spartaco Il Grottino (Piazza Umberto I) with a unique interior, which is curved in the mountain rock and resembles a cave. Apart from the bars, the village has to offer some great restaurant choices, like our favourite : Ristorante Pizzeria Le Colombe da Tiziano (Piazza Pietro de Sanctis 6-7) with excellent Roman pizza and homemade pasta.
During your stay at Nemi, one more interesting thing to do is to visit Museo delle Navi Romane, located on the shores of the lake. Nemi was known to ancient Romans and a temple of Diana was built on Lake Nemi. In 37 A.D. Caligula built for the temple luxurious barges fitted with bronze and marble to float on the lake. The boats were sunk during the reign of Claudius and were discovered when Mussolini drained the lake in the 1930s. They were restored and set up in a lakeside museum, which was burned down by the Nazis during their retreat. Today in the museum you see scaled models of the original boats (for more information about the museum visit again the official site of Commune di Nemi).
If you are visiting Rome and have the time, don’t miss out on this unique village (especially if you love strawberries), which is easily accessible either by car or by public transport (find here directions from moovitapp.com).
Finally a video by Provincia di Roma dedicated to the village, the strawberries and its festival :
*[Nemi photo at the top of the page is from iStock]