A Day in Tivoli: Villa d’Este
When did you first hear about the gardens of Tivoli in Italy? I have a confession: I’ve wanted to visit Tivoli, specifically Villa d’Este, for about 15 years now. Why? The Lizzie McGuire movie! If you grew up watching Lizzie McGuire, then you probably watched the movie. Brief synopsis: Lizzie and her friends go to Rome. Lizzie meets an Italian singer, tours Rome with him on his red Vespa and she performs at the Colosseum, impersonating an Italian pop star! Total dream, right? What stuck with me were the sights, the food, the cobblestoned streets, and the beautiful fountains at Villa d’Este. I had to see those fountains in person.
Photo via The Sea of Immeasurable Gravy blog
On my third visit to Rome, I finally made it to Tivoli. Let me tell you a little bit about my day in Tivoli, Italy (not to be confused with the Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen).
We (my dad and I) had originally planned to spend 3 days exploring the gardens of Tivoli. There are 3 villas/gardens to explore in Tivoli: Villa d’Este, Villa Adriana and Villa Gregoriana. We wanted to see them all but after careful consideration, we decided to visit Villa d’Este for the day and go to Rome for the remaining time of our trip. The gardens are enchanting but we opted to explore the cobblestoned streets of Rome because well, we just love Rome. I mean, it’s Rome. But I highly recommend making a half-day or day trip to one of the gardens from Rome. Unless you really want to see all 3, you’ll only need a day in Tivoli. Insightful Travel & Tours shares how to get to the gardens if you are not driving. If you are driving, there is a lot of parking catered to tourists coming in to visit the gardens. We chose to park in a parking lot and paid about 5-7 euros for our half-day. There are also a lot of really helpful street signs pointing you to the different gardens. It is really easy to get around but when in doubt, just ask!
We arrived in Tivoli at around 10 am on a beautiful, sunny Sunday (be sure to check the opening days and times – Villa d’Este is closed Mondays and some holidays). After parking, we made our way to the town square. We weren’t sure where to go exactly but once at the main Piazza (square) Giuseppe Garibaldi we found our way to the entrance of Villa d’Este in less than 5 minutes. Villa Adriana and Villa Gregoriana are not too far from d’Este – but might require a slightly different entrance point. Once at the inner entrance, we bought our tickets (8 euros each) at the counter. Since we visited during low season (late November), it was a smooth experience with little waiting. There were not too many people – mostly what I assume to be Roman families taking a day trip to the villas. If you are visiting during high season (May to October) I suggest purchasing your ticket online before hand.
Villa d’Este was just as I had imagined: grand, majestic and awe-inspiring. There is so much to see – not only will you frolic through the gardens of the once Cardinal/Governor but you will take in sweeping views of Lazio, and explore the showy rooms of the Villa.
Photo via italia.it
My favourite fountains are Fontana dell’Ovato (Oval Fountain, pictured above) and Le Cento Fontane (the Hundred Fountains). I also appreciated the smaller, humbler fountains throughout the garden – the ones with a certain charm owed to the corrosion of centuries worth of water pressure. Missing pieces (a hand or a head), faded copper, green moss growing wildly. Strolling along the Hundred Fountains, making your way up and down the grand staircases, and up to the Fountain of Neptune you can just imagine the Villa and gardens as a private residence. I imagined the Cardinal/Governor pacing up and down the fountains and flowerbeds, discussing business – or silently contemplating how to once again, out-do his peers.
Another fountain, the Fontana dell’Organo (Water Organ Fountain) plays music similar to that of an organ – crazy amazing hydraulic engineering for over 500 years ago. Crowds will gather around the fountain every hour to admire the “music” coming from the fountain.
Visiting Tivoli was really magical – I was transported. Not to mention, Villa d’Este is one of Italy’s 50 UNESCO World Heritage Site. I hope you take a day (or even just a half-day) to visit the majestic gardens, be it Villa d’Este, Villa Gregoriana and/or Villa Adriana.
Photo by Max Goldberg via Creative Commons
As for Tivoli, we did not spend much time exploring the town. We parked and made a beeline for Villa d’Este. But after having visited the gardens and before leaving for Rome, we were hungry and decided to get some food (and briefly scope out the city centre). We found a lot of “tourist trap” restaurants. Usually, it seems that any restaurant with pictures of food will be subpar (with some exceptions). We almost ate at an okay-looking restaurant (with a picture menu) until we discovered that they were serving frozen food! Frozen food in Italy? No thank you! We decided to venture a little further (about a 7 minute walk) and fell upon a restaurant that was quaint and full of local families gathering for Sunday lunch. Score! We enjoyed an authentic Italian lunch (brick-oven pizzas, roasted potatoes, a plate of grilled vegetables and red wine) at Ristorante da Sandrina. Grazie Sandrina! And grazie Villa d’Este, Tivoli! You were grand.