After a somewhat lazy start and tasty breakfast, we took to the road once more. The countryside was pure pleasure for the eyes, soft rolling hills with little villages, tranquil blue lakes, olive trees and woody groves… and the occasional spectacular meadow of flowers.
This one brought us to a screeching halt, and we jumped out of the car and barged straight into the middle of it to feast our eyes on a composition of colour no painter could ever invent.
What originally looked like only red and yellow turned out to include pink and blue and purple and white and of course the underlying green and the pale gold of the bales of hay and silvery sheen of olive trees in the background.
We spent a good 20 minutes taking it in (and also getting our bare legs somewhat scratched) before we got back in the car and continued on to a rather particular highlight of the trip – the Pozze di Bagnaccio. I don’t even remember how I came across this on the internet, but I’m glad I did. Not as much of a secret as I had perhaps expected (there was a road sign and also two other Czech women already there), these puddles (pozze) are in fact very unique outdoor thermal baths. Existing since Roman times in the area of Viterbo (known for its terme), they are now on private land but are entirely accessible to the public and managed by a sort of foundation. There is a central hot spring that feeds a number of pools sunk into the ground, each of a different temperature.
Every night the pools are emptied and refilled in the morning, and every day people come from all over to enjoy the baths.
The devoted locals have a year pass step out of their cars in their bathing robes and flip flops, stepping right into the pools to nurture their skin and acquire a deep bronze colour that pale northerners like myself can only dream of. Especially when they can only spend one afternoon of one day in one year at the place.
At the approach, Tivoli elicits a somewhat “ty vole” reaction. It seems to not have seen any repairs for decades, if not centuries, perhaps the result of being a “place near Rome” that just a few people visit to see the Villa d’Este and the Villa Adriana.
Quite frankly, we too were here to see the former, and that is indeed almost all we saw (Villa Adriana is worth visiting next time – a splendor of ancient Roman architecture and sculpture). Our apartment overlooked a 2000 year old Roman weights and measurements house (Mensa Ponderaria) and church, with grandmas and children and dogs and all the rest, creating the most authentic Italian feeling we’ve had so far.
In the morning, with the clear blue skies we’ve become used to since leaving Verona, we walked to the Villa d’Este, commissioned by a member of the notorious Borgia family.
It is almost overwhelming, with rooms filled from floor to ceiling with frescoes and mosaics.
But the main spectacle lies in the gardens, which involve a highly elaborated system of hydraulic engineering that creates stunning fountains, cascades and other “water games” surrounded by gardens that are somewhere between English and French.
Not quite as natural as the former and not as manicured as the latter, they became a major influence on European landscape design for centuries to come.
The Dragon Fountain – they looked a bit scary!
In the heat that has been steadily increasing, one really starts to understand the appeal of a place like this, full of tall shady trees and cool water that refreshes the air.
On the road from Tivoli to explore the 2000 year old wonders (among other) of Rome, our mileage since leaving home hit the 2000 km mark. It’s been an extraordinary trip so far, and for me it’s just the halfway point!