We arrived at Romes Fiumicino Airport (aka Leonardo da Vinci Airport) late in the day with plans to stay in the area for one night before heading out on a road trip through Italy.
There are some options to consider ... go into Rome via an hour plus taxi, stay at the Hilton Hotel Airport (the only hotel at the airport) or get a rental car and stay at a hotel just outside the airport area. We chose to get our rental car and start our journey with a side trip to a special place.
Locanda dello Spuntino - Grottaferrata, Italy
Less than thirty minutes from Fiumicino is the restaurant Taverna dello Spuntino which we had on the previous trip to Frascati and promised to return to after a fantastic culinary experience. The restaurant is in the hotel Locanda dello Spuntino and we choose to stay at this gem in an inn for our first night back in Italy.
The staff at the front desk set the tone for our short stay. They were warm, welcoming and felt the feeling that they were really happy that you chose their hotel. We found this excellent four star hotel to be charming and a great value for money. (Something to note ... The Italian star class system is a point of reference to consider when making hotel decisions in Italy ... not absolute but as another reliable data point.)
This boutique inn has been recently restored with loving hands and extremely skilled craftsmen. There are ten unique rooms, so go to their website for more information and book early, because they are popular!
The restaurant again was a gastronomic delight and the hotel exceeded our expectations.
The story of Grottaferrata
Grottaferrata dates back to 1004 with the Basilica of Santa Maria, founded by Saint Nilus the younger. Over the years, this famous Byzantine-Greek monastery was known by many names and finally settled on the monastery of Santa Maria di Grottaferrata.
The legend says that at the place where the monastery is standing, the virgin Mary looked up and requested Saint Nilus to create a church for his glory. Today, the last of the many Byzantine-Greek monasteries and monks (Catholics from the Byzantine-Greek rite) follow the doctrine of St. Nilus and St Bartholomew and still lives and works in these ancient walls.
While you are in Grottaferrata, take a break, explore the area with its many interesting and ancient sites such as Abbazia di San Nilo a Grottaferrata, Villa Aldobrandini, Palazzo Colonna, Frascati Cathedral, Tusculum, Albano Bay and the Palais the palace of Castel Gandolfo. But especially go to nearby Ostia which is less than forty minutes away.
A short story of Ostia Antica
Ostia was originally known for the salt flats along the mouth of the Tiber River (ostium) and the Community harvested sea salt used as a food preservative ... around 600 BC.
In 400 BC, when the Roman Empire began to evolve, they invaded Ostia and built a sea colony and fast to protect the Tiber River to Rome nineteen miles upstream. When the Roman Empire came to its own, the fortified Port of Ostia became a very strategic and valuable asset.
With AD 150 Rome, all the Mediterranean Sea and Ostia controlled as a very busy and prosperous commercial port. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the port abandoned and poverty and disease ruled the city. A malaria epidemic struck through the city over 100,000 inhabitants and became a desolation ghost town, finally covered in silt when the Tiber River retreated from the coastline (Ostia is about two miles in the country today).
Covered clay is a good thing
Ostia was left abandoned for centuries but the silence retained the buildings, streets, infrastructure, artifacts and history intact and, to some extent, protected it from the scrapers that went after the decorative marble stones and other valuable building materials for their own use or for sale.
The city is well preserved and is in fact one of the most amazing archaeological sites in all of Italy. In addition to the architecture, there are magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics depicting wealth and prestige in this historic center.
Fantastic archaeological site and no tourists!
Slow travelers with inspired itineraries and a thirst for the unusual dare to places like this ... but not the typical tourist. You can take a commuter train from Rome Center, which is thirty minutes away, but its not on most tourist list ... what a pity! Here you can explore the remains of the city ... warehouses, apartments, mansions, baths, shopping streets and take a look at how the Romans lived almost two thousand years ago. Its as wonderful as Forum and Pompeii ... but no crowds!