A funny thing happened on the way from the Forum – between Rome and Umbria – in Tivoli to be exact.
Tivoli is one of those stops on the Grand Tour of tourist destinations much frequented by coach parties and the slightly more ambitious independent travellers.
Trip Advisor had some amusing write-ups so we opted for a day trip rather than an over night stay. ” A strange smell of bad eggs” was one of the uncomplimentary themes that kept on popping up.
Not surprising if you’re visiting a spa town with eggy-spelling waters, I thought – but I guess that the modern traveller doesn’t like the authentic smell of ‘the waters’ too much.
Tivoli is also the perfect illustration of how confusing Italian road signposting can be – and how your friendly, talkative GPS machine can get you into further bother.
It started badly with a touch of Tammy stupidity – she was looking for signs to Hadrian’s Villa on the outskirts of town.
We kept on seeing signs to Villa Adriano which Tammy ignored, complaining that there were no directions to the famous World Heritage site nor to the nearly Villa d’Este. It was only when Tony intervened with a schoolboy factoid that Tammy’s blushes could be spared no longer.
Adriano is of course Italian/Latin for Hadrian. How was I supposed to know that? Well, I only live in the NE of England near Hadrian’s other wonder of the world – his Wall – so how could I have remembered this obvious fact? Hmphh… cue much baiting and teasing from my partner, Tony.
Even though the road signs did run out in a few places, it was fairly easy to find the villa after that schoolgirl glitch – and it was a sensational site to behold. It’s the sort of megalomaniacal place Donald Trump would have built if he’d been a Roman emperor and had masterminded plans for a summer retreat.
The villa complex is huge covering 120 hectares – it was originally filled with full-sized reproductions of the emperor’s favourite buildings from Greece and Egypt including a waterway representing the river Nile. Absolutely not to be missed for its sheer audacity and the size of the remaining ruins and stylish statuary.
Our next trip – up the hill – was to the Renaissance Villa d’Este, the former home of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, son of Lucrezia Borgia, who had a penchant for fabulous parties, fine dining and water gardens (like any good man of the cloth, I guess).
This time, it wasn’t a stupid language glitch that caused travel problems – it was Italian signposts and GPS hell. The villa is so famous apparently that the signposts run out when you get into the town as, presumably, everyone should know where it is.
After taking us around Tivoli town five times, the GPS finally navigated us to the villa entrance which is down a very narrow series of medieval streets, but not before we’d recreated the famous Fiat advert with our small car bouncing down steps, alleyways and through people’s back yards.
Thank goodness, we didn’t hire an Audi or BMW.
The villa was definitely worth the scratches and scrapes on the car (OK, imaginary in my mind after all the near-misses with walls, lamp posts and alley cats). The spectacular gardens spew water from every stone orifice and grotto, and offer sensational views over the valley below.
There was also a temporary exhibition about Renaissance food and gourmet dining, the star exhibit being a demonstration of the lost art of napkin folding. It’s amazing what you can contrive to do with a few napkins and a knowledge of Renaissance origami.
Tammy’s top tips – park in the main Tivoli town car park (by the strange modern scupltural arch) and walk to the vila entrance. There’s also the Villa Gregoriana nearby for those who like a glut of grottoes.
Watch out for the confusing road signs!
(Don’t try visiting this place by train from Rome incidentally as the sights are a long way apart up and down a large hill unless you are keen on taxi rides. The Villa d’Este is the easiest site to get to if you’re not travelling by car as it is centrally located).