Sunday, April 22, 2012

Outings for April: peonies, pyramids and a potter's cave

water fountain, Vitorchiano 

Rome residents  and visitors  have traditionally used a series of “free days “  in April  (April 21-Birthday of Rome,  April 25th - Liberation Day and  May 1st –Workers’ Day) to  create mini-vacations known as  ponti.  

The cloud-laden skies  and  sudden showers of  the past weeks have made  it difficult, however, to travel without an umbrella.  

Rain or shine, grab an umbrella, your walking shoes and take a day trip to  one of these special places near  Viterbo and Rome. 

The first and easiest outing,  is  to Centro Botanico Moutan, a  private  garden open to the public in April and May. 
Acres of  magnificent  Chinese peonies extend over the hillsides,  delighting  the senses .

Lorenza, Fabio, Letizia, Fulvio  & Carla 

The Centro Botanico offers free entry and  guided tours plus  a colorful, relaxing café and bookshop .  
It is a perfect place to relax, drink in the beauty and perfumes of thousands of flowering shrubs and find inspiration for  garden design. 
The owners produce a line of garden furniture as well as an array of beauty products  and perfumes made from the peony flowers.

The colorful  cafe at the peony gardens 

If you can find a place to park near  Vitorchiano’s  centro storico, take advantage and  plunge into the Middle Ages with a walk among  the  12th century buildings  of  the intact medieval town, historically  allied to  Rome and enemies of nearby Viterbo.

charming medieval  streets of Vitorchiano 

bell tower of the City Hall 

Orsini Palace now the Town Hall 
The next exit on the highway is Bomarzo where  you can visit the iconic Sacro Bosco/Park of the Monsters  and the hilltop town.   
Be sure you take the new elevator to the upper part of town and visit  the  Orsini Palace.
the urban elevator of Bomarzo 

For intrepid explorers there is even an  Etruscan pyramid. 

This itinerary has an Indiana Jones   level of difficulty- more arduous  than  the  Etruscan sites of Grotta Porcina and  Norchia in nearby Vetralla. 

Salvatore our guide to the pyramid 
A local guide who knows the intricate paths in the  thick woods is a must. 
We were lucky to be accompanied by  Salvatore, who helped archeologists recuperate the sacred  Etruscan site. 
It had been used as shelter by generations of local farmers but was unknown to scholars until recently

Pro loco office in  Bomarzo 
A further reason to visit Bomarzo is the Festival dedicated to Sant’Anselmo, the town’s  patron, on April 25th . 
Festivities include a palio horse race, and distribution of the traditional sweet bread, Biscotto di Sant Anselmo. 

rock formations  

For in town exploration,  you can  follow in the footsteps of  the group of young law students  from 17 different countries who visited Vetralla this week for an end-of-course outing . 

Bill and students  in Checco Lallo's workshop-cave

Entrance to potter's cave , wearing the ancient  apron 

students from Liberia and other countries
Besides learning about the city’s  English connections, they visited the  cave-like  pottery workshop  of Checco Lallo, which has remained untouched  over the centuries. 

Christian  gets a lesson from Francesco 
Francesco, the last of the Vetralla potters' dynasty  known as Checco Lallo,  showed them the  traditional craft of  pottery. 

They celebrated the end of their  course of studies with an evening dedicated to  good food, music and the hospitality of a town with a long, intricate  history. 

International law students visiting in Vetralla


  1. I loved this post! Having spent the summer in Vetralla, I could imagine taking our family on these little adventures- especially to celebrate the feast of Sant'Anselmo!

    1. Thanks Melissa for remembering Vetralla and the adventures with trying to make pots in Checco Lallo's cave. Hope your Anselmo gets to visit Bomarzo for the patron saint's festival when he is a bit older.

  2. Great April outing suggestions Mary-Jane. Here's hoping there are more sunny periods than showers so we don't have to take our umbrellas with us.

    1. Cathy, have you been to any of these places ? Any other suggestions for visitors to our area?

    2. Yes I have Mary Jane. I have been for a walk around Vitorchiano. We have been to Bomarzo three times. We have so many Etruscan sites, where do I start - I'd recommend Vulci and definitely Tarquinia as musts (both the museum and the tombs). When I first moved to Italy, Tarquinia was one of the first places my 'grown up in the area husband' took me.

  3. Replies
    1. Dear Tasting, hope to see you in this area ...plenty of good places to eat.

  4. Susanna and RudolphApril 22, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    Everybody of the international students group of Prolaw was really happy after they did the tour of Vetralla with Mary Jane. We could feel good atmosphere and cheerful mood when they came down afterwards to the Secret garden. A long dinner, the operashow of OperaExtravaganza and some incredible multicultural dancing finished the day. The group was on the bus to Rome at 1 am.

    1. Dear Ruud and Susanna, it was a perfect outing for people who want to see what the real Italy is like. Glad the students and administrators enjoyed their entire visit. Its something they will remember always.

  5. Great post Mary Jane. There are no guidd tours at Centro moutan this year, you can walk around freely at your own pace, so even better!

  6. I enjoyed the day with Mary Jane and the opera performers. You all have made our final day as PROLAW students remarkable. Thanks a lot.

    And Mary Jane, thanks again for signing the book for me.