For first-time visitors to Rome, the temptation to try and see and do everything is almost irresistible. Italy's capital is spilling over with more than 3,000 years of history, and from the priceless art of the Vatican City to the Pantheon and the mammoth ruins of the Colosseum and Forum, the city provides a truly mind-blowing cultural experience.
But even the most admirable attempts to do justice to the many iconic landmarks on a Rome tour will benefit from a little down time. Exploring some of the lovely gardens and green spaces of the Eternal City not only offers a welcome respite, but also a taste of a very different kind of culture.
Villa Borghese Gardens
This vast parkland is the largest in the city and is home to the magnificent Borghese Gallery. Simply strolling around the tranquil grounds has a rejuvenating effect and is a wonderful contrast to the sometimes-hectic pace of a Rome tour. Created in the 1770s, the 226-acre gardens, which encompass the area from Piazza del Popolo to the beginning of Via Veneto, were created by a Scottish landscape painter, Jacob More in a very English design. You can simply claim a patch of pine-shaded grass and do a bit of cloud gazing, or stroll around to explore the lake, temple, the orangery and the aviary.
Orange Garden, Aventine Hill
Situated at the top of an exclusive residential neighbourhood, the Giardino degli Aranci offers exceptional views over the city. The garden has a genuinely tranquil ambience and you can wander amidst the neatly planted rows of orange trees against the muted soundtrack of the city. From the gardens you can also explore the beautiful 5th century Basilica of S. Sabina and enjoy one of the city's most iconic views, through the keyhole at Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta.
Villa Celimontana and Parco del Celio
These two lush connecting parks located above the Colosseum on the Celio hill provide an oasis of calm that feels a million miles away from the bustling city – which is actually a mere stone's throw away. The 17th-century Villa Celimontana was built on the grounds of a former vineyard and features long-established plantings set around delightful winding pathways and manicured lawns. The adjoining Parco del Celio has plenty of shaded grassy areas for a picnic or a sneaky afternoon nap. As you're leaving, rested and rejuvenated, you may wish to take in the intricate mosaics of S. Maria in Dominica and the 5th-century S. Stefano Rotondo.
Palazzo Barberini Gardens
Prepare to be dazzled by this immaculately restored papal palace and its very impressive gardens. Even if you don’t feel inclined to do a tour of the palace interiors, a wander around the gardens provides a taste of the opulence that defines this elegant setting. A set of imposing gates open into the gardens that serve as the picturesque backdrop to the Palazzo's priceless collection of artwork. Completely restored to their original design, these serene gardens are quite often deserted and you can take your time to explore their elegant plantings and manicured ornamental hedges.
Cloister of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte
Perhaps one of the most surprising and ‘secret’ of all the city's green spaces is this diminutive, peaceful garden that feels virtually untouched by centuries of ensuing history.
Set around a moss-covered fountain, the gardens are nestled within the abandoned cloisters of the 17th-century Sant'Andrea delle Fratte basilica and can be accessed from Via della Mercede. Within the basilica itself, Bernini's superb statues of angels should not be missed.
Take Time Out on a Rome Tour
Integrating some of the city's loveliest green spaces on the itinerary of a Rome tour offers a welcome breather to a weary traveller, providing not only a restorative experience but also a cultural one.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group Rome tour itineraries and experiences, from guided visits to view the masterpieces of the great art galleries to unforgettable Italian cookery classes.