Frascati: Villas, wine and feeling fine

Villa Aldobrandini was built in 1550 and is still owned by the Aldobrandini family.
The Villa Aldobrandini garden and town below
The view of Lazio from Villa Aldobrandini.

When I came to Rome my second time in 1999, one of the best day trips of my life was to this little wine town 12 miles (20 kilometers) southeast of town. It’s a direct train shot from Termini Station.

I found a town ladened with 16th century villas, pretty piazzas and one of the best wines of my life. I bought a bottle of Frascati wine, a porchetta sizzling pork sandwich to go, took some cheese and fruit and had a terrific picnic in a scenic park. Today, Frascati remains an easy getaway. It has been popular for the best and brightest of Rome ever since it was founded in the 7th century.

In the 16th century, numerous villas were built, topped by Villa Aldobrandini in 1550. It still hovers over the town like a castle. Somehow the main building survived the bombing in 1943 when Allied forces tried destroying the Nazis’ Mediterranean headquarters here. Half the town’s buildings were leveled. The bombing killed 1,000 Italians and 150 Germans. Since then the city has been tastefully rebuilt.

The gardens behind the villa.
A cat tries to make the villa his home.

Things to do

1 • Villa Aldobrandini. The six-story villa is Frascati’s symbol. You can see it from almost everywhere in town. A Roman bishop named Alessandro Rufini had it built in 1550. In 1598 Pope Clement VIII gave it to his nephew, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, who converted it into a suitable home.

It’s still owned by the Aldobrandinis, a family of nobles originally from Florence. The inside of the villa is ladened with paintings from Mannerist and Baroque artists but the outside is what attracts most visitors.

Beautiful gardens are in front and back. In the front, immaculately groomed hedges flow down to the busy street below. In the back is a maze of paths leading through gardens.

The most astounding part of the villa is the nymphaeum in the back. It’s a series of huge statues of mythological figures anchored by Atlas carrying a massive spiked ball on his back. A god plays the pan flute over a big water basin. 

Info: Via Cardinal Massaia 18, 39-06-683-3785,

The nymphaeum behind the villa.
A mythical figure playing a pan flute.

2. Public park. Not to be confused with Parco dell’Ombrellino north of Villa Aldobrandini, the public park is south of the villa and much quieter.

It has a jogging path and numerous benches to sit in lush foliage. Go to Piazza Mercante, buy a porchetta sandwich at the porchetta stand, go to a deli for some cheese, buy a bottle of chilled Frascati white wine at one of the many wine stores and have yourself a little picnic.

Wine always tastes better when drunk where it’s made and Frascati is one of the best white wines in Italy.

Frascati’s historical center.
Frascati’s historical center.

3• Music. Frascati is a big music center and musical performances can be heard all year round. This December schedule alone has 14.

The schedule includes a gospel concert by the Sing Out Gospel Choir Saturday night, Elsa and the Magic of Winter Sunday and the Chants of Noel next Friday.

Look at For More Information below for details.

The porchetta stand in Piazza Mercante.

Frascati wine

If you visit Rome, you must try Frascati’s white wine. It’s legendary all over Italy. Better yet, try it at its birthplace. Archaeological digs found wine-making tools in the Frascati area dating back to the 5th century B.C.

It became popular throughout the ages: From Ancient Rome to Renaissance popes to artists on the Grand Tour in the 1700s and 1800s to the La Dolce Vita stars in the 1960s.

Today it remains an excellent, versatile wine for everything from picnics to the Castelli Romani area’s trademark porchetta sandwiches. Frascati wine is made from Malvasia, Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes with a minimum of 70 percent Malvasia.

The wine received DOC status, meaning a high level of government approval, in 1966 and DOCG, the highest level, in 2011. It’s also cheap. You can often find Frascati wine for under €10.

Locals fill up their wine jugs at Cantina il Pergolato.

How to get there

12 miles (20 kilometers) southeast of Rome.

How to get there: Trains leave hourly from Rome’s Termini station.

The 1-hour, 20-minute journey costs €2.10.

Where to eat:

Cantina il Pergolato, Via del Castello 20, 39-06-942-0464,,

12:30-10:30 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 12:30-11 p.m. Saturday. Down a short flight of stairs off a side street has two big rooms with bunches of plastic grapes hanging from wooden beams and big wheels of cheese behind display cases.

The 40-year-old restaurant specializes in polenta, carbonara and ravioli. I recommend the gnocchetti provola e speck, small potato dumplings covered in white cheese with bits of ham.

And save room for their signature dessert: sbriciolata, a big messy pile of cream covered in chocolate and cookie flakes. 

Gnocchetti provola e speck at Cantina il Pergolato.

For more information:

Pro Loco Frascati, 39-335-679,5857,,

John buying local wine from Piero at Frascati’s Christmas market.