Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview about Vetralla – a town crossed by original Roman roads and full of historic gardens and castles – was originally published in my Italy guide.
First, tell us about you.
Born in the Boston area, I studied in Buffalo, NY and Dublin, Ireland. Then, in 1965, I flew to Rome, where a position in an international school was waiting for me. Over the years, I’ve been a teacher and school administrator and earned an Italian university degree.
I also have published many guides and books on Italian history and culture, been a guide in St. Peter’s Basilica and director and lecturer for Elderhostel, and created start-ups for universities, schools, and artists’ workshops.
For the past eight years, I have traveled the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Baltic as an enrichment lecturer aboard luxury cruise ships.
If someone is visiting Vetralla for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
After living in Rome for 35 years, I now live one hour north, with easy access by train into the Eternal City. This area is known as Etruria or Tuscia and borders on Tuscany and Umbria. It has always been a special, yet mysterious, area and a great favorite of travelers, artists, and archeologists.
The area is crossed by the original Roman roads (vias Cassia, Aurelia, and Flaminia) and the ancient pilgrims’ route, Via Franchigena, which connects northern Europe with Rome. When spring comes, we have numerous modern pilgrims trekking or biking on these trails.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
The best day trips in the area include the many historic gardens and castles (Ruspoli Castle, Palazzo Farnese, Villa Lante, and Sacro Bosco). The area abounds in Etruscan and Roman archaeological sites such as Tarquinia, Vulci, and the newly discovered Etruscan pyramid. There is a huge variety of things to do and places to visit and the food and wine are magnificent, too. The only thing lacking are hordes of tourists.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
There are three great family-run restaurants in Vetralla: Da Benedetta (located at Via della Pietà 76), La Lanterna (located at Via Roma 26 and specializing in fish dishes), and Il Pigno (located at Via Don Benedetto Baldi).
The bars, pastry shops, and pizzeria I recommend are Di Carlo in Cura di Vetralla (located on Via Cassia), Il Bersagliere (located at Via Roma 1), and Fiordalisi (at Via Cassia Sutrina 3) in Vetralla.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
I constantly run into visitors at the supermarket, swimming at the local hot baths (such as Terme dei Papi), or relaxing at one of the sidewalk cafes. In spring and summer, there are concerts, festivals, and happenings every weekend. During the winter, people meet at conferences, opera, and music evenings or the local library.
Why should people make sure to visit Vetralla?
Vetralla and surrounding towns in the Roman countryside are where city-dwelling Romans come for the weekend. Many foreigners have bought and fixed up houses here that they share with friends. You can rent a villa or a beach or lake house to enjoy a laid back vacation. Vetralla is one of 60 different hill towns, each with its own personality and interesting history.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
There are numerous great photo opportunities, especially during the festivals when local people dress in the costume of days gone by. I have a small camera always with me.
Anything else you want us to know?
Spring festivals such as San Pellegrino in Fiore (May 1 – 4) bring many visitors to the main city of Viterbo, 14 kilometers north of Vetralla. Most visitors come because they have done research and know what they want. After having seen the big three (Rome, Florence, Venice) real lovers of Italy want to see the unspoiled areas off the beaten track. The only site that is quite famous is Civita di Bagnoregio, since it is mentioned in a well-known guidebook.