Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hiking near Rome: Tivoli, Train to Trail

Hard work to get here, but great views.  Tivoli at left.  Colli Albani in the background.
We're hikers, and until now we've used our scooter almost exclusively to get to trailheads outside Rome.  But recently, we've been taking the train to destinations that promised too long a scooter ride--Carsoli among them. Having gotten used to trains, a short while ago we took one to Tivoli for a hike we thought would be ordinary.  It wasn't.

In the morning, trains for Tivoli leave from the station at Tiburtina every 20 minutes or so.  You can purchase round-trip tickets at the station, at kiosks, and in some stations, like Trastevere, at the newsstand.  The train we caught was a milk run--it stopped everywhere--and even then only took an hour and ten minutes to reach the famous hill town.  About 3 Euro each way per person.  Hard to beat that price.

At Tivoli we exited south from track 1 (past the cool eagle fountain), turned right on the street, had a coffee a couple of blocks down at a bar (where we also bought a sandwich for lunch), kept going down to the traffic circle, turned 90 degrees right with Villa Gregoriana on the left (the road to Marcellina), and followed the road--the most dangerous part of the whole exercise (no shoulders)--about 3/4 of a mile, past the bridge and around two other curves to the other side of the gorge.  The road then curves sharply right, goes around still another left curve, and there, on the right side of the road, you'll find the trailhead.  It looks like a small stone driveway that ascends in the direction you're traveling. There should be a sign put up by CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) naming the trail for "Paolo Fantini."  Have a drink of water and begin the climb, following the new, and very frequent, red and white marks on trees and rocks. This may be the best-marked trail we've ever been on.
This section of the map contains the start and finish of the hike.  The train station is very near the "T" in TIVOLI.  The trailhead is just beyond this section of the map, on the blue line (the road), upper left.  If you can get your hands on this map,
- "Riserva naturale Monte Catillo" - it's excellent.  It features, of course, the long-horned white bovine on the cover.

After a brief standoff with us, this long-horned bull
bailed out and took off down the hill.  
Trail "C" (see map below) ascends through a lovely forest of pine and scrub, turns right (east) after about 20 minutes, crosses some more or less open ground, turns a bit toward the northwest, then east again and down into a wooded fosso (a small valley or gulley) where we encountered, and skirted, bulls and horned cows on the trail as well as some "new age" orchestrations, including a set of wind chimes strung near the trail (below).

Wind chimes, upper left/center.
The trail then turns sharply west and, in a few minutes, begins a rather difficult, very rocky traverse/ascent of Monte Sterparo.  You'll use your hands here to climb some of the rocky pitches.  At the end of the ascent there's a lovely spot--a cross, a madonna, and a superb view of Tivoli and the valley in which Rome resides (photo at top of post).  You may see a white sail-shaped structure in the distance; it's an unfinished swimming pool designed by the world-famous architect Calatrava.
This map contains the entire course of the trek (C to F to E to A)

From here you'll take a DIFFERENT trail, just to the north of the one you came up.  Follow it for a minute or two, where it forks.  Take the LEFT fork ("F" on the map), to and through the nondescript actual top of Monte Sterparo (you won't know you've been there, although there's a good pile of stones at one point - not the highest point), and beyond for about 20/30 minutes to Colle Lecinone, where you'll find an abandoned building on your right and a barbed-wire boundary fence for the
Easy walking through nice forest.  Here, the trail markers are all on trees.  
"reserve" on your left.  The trail ("E") turns east and downhill from here, abandons the rocks, enters a sublime forest planted perhaps 60 years ago, and emerges--another 20 minutes later--into an intersection with trail signs galore.  The road to your right goes downhill and spills out at the bridge you walked a couple of hours ago; you can take this if your need to get back is urgent.  Instead, we recommend the trail to the east--the sign says something about a picnic area (i.e., "Area Pic-Nic") - it's still marked "E" on the map.  It goes through the woods, emerges on the east side of the mountain (great views to the East!), traverses the side of the hill for a few minutes, then heads downhill, more or less toward Tivoli.
The center portion of hike, including Monte Sterpara (middle left), up to Colle Lecinone (top left) on the F trail, and across on the E trail to lower right, until it meets up with trail A, which you follow.  
Through the cork oak forest.
And here it gets a little tricky.  As you come downhill and the countryside opens up, it is important that you follow the red and white markers, for there are several unmarked and tempting trails, mostly trampled out by cows and horses, we think.  Descending, you'll enter a divine forest of cork oak trees--the bark is special.

Near the end.  Tivoli center left, Monte Catillo, with
cross, in distance at right
Soon thereafter you'll come upon a lone tree, just to your right.  The correct trail is just to the right of the tree. Follow it, and it will take you down, past an athletic field on your right and around the small but iconic mountain above Tivoli--Monte Catillo, with the cross on its peak--onto a road (turn left, downhill) and then onto the road on which your hike began.  Turn left, and you're about 20 minutes from the train station.

Should you want to ascend Monte Catillo on the way down, you'll find a path on the southeast side of the mountain that will take you to the top, about 10 minutes away.

If you're eager to have a meal on your return, we recommend crossing the bridge at the circle, toward Tivoli proper.  About a hundred yards beyond, on the right, is L'Ape 50°, with tables inside and outside.  The kind and informed waiter explained the name to us (that little 3-wheel truck one sees rarely now, and usually only in the countryside, is called "l'ape" (the bee), and he revealed that travel guru Rick Steves had eaten there and lists the restaurant in one of his travel guides.  We're not Steves fans, but in this case he offers good advice. We especially enjoyed the weekly off-menu artichoke lasagna and the artisanal beers, a specialty of the house.  Keep in mind that L'Ape 50° keeps typical restaurant hours; so it's unlikely to be open between 3 p.m. and 7.30 p.m.

We are fans of the two great gardens of Tivoli - the 16th century Villa d'Este and the 19th century Villa Gregoriana (#6 on RST's Top 40).  You might want to take in one or both of these as well. They are not open on Mondays.

Total ascent, a modest (for true hikers) 1650 feet.  Time: about 4 1/2 hours from and to the Tivoli station.  Hiking boots a must, and at least one hiking pole is highly recommended.  Bring one large bottle of water for each hiker and (assuming there are two of you) a knife to divide the sandwich or cut the cheese. Sometimes we buy a bottle of wine (at a bar, where they'll open it for you and provide plastic cups) to drink on the train, but the ride's a short one, and on this occasion we did not.  Trains back to Rome in the late afternoon and evening run about every hour, and the last one is about 10 p.m.

Bill, with Dianne's help. 

Rome the Second Time features a Tivoli hike and the marvelous duo: villa/gardens of Tivoli - Villa d'Este and Villa Gregoriana.  The hike we did this day incorporates part of RST's hike, which goes up the more famous Monte Catillo with its cross.  The hike described in this post is much more interesting in its terrain and flora, and also more difficult.
At right and beyond the buildings, that's Monte Sterpara, as seen from Villa D'Este, looking rather ordinary from this distance and angle.    


Oliver said...

Wish I'd found your post BEFORE setting out on my walk! I've referenced your blog post on my trip report. Enjoyed the hike around Tivoli, but would have been even better to complete the circuit as you described!

Unknown said...

We just got back from Rome yesterday and had a chance to repeat part of your hike--over Monte Sterparo and then back to Tivoli. What a fun time! The views from atop were wonderful. Should note that we heard what we believe to be wild boar along the trail--a bit unnerving but interesting nonetheless. Thanks so much for the great tip and excellent instructions.

Stuart Thomas
Fort Worth, TX

Anonymous said...

This looks amazing! Am definitely going to check this trail out this weekend, thanks for the heads up!

Solomon Mccombs said...

Great tips regrading hiking. You provided the best information which helps us a lot. Thanks for sharing the wonderful information.