This is one of my absolute favorite things to see in Rome.

You can stand outside the door and look at thousands of tourists in the vicinity of the Forum and Colosseum, then walk back inside and only have a small group of you waiting to go on the tour of the Palazzo. This one is on the list of places in Rome that most tourists don’t ever hear about, and don’t even realize is right there in front of them. It’s pretty fantastic. And now you are in the know too…

Why You Need To See Palazzo Valentini In Rome

Palazzo Valentini is a beautiful Renaissance palazzo, with an interesting history. At one point it was owned by an incredibly handsome fellow by the name of Giacomo Boncompagni, Duke of Sora, Aquino, Arce and Arpino. He was a feudal lord and also happened to be the illegitimate son of Pope Gregory XIII. Those Popes were a raunchy bunch – celibate to the world but with mistresses and wives and children. I find it fascinating!

What’s Below Palazzo Valentini?

In 2005 while renovations were being done on the palazzo, the remains of two magnificent Imperial Roman homes and thermal baths were discovered underneath. Archeologists spent years working on it and now the 20,000 square foot space is open for viewing. Let me tell you, it is amazing!

2000 year old mosaics on the floors of the Domus Romane underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

2000 year old mosaic floors still in perfect condition, in the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

Buried for centuries under the palazzo, the Domus Romane (Roman Houses) are incredibly well preserved. You will see the original ancient staircases, mosaics, frescoes, inlaid marble floors, all dating back to around the 3rd century.

Frescoes lining the wall at Palazzo Valentini in Rome

Ancient frescoes lining the walls at Palazzo valentini in Rome

You walk across a glass floor, with ancient Rome lit up below you, so rather than observing from the sidelines you feel as though you are in it.

Glass floors at the Roman Houses under the Palazzo Valentini in Rome allow you to see the homes from directly above rather than from the sidelines, giving you a more inclusive experience

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The thermal baths give you an idea of how wealthy this family must have been, and the location alone speaks to their importance – right outside the roman forum.

There is a glassed off room full of ancient Roman trash – plates and cups and kitchen gear that had been thrown away.

A multi media installation at the Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini Rome lets you see how the houses would have looked back in the 2nd century

It keeps getting better too, because this museum has a multi-media element to it. While a taped narration explains what you are seeing (in clear English, over a speaker system so you don’t need to wear headphones), the lights go down and the multi media part lights up, letting you see how it would have been back then, completing rooms and walls and ceilings.

The multi media installation at the Roman Houses at Palazzo Valentini in Rome shows you how the houses would have looked back in the 2nd century A.D.

The multi media experience lets you see how the homes would have looked in the 2nd century

A multi media show in the Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini shows you how everything would have looked back in the 2nd century A.D. It's fantastic!

Part of the multi media experience at the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

One part that I really loved was looking down onto the remains of a Roman road. A laser lights up the stones and shows you how clever they were with their construction and how the shapes of the stones were repeated and not random, making strong roads that lasted for millenia.

An ancient Roman road underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome. During the tour a laser lights up the ptterns in the stones

The remains of a Roman road run between the two houses. A laser lights up the shapes of the stones and you learn just how clever the Romans were when building their roads. They are a variety of sizes and shapes making up a repetitive pattern. It’s incredible!

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The final part of the tour takes you into a video room where the stories on Trajan’s Column are explained (it’s brilliant). When the video is done they walk you to a private viewing area that looks out at the column, immediately in front of the palazzo.

This is one of Rome’s treasures that I will keep returning to. It is just fascinating and fabulous.

Ancient mosaics on the floors of the Roman house underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome. These mosaics are 2000 years old!

2000 year old mosaic floors, still intact, in the Roman houses underneath Palazzo Valentini in Rome

You can only go through the Domus Romane with a guide and they have set times for each tour. The tour lasts around 90 minutes and is in English. The Domus Romane are closed on Tuesdays.

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Make sure you book ahead. You can get dates, times and online tickets at the Palazzo Valentini website. You have to arrive 30 minutes before your tour to turn your voucher into a ticket.

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On the On the secret Rome list this is an absolute must see! Two roman houses from the 2nd century, underneath Palazzo Valentini

 

Naples villas and palaces

I’m infatuated with Naples.

Naples is gritty and dirty, and parts of it are loud and a bit scary, which I think dissuades some travelers (including this one) from going there. I had thought Naples was a city I needed to stay away from, until I actually went there and discovered how magnificent it actually is! When I finally decided to go see Naples I messaged a Facebook friend who I had never met, and he wound up taking the day off work and showing me around. It was absolutely fantastic! We walked this incredible city for hours, stopped for coffee breaks (Naples has the best coffee in all of Italy) ate Baba and pizza, saw a million  amazing things, had no end of fun, and when I got on the train to go back to Salerno that evening I realized that there are a million more things I need to go back and see. I even have a guide lined up to take my Glam Tour ladies through Naples should I get a group who want to go spend a day there.

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Pompeii is a suburb of Naples, as is Herculaneum. The Palace of Caserta is nearby too. I had the crazy good luck of arriving at the palace on a Monday afternoon in December, when the crowds had left, leaving me the entire palace to myself. I wrote about it here. While there I learned about Marie Carolina, the absolutely fascinating sister of Marie Antoinette. She lived at Caserta, a palace built to outdo Versailles, and she ran the kingdom of Sicily and Naples. I plan on really studying her and getting well versed in all her accomplishments and then heading back to visit her palace again, this time being more informed.

Related Post: Discover The Palace Of Caserta

Naples and its surrounding area have so many sensational palaces and villas to visit and explore. If you are planning a trip to Italy you should consider checking some of them out. To whet your appetite I want to share this fabulous article I found in Italy Magazine about 5 palaces and villas that are part of Naples’ aristocratic past.

Enjoy!

Naples Aristocratic Past: Five Palaces and Villas That Are Sure To Wow

From the 13th century to Italian unification in 1861 Naples was the seat of far-reaching kingdoms, whose territories included the regions of Southern Italy. Neapolitan rulers, depending on the century were Angevin, Catalan, Austrian, Spanish, or French (under Napoleon), their dominions referred to as either the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sicily, or the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, according to the realms won and lost in the constant battles for power. A change in rulers often initiated a building spree; not surprisingly, Naples and Campania are home to many aristocratic dwellings, with the Spanish Bourbon kings and court spearheading the construction of some of the most magnificent palaces and villas that have survived to this day.

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Here are five not to miss on your next trip to Naples.

[Villa Rufolo, Ravello]

VILLA PIGNATELLI (Museo Diego Aragona  Pignatelli Cortes). Since the Middle Ages the Pignatelli family has been one of Southern Italy’s most influential and powerful clans, who at the peak of their power could claim title to14 principalities, 16 dukedoms, 22 marquisates and 18 earldoms. Through strategic marriages the Pignatelli married into the major noble familes of Italy including the Caracciolo, Colonna and Orsini. This beautifully restored neo-classic museum house came into the Pignatelli family in 1867 (after being owned by the Rothschilds and Ferdinand Acton, son of the Neapolitan Prime Minister, Sir John Acton) and for years was a center of Neapolitan social life. You’ll find find many decorative arts collections here reflecting the aristocratic obsessions of the day, including an outsanding array of porcelain from local purveyors like Capodimonte. Del Vecchio, and Giustiniani, and from such major European names as Meissen, Limoges, and Sevres.

Some of the reception rooms (like the White House) are organized  by color scheme—red, blue, and green. In these and other rooms you’ll find fine 19th century silver pieces, gilded furniture and ornate clocks.The villa also showcases the San Paolo Banco di Napoli art collection with landscapes, still lifes, and sculpture from major 16th to 20th century Neapolitan artists (including the prodigious Baroque-era painter Francesco Solimena and Gaspare Traversi, a painter associated with the Rococo period, whose work was influenced by Caravaggio). The garden was landscaped English style, no doubt, due to the taste of its original owner. In 1952 Princess Rosina Pignatelli donated the villa and its collections to the state. Riviera di Chiaia, Napoli; cir.campania.beniculturali.it/museopignatelli. Open: 8.30 AM to 5 PM. Closed Tuesdays.

[Photo credit: Wikimedia commons]

PALAZZO ZEVALLOS STIGLIANO. Built for the Duke of Ostuni, Giovanni Zevallos, in the 1600s by Cosimo Fanzago, the Bernini of Naples, this palace-museum is noted for its outstanding art collection, which includes Caravaggio’s The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, believed to be his last work, and an extensive collection of Neapolitan paintings from the Cinquecento to the 20th century. The Neapolitan pieces include canvases from the Posillipo School or Art, named after the waterfront section of Naples where artists, among them Anton Pitloo (1790-1837), whose plein air depictions are regarded as forerunners of Impressionism, and Giacinto Gigante (1806-1876) practiced the art of vedute, or landscape painting. There are also works from the Resina School, referencing the seaside town near Naples whose painters were influenced by the Florentine Macchiaioli, sometimes referred to as Italian impressionists. The Palazzo is part of Galerie d’Italia Intesa San Paolo group. Via Toledo 185; gallerieditalia.com/it/napoli/  Open: Tuesday to Friday:10 AM-6 PM; Saturday, 10-8 PM. Closed Mondays.

[Photo credit: Due Sicilie – Magna Grecia]

VILLA RUFOLO. Big names have long been associated with this villa, from the powerful Southern Italian nobles who owned the property to celebrities like Jacqueline Kennedy who came to visit. It was built in the 13th century (according to lore with more rooms than days in the year) by the Rufolo clan, an influential family that held sway in Amalfi, then a maritime republic (like Genoa and Pisa) and its architectural style references the area’s ties to the East (Amalfi was an important trading hub), blending Arabic and Gothic elements.

So important were the Rufolo, one even figured as a protagonist in Bocaccio’s iconic Decameron. The constant power struggles in the region saw Rufolo fortunes rise and fall; over the centuries the villa was owned by other aristocratic familes like the Confalone and Muscettola.In 1851 it was bought by Francis Nevile Reid, a Scottish botanist, who restored the structure and gardens. The Great Tower, once a strategic lookout and nearly one thousand years old, provides dramatic views of the Bay of Salerno. Today the villa and gardens are the site of contemporary art exhibits and the world famous Ravello Festival. Piazza Duomo, Ravello; Villarufolo.com. Open: 9 AM to 9 PM. Tower museum: from April 1, 11 AM to 5 PM.

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VILLA FLORIDIANA (Museo Nazionale della Ceramic Duca de Martina). One of Europe’s finest porcelain collections is housed in the Villa Floridiana, a former Bourbon royal residence, and summer home to Ferdinand IV of Naples’ second wife Lucia Migliaccio, the Duchess of Floridia (his first spouse was the powerhouse Queen Maria Carolina, Marie Anoinette’s sister). In 1919 the government purchased the property from Migliaccio’s descendants and turned it into a museum, whose debut exhibition featured porcelain collected by the Duke of Martina, a highly regarded decorative arts connoisseur. The collection was further enhanced by a bequest in 1978 when an heir to the duke gave the museum a bounty of furniture and porcelain. The museum today showcases over 6000 porcelain and decorative items—Bohemian crystal, Gothic ivories, Sicilian coral, Venetian glass, and bronze objets—ranging from the Middle Ages to the 1800s. Of particular note is the Renaissance-era majolica; pieces from the great porcelain production centers on the Italian peninsula, among them Capodimonte, Deruta, Gubbio, and Faenza;  and a large collection of porcelain including Ming and Qing dynasty china from Asia and from the great European names like Limoges, Sevres, and Meissen. Via Cimarosa 77; polomusealecampania.beniculturali.it/ Open: Wednesday to Monday 8.30 AM  to 7 PM.

PALACE AND MUSEUM OF CAPODIMONTEIts name and location might suggest a focus on porcelain, but this large neoclassical palazzo, built by the Bourbon king Charles VII as a hunting retreat, houses one of Italy’s richest art collections. Its hillside setting proved to be both blessing—affording striking view of the Bay of Naples—and headache, due to the location’s steep incline, which made the transport of building materials difficult. Construction, which began in 1738, took 100 years to complete.

From its earliest days the palace was thought of as both residence and museum, showcasing an important cache of classical sculpture and paintings from the renowned Farnese art collection, which Charles inherited from his mother, Elizabeth Farnese. The palace, home to the National Gallery (Galleria Nazionale), displays works by the major names in Western art like Titian, Botticelli, Raphael, Massacio, Bellini, Caravaggio and El Greco and even a 20th century icon, Andy Warhol. The royal apartments, lavish for a residence designed as country retreat, contain 18th century furnishings. Villa Napoli 2. Open: 8.30 AM to 7.30 PM, except Wednesdays and Christmas. Royal apartments open at 10 AM. A shuttle runs from Naples city center (Piazza Trieste e Trento/Teatro San Carlo) to the Palace and Museum.

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The best way to travel around Italy is by train.

How To Use Trains In Italy

Italy has the most amazing train network, it runs like clockwork, connects all the major cities and gives you high speed access to the entire country. If you are traveling in Italy the train system opens up so many opportunities to you – you can buzz around and take quick day trips that would otherwise take hours to drive. The fast trains have comfortable leather seats that allow you to sit back and enjoy looking out at the majesty of this gorgeous country through huge panoramic windows.

How To Travel Italy By Train

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The fast trains in Italy are amazing. Super clean and efficient, they glide you in comfort across the country at 280 kph. (Why don’t we have trains like this all over America???) The fast train from Rome to Florence, which is roughly the same distance as Phoenix to Las Vegas or maybe Phoenix to Los Angeles, takes an hour and 15 minutes.

There are two main train companies operating across Italy. Trenitalia and Italo. Both are excellent, but if given the choice I use Italo.

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How To Use Trains In Italy

If you can plan your train travel ahead of time you can make it super simple and save yourself lots of money.

I normally buy train tickets as soon as the online ticketing is available, 3 months ahead of the travel date. I use the Rail Europe website, because although it costs an extra $7 per ticket I find the website to be less glitchy and easier to maneuver than the Trenitalia and Italo websites. Also Rail Europe is all in English.

The one-stop shop for train travel

The trains have various classes – Executive, First, Second etc and are priced accordingly, although sometimes it makes no sense. I’ve bought first class seats before that have cost less than second class seats. Train travel is really quite inexpensive though, and is such a genius way to get around. It is much faster and much less expensive than renting a car or flying, and just so easy.

If you buy your tickets online you can just print out your boarding pass and it doesn’t need to be validated. (More on validating ahead.)

If you are purchasing your ticket in the train station you have 2 options, the self-serve kiosk or the ticket counter.

How To use Trains In Italy

The kiosk is really easy to use, but will either just serve Trenitalia or Italo. You can select English and then just follow the prompts. If you are unsure of what to do or don’t know which train company to use you can go to the counter and get help. There are also representatives of each train company in the concourse, and they are always happy to help you use the kiosk. They are always in uniform – don’t get help from non-uniformed folks hanging around, they may be nice folks or they may be pickpockets. (I actually learned the Italian train system by random people helping me in train stations  )

Once you have your ticket in hand you need to figure out which Binario or platform your train is departing from. Your ticket will have the train number on it. In this picture it is train 9521. You can look for that train number on the departure board, and  next to it will be the name of the final stop.

How To Use Trains In Italy

Let’s assume you are in Rome and are traveling to Naples, and you just bought a ticket on the 9521. Using the picture above it tells us that the 9521 starts in Milano and ends in Salerno. Even though you are traveling to Naples (Napoli) the departure board won’t say Napoli, it will say 9521 to Salerno.

How To Use Trains In Italy

The departure boards will be easily visible, and will be in several places in the station.

How To Use Trains In Italy

You need to look at the board that says Partenze this means departures.

Arrivi means arrivals. Don’t get them confused!

How To Use Trains In Italy

Remember that the name of the city will be in Italian, not English. Naples is Napoli, Florence is Firenze, Venice = Venezia etc.

In some train stations you need to show your ticket as you pass through from the main concourse to the platforms side of the train station. Others you need to show your ticket as you pass through security on the platform itself.

If you bought your ticket at the station, either at the kiosk or at the counter you will need to validate it before getting on the train.

The validation machines are all over the place and look like this.

How To Use Trains In IItaly

 

It’s a good idea to go ahead and validate it as soon as you buy it, just in case you end up running for your train and don’t have time. The train conductor will check your ticket while you are en route. If you haven’t validated it you will face a heavy fine, tourist or not.

If you bought your ticket online and printed out the boarding pass you don’t need to validate it.

Your ticket has some other important information on it. It tells you which carriage number you are on (Carrozza) and what your seat number is. (The little local trains don’t have assigned seating but the fast trains trains do.)

How To Use Trains In Italy

 

10 minutes before your train departs the departure board will tell you which platform it is departing from. Now as you make your way along the platform there will normally be screens along the way telling you where each carriage/coach number will be stopping. Your train may already be on the platform, or it may be arriving any minute. Find the number that corresponds to the carriage number on your ticket.

When the train pulls in you will see that each carriage has a door at either end. On the door it will tell you rows 1- 13 or 14 – 28 (or whatever row configuration that carriage has.) It doesn’t matter if you get on at the wrong end, but if you are dragging luggage around it helps to get on at the end your seat is on.

Rail Europe – Train tickets

When it comes to luggage there are different options. Some trains have a luggage bay at one end of the carriage. Europeans travel much lighter than Americans do, so the luggage areas often aren’t designed for giant American suitcases. That means you need to hustle and get on the train quickly before all the space is gone!

There will be overhead racks for your carry on bags, and many trains have a space between the rows of seats where your suitcase can slide in.

In the picture below you can see the large overhead space for luggage, and if you look behind the conductor’s legs you can see the wheels of a suitcase poking out from between the space between the seats.

How To Use Trains In Italy

You need to move quickly and get you bags put away, because the train will get moving right on time. It is super annoying when you are trying to get to your seat and there are tourists in the aisles with their bags, putzing around, not knowing which way is up! Get to your seat, put your carryon on the rack above, slide your suitcase into the space between your row and the row behind yours, and get out of the way.

How To Use Trains In Italy

Keep your ticket on hand. The conductor will move from carriage to carriage checking all the tickets.

How To Use Trains In Italy

Sometimes these dudes are just ridiculously handsome!

You will be served a coffee or cold drink plus a snack on most intercity trains. There will also normally be a buffet/restaurant carriage on the train. The bigger trains stations have really good food options, so we often buy a panino or a salad to eat on long train trips. If you are in the executive or club car they will serve you a meal on longer trips.

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I really hope you will use the fast-trains in Italy to travel between cities. It is such  fun, easy and efficient way to get around the country.

If you have any train tips that I may have missed, please add them to the comments section below.

If you felt the information in this post was helpful, please share it on your Pinterest and in your social media!

My new book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy is now available worldwide on Amazon.com! It is full of helpful tips, guides, translations and advice for anyone traveling to Italy. I hope you will get a copy and use it to help you while you are traveling in Italy!

Bonus Content:

Do you get overwhelmed with all the things you have to do before a big trip? There are so many things to remember and it’s hard to know quite what to do and when to do it!

I make the process simple for my Glam Italia Tour travelers (and for myself!) by using checklists. They keep everything organized, help us to stay on track, and make that drive to the airport stress-free!

I am going to share these checklists with you for free. They come in PDF form so that you can download them, print them, and check off each item as you go. You can get your free pre-travel checklists here

XO

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The one-stop shop for train travel