One of the best pieces of advice we were given was to plan every trip like you were going back. For our return trip to Rome, we were going to hit some places that didn’t make the cut the first time around. Finding nature in Rome was easy by touring The Appian Way and Aqueduct Park, two items on our must-see list.
Like many of you are probably thinking, how do you go about seeing this? The Appian Way is the earliest of Roman roads and went all the way to Brindisi in Southern Italy. Aqueduct Park (in our minds) was a spot to pack a lunch and have the ancient aqueducts as our one-of-a-kind scenery surrounding us. We realized we needed help on this and sought out a tour company to get the most out of our day.
Our searching led us to Roma Starbike. One of the many tours they offer is the Ancient Appian Way e-bike Tour. The description of biking along ancient lands of Rome sold us in an instant. We had no idea what to expect. Neither one of us had ever been on an e-bike and this was a part of Rome we had not ventured to. We were beyond excited! (Spoiler alert- this was the highlight of our trip to Rome).
When booking a tour, look into your meeting place and have a plan. Look at the address and figure out the best way to get there on time. For this tour we needed to get fitted with a bike and get some instruction on e-bike operation. Roma Starbike is in Via Capo d’Africa, which is near the Colosseum. We recommend taking a taxi if unfamiliar since it is a small side street within Rome. Once on the correct street their shop is easy to find with the bike rack out front and well-marked store front.
As always, we were early, and the friendly staff welcomed us to start our day. Immediately after check-in we were brought outside by our tour guide, Flavio, to be fitted for a bike and given instructions on how to operate the bike. The e-bikes were in excellent condition and very simple to operate. We were going to be in “Tour” mode on the bikes most of the day and would use “Turbo” when needed (more on that later.)
One thing we have found in our travels is that we prefer a smaller group of under ten people for tours. It allows for a more intimate experience with more time spent focused on what you want for the day. We had one other family of four with us for the day, which made for the perfect size group.
Once everyone was comfortable and confident, we headed out on our adventure. Now, while we would not recommend driving in Rome, biking is a whole other story. We are not going to pretend that we did not look at our guide like he was crazy while he took us down the road into the city. Jen was clearly expecting to somehow be magically dropped near the aqueducts and avoid the city completely. Life insurance was paid in full, so we said a prayer and trusted our guide.
Do you ever start something and a smile spreads across your face and a feeling of pure joy envelopes your soul? That happened to both of us. Our eyes met and we knew this was going to be an epic day.
Navigating City Streets
Flavio, a true expert guide, brought us through some intense intersections effortlessly. Not only did he control the process but put all of us at ease while we weaved through Roman drivers. While it may seem most drive like they are trying to prove to their wife they can get to their destination in under five minutes, Roman drivers have a surprising awareness of bikers. They are accepted as an equal part of the traffic equation rather than a nuisance that should be run down. Listen carefully to your guide, follow their instructions, and you will look like you know what you are doing in no time.
Our first stop was Porta San Sebastiano, the largest gate passing through the Aurelian Walls in Rome on the Appian Way. In ancient times Rome was surrounded by walls to protect the city and all who entered had to pass through gates such as this. It is the most well preserved of all the gates. We pulled off under the shade to take some pictures and listen to the rich history of this location.
Next, we left the busy streets to enter Parco della Caffarella. Sometimes you think you know what a city holds. You have looked up pictures and done your research. Then you are immersed in the lands and find yourself in a whole other world. A place that you question could even exist. That is the best way to describe the next leg of our journey.
Two seconds ago, we were on a bustling city street and next we were flying down a dirt road with a canopy of trees shading our way. Due to the protection placed on the land it feels untouched by modern times. With the absence of crowds or a queue wrapped around buildings you can take the time to appreciate your surroundings. It was the first time we were able to take a deep breath in the city and it was much welcome.
Along the way we stopped at a working farm to chat with the goats looking for a morsel to be offered. A gorgeous horse was being given a snack of carrots by a local family out for a stroll. We were waiting for fairies to drop down from the trees and fly by us. It is a truly magical place, and we were only at the beginning. Finding nature everywhere!
Flavio had us park our bikes under a mulberry tree at the next corner to point out the ancient aqueducts running along the road that delivered water to all the farms and homes in older times. Part of the history lesson for us was that there was more than one system. This was small by comparison, but just as efficient. The next part was the romantic story much more to Jen’s standards.
Right next to us was a small walking bridge overlooking Ninfeo di Egeria. Egeria served as a nymph, or counselor, to Numa Pompilis, the second King of Rome. According to legend they fell in love and upon Numa’s death Egeria melted into tears of sorrow, becoming a spring. A location that appears straight from a dream or the Lord of the Rings movie set deserves a story just as enchanting to go along with it.
We continued through Parco della Caffarella taking in and finding the nature in Rome. What beauty! Jen might have possibly been floating through the rest of the park. Just as quickly as we transitioned from city to country, we swung back in to travel to Parco degli Acquedotti. Flavio kept us off the streets as much as possible, taking us through Parco di Torre Fiscale on our way.
There was some fun terrain involving the “Turbo” button. Does anyone else picture Rick Moranis saying “Ludicrous speed!” in Spaceballs when we talk about this button on the e-bikes? Just Craig?? Ok, well, moving on….
The touring mode we have been on the bikes is just an electric assist to your pedals. Imagine for every pedal you rotate your bike is powered by one extra. The turbo adds about ten. So, when you are approaching a hill, hit that button and you fly up like Elliott taking off with E.T. It was amazing. Or ludicrous, depending on your perspective.
What tour is complete without a stop for refreshment? A stop was scheduled for a bathroom break and to try the local flavor out of the hot sun. Flavio recommended the cafe crema at Caffe Dotto. How this had not been on our daily afternoon menu is a mystery. It was like coffee flavored pudding with shaved chocolate on top. It was even more delicious than it sounds.
After some fun terrain and a much-appreciated water break we entered Aqueduct Park. Here you will find Aqua Felix and parts of Aqua Claudia. Here is your history lesson, which some of you may already know. There were multiple major aqueducts in Rome. Claudia was built between 37 and 52 AD and was one of four great aqueducts of Rome at that time. It is a true marker of the wealth held by Rome at that time. All the stones are the same high quality throughout.
The engineering minds required for the exact precision of this project is mind blowing. This was 43 miles long and the slope had to be perfect. Too steep and the water would travel too quickly. Too shallow and the water would not reach its destination. How could they possibly do this without any modern tools? Standing before the great structures doesn’t help to wrap your mind around what they were able to accomplish.
Aqua Felix was completed almost fifteen hundred years later by Pop Sixtus V. This is visibly different and displays the slip in wealth felt by Rome. They used any and all materials they could get their hands on to build. It also used parts of the older aqueducts to complete their journey of fifteen miles.
Dipping Into History
We spent time taking in the architecture. Of course, we took too many photos that would never capture what we were seeing. We climbed back on our bikes to continue along the path. Passing a golf course that we had to drag Craig past, we arrived at a beautiful pond filled with blooming lilies and sunbathing turtles. Carved from the wall was running water coming from the original aqueduct. While it is no longer being used for its original purpose, you can dip your hands directly in history. It is now used to keep the pond hydrated for its happy occupants. Talk about finding nature in Rome! Bucket list item checked!
The final leg of our journey was the Ancient Appian Way. While many stones were taken from the road to build the tombs lining the path, most remain. You can even see the wear from the horse drawn carriages. Our guide took his time to point out so many points of interest and give us parts of history you can’t read about.
While you can rent your own bike at many spots along the Appian Way, we highly recommend a guide. Navigating along is quite difficult and would have been much more painful (stone roads are bumpy.) In some parts there is a bike path right next to the road, which we would have missed on our own. Even with the path we played the game snake. Single file behind Falvio and mimic his bike movements exactly. We watched other tourists on their own suffering through the rocky ride. Craig may have appreciated this a bit more than Jen….
We stopped in front of Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella, the most well-known and preserved tomb along the Via Appia displaying the immense wealth of that family. The bigger the tomb the bigger the wealth.
The rest of the journey ran parallel along the Catacombs, a well-paved path after the Ancient Appian Way. A few downhill rides lead us back into the city to park our bikes.
This tour had everything. History, a well-versed and knowledgeable guide, outdoor activity, unimaginable views, a one-of-a-kind experience and the help we needed in finding nature. We cannot express how much we loved this tour. We almost cancelled our next day plans to do it all over again, we enjoyed it so much. This is a must-do on anyone’s itinerary who is interested in escaping the hustle and bustle of Rome. Your fitness level does not matter. It is really for everyone. Roma Starbike has this tour locked down and does it perfectly.
The Perfect Dinner
As crazy as this sounds, our day did not end here. We went on to have an authentic Italian dinner at our favorite restaurant, Baccano. Our reservations were for 6:00, a bit early by Italian standards, but we were still on our American clock. We opted to eat inside rather than our normal outside table. Wine was ordered and an appetizer placed on our table. We relaxed and did not rush through.
The warm lighting coupled with the incredible wait staff pulled us into the reason this culture makes an event out of every meal. After some time, we placed our meal order. We enjoyed the meal immensely. Is that something we even do normally? The pressure to clear the table for the next customer was never placed on us. We ordered dessert and espresso to end our four-hour experience.
We hope it is something we can experience at home more often. Make a point to enjoy and put emphasis on what matters. The conversation that comes out of lingering at the dinner table is unmatched. You know the ones; the good ones that are more than small talk while staring at a phone. Being in the moment.
We hope this blog was able to give you a great idea for finding nature in Rome on your next trip! Thanks for reading, and #NeverStopPlanning
Jen and Craig
P.S. Don’t forget to check out our other Italy blogs here.