Palestrina is a small town in Lazio with a population of around 22,000. Although technically in the metropolitan area of Rome it is very much out in the countryside, so my taxi driver loaded on some extra charges accordingly.
The town is located on a steep hill with fantastic views across the valley. I made it my first task to climb to the top.
My map of the town is here.
At the top of the hill is the Palazzo Barberini, a Renaissance palace which now houses the National Archeological Museum of Palestrina.
The most famous exhibit, the Mosaico del Nilo, is a late Hellenistic floor mosaic from around 100BC depicting the passage of the Nile River from Ethiopia to the Mediterranean.
I think it’s the most detailed mosaic I’ve ever seen. One theory is that it depicts the places visited by Alexander the Great during his travels in Egypt. Please click on these photos to get the best view.
There are a few other mildly interesting finds but nothing to compare to the mosaic.
It’s worth going down to the cellar where the big lumps of masonry are on display.
If only for this spooky window!
In May 2018 I stayed for four nights at the Albergo Ristorante Stella www.hotelstella.it, which I’m pretty sure is the only hotel in town. I don’t think anything has changed there since it was built in the 60s but as a fan of Italian design I quite liked the future retro furniture and Terrazzo floors, and even the kitcsh Mills & Boon-style artwork on the walls!
The hotel is run by a grumpy old guy and his more outgoing son, although I don’t think the nice lady on reception is a relative. The breakfast is basic but okay. It might be better if you happen to be female.
On my first evening I ate in the hotel restaurant and had their Misto al’Italiana, mixed charcuterie, followed by Pappardelle alle Sugo di Lepre, big ribbons of pasta with a hare ragu (my first time), all of which was fine (B).
On my second evening I went to Zi Rico www.zirico.it (Intermediate C) at 48 Vicolo del Duomo, which at the time looked like the best place in town on paper (ranked #1 on Tripadvisor with the most reviews).
The food was okay although I didn’t make the best choices, just some grilled veg (B) and a plate of uncooked porcini mushrooms with parmesan shavings. I love porcini so I went with the rawness thinking it must be a local thing, but it wasn’t for me (C). To drink I tried a local white and a shot of my old friend Gentiana which seems to be the standard digestivo in Lazio. However I found the atmosphere of the room to be lacking and the waiting staff while nice enough didn’t have much to say for themselves.
The next night I went to Taberna at 49 Vicolo del Duomo, the TripAdvisor #2, and enjoyed myself a lot more. The food was more modern and innovative. I particularly liked the Gnocchi di Patate Ripieni di Burrata e Basilico con Datterini e Crema di Asparagi; some ravioli-like potato gnocchi filled with mozzarella cream and basil served with ‘little date’ tomatoes and cream of aspargus (A). I also loved the Fritti in Cartoccio; deep-fried, multi-coloured strips of seafood and vegetables served on traditional yellow brown paper (A). I didn’t take any notes as I was too busy chatting with my friendly server Gabriele who speaks good English.
By the second night I was good friends with Gabriele (on the right) and his business partner Matteo (centre bottom) and their whole gang! It turned out that the restaurant was the hangout for a lively group of young friends who were all very hospitable and welcoming to me. International relations were much improved by the time I left!
I remember one night there was a hailstorm which stopped us going home for a while. The hailstones were certainly big enough to do some damage! Video here.
I’d love to recommend that you go for food here but unfortunately the guys were in the process of winding up the business in order to open a new place nearer Rome. I’m still in touch with Gabriele on Facebook so I’ll definitely look him up next time I’m in the area. I had a great time in Palestrina thanks to him and his lovely friends and the memory will stay with me forever. Thanks guys!
And that was the end of my Lazio escapade. Off to Spain next!