Since we were already in Rome, we decided to see the two UNESCO-listed villas in Tivoli – Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villa. The problem was, we didn’t really want to rent a car or take a cab to get there. Renting a car seemed like too much of a hassle for an afternoon trip, and taking a cab there would probably be very expensive. Taking public transportation via bus or train wasn’t an option either since we didn’t want to risk getting lost somewhere unfamiliar. We decided our best bet would be to join a tour that could take us to both villas at a reasonable price. This is where Viator comes in. As a disclaimer, we neither work for nor receive anything from Viator, so whatever I’m going to say is purely our opinion. To be honest, the tours we’ve found on that site are really a hit-or-miss. Yes, we’ve had amazing ones where we’ve been able to see the sites we wanted to see while being led around by guides who really knew their stuff. On the other hand, we’ve also had ones that weren’t very good or those that were really more of a “we’ll drive you there and then you’re on your own” type of excursion. What it boils down to is what type of tour you’re looking for. My advice is, make sure to read a lot (and I mean, a LOT) of reviews before joining any tour. Those that have a high number of good reviews are usually a safe bet. Not always, but usually. Checking out reviews first will not only save you money and time, it can also keep you from having major disappointment from unmet expectations. With Tivoli, we weren’t really looking for an in-depth tour of the area. We just wanted a relaxing afternoon strolling through gardens and Roman ruins, so we went ahead and pre-booked the tour we found on Viator (see tour here). Michael and I usually pre-book tours, sometimes months before we actually travel to a place, because they can sell out, especially the popular ones during high travel season. A lot of tour companies also offer discounted prices when you book early, which is great. Don’t worry if a tour fills up, though, because there are usually multiple companies offering the same or similar tours at comparative prices. Feel free to shop around! That afternoon, we went on a half-day trip to Tivoli, which was about a 45-minute drive outside of Rome. I was expecting it to be a small group (not sure why I was thinking that because I checked later and they didn’t really say that on the website), but our medium-sized bus was full by the time everyone was accounted for. As a tip, make sure to get to your meeting place early for tours. This way, you can snag good seats on the ride there especially when there are tons of other people in your group. Michael and I try to sit in the first or second row when we can, mostly because I like listening to the tidbits that are given during the drive and sitting up front lets me see whatever it is the tour guide is talking about the minute they talk about it. Also, sitting in the back kind of makes me dizzy and nauseated. I’m lucky because my husband is so thoughtful that he always lets me choose where we sit (and he always lets me get the window seat). To be honest though, I don’t think it matters much to Michael where we sit because he falls asleep the minute the bus (or car or train or plane) starts moving anyway. Haha!
Our first stop was Villa d’Este, a 16th century villa surrounded by impressive gardens and beautiful fountains. We were given a little over an hour to go through the entire place, which was not nearly enough to see all of it. Since the fountains were the main draw for us, we decided to head straight towards the lush gardens. On the way, we were able to pass by a couple of the palatial rooms and one of them had an art exhibit of horse sculptures which was pretty cool. It was so much fun walking through narrow walkways and climbing up and down stone steps to get to the the different levels of the garden. How beautiful it was and the views . . . majestic!
I’m going to stop right here and warn you that I’m about to go into a rant so you can skip this paragraph if you want to. It just really annoys me whenever we’re on a tour and I notice people not paying attention when the guide is giving instructions. People, there is a reason that they do this. It’s so the tour goes smoothly, and so everyone is able to get the most out of the experience. I just feel like people who don’t listen to instructions are either selfish or irresponsible or both. On this particular tour, for example, I noticed one lady (we’ll call her Ms. Oblivious) who kept walking around the entrance hall while everyone was gathered around the guide at the beginning of the tour, as if she couldn’t be bothered with such unimportant nonsense. During that time, the guide mentioned (a few times) that we were all supposed to meet back in an hour right outside the villa so we could ALL head over to our next stop. Lo and behold, when the time came to meet up again, Ms. Oblivious wasn’t there. Was I surprised by this? Heck no. Was I annoyed? You bet your bum, I was. This was exactly why our guide repeated the meet-up plans over and over again . . . so we would all know the plan. Our super-patient guide had to trek back inside the villa and walk around the gardens to find the lost woman. And of course, that took time. When she couldn’t be found, our guide had to call the main office so they could try to contact Ms. Oblivious. That took even more time. The entire group had to wait for over an hour inside the bus just so we could give her time to catch up with us. And did she? Of course not! She was probably taking her lovely time strolling around the beautiful gardens oblivious to what was happening, while the rest of us wasted time in the bus. Don’t get me wrong. we’ve been late and/or lost during tours a time or two, but it’s always been due to some unforeseen incident, not because I couldn’t be bothered to listen to instructions. After it was deemed that we had given her enough time (aka wasted enough of our time), the guide was finally asked by the main office to just go ahead with the tour. Yes, we left her. No, I didn’t feel bad about it. We figured she could just take a cab back to Rome once she finally figured out we were gone. After much inconvenience, she did eventually find her way back to us at the next villa. And she never did apologize. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a personal apology but c’mon, at least have the decency to look like you feel bad about wasting everyone else’s time. It seemed to me like she was more annoyed that we left her than apologetic about what a nuisance she was. Annoying! So anyway, I just wanted to say that the next time you go on a tour, please for the love of God, listen to instructions beforehand. It is not only good manners, it is the responsible thing to do. That’s it. Rant over.
After that whole fiasco, our bus proceeded to take us to Villa Adriana which was a short 15-minute ride away. We were split into 2 smaller groups when we got there so it was easier for the guides to take everyone around and answer our questions. Villa Adriana is a massive complex of buildings, baths and gardens, originally built as a retreat for Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. An interesting tidbit that I remember from the tour was that only a few years ago, archaeologists found a network of tunnels that were dug underground which were assumed to be service routes so that servants can go from one building to the next without being seen by the elite guests of the emperor. We weren’t allowed to see the tunnels, but we were able walk through some of the Roman ruins and structures that are still standing centuries after they were built. Imagine how grand the area must’ve been in its glory days!
By the time the tour ended, raindrops were slowly falling from the sky so we happily got in the bus to head back to Rome. All in all, we had a nice afternoon in Tivoli. Would we do it again? Probably not. If you ask me, these villas are worth a look-see if you have some free time while you’re in Rome but if you’re short on time, skip it. There are so much more interesting things to see and do in the city.
Keep following for our upcoming posts about our last few days in Rome. As always, HAPPY TRAVELS!
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