Most travelers, when visiting Italy for the first time, tend to focus on a few major cities–Rome, Florence, Venice, and possibly Milan. These places are certainly gorgeous and rich with history, architecture, and museums. Still, you will inevitably miss quite a bit when cleaving to the well-worn tourist route between “guidebook cities” (and well-worn it certainly is: these itineraries have their roots in the Grand Tour custom popular among European elites between the 17th and 19th centuries).
So, if you are planning a visit to Rome, consider setting aside an afternoon for a day trip to the beautiful little town of Rieti. Located about 80 km northeast of Rome, and nestled atop a hill overlooking the Velino River, Rieti is traditionally called the geographical center of Italy (il centro d’Italia or Umbilicus Italiae in Latin). If you’re concerned that an excursion to Rieti will only deplete time that could have otherwise been spent exploring ancient ruins in Rome, worry not! As an important city along the historic Via Salaria, or “salt road,” that linked Rome to the Adriatic, Rieti has its share of Roman ruins. But the city’s history does not end (or start) with the Romans: a stroll around the city center reveals Renaissance palaces, Gothic churches, and city walls that date back to the Middle Ages.
For the adventurous, you can even take a tour of underground Rieti (Rieti sotterranea) in order to see the ancient Roman ruins that lurk below the city’s main streets. The tourist agency Rieti da Scoprire offers tours of the “underground city” that can be arranged in advance by email. While I unfortunately did not have a chance to take the underground tour when I visited Rieti in June, I see that it has received rave reviews on Trip Advisor.
There is a convenient bus line that runs between Rome Tiburtina Station and Rieti with hourly departures Monday through Sunday. The trip lasts about one and a half hours, and tickets can be purchased at the train station (you cannot buy tickets on the bus). Getting to Rieti by train from Rome is more expensive and time-consuming since the journey requires a transfer at Terni; all in all, it’s much more convenint to take the bus!
- COTRAL bus time timetable: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/translatingvoices/timetablecotral.htm
- Getting to Rieti by car: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/translatingvoices/howtogetthere.htm