We met with our guide, Elena, at the designated place (an email sent to us told us exactly where – with map – and what time) not far from Rome’s Cathedral (a 15 minute walk from the Colosseum), got on the bus along with the rest of our group and drove for thirty minutes to Hadrians villa. We were split into two smaller groups to help keep the tour more manageable and personal and then came a brief history lesson that explained about Hadrian and his villa, the political state of Rome around the time of his life and the circumstances that allowed him to build such an enormous residence.
Our visit to Hadrian’s Villa took just under two hours. There are few sites there that are recognizable to the casual tourist so we were happy to haveÂ a guide who could interpret the huge shells of buildings for us. All of the marble used on the floors and walls had been mined for other building projects through the ages (for residences such as Villa d’Este, which we were to visit next) and I think if you visit Hadrian’s Villa on your own you’ve got to be a very committed historian to bring the place to life because for most of us it’s just going to be a series of relatively incomplete, gigantic ruins.
Here’s Elena giving us an over-view of the villa with the aid of a scaled model.
And here she is bringing things further to life with a book showing how things would have looked originally.
Apparently Hadrian used to walk around these walls for exercise every evening after dinner.
In the photo below you can seeÂ Hadrian’s private baths.
Here are the public baths, which would have served the villa workers and their families.
The highlight for most of us was the colonnaded lake and Hadrian’s outdoor eating area.
We had about fifteen minutes here to take in the peace and quiet, and grab our photos.
There were plentiful shady walkways between groves of olives and poplar in the villa gardens…
…and when it was time to move on, we drove upwards through more groves of olives to get to the town of Tivoli. There was a fantastic view back towards Rome as we climbed over the green fields and when we arrived in the town square it was noticeably cooler; we’d gained some altitude on our short drive and also the considerable heat of the afternoon had given way to perfect sightseeing weather.
We were led into the Villa d’Este itself by our guides, given a map to the gardens and told to meet back at the bus in an hour and a quarter. Elena expainedÂ that it was a steep hike to get down and then back up again to see all the fountains that the gardens were famous for (there are 51 fountainsÂ and 64 waterfalls with 398 spouts, 364 jets and 220 basins fed by series of tunnels, canals and underground tubes which moves the water exclusively using the force of gravity) and I suppose this might be true for some who aren’t used to doing much exercise but we found it pretty easy as there was concrete steps or paths all the way and the gradients weren’t too bad at all.
The one downside of the tour is that we were only to have limited timeÂ to take in the magnificent gardens and fountains, which left us pretty much no time to explore the house itself. These are the sort of gardens that you can spend some considerable time in; they’re stunning.Â There was so much to look at and the waterfalls and fountains provided us with great photo opportunities.
Stepping from the villa’s doors to the top of the gardens, here are the glorious views that first meet you.
And here are some of the many photos we took as we made our way down and around the gardens.
We had five minutes to spare before it was time to go so we had a quick look at the villa interior, with it’s lovely wall and ceiling paintings. I would have liked to explore more but time was pressing soÂ we managed to get just these couple of images. I was happy to find that there were no photography restrictions inside, so we could point our cameras as we liked.
We thought the photography would end as we left the villa but on our way back to the bus there were some interesting scenes in the central square!
Between Hadrians Villa and Villa d’Este we had a great half-day out of Rome and City Wonders make it an easy, informative and fun tour.Â I think that if you’ve got the luxury of time and your own transport then perhaps you should try and make this a full day trip as the gardens are absolutely amazing and you could easily just spend the day in those alone. But if you’re on a regular tourist trip as we were then this City Wonders Tivoli Tour will certainly provide you with great photo opportunities of the sort of garden you won’t see anywhere else in Rome.