Summer in Rome on the Water – 3 Different Ways

24 Jun

Here in Rome as the daytime temperatures have become scorching, and the sun magnifies off the ancient brick and stone,  it’s a requirement to find some relief!

In ancient Rome, massive, highly functional and impressive bathhouses were readily available to the public.

photo by Anahid Simitian

They were priced so that even the poorest could afford to entry on a daily basis.  Powered by ancient Roman engineering feats such as the aqueducts and thermal heating, they incorporated saunas, hot and cold pools, workout rooms, and massage rooms. They functioned not just a place for hygiene, but also for Romans to socialize and make deals.  Ancient Romans could warm up in the damp winter and keep cool in the oppressive summer.  Such was the scale and majesty of the bathhouses that some were re-purposed as cathedrals (such as Michelangelo’s stunning refurbishment of Basilica Santa Maria Degli Angeli), and their design was the inspiration for 20th century grand public spaces such as New York City’s Grand Central Station.

In today’s Rome, things are different.  Compared to Toronto, where there are scores of free and clean public pools (and I’m not even going to talk about Hawaii), there are few reasonably priced options in Rome to cool down.  In the past week, I explored 3 different options.

Option 1: The Italian Coast

Although this sounds like a delightful option, in reality I was less than impressed.  There are great beaches in Italy, but if you want to make a quick and easy day trip, the options are disappointing. Last Saturday we drove to the beach town of Fregene, ostensibly an hour outside of Rome but more so when you are caught in a line of traffic as we were.

Kitesurfers at Fregene Beach outside Rome

The town itself was pleasant, albeit nondescript, but as far as I was concerned the beach itself was an overcrowded sterile stretch of dingy sand and muddy water.  To make matters worse, the decent parts of the beaches are all private concessions – so to be there, you have to pay 10 euros each for a lounge chair (extra for umbrella), the fringe benefits being that there are showers, bathrooms and no garbage or glass in the sand.  The free sections of the beach seemed to be littered with rubbish and in less desirable locales.  I miss Hawaii, where all beaches are public, free and gorgeous, and the locals care deeply about the welfare of the sea and sand, & pick up after themselves.

The scene at Fregene Beach outside Rome

We found a new class of beach, termed “free with services.” At these breakthrough types of locations you can lay a towel down in the sand without being kicked out, and they have outdoor showers available.  The beach that day was windy and swarming with kitesurfers, which made for great entertainment.  And it was definitely quite a scene on the beach, with hordes of Italians strutting their stuff. But in the end, the water looked murky and the beach was featureless…I give the experience a 3 out of 10.

Lago Bracciano

Option 2: A Lake

On Sunday, Alessandro took me to a little lake called Bracciano, about 45 minutes drive from our place.  As this crater lake acts as the main reservoir for the city of Rome, activities on the lake are restricted to swimming and non-motorized boats, and the water is remarkably clean.  What’s more, there is a charming little medieval town stacked on the banks of the lake.

The crowd, well it wasn’t really a crowd – the scene was much more family-oriented and there were as many foreigners as Italians.  You still had the concession beaches dominating much of the waterfront, but it was easy to find a stretch of free beach and everything was spotlessly clean. A much more beautiful and refreshing experiencing; Lake Bracciano gets a 7 out of 10.

Option 3: The night scene on the Tiber River

Many locals in Rome at this time of year don’t venture out of the house until evening if they can manage it.  Last night, with the assistance of my dear friend Trent, visiting Rome from LA, I investigated the rejuvenating properties of Rome’s Tiber River.

This doesn’t mean that we swam in the river.  Ew.  In fact, the river became too polluted even in ancient times to use for Rome’s drinking water, leading to the construction of the aqueducts drinking water in from sources that did not function as sewage receptacles.

One of the stone staircases down to the River

Instead, we brought a special bottle of Lachryma Christi down to the river at sunset to find a quiet spot to ease into the cool of evening. Instead, as we approached the lovely mid-river Tiberina (a UNESCO site), we saw literally hundreds of restaurants, lounges, cafes and entertainment spaces set up under tents along each side of the river.  The island itself was taken over by a celebration of cinema, L’Isola del Cinema, which I will definitely revisit in the future.

A sophisticated evening lounge on Isola Tiberina

Along with films from Italy and around the world, it looked like it also has workshops like screen writing and production work.  Undeterred by the crowded, we perched on the north end of the island and drank in the gorgeous evening, along with the wine.  It was a perfect evening way to cool off on an evening with a friend I have not seen for a year!

The under bridge scene

After the wine was finished, we wound our way along the Trastevere side of the Tiber.  The variety of places was remarkable – rustically romantic restaurants, sleek lounges, edgy cafes, family arcades…I’ve heard from a friend that the food down here tends to be subpar, but it’s a fantastic place to stroll, people watch and have a cool drink.  10/10.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: