The new Vat­i­can ex­press

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - FRONT PAGE - |

Things don’t come more Da Vinci Code than a ride on the Pope’s rail­way — the cen­tre­piece of a tour just launched by the Vat­i­can Mu­se­ums. The train de­parts the Vat­i­can City’s pri­vate rail­way sta­tion — a mar­ble build­ing in the shadow of St Pe­ter’s Basil­ica — on a stretch of track that orig­i­nates in a tun­nel dug into the hill­side be­neath the Vat­i­can Gar­dens. It trav­els along the 300m Vat­i­can rail­way line, the short­est in the world, into Rome, then rum­bles on to the Pope’s sump­tu­ous Cas­tel Gan­dolfo sum­mer palace in the Al­ban hills south of the city.

This day-long ex­cur­sion com­bines ex­ist­ing tours of the Vat­i­can Mu­se­ums and gar­dens with a tour of the grounds of the Cas­tel Gan­dolfo. And for the first time the lo­ca­tions are linked by a ride on the pa­pal rail­way. At €40 ($62) a per­son, it’s the cheap­est way to ex­plore the pa­pal prop­er­ties; a guided tour of the mu­se­ums and gar­dens in the Vat­i­can alone costs €32.

I join the tour on its in­au­gu­ral Satur­day, my pre­booked ticket let­ting me dodge the queue that, at 8am, al­ready snakes around the walls of the Vat­i­can City. The first two hours are un­chap­er­oned, so my rec­om­men­da­tion is to avoid the Sis­tine Chapel cat­tle-run and visit the quiet con­tem­po­rary reli­gious art gal­leries, which in­clude works by Dali and Matisse.

The guided walk through the Vat­i­can gar­dens that fol­lows is the per­fect an­ti­dote to the crammed mu­se­ums. It me­an­ders be­tween foun­tains and grot­toes, past the monastery where the re­tired pope, Bene­dict XVI, lives, and on to Stazione Vat­i­cana, the city’s only sta­tion.

The train — or­di­nary Tren­i­talia rolling stock, sadly, not the Pa­pal steam train — takes an hour to reach the town of Al­bano Laziale, where a shut­tle bus takes passen- gers to the sum­mer palace (a sep­a­rate tour of the palace in­te­rior is avail­able at ex­tra cost). Tourism in the towns around the palace suf­fered when Pope Fran­cis de­cided not to spend his sum­mer there, and this de­ci­sion to open it to the pub­lic has been in­ter­preted as a help­ing hand.

The tour of the grounds, aboard a tiny land train, is rev­e­la­tory. For­mal gar­dens are in­ter­rupted by fields of al­falfa grazed by the cows that pro­vide milk to the Vat­i­can. Ro­man ru­ins, in­clud­ing a theatre built for the Em­peror Domi­tian in the first cen­tury AD, jut from be­hind fra­grant trees. Back in Al­bano Laziale, some ex­plo­ration leads me to an or­ganic, vegetarian restau­rant, Le Bioalchimie (via San Filippo Neri 16), for a €15 buf­fet lunch. The train back to Rome de­parts Al­bano Laziale at 5.18pm, de­posit­ing us at San Pietro, a sta­tion just out­side the Vat­i­can walls. A stroll to St Pe­ter’s Square, where high walls ob­scure the gar­dens and the Basil­ica hides the 60m Vat­i­can hill, makes for a tan­ta­lis­ing end to a fas­ci­nat­ing day.

The pa­pal rail­way at Stazione Vat­i­cana

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.