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Headed to Rome on a cruise? Get off the beaten path and follow these tips from experienced tour guide & scholar, Theresa Potenza

The port of Civitavecchia outside of Rome is a popular stop for cruise ships visiting the region.  Depending on the type of transportation you use to enter into the city, the ride is about an hour each way, which leaves visitors rushing around to see Rome before heading back to the ship.  Many travelers have previously been to Rome, and are ready to see something new.  But where to begin?  

Theresa Potenza Inside an Etruscan tombI recently interviewed Theresa Potenza, who has over 9 years of experience leading private educational walking tours in Rome. She gave me her recommendations and top tips for the visiting the region.  If your cruise starts or ends in Rome, she definitely encourages you to stay an extra few days to explore Rome and its outskirts. Theresa is an endorsed tour guide by the United States Embassy in Rome and earned her Masters degree in Art History with a specialization in Renaissance Architecture and the Etruscan Civilization. 

Theresa's goal as a guide is to expose the glory and history of Rome beyond the city itself.

Several sites in the city's outskirts were home to Popes and densely populated settlement areas for the Ancient Romans and pre-Romans. I feel these places have a saga all their own, deeply connected with the narrative and development of Rome; yet a unique authentic feel quite different from the bustle of Rome's major tourist attractions. 

Many cruisers have already visited Rome and are looking for something new to explore.  What would you suggest to someone who only has a few hours in the area to make the most of their time?

I would like to highlight destinations closer to where the ship docks. The fact that this is a much more convenient option and also much more authentic. It is a region full of amazing places that are Etruscan archaeology sites, Medieval castles, etc.

Palazzo Farnese in the town of Caprarola in northern Lazio

Many of the sites I like to feature are ideal especially for cruise ship travelers because they are closer to the Civitavecchia port than they are to Rome.  For example the city of Viterbo, residence to several Popes in the Middle Ages and location of the famous "conclave" Papal election before the building of the Sistine Chapel, is only 35 miles from the port (55 miles from Rome).

I highly suggest exploring all this region has to offer commuting to the sites closer to the port and saving lots of time and hassle trekking in to Rome, thereby allowing more time to soak in the sun, landscape, and of course, the food.

What are some highlights to see that are closer to port?

My favorites sites in the region are Tarquinia, Cerveteri and Tuscania.  All of these cities have amazing Renaissance and Medieval architecture built on Etruscan foundations dating as far back as the 8th Century B.C.  Tarquinia includes the oldest testimony to fresco painting in the world in the Etruscan necropolis, designated along with the archaeological site at Cerveteri a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

Etruscan tomb in CerveteriCerveteri started a new program at their Etruscan site this past year which makes the visit unprecedented.  The site already offers access to the most unique tomb constructions in the world, but now as part of the "Futuring" program visitors can watch digital reconstructions inside the tombs!

Why would you suggest visiting these sites rather than Rome?

These are full of historical attractions and without tourists so you meet a lot of locals, eat great food, aren't stuck in crowds or traffic, etc.

Roman theater in FiesoleWith these tours in Etruria, coming off the ship you will most certainly save time but also money. These towns offer all the artistic and architectonic splendor of the big cities, but their prices are catered to locals and not tourists.  That means you will also get a very genuine experience, free from maddening crowds.

What is the food like in the region?

The region of Etruria which includes Northern Lazio and Southern Tuscany is famous for its food. Tarquinia for example is located in the mountains on a cliff over looking the sea, so most restaurants offer a land menu and sea menu. Not to mention it was the first place in Italy to produce wine and olive oil, the Etruscans having learned the cultivation from the Greeks. 

In Rome, without a doubt, wood-oven thin-crust pizza is a must! Also the local Frascati white wine produced in the hills outside Rome is very sophisticated and modestly priced. 

In terms of fitness, are there any places you could recommend for jogging or biking while visiting Rome?

Visiting the urban centers of Italy can be rigorous in and of itself with many cities including Rome having steep hills.  But for a densely populated country, they are very committed to their landscape and green space. Inside Rome there are 3 major parks, Villa Pamphili, Villa Borghese, and Appia Antica Park. 

Aurelian walls that surround RomeThere are jogging and biking paths set among aqueduct arches, Baroque and Ancient fountains and Renaissance palaces. 

What is your favorite place to take friends and family when they come to Rome?

I love taking family and friends up on the top of Janiculum hill located right above the charming neighborhood of Trastevere. It has a fountain more spectacular than the Trevi and the most spectacular view of all of Rome's church tops and surrounding hills.

What travel tips do you have for people traveling to Rome with their kids?

With kids, explore the road less traveled by avoiding the cramped space inside the Coliseum and Vatican and seeking out less crowded museums and sites such as the Capital Museums and Baths of Caracalla.  The park in Villa Borghese is also a great place for kids to let out some energy. 

Also, in Italy, everyone loves kids, so be prepared for strangers to engage with your child. It is also very common that children stay out late at night, so feel perfectly comfortable bringing your child with you out for a glass of wine!

About Theresa

Theresa offers private tours of Rome and the city's outskirts. Visit her blog, www.italywiththeresa.blogspot.it to see her recent articles about Rome news and events, and also to find a list of tours she offers.  She's a contributing writer on Italian travel, culture and art for the New York Post, the Buffalo News and Wanted in Rome magazine.

FreshCruiser Tip: Time can be limited in a port, make the most out of your time and hire a private tour guide in order to customize the tour to exactly what you want to see. 

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Reader Comments (5)

Thank you for the tips! We are always racing into Rome from the cruise ship - next time, we are going to explore one of the recommendations above!

November 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

Great idea to get a local feel - it's sounds so romantic and personal.

November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

My husband and I are headed to Rome on a Princess cruise next year but, since we've already been to Rome twice before, we were just going to stay on the ship. But, these are some great ideas! Tarquinia sounds amazing and since it's so convenient to Civitavecchia, I think we'll definitely try it out. It's crazy how those areas outside Rome don't get more publicity. Thanks for the recommendation on what other options are out there!

November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

I've toured Cerveteri with Theresa and the archaeological site is amazing also thanks to the new media they developed in the tombs. The video inside really brings the tombs alive. Not to mention Theresa makes the Etruscans and the region really interesting.

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLuigi

When planning our 20 day trip to various areas in Italy this November, we heard from several friends in Western New York that a tour led by Theresa Potenza, who grew up in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville, was a must. If anything, those prior glowing reviews were understatements, as she led us on a magnificent 3.5 hour walking tour of "underground" Rome.

Tour stops included San Clemente, Santa Maria in Cosmedin and San Nicolo in Carcere as well as several temples along the river bank. The tour concluded at the oldest bridge in Rome. For us, the highlight was again San Clemente, as we had been there on two other occasions. Theresa's knowledge of its three levels was astounding, for we saw areas we had never viewed previously.

Based on our experience, we would enthusiastically endorse Therea's tours, irrespective of specific area. It should be a must for those who wish to more than what might be found in guidebooks.

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim and Judy

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