Rome Day Trip - Villa Oplontis
Picture it - an outdoor pool the size of a football field. Indoor and outdoor kitchens for those hot days sweltering under the southern Italian sun. Open waterfront views from your luxurious bedroom, as you are lulled to sleep by a gentle breeze across the Bay of Naples. All this as the sleeping giant, Vesuvius, looms on the horizon. You think I’m talking about ancient Pompeii or Herculaneum? Close but no cigar miei amici. I’m talking about Villa Oplontis, one of the largest villas in the ancient world and just a train stop away for the perfect day trip outside Rome.
I first discovered Villa Oplontis on my daily commute between Sorrento and Naples. I asked my local friends about it who all answered with that charming shrug of the shoulders in a display of friendly ignorance. Now that I know better, it’s probably because Oplontis is situated in Torre Annunziata, a Camorra stronghold and not the safest stop on the glued-together Circumvesuviana train line.
Archaeologists believe Oplonti was the summer villa of Poppoea Sabina the Younger (her Mom being the Elder), Nero’s second and notorious wife. She was truly a local girl from Pompeii made good. She had been married twice before getting pregnant by Nero who divorced his then wife and married Sabina. Oh, for a juicy ancient soap opera! The year he married her, 62 AD, it’s believed the then 160 year old structure underwent a major overhaul caused by a massive earthquake.
Sabina went crazy decorating. She loved zebra stripes, I mean truly obsessed over them. They decorate every hallway. She was ahead of her day for sure. The baby’s nursery, adjacent to her waterfront boudoir, was lovingly decorated in Pompeiana red with flying dinosaurs on the walls. It makes you realize that ancient paleontologists did study fossils. You see all you can learn on a day trip outside of Rome? The nursery even had a rudimentary, yet acoustically groundbreaking intercom system. It allowed Sabina to hear the baby from distant corners of the massive structure. Ancient Roman architecture at its finest and built to outlast earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and still receiving visitors more than 2,000 years later.
The site is much better preserved than the crumbling facades at Pompei. There are Italian guides who barely speak English except to tell you the cost of a tour, but you get the gist. I enjoyed a one-on-one with my guide. He showed me the indoor ovens, the sacrificial altar, la dispensa full of amphora for olive oil, extra virgin, of course, and so much more. All of it frozen in time on August 25, 79 A.D., some 14 years after its mistress was allegedly kicked in the stomach while pregnant and killed by Nero himself. Scandal, drama, luxury living with a view of Capri. What more could you ask for?
Torre Annunziata is not the safest neighborhood for blinged-out, American sneaker-wearing tourists but if you have enough street sense to travel safe, Villa Oplontis is so worth the visit and a perfect day trip from Rome.
ON ARRIVAL FROM NAPLES: Step off the train and immediately out of the station turn left. Walk to the end of the short street and turn right. Villa Oplontis is about a 10 minute walk, straight ahead on your left. There are signs posted along the route but as with anything, they are sadly subject to graffiti and theft.
Lisa Fantino is a US-based author and chief cook, bottle washer and travel concierge at Wanderlust Women Travel, specializing in bespoke journeys and honeymoons to Italy. Her travel memoir, “Amalfi Blue - lost & found in the south of Italy,” has been on Kindle’s Top 10 list in three countries.