A recent order by the "people's pope" Francesco opens the gracious gardens of Castel Gandolfo to the public for the first time in history. The gorgeous grounds and manicured gardens are a delightful, peaceful place filled with carefully tended hedges, flowers, fountains and overlooks. The Pontifical Palace is located right on the edge of Lake Albano, and the extensive property is known as Villa Barberini, or the Barberini Gardens, the influential Roman family that dominated politics and the papacy for a few centuries.

On the property are the remains of an imperial-era Roman villa built by Emperor Domitian. A trio of villas, including the grand palace that serves as the Pope's summer retreat are secluded away in the grounds, and the Vatican Observatory is also located here.

The Castel Gandolfo Gardens are now open to the public, a grand gesture of good will and openness on the part of Pope Francis. There are guided tours from Monday through Saturday that last an hour a half, at 8:30 AM, 10:30 AM, and 11:30 AM. Tours are narrated in Italian and English (though the 10:30 AM tour is only in Italian). You'll see magnolias, roses, aromatic herbs, shaped hedge rows, and a plant-arranged labyrinth, among the sights. Lanes wend through the natural landscape and the flower gardens, on one of the world's most exclusive properties, previously closed entirely.

Tours must be reserved advanced through the Vatican Website.

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